Sunday, August 13, 2017

My Pilgrimage to Mecca - Round 2

July 30, 2017

It's official. I've made the pilgrimage back to my mecca.  After a 13 hour flight, going through immigration and customs, shipping extra luggage forward, and taking a two hour bus ride to the hotel in Tokyo, I've made it back to Japan.  Everything on the way to Tokyo from Narita Airport looks exactly as I remember.  It's so surreal being back in a country I was in just five years ago.  It seems like a very long time, but it's not as long as it seems.  It's surreal to eat onigiri again, as if it was just yesterday.  It's surreal to experience all the sights and sounds that I've not experienced in such a long time.

Onigiri for dinner my first night back in Tokyo.

At this point, I feel more excited rather than nervous.  I'm in Tokyo, somewhere I'm familiar with.  I think the nerves will hit once it comes time to start working, once I'm in Nagasaki, once I'm in Sasebo, once I'm at the front gate staring down my school building.  Then it will hit that I actually have to teach, I actually have a chance to make an impact on these children's lives for better or for worse.

I don't think I'm used to the fact that everyone speaks Japanese here.  For the next few days I'm going to be in a conference learning about my job from presentations in English.  I won't need to know Japanese.  However, once I'm outside of this little JET bubble, I will have to face reality.  My Japanese is not that good.  I will need to step up my studying in order to make it in my life here.  Yes, I am a foreigner so they won't expect much of me, but I don't want to be stuck in foreigner mode.  I want to improve my language comprehension and speaking ability so that I can make the most of my stay here.


Since writing the above at the start of Tokyo orientation, so much has happened.  I have moved into my new home here in Sasebo, I'm making friends with my fellow JETs, I'm making friends at church, and I'm making friends at work. My home is slowly coming together in terms of livability.  I've had a phone and home internet since day two when I was able to open my bank account, register at city hall, and get to the phone store.  I'm learning how to get around using the bus system and I'm getting more comfortable shopping alone.

I want to explore my neighborhood, but when the weather says 85 degrees with 90% humidity it means a one mile walk turns into a personal sauna where you're sweating waterfalls in shorts and a tank top, looking at the old ladies walking by with their long pants, long sleeve shirts, gloves, sun hats, and umbrellas wondering how you can get on their level.  It doesn't help that Sasebo is very mountainous. I walk uphill going between home and work both ways.  At least my legs will stay nice.

So high up that the peaks are covered in clouds on a cloudy day.

As much as I feared teaching right away, school doesn't start until August 21st and even then, I won't be teaching until September because the students are preparing for their Sports Day and Culture Festival.  However I have been introduced to the students.  On August 9, all the students and teachers came to school for an assembly to commemorate the drop of the atomic bomb.  At the beginning of the assembly I was introduced and I had to give a short speech.  I didn't go into too much detail about myself, but I did tell the students that I would look forward to teaching them and that I hoped they looked forward to having me as a teacher.  Before the assembly no one knew who I was, but afterwards the students were more comfortable greeting me and talking to me.  One girl even came to my desk afterwards and gave me a cookie while one of the boys came just to talk to me.  I can't wait to get to know the students better.

Hopefully by my next posting my apartment will be presentable enough for a house tour.  Right now I'm missing some curtains and I haven't done laundry yet because spiders have taken up residence on my laundry line.  But, eventually I will feel like I'm at home here on my adventure in the land of the rising sun.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Farewell, but Not Goodbye

The night is winding down on the eve of my departure and so much has happened in the past month.  I left my job two weeks ago, my bags are packed, my apartment is (mostly) empty, my storage unit is full, I've said my last goodbyes.  Today was pre-departure orientation at the Consul General of Japan's residence where I was able to start new friendships with my fellow ALTs (and one CIR) leaving out of Detroit.  There are so many interesting people in my group.  I look forward to sharing this experience with them.

I am excited to go to Japan, but it's bitter sweet.  I'm leaving behind my family, my friends, my church, and life as I know it.  I know I'm not leaving forever, contrary to popular belief.  I'm not going to Japan to die, nor do I plan on staying in Japan for the rest of my life.  But I will be gone for quite a while in order to live one of my childhood dreams.  Living my dream does come with some social casualties.  I'll miss my youngest niece learning to walk.  I'll miss my oldest niece's first day of kindergarten. I'll miss helping to run the A/V department at church.  I'll miss so many places, events and people that I love.  I'm going to miss being around for so many things here in America, but it can't have my cake and eat it too.

However, I will be growing as a person.  I'll be learning a new language.  I'll be learning a new skill set.  I'll be learning how to adapt and change with my new environment.  I'll be experiencing new things that will challenge me physically, emotionally, and spiritually, and I will have to overcome all of that, and I will.  While I may be gone for a while I will come back home a different person from when I left.  I aim to be stronger, wiser, and better.  I hope to travel to countries close to Japan to expand my world view and see places I would never have the chance to visit otherwise.  I hope to make an impact on my community in Japan and on those around me when I return.  I hope to have a lot of adventures so that I will have a lot to share here.

And so, in the worlds of a famous cartoon 80's rock band, this is farewell but not goodbye.  Farewell to my home country, farewell to life the way I knew it, farewell until I return.

I don't know how soon I'll have internet, but my next post will be from Japan as I finally start my adventure in the land of the rising sun.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Jesus City Japan a.k.a. My JET Placement

I have reached a JET pre-departure milestone; I've finally heard from my predecessor and my school!  It's exciting because now I know exactly where I'm going, almost down to the address.  My placement is both exciting and a bit disappointing, but I'll get to that later.  I know why you really came to my blog today.  You want to know where I'm going.  You already know I'm going to Nagasaki, but Nagasaki is a big prefecture.  I could be literally ANYWHERE.

Well, have no fear, I am finally writing about where I'm going!  My placement is...

Monday, June 5, 2017

Mail? From my Japan? It's more likely than you think.

On Friday, June 2nd I received a notice in my mailbox that I had missed a delivery. The sender? Japan. I was confused. I hadn't ordered anything. I hadn't received any emails saying to expect a package. At the same time I was excited. Was this from my board of education (BOE)? Would this have my specific placement details? Fortunately my post office is open on Saturday mornings, so I stopped in on my way to church to pick up the mysterious package to find out what was inside.

Anticlimactically, it was not from my BOE nor did it have the specifics of my placement. What it did have were four documents. The first is a welcome letter. This introduced my Prefectural Advisors and the people in charge of the JET Program in Nagasaki. It also outlined what I could expect as far as pay date, housing, clothing, food, ecetera. A lot of the information I already knew, like where Nagasaki was located, and that some people have to pay key money. It's really a nice introduction if you've done zero research. 

The next document is a Notice of Appointment. This was, once again, a document filled with information if you still didn't know what you were doing and had never looked around the JET website. It stated the job description, how much I would get paid, and that I won't have to pay for airfare if I do my job. 

The third document is the Nagasaki Prefecture Terms and Conditions for an ALT. Now this document was a doozy. This document contains the full extent of what is expected on the job, including three pages dedicated to explaining work hours, holidays, and different types of leave. One point I found interesting is that I get time off for New Years from December 29-January 3 in addition to all Japanese national holidays. Looks like I'm going to need a Japanese calendar!

The fourth and final document is a Statement of Agreement. By signing that document I'm agreeing to work in Nagasaki. If I don't agree with anything in the packet then I am forfeiting my position as an ALT in the JET Program. At this stage in the game, I'm not turning back. I've already started packing and I've already sold my couch. Fortunately I don't need to mail anything back, I just need to bring the documents with me. 

Now the waiting game continues as I wait to see where exactly I'm getting placed in Nagasaki for my adventure in the land of the rising sun. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The moment we've all be waiting for...

As of May 15, 2017 I received the long awaited email from my JET coordinator telling me my placement.  I had a feeling that would be the day, so I was checking my email just about every 10-15 minutes to see if any word had come.  And it did!  I am officially placed in Nagasaki-ken!

Nagasaki is a prefecture located in the northern part of Japan's southern island of Kyushu. According to Google, it's known for forested islands and hot-springs because of the volcanoes.  Also, because it's so far south it has mild winters, which is nice for me because I do not like snow.  However, they also have very hot and humid summers (80% humidity!!).  I have experience with Japanese summers, but I think it's still going to take some getting used to.  I remember during my study abroad leaving my apartment and instantly being sweaty. I could do my hair in the morning and it would be puffy by mid-day.  Before I was in the city, but Nagasaki is surrounded by water, so I'm sure it will be even worse. 

An interesting fact that I read is that Nagasaki is a very Christian prefecture.  Because it was a major port for Dutch traders it has many Catholic and christian churches. There's even four Adventist congregations that I was able to find. Hopefully I live close enough to travel to one of them because it would be nice to have a Japanese church family even if I can't fully understand the language. 

For now I can only research very basic and historical information about Nagasaki because I don't know exactly where in the prefecture I'll be living yet. The contracting organizations are not allowed to contact us incoming JETs until after May 25th.  Once I know my city I plan on heading straight to Google maps to give myself a tour and to find out about the various festivals and events that go on. I want to know where the nearest grocery store is. I want to know if I'm going to be more rural or in a larger city.  If I'll need a bike or a car. The suspense is killing me!  But at least I can start to get an idea of what kind of clothes to pack based on the region. 

Nagasaki here I come as I continue to prepare for my journey to the land of the rising sun!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Preparation Anxiety

As April draws to a close, I am suddenly struck with the realization that I have so much to do in the next three months to prepare to leave.  The most daunting task for me is all of the stuff I currently have.  Many JETs are people fresh out of college who have yet to move out of their parent's house, and, so long as their family is willing, they can just leave everything in their rooms at home and pack up and go.  Since I live by myself, I have the unfortunate task of dealing with all my earthly possessions that I can't take to Japan with me.  I do have a coworker who is willing to buy my bed and bookshelves off of me so that is a blessing. The rest of my stuff I will either have to sell, donate, or put in storage. I don't want to put a lot of stuff in storage because I don't want to pay a lot of money each month for a huge storage unit. 

The most difficult thing for me to get rid of is going to be my car, Patty, I think. She's a 2002 PT Cruiser with some cosmetic damages and over 160,000 miles on her. She still runs well and has had a lot of work done in the past year, so it's not that she's a bad car, she's just old and has taken some hits.  I worry that I won't have enough time because I don't know how long it takes to sell a car, and I don't want to leave it unresolved when I go to Japan. That and I could use the money as part of my startup costs since I won't be getting a paycheck for a month after I get there.  Fortunately one of the members of my church said to talk to them before I sell her, so I hope he's of some help. 

I'll just have to take it one day at a time. The first step I'll need to take, however, is going to be obtaining boxes. I just moved last year and thought I was through with boxes and moving. I think I just got rid of some a few months ago, too.  I'm sure I can find some somewhere. If not I can always buy them. Either way, it will be an adventure, and this is just the beginning to my new adventure in the land of the rising sun. 

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Phoenix Awakens

After several years this blog is rising from the dust and mire, like a Phoenix ready for a new adventure in Japan.  This time, my stay will be longer as the student has become the teacher. That's right, I'm returning to Japan as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) through the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET Program) starting July 2017!  I hope you'll enjoy coming on this journey with me as I start the process of filling out paperwork and deciding what to do with all my stuff while I'm out of the country.  I hope to use this blog as a way to educate and entertain.  I hope you are able to live vicariously through me in my travels and life abroad.  There are sure to be bumps along the way because it's not going to be easy.  But, I hope to paint an accurate picture of my experience to the best of my abilities.  If all of that fails, I hope to at least inspire someone to work hard and pursue their dreams as I have pursued mine.  Few things are impossible if you persevere.

Welcome back to my adventure to and in the land of the rising sun!