Repent, for the end is nigh

I think what I need to repent of is never updating this blog.

For those of you who don’t know, I’ll be back in the States in almost exactly two months. In the following paragraphs I will present my reasons, preparations, and feelings, and argue that . . . wait, sorry, this is just a rambling blog post, not an argumentative essay.

Reasons, though. Basically there’s one; maybe more like one point five. The one is, I don’t want to do my job anymore. Don’t get me wrong—I adore my kids. Interacting with them is literally always a good experience. I like going to school every day. I like helping students with English questions and seeing them succeed at using a foreign language. I don’t, however, like being in charge of people or having to keep their attention on me. And while I’ve done okay so far, I can’t come up with new ideas forever.

The point five is, I’m getting impatient with being a foreigner in Japan. I find myself wanting to tell people when I’m frustrated with them instead of enduring. And the small things are starting to get to me—do we have to start every little event with six speeches and end with an evaluation? Do I have to spend the rest of my life saying “Sorry for leaving first” when I exit the office? Do we really have to wait until the students leave school before we turn on the office air conditioning?

Also our supervisor changed this year, so now instead of an English speaker who’s been handling ALTs and their problems for years, we have a Japanese speaker who’s still discovering what the job involves. It makes everything more difficult.

But let’s move on to preparations. I bought a plane ticket (that was an ordeal), and now I’m slowly packing up boxes and shipping them to my parents’ home. There you go. That’s the extent of my preparations. Oh, and I probably have a job, but I have to get home first.

So last is my feelings. Here they are: I don’t want to leave.

I don’t love bones in fish. I don’t love when I can’t communicate properly. I don’t love not having close Christian fellowship. I don’t love sort-of-mandatory but ridiculously expensive office parties.

But I love my kids. I love my friends. I love Sado. I love Japanese. I love karaoke. I love wearing pants every day. I love living a ten-minute walk from the ocean. I love being surrounded by anime. I love seeing my favorite musicians in concert. I love public transportation. I love Japan.

Approximately zero percent of me actually wants to leave. But I guess it’s time. I’m glad some of y’all are looking forward to it, because someone should. But right now . . . I’m not. Too bad, so sad, I’m coming back anyway. Prepare yourselves.

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who would want to leave this though, honestly

It has been decided (and also Christmas)

It’s official. Just as everyone I know moves to Japan, I will be moving back to the States.

Okay, not everyone I know. Just a beloved family from my lifegroup and a cousin. But still, they were the top of the pros list for staying. The people I’ll be leaving here are the biggest thing I’m sad about—my church, the other ALTs, my students . . . it’s lucky I have people waiting for me in the States too or this would be a lot harder.

If I’m being totally honest, I haven’t been longing to go back to America; I’m just a little tired of dealing with Japan every day. I already feel restless just thinking about living in the US, though I don’t know why. I guess it’s hard for me to strike a balance between stressed and bored. Security versus adventure has been my struggle even in deciding where to apply for a job when I get back.

But anyway, all y’all who’ve been in suspense the past two years just waiting to be able to see me again—you’re in luck. I’ll be back at the end of July.

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九份

On to Christmas. Guess what I did since my default Japan friend is no longer here. I went to Taiwan instead! And got to wear short sleeves and see the sun for the first time in months. It was great.

People here always ask me what I saw and did I go here and did I try this food and whatnot, but in the case of Taiwan I went solely to spend time with a friend. I did no research ahead of time. I had nothing on my list to do. She did her best to get me some tourist experiences, but I would have been cool with just walking around the neighborhood together.

So people ask me what I did, and I try to tell them the most impressive tourist thing we saw and smile politely when they sadly tell me all the things I missed. Yeah, next time! Haha. I keep my favorite part of the trip to myself—the part where we sat on the couch together and watched Korean dramas all day.

It was a good Christmas. (Thanks, you!) And it will be a good rest of the year. And then I will come back to all you Americans and rejoin the ranks of people who can choose the exact words they want and be understood without difficulty. Banzai!

So it begins (the second year)

Me, in my own view: a shy person who doesn’t take risks or do anything exciting.
Me, in fact: a shy person who’s living alone overseas voluntarily and enjoying it.

I’ll be honest, I was a little nervous about my second year, but so far it’s going great.

I think the thing I was most worried about was companionship. Last year, I went through periods of feeling claustrophobic on Sado, where I needed to plan a trip to Tokyo to alleviate the stress. It wasn’t really about getting off the island; it was mostly about spending time with my good friend who was living there. She went back to America this summer, so I knew visiting her wouldn’t be an option this year.

I didn’t have time to be bored or lonely over summer break, though. Five new ALTs arrived, and I was busy hanging out and helping them get settled. A week later, my parents (and grandmother) came to visit me. The first month of Year Two wasn’t a month to base expectations on.

But. Now it’s been, what, three months? I haven’t felt that need to go somewhere. I made a Tokyo trip without my friend and ended up wishing I were back on Sado. I wanted to be going to karaoke or having a movie night instead of walking around the city alone.

It turns out the difference is really just me being part of the ALT community. Last year I turned down most invitations to hang out. This year I accept most of them. Almost every week, sometimes multiple times a week. I’ve never had such an active social life before (don’t laugh, I’m a quiet introvert, okay). I’m sure we hang out with each other so much only because we’re a small group of foreigners isolated on an island—we have no one else to hang out with—but still. I love it.

As things stand, I would love to stay a third year. I love the kids I teach, and though I don’t love teaching I also don’t hate it every day anymore. I love the island I live on. I love the community I have here. Everything not related to official duties or government necessities, I enjoy.

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really, who would want to leave this behind

It’s really only practical considerations holding me back from renewing my contract again: things like taxes and everyday language barriers and upcoming teacher and curriculum changes. Then again, if I decide to move back I’ll have to find a job and a car and a place to live. There are complications either way.

I wish I had longer to figure things out. But there are still two months until decision time, so we’ll see how things go.

Feel free to pray me in one direction or the other—I could use the invisible push. Or add some pros or cons to my list, if you have suggestions. For now, though, I plan to enjoy festivals, seasons, and scenery as if it’s the last time I’ll see them, and be thankful for whichever way things go from here.

One (more) year

I arrived in Japan at the end of July last year. I came into this thinking that, if teaching didn’t kill me, I’d stay for a while (maybe even five years—dared I hope?). It seemed like a waste to go through the almost six-month JET application process and move my entire life to another country (government paperwork and all) for just twelve months.

Of course, the fiscal year doesn’t line up with JET contracts, and so we were asked only about five months after our arrival to decide whether we were staying for a second year. (City budget, you know. Flying in new people ain’t cheap.) At the time, I was enjoying myself well enough, pleasantly surprised that I was still afloat with the teaching thing. So I briefly thought it through and then followed my original plan and happily signed a contract for a second year.

Now it’s July again, and half the Sado ALTs are leaving in two weeks. Almost every day, I catch myself thinking about what I’ll do when I go back, and what I need to start preparing. Then I remember that I’m nowhere near done.

Of course there are good things about that. It’s not like I want to leave Sado, honestly. I get to see another complete cycle of rice harvest. I get to watch another class of students graduate. I get to live by the ocean for twelve more months, and I don’t have to give up my favorite Japanese snacks yet. But a lot of days, what I remember instead is that everything I’ve struggled with so far—dreading work and failing at communication and being the foreigner—I have to go through that entire amount again before it’s over.

But I know that I felt something similar before I came to Japan, too. I had been living and working in one place for two years and was starting to feel unbearably restless. Trapped, in some ways. I expect that whatever I do after JET will result in the same feeling in a similar amount of time.

I really hope this is something I grow out of, because it would be very convenient to be able to build a life in one place and stay there. To feel comfortable and settled enough that I’d rather buy a house and stay than rent month-by-month in case I want to leave. But for now, all that’s in the future.

For now, I have a third-year-in-Japan pros and cons list to keep me objective, and a reasonably-spaced list of people to see and trips to make while I’m here. I expect that one more year will be enough, but for now I have plenty to keep me busy.

For now, one year down; one to go.

I am an introvert. But.

If you know me, maybe you’ve noticed. I’m not often the center of a conversation. I don’t host a lot of parties. I like to spend my weekends at home. I have scored up to 93% introverted on personality tests.

I tend to think these traits have helped me survive as a foreigner in Japan. Don’t have the vocabulary to contribute to an office discussion? No problem, I probably wouldn’t speak up if I did. No coworkers inviting me to hang out on the weekend (as if teachers have free time)? No problem, I enjoy having a day to recharge without obligations. I’ve found, living alone, that I actually giggle with joy at the smallest things, precisely because there’s no one to hear me do it.

And when I do want some human interaction, there are other ALTs who are always up for donuts or karaoke, and the people at church always have a smile and a lunch invitation for me on Sundays. It’s not like I’m alone. Most days the idea that I could be lonely doesn’t even cross my mind.

However.

My brother and sister came to visit me last month. We spent almost two weeks living together in my one-room apartment, talking, making dinner together, exploring the island after school, and watching movies. I’ll be honest, it was a little bit stressful having two extra people in my space for that long. But after a year apart, it was also a breath of fresh air to have family around again. I got used to having the entire floor covered in futons. Used to having someone there to make comments to.

Then their time here was up, and I dropped them off at the airport and found myself with an entire day to fill. I rode the bus silently. I went to my favorite shops silently. I took the ferry silently. And when I got back to my island I went out and bought a new stuffed animal to fill the empty space (and talked to it all the way home, I admit).

there they go

I’m back to normal now, enjoying my solitary lifestyle and looking forward to my parents’ visit in August. But I’m a little afraid of it, too. For me, loneliness is only a struggle in the wake of companionship. It happened that way in the States too–spend the evening with a friend, feel alone on the drive home. Get coffee with Dad while he’s in town, go home feeling like an orphan. So while I’m excited to see them again . . . I already know it’ll be hard when they leave.

But I suppose life is like that. Everything is temporary, and if you’re not holding on to the only one who isn’t, you might get swept away. (I didn’t mean to make a spiritual application, but there you go. He’s the foundation and ends up being in everything.)

In conclusion, if you’ve come to visit me, thank you and I love you but you also made me lonely. But it’s also still an open invitation–please, come make me lonely. I’ve decided it’s worth it.

The end of an era

Okay so maybe the title is an exaggeration. But this post is actually about graduation. Ready for a bunch of parentheses?

At the beginning of the week, we had the last school lunch ever for our third-years (ninth graders)–in high school they’ll bring their own, I guess. One of my favorite third-years (I know I shouldn’t have favorites but I totally do) presented me with a card from his class, full of thank-you notes in Japanese. I may have smiled a little bit too much at his English presentation speech: “Thank you for teaching us for six months. We will never forget you, so you don’t forget us.” I won’t, my dear child! I won’t!

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the auditorium from my vantage point (without the students)

Friday was the graduation ceremony. The beginning was fairly innocuous, just diploma presentations and speeches–though the speaker from the PTA did have trouble keeping back her tears. I listened carefully to pick up as many new names as possible (it’s a little late now, I know) and smiled a little extra when the kids from the special-needs class got their turns. I was especially touched when the principal came down from the stage to present a diploma to a student who has difficulty walking. But it was very straightforward and easy to follow.

The end of the ceremony, on the other hand, I suspect was engineered for emotion. (Okay, maybe not. But the emotion certainly came out then.) When the speeches were done and we had sung the school song, the graduates lined up at the front, and the parents moved in with cameras. It was time for the graduates to sing their song of parting. Only a few of them were teary when they started, but after a few lines the melody started to falter. In between verses, with the piano still playing, the students called out the names of their teachers and thanked them, and of course the words of the song itself added to the effect. By the end, most of the students, parents, and teachers had succumbed.

Luckily that was the last event on the program. Everyone was given twenty minutes to compose themselves (I’m sure that’s not actually what the time was for), and then we all met outside to send them off.

We arranged ourselves into two lines for the graduates to walk between. Most of the girls and some of the boys held letters and presents, which they gave to their favorite departing students amid the applause and calls of “Omedetou!” I was even lucky enough to witness a second-year girl presenting a graduating boy with a letter, a scene that basically has trope status in the anime world. And then it was over and everyone dispersed.

So there you have it. The third-years who I taught fewer than ten times but liked a lot are gone.

Then again, we all live on an island. As long as they don’t leave for high school, there’s still a good chance of seeing them around town. But I won’t have a class with them again, or pass them in the halls. I’ll miss them.

I really want to write a post about enkais (work-related dinner/drinking parties) next, but we’ll see what happens. For now, in honor of the graduates who made the lunch announcements until recently, I shall close with the phrase they always used to end their presentations:

Soredewa, everyone, have a nice day.

As graduation approaches

This blog is being resurrected at the suggestion of Miriam, who noticed its quiet death.

As you may be aware, some time has passed since the last update. I renewed my contract (meaning I’ll be here until at least the summer of 2017), spent Christmas in Tokyo with a friend, hung out with my host family from three years ago, got stranded on the mainland for an ALT conference, and experienced enough snow to make me late to work several times (but only by a few minutes, don’t worry). So today I want to talk about… something related to graduation, like the title says?

Actually, no, let’s talk about the ferry.

It’s related, I promise. Not to graduation, but to the earlier paragraph. See, the ferry was the reason I (and all the other Sado ALTs, actually) was stranded so many months ago.

Okay, a month and a half ago. It was in January.

And it came to pass in those days, that a decree went out from the prefectural adviser, that all the Niigata ALTs should be educated. And this education was to take place in Niigata City. And all went to be educated, every one away from his own city. And I also went up from Sado, onto the ferry, unto the city of Niigata, to the Skills Development Conference; (because I was a Niigata ALT:) to be educated with the other Sado ALTs, who did luckily accompany me on the same ferry.

There’s some information you should know about the ferry: it doesn’t run when the waves are over a certain size. Winter happens to be a very windy season on and around Sado, which as you might imagine causes the kind of waves that the ferry doesn’t like. Summary: the ferry gets cancelled a lot in the winter.

For whatever reason, this conference was scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday. That meant that we Sado ALTs had classes as usual on Monday, and then had to catch the ferry to the mainland after work in order to be over there early enough to get to the conference in the morning (the ferry is a 2.5-hour ride each way). We managed to leave work a little bit early to catch the 4:00 ferry. That was a good decision. It turned out to be the last ferry for two and a half days.

We checked into our hotel and attended day 1 of the conference. We checked out of our hotel and attended day 2 of the conference. We planned to take the last ferry back to Sado on Wednesday so that we would be there to teach our classes as usual on Thursday (because we were told to). However.

And so it was, that, while we were there, the weather was bad enough that the ferry got cancelled. All the ferries. All of Tuesday, and all of Wednesday. And we checked back into our hotel, and stayed another night, and prayed that the 6am ferry would be cancelled, because we were required to take the first available ferry. And there were in the same ocean waves abiding in the sea, large enough to cancel the 6am ferry. But lo, the island had been cut off for two days, and the ferry needed to take supplies over: and the ALTs had to get up at 4am and they were sore exhausted and would have gotten sick from the rocking of the boat had they not been asleep on the floor the entire time.

Anyway, we made it back and some of us missed some classes (and I was less than alert after that trip), but it was less of a disaster than it could have been. Summary: Living on an island is all kinds of fun. The end.

(Why did I call this post “As graduation approaches”? I don’t know. Graduation is next week; I had a vague idea that I would sum up my year, but I ended up talking about the ferry. I’m sorry. Maybe the event of graduation will prompt me to write something that’s actually about graduation.)