As I write this story for my alma mater, the office I sit in teems with teachers and students busily preparing for tests, forming lesson plans, and stretching for after-school activities. It’s just your average day for a junior high school in Japan.
Seeking a way to study Japanese language and culture as a means of pursuing a Japanese gardening apprenticeship, I accepted the opportunity to teach English in Japan through the JET program.
My position as an assistant language teacher is a fantastic one. Imagine getting paid to have fun with kids in an almost “summer campesque” learning environment. Add to that the freedom to be as loud and excited as you please.
I am part teacher, part museum oddity; mentor and sideshow in one. It seems like the Japanese government forgot to mention that part of my job is to help my students, even if only for a few hours a week, forget the seriousness and rigor of the culture in which they are being raised.
I team teach with the four other English teachers and work with every student in the school. Classes consist of basic drills in English and games to underscore the lessons. After school, I help with programs and activities from English contests to every sport and club the school has to offer. I even help coach the baseball team when I’m not planning lessons.
Aside from my regular eight to five, living in Japan has also been a blast. Interestingly enough, by allowing me to explore other cultures and ideas within its halls of higher learning, Lawrence and the preparation it has given me has enabled me to sidestep culture shock. When someone hands me a cricket or a bright purple raw potato I choke it back with a smile.
Living in a small city of about 87,000 people, I’m even reminded of Appleton in a strange way. Palm trees, unfortunately, don’t really afford the same red and gold falls that I miss when thinking about brisk American autumns. But Appleton was also lacking the beautiful waterfalls only 30 minutes from my apartment here in Japan. My tiny apartment reminds me of my old room in the executive dorm.
I still find ways to connect with America all the way out here in my little city. I see Colonel Sanders standing outside of KFC almost every day when I’m riding around the city of Omura on my bike. The managers of the popular fast food chain-bless their little hearts-did dress him in a traditional kimono.
I’m also never too far from other foreigners who are helping me learn the ropes of the double-jump of living alone while in a foreign country. I hit up the American naval base in Sasebo to the north every once in a while for Swiss Miss hot cocoa and $2.00 movies.
So far, the experience has been a great one. I haven’t yet found myself to be the clich liberal arts student experiencing a foreign country and becoming profoundly affected by it. Hopefully I’m not doing something wrong.
Japan does, however, feel like home.
As a footnote to those at Lawrence who wonder why they are pursuing the education they are, in the institution that prints this very paper, I hope you’ll come to find both that the answer to that question lies in the impetus to ask it in first place, and that with the knowledge afforded by its answer, you equip yourself with all the tools necessary for a successful start after graduation.