Today I am back with another post. I am currently sick with what could either be hay fever, a cold, or maybe even the flu. I left work early today to go to the doctor and received medicine but I still don’t know what it is. Anyways, I got home from the doctors and slept for 3-4 hours so I don’t think I’m going to be able to sleep tonight so let me at least be kind of productive and write a blog post. This time I thought it would be a good time to look back and see how I’ve been doing with my JET Program Goals. I wrote the original post back in May of 2018 and I want to reread and see how I’ve been doing.
I’ll admit that I was going through a rough time from about Christmas of 2018 up until about a week ago. In that time I didn’t think anything was going well and nothing that I wanted to do during my JET Program experience was going to be possible. Not only that, I thought that I was failing as a teacher or not meeting people’s expectations. Now I’ve realized due to the support and encouragement from close friends and other people who have lived in Japan before that I will never be able to meet some people’s expectations of what they want me to be or how they want me to act so I shouldn’t even worry. “Like me for me, or get out!”– as one friend kindly put it. I also thought I might live in Japan in the future after JET too, so the fact that everything wasn’t going well made me feel like I had to say goodbye to my past dream because it just wasn’t going to work out.
My friend told me that I should come home. That people who stay in Japan are either (1) ready and willing to give up their previous identity to become “Japanese,” (2) enjoy the attention that comes with being foreign in Japan, or (3) have a spouse or someone who makes things bearable. She even encouraged me to look into ways to break my contract and come home sooner. While I did agree with her on many points, the fact that I didn’t say yes, I do want to come home and I am ready to give up on Japan means that there’s still hope and a desire to stay and give Japan more time within me.
The good thing is that hearing her validate my worries from a point of shared experience gave me the perspective to get myself out of that dark hole I had been stuck in for a while. It really took the pressure off. If I know that I won’t be in Japan forever and that my future may actually not be here, then I don’t feel as much pressure to make it work. In a way, deciding that I don’t want to be here forever made it easier for me to live here now. It also helps that I have decided to go home for a week next month during Spring Break. As anyone who has lived in Japan for a long time knows, to survive living here you kind of have to escape every so often.
Anways, back to the main point of this post: revisiting my JET Program Goals I wrote about before I even packed my bags to come to Japan. I will copy and paste the original article and interject with my updates!
1. JET PROGRAM GOALS
I have many goals for myself while I am in the JET Program. A lot of what I can do depends on where I am placed and the system of the school that I am at, but I really hope that I can get involved with an after school club whether it is running an English club or joining in another club like dance, taiko, volleyball, etc. I really hope that I am placed with a single school and not traveling between many in a district because it will probably be difficult to make connections with the students and the staff there.
*Due to my placement, I cannot get involved in any after school clubs because there aren’t any (as far as I know). I am currently working at elementary schools and nursery schools and so that is limited. I also haven’t been able to join taiko or volleyball groups in my town (not for lack of effort as you know if you have read previous posts). I have gotten to do a bit of dance from joining the seinendan or youth association and participating in the national competition in November 2018, but since then I haven’t been dancing at all.
I am also on a rotating schedule between 3 different elementary schools and 6 nursery schools/kindergartens. While I do agree that it is difficult to get to know the students and staff because I am only at each school usually one day per week, it has also become a blessing because one of my schools is very difficult and I don’t enjoy going there. If that was my only school, I am sure I would have quit the JET Program already. Although one of my other schools is really pushing to improve their English education and are really motivated. On the week of the big English presentation I was there almost everyday and it really changed the game for me and it was nice. It was really my idea of ideal ALT work and I wished it could always be like that.
Besides getting involved outside of class I hope to get experience teaching in a classroom formally for the first time. I know that I will only be an assistant in name, but I will finally be a real teacher in my mind. I have done a lot of volunteer “teaching” or “teaching” arts and crafts but never teaching in an academic sense besides tutoring. I am not sure if I have the knowledge base to be able to teach or the personality but I have the curiosity and drive to try new things and I am excited for this next challenge no matter how the results may turn out. Even if it doesn’t go well I will at least be gaining skills and learning things about myself.
*I have been getting a lot of teaching experience even as an assistant teacher. While the teachers may mostly only ask me to make flashcards or model pronunciation in my difficult school, I have been making worksheets for the third school which is not as strong in English but I love the teachers and the students. After making the worksheets for one school I tend to share and offer them to teachers at the other schools. If I can say I’m proud of one thing is seeing the students enjoy lessons or create things in class that were because of the worksheets that I made.
Not to say that they couldn’t have done just as well with the provided worksheets, but I enjoy making tangible “crafts” and worksheets that can be used to visualize the main goal and hopefully give them more perspective on how English could be used in the “real world.” Most of the kids here aren’t aiming for jobs where they will need English and they know that there are limited chances for them to use it, but if they can enjoy their class and use English within the classroom, I think that’s enough for me to think that I am doing my part in making the education good for the children.
I also hope that during the JET Program I can make connections amongst my co-workers and get to participate in their office place socialization. I don’t like groups or socializing with small talk, but I am interested to get inside of the Japanese workplace culture and see from the inside, even if the inside view is the foreigner’s one. My goal with that is to understand more about Japan from the insider’s point of view and hopefully get a sense of empathy towards the things about Japan that I don’t like. It is easy for me to criticize Japan but oftentimes I think that people forget that there are people who have to live through these experiences whether they realize that it is not ideal or not.
*This is another thing that I haven’t really done either. Not only is it kind of difficult to make connections when you are at a different school or office everyday but I also realized that after all, I have to kind of draw a line between personal and professional relationships and I don’t really see myself going beyond amicable even with the teachers I like and respect. Maybe after I don’t work at their school anymore or if they transfer schools, but as long as we work in the same place I don’t think it would work for me. Especially because even if some of the teachers who are nice to me or if they seem cool, their classes often structured the best.
I do feel that I have already gotten a better view of the Japanese workplace from the inside. I always thought that working in an open plan office in Japan would be my worst nightmare but I have come to look at the office in the Board of Education in my town with fondness and amusement, as if I am in the Japanese version of the office. From the morning radio exercises that get played at 8:20 every morning, to sitting in the office in the dark for an hour during lunch time, to the great view I have of the snack and tea area.
While sometimes it does drive me crazy with the roundaboutness and things that don’t make any sense to me, I realize that I can then sit back in comfort of my foreignness because no one expects the same of me. I’m never going to have to answer the phone in keigo or honorifics and I am not in the loop of what’s going on because I am not meant to be, so there’s no point in fighting against that.
When I think of JET I also think of access to resources. I really hope to be able to attend different JET events or even participate in some of the job fairs or other conferences that I have heard of. It would be cool if I could motivate myself to do a personal research project while I am in Japan and I would like to reach out and connect to other JETs who are similar in background to me. I don’t know where my next stage of the JET Program will take me but I want to be open to all options whether that means continuing to work in Japan or applying to graduate school.
*As a first year JET who has recontracted, I am not really able to go to the job fairs because they tend to be for those who are leaving Japan, but I have joined many groups on Facebook to help with networking or keeping my future job hunt in mind. In the beginning before coming to Japan I volunteered to be a member of KUMAJET which is the local Kumamoto chapter of the group that coordinates different events amongst ALTs and CIRs in this area, I realized quickly that it wasn’t for me and quit. After quitting KUMAJET I ended up applying for an joining API JETs which is the Asian Pacific Islander special interest group which has ALTs from all over Japan. Within that group I have participated in Skype meetings to discuss different things the group hopes to achieve and will hopefully be joining the national meet up in Nagoya during Golden Week if I can secure all of my bus tickets and transportation links. *Fingers crossed!*
2. LIFE IN JAPAN GOALS
When I go to Japan again, one of the struggles that I want to avoid as much as possible is loneliness and isolation because once you get in it’s hard to dig yourself out. I hope that I can be more proactive this time and take more risks in the beginning to hopefully set myself up with a support system of people. I want to get involved in whichever community I am placed in so that even if I am a temporary person, I can still leave a small impact on wherever I go. I know that it might be hard for people to accept me for a multitude of different reasons, but I hope that I can stay true to the self that I have discovered these past few years and make even a few close friends that will stay with me past the JET stage of my life.
*This is one thing I unsurprisingly failed hard at. Even with a good support system, when I become depressed or fall into a rut, it cannot really be helped. I can prepare for it as best as possible but until I bounce back I have learned to just ride it out. It may not be the best method but it’s what I’ve got right now. The good thing is that the people who matter will be there for me no matter what and luckily I have also met my host family and friends here who I know I could reach out to if I needed to, even if I usually don’t/can’t/won’t. Those connections will definitely outlive my short stay in Asagiri.
I also want to try my best to remain politically and civically active as much as possible. Staying aware of the situation in the United States as well as learning more about politics and civic organizations in Japan. When I was in Japan last time I sought out places where I could volunteer and that was one of the things I am most proud about for my study abroad. This time too I want to try and see out places where I can volunteer and get engaged with the community. Whether through community service or community-bonding events, I would love the chance to plan some sort of cultural event or educational exchange.
*Here is another area where I am not doing great in but am trying to get back into. It’s easy to make excuses even if I feel that some are valid. When you are barely getting through each day with the basics, it is hard to do anything extra. But now that I am doing a bit better (besides being physically sick) this is the time that I should push myself to try harder. I know I can handle it. I know that just following news accounts on Twitter and Facebook isn’t enough to say that I am politically active, but it also becomes tiring and easy to become pessimistic when you look at the state of things in the United States.
Of course I would want to engage in escapism but all of my family and loved ones are there and my future might be there as well. I can’t just stay away until it seems safe to return and then come back to a better place that I had no part in making. I am not exactly sure what I can do from here in Japan and how, but I know that I need to do it.
Besides the new people I can’t wait to meet, I also don’t want to let my existing connections fall to the wayside. While in Japan as much as possible I want to meet with my friends and family who live there, or at least keep in contact while we are in the same time zone. It can be easy to let things slip away always thinking that you have more time or that you’ll do something when it’s more convenient, but I always like to take care of things as soon as the idea pops into my head. I hope that I can keep up that motivation and initiative to be the mover who makes things happen.
*As with many of the other things on this list, when I’m not feeling good it definitely isn’t the right time to be pushing for growth and I do tend to isolate myself for whatever reasons. But when I am doing better I want to try harder to strengthen the current relationships I have. It’s easy to begin to think, “if this person wanted to talk to me then they would have messaged” or “it’s always me that has to reach out and that’s not fair so I’ll wait,” or “the ball is in their court.” However, I really think that life is too short to be waiting around for things that you really want. I am really impatient and tend to jump the gun on things, but I don’t wait around for things to fall into my lap. Nothing I have now that I treasure was just given to me. It required effort and input and it will also require lots of that to keep it going as well. Some things don’t work out but better to have tried and failed then to never try and just regret right?
I have so many valuable relationships both at home and in Japan and although distance is difficult, I have found that it really made me value them all the more. The effort that it takes to maintain a relationship long distance truly is a test and if both sides aren’t willing to put in effort then maybe it is time to let it go or at least let it lay dormant. Some friendships can only survive locally and with constant contact and that’s okay. Some friendships are able to be picked up after being left untouched from a long time and that’s okay too. I am starting to learn that people come in and out of your life and I shouldn’t agonize and blame myself over the times when it seems like you have to let it go.
*While some people have already came and went in the short time I’ve been in Japan, it was because we simply weren’t compatible. There’s no way that everyone can be friends. People are too different. You can get along but you won’t be best friends. Or maybe you really can’t get along and it’s okay to recognize that. While I’ve tried to be open to creating new friendships and connections here, I have realized that the strongest ones really are with friends back home.
Friends from middle school, high school, and college are the ones who have grown together with me for a long time and put in the effort multiple times to be long distance. Although we may not always be in contact, I never stop caring about them and I know that they have got my back as well. It’s really backwards that you can’t appreciate friends and family as much until you’re separated from them.
Another goal for my time in Japan is to continue this new pattern of valuing experiences and time spent with people over the material aspects that go with it. Yes, shopping is fun but I am not interested so much in the clothes or shoes but rather the time I am spending with the friends I am shopping with. Yes, eating food is always nice but I am more interested in who I am eating with than what I am eating. I don’t really care what we are doing I just care about who I am with, and I think that makes me easy to please and pretty easy going in general. I am not indecisive, I know exactly what I want. I hope that I can continue to hold onto this attitude as time passes when I am in Japan.
*This part of my personality hasn’t changed as well. People who don’t know me well might just think that I am always expecting other people to make decisions for me and that I leave the work to other people, but rather I know that I don’t really care what we are doing because the main goal for me is to spend time with those people rather than whatever activity we are doing together. I don’t like conflict either and I am really impatient, so if I don’t just decide to go along with everything, then my anxiety and frustration begins to bubble up. When I really want to do things I do them and I tend to do them alone.
Just like before, I am worried that while I am in Japan slowly my words and personality and humor will slip away from me. The blog posts will get shorter and awkwarder. The writing less fluid and more hesitant. I think that some of that is inevitable. Code-switching between different languages and cultures isn’t easy, but I hope that this time around I am able to maintain a little bit more of myself and carve a hole for myself in Japan rather than letting Japan mold and shape me into someone different than the person I am happy being today.
*While my words are slipping away from me, I won’t say that the humor is gone yet. It helps to have other friends here who are foreigners to be able to keep up the jokes, memes, and roasting with. I am also learning when to bend and when to be stubborn, so I don’t feel myself caving into the pressure to “be Japanese” or “be foreign.” I am just going to be me and if people don’t like that then they don’t have to associate with me. Easy as that.
I know that the JET Program will challenge me and living in Japan might be a struggle, but I have always done my best under pressure and when I am challenged so I look forward to it. I hope that as August approaches I can consolidate my goals into more concrete and tangible ones and share that with you all as well.
*It is currently my 7th month of JET and soon to be 8th month. This has been a challenge and a struggle but there have been so many great experiences so far and I am really proud of myself for doing this on my own in a foreign country. Of course I am not really alone but that is something you realize as you try to survive “by yourself.” No one is really alone even if it may seem like that.
I know this ended up being a long post but it was more for myself than anything. As recommended by my college career counselor before leaving Willamette, it is good to reevaluate your goals and reflect on your experiences. While it’s easy to know that, it’s not as easy to sit down with yourself and take the time to do so. You also have to be in the right mindset for it as well. Tonight I was in a pensive mood and thought it was the right time. I hope that if you read it, it gave you a bit more perspective into how I am doing here.
For the too long didn’t read, I am currently doing alright. Sick but sound of mind and in a growth phase. I don’t know how long it will last so I will try my best while I can. I hope to reach out and reconnect with more friends and family since I know I have been neglecting that and it makes me feel terrible. That is one of the circumstances that I can change for myself and so I should try.
Thank you as always for reading and please take care,