Sayonara, Japan

Oh, hi. I’m back—in America that is. Home—North Carolina—is such a great place to have some down time and simply enjoy life. I’ve been working on the farm, spending time with family, taking trips with friends, eating a lot of bacon and wheat bread, applying for jobs and doing just about anything to put off writing this final post. I’ve also been readjusting: bowing to people while jogging; marveling at the concept of free refills; excusing myself upon entering and exiting rooms; gawking at the size of grocery carts—and removing my shoes prior to entering my room.

I do love being back. However, I feel as if leaving my life in Japan is similar to that feeling you get when reading a great book—a book that you’re so enthralled in and charmed by—that you neither want to put it down nor finish it. Anxious that, after reading that final sentence, you will feel empty or sad—like you just wanted a little more—and you’re just not ready to start reading a new book.

But, on my twenty-fifth birthday (after two years of birthday celebrations in Japan), a little surprise arrived to North Carolina in the mail—a collection of birthday messages and pictures compiled by my “family” in Fukuyama. It reminded me that the life and the friends that I made in Japan will not simply be closed and eventually forgotten—but it (and they) will continue to live with me and be influential in whichever book I choose to read next.

For two years, my friends, students and coworkers in Hiroshima prefecture truly were like my home-away-from-home family. Living in my little mansion was the first time I’ve ever lived alone. Usually, during my morning commute, my students’ smiley good mornings were the first interactions of my day—and sometimes, their goodnights my last. On other days, I stayed out late chatting with friends or coworkers and laughing at one of the few restaurants or bars in our town. On weekends, I would play basketball, go on adventures or just relax with whomever felt like lounging. On my last day at school, my students made me feel more than special–and on my last night in Japan, my family of friends gave me the sweetest farewell party I could have ever imagined.

I know the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program always reminds participants that every situation is different, and I am so fortunate that my situation was such an ideal fit for me. But, that being said, I believe that happiness is a choice—a choice we must make when things are both difficult and easy. My life in Fukuyama was so wonderfully colorful. I met some of the most extraordinary people and saw some of the most extraordinary places—but, contrary to what many people may think, my daily routine also seemed very ordinary (but in the best of ways).

Japan may be far away, but I’m sure that no matter where life takes me, my experiences and friendships will continually be with me. I hope that my life becomes as extraordinary and ordinary as it was in my beloved little Fukuyama. I’ll always love you and be thankful for you, 福山, 広島, and as a whole, 日本. I’ll certainly come see you again.

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C U NXT Year ; -)

When it comes to spelling and grammar, I am usually a snob. I turn my nose up when “over” and “more than” are used incorrectly, and I die ever so slightly if I read, “there” when I should be reading, “their.” Further, if a friend texts me, “THX UR AWSUM,” or, “UR A QT,” the relationship is immediately over.

However, with my students, I value understanding and enthusiasm more than grammatical ability. As a result, I did the unthinkable. For my last lesson with the first-year students, I taught them obnoxious cell phone lingo. OMG. I KNO. IM SRY : -( PLS forgive me.

When I arrived in Japan, I soon learned that a new realm of emoticons exists. From “simple” happy and sad faces—(^o^) and (-_-)—to more elaborate faces such as (*^◯^*) or even impossible faces such as ☆*:.。. o(≧▽≦)o .。.:*☆, I was not only illiterate when it came to words, but also emotions. For my students, “English” emoticons such as : -), =0 and : *( were equally novel. After teaching abbreviations such as “GR8,” “ASAP,” “@” and “WKND,” they played a matching game using the new words and faces.

Some students even started writing slightly inappropriate texts for their friends. For example, “let’s XOXO ASAP” and “CU soon to XOXO,” but—whatever—it’s English communication, right? Finally, every group wrote me a farewell text. The messages were absolutely FAB. Check them out for yourself and you will realize why I LUV these students.

Obama’s left hand

After studying vocabulary to describe physical appearances, my students wrote speeches about their favorite celebrities. Although most chose Lady Gaga, Ichiro Suzuki or Justin Bieber, Kayo described Barack Obama.

Therefore, in honor of the 57th presidential inauguration on Monday, I want to share her speech:

Obama 1

“My favorite celebrity is Barack Obama. He is the president of the United States of America. He is brack. He has short hair. He is tall and smart. He was elected president again in last week. He is left-handed. It is said that the president will be successful left-handed. I want to become a good president.”

As the speech prompt instructed, Kayo notes three physical characteristics. Obama is black, has short hair and is tall. Then, she moves on to Obama’s handedness and predicts that because he is left-handed, he will be successful. Obama has also encouraged her to do the impossible–become a good president. Thus, without getting all political, like Kayo, I hope you have a faith in Obama’s left hand and optimism for the next four years.

It’s always a good time

My school’s sports day is hands down the most anticipated event of the school year. With relay races, tug-of-war games and folk dances, sports day mesmerized me last year and did the same this year. The combination of competition, laughter, fall and sunshine always seem to lift my spirits. It reminds me of how wonderful my students and coworkers are and of the many joys of teaching in Japan.

Using two iPhone apps, 8mm and iMovie, I created a short movie to give you a glimpse of this tradition. After watching the clip and jamming to my students’ favorite song, maybe… just maybe, you will begin to understand my love for these crazy kids.

School’s out for English camp

In early June, the average American high school student can’t manage to get to school before the bell rings. When she does arrive, she can’t sit through the remaining periods because there are mere days separating her and two months of lazy, crazy, hazy summer vacation days.

The concept of summer vacation is slightly different in Japan. Rather than spending two months on summer getaways, my students spent the first two weeks of summer vacation in summer lessons. Because my school has an athletic focus, the last two weeks are spent training for matches, meets and games. To those of of us who spent our summer days picking strawberries, scooping ice cream and procrastinating our summer reading assignments, such a concept seems daunting. However, my students seem to enjoy spending their short summer vacation at school with their teammates.

While my athletically-gifted students spent hours practicing their swings, kicks, spikes and shots, I volunteered to to be a counselor at two English camps. Although none of my students applied to attend, I am determined to convince them to take two days off of soccer and baseball practice and do so next year. I’ve already convinced them that speaking English will help them if when they make it to the Major and Premier Leagues.

During the camps, I worked with students from all over the prefecture who have a passion for learning English. I also had the pleasure of working alongside some of the most inspiring and friendly ALTs. With our students, we played games, did scavenger hunts, made skits and took a break from our daily school routines.

I enjoyed working with both the students and my fellow English-teaching friends in a more relaxed atmosphere. One of the most rewarding and enjoyable parts about teaching in Japan is seeing students express their personalities in English. Having confidence, a sense of humor and courage is hard enough for any 15- or 16-year-old, however, when asked to display these traits in a foreign language, the task could seem completely impossible. But, not for these kids. Their eagerness, curiosity and happiness was contagious and made me remember what a joy it is to be living and teaching English in Japan.

Happy anniversary

Today is my anniversary. However, rather than receiving a bouquet of roses from a dashing gentleman, I’ve received an invaluable opportunity from a country full of patience and charm.

Watching fireworks in Onomichi and wearing a “yukata” was the perfect way to welcome summer in Japan.

A year ago, clueless and terrified, I boarded a plane in Washington D.C. During that 14-hour flight to Tokyo, I started crying above the Midwest, stopped crying above the west coast and felt hints of excitement above the Pacific Ocean.

Since then, I have adjusted to my new life and developed a daily routine. However, most days, that daily routine is a mere outline and the people and situations surrounding me fill in the lines–sometimes neatly and sometimes abstractly–but, without fail–colorfully. Today was no different.

I woke up and went to school. On the train, I kicked it with some third-year students who think I resemble Blake Lively. I won’t tell them that this comparison is completely irrational and unrealistic because I secretly like it–a lot. (And, yes that link will take you to “Betch of the Week.”) Next, I played table tennis with the table tennis team for three hours. Every team member could teach Forrest Gump a thing or two. Then, I discovered that a history teacher speaks amazing English and we chatted about “The Federalist Papers.” After coming home, I concluded the evening by playing volleyball with two friends and a team full of the loveliest and sportiest Japanese women, most of whom are in their 40s or 50s.

Although my anniversary fell on a seemingly normal day, it was full of unexpected happenings. I love the unpredictability of my life in Japan. There are certainly bad days when I would like nothing more than a piece of cornbread and a glass of sweet tea, but for the most part, something or someone always makes me smile. I can only hope to form more relationships and encounter more surprises during my second year in Japan.

Baseball in Japan

I have never been a big baseball fan. When I say this to my fellow American friends, Japanese friends, British friends, Australian friends, oh wait… any friends, they always seem surprised. The American girl who speaks with a southern twang and grew up on a farm is supposed to love baseball, beer and cracker jacks.

Although I do love beer and cracker jacks, baseball has never been an overwhelming interest of mine. Even though I do occasionally enjoy a summer night’s baseball game, I blame my overall apathy for baseball on my brother. From age 8 to 18, I cheered for my big, bad brother Jon as he sacked quarterbacks in their end zones and grabbed rebounds on the court. But, never once did I see him hit a homerun on the field. Jon and I were too busy playing horse to play in little league. So, other than chewing baseball bubble gum that imitated chewing tobacco and watching attractive guys run around the bases, I never developed a huge passion for the sport.

That being said, after arriving to Japan, I have been exposed to more baseball than ever before. This may be because people in Hiroshima love their baseball team, the Hiroshima Toyo Carp. Or, because one of my best friends is from Seattle, so the mere mention of her hometown to any Japanese person evokes happy thoughts of the Seattle Mariners and Japan’s Ichiro Suzuki. Within my first week of living in Japan, I was well aware of Ichiro’s batting and RBI average and his many contributions to the Mariners.

The Carp play at Mazda Zoom Zoom Stadium in Hiroshima.

The front page and sports section of The Daily Yomiuri on Wednesday, July 25, 2012.

Therefore, when I opened my newspaper the other morning and saw Ichiro had been traded to the New York Yankees, I knew it was a big deal. In the past 48 hours, I have learned more about major league baseball than I ever knew before. I know that Ichiro holds the record for most hits in a season. I know that the Mariners are last in the AL West and the Yankees are first in the AL East. I now know that AL stands for American League. I know that all my students hope that, as a Yankee, Ichiro will make his first appearance in the World Series. So, although as a southern belle, I am probably supposed to dislike the New York Yankees on the principle that they are yankees, it seems that Ichiro Suzuki may make a baseball fan out of me.