It seems like only yesterday I was leaving Mom at the airport, having doubts in Guam, and stepping onto Japanese soil, scared but excited to start out in a new country with not a single familiar face. It took me a grand total of probably 6 hours once I got off the plane to make my first friend, and then they multiplied and grew so quickly I’ve since lost count; people from China, Australia, Canada, various parts of Europe, various parts of the United States, and eventually, Japan.
It seems like I only just met my host family in that room on the second floor of the CIE in Kansai Gaidai, this Japanese woman accompanied by a younger man and three rambunctious kids whose names it took me probably an entire month to get right. That first night was so unreal, so terrifying, so overwhelming, I didn’t think I would ever fit in or get anything right. There were too many rules, too many things to remember; but the futon was comfortable so at least that was nice. Oh, and the view was great. And okaasan was a great cook, and she was fun to talk to, and ….. It became normal.
And then suddenly, it was over. As I write this, sitting on my couch in my house with my family close by, all I can do is look at the pictures I took and flip through my memories of that grand adventure, and I’m struck with a feeling bordering…. Loss. I feel like I left part of my being in Japan, and while I can’t get it back (without GOING back of course), I can glimpse shadows of it in my pictures. If only for a second, the smells, sounds, tastes, and all the feelings I will forever associate with my second home country wash around me in a warm blanket of remembrance and nostalgia.
Over the past month of being in America, not one day has gone by that I haven’t both thought about Japan and managed to bring it up in random conversations. This and the fact that I sometimes take a few seconds longer to reply to someone in a conversation than normal (my mind sometimes replies in Japanese first and I have to translate it into English), zone out of a conversation entirely because I’m trying to eavesdrop on someone-who-I-think-might-be-speaking-Japanese’s conversation, or cover my mouth when I laugh every once in a while shows, a little more obviously, how my time in Japan has changed me.
Now I will admit I wasn’t always so fond of Japan. While I was there, especially as the time I had left grew shorter, I grew more and more frustrated that time was moving so slow. I wanted it to hurry up; I was ready to leave, ready to sleep in a real bed, ready to see all the friends and family I’d left behind. I was convinced that I would never come back to Japan. I didn’t want to do the JET Program, I didn’t want to teach English; I might even stop taking Japanese all together and pick up Chinese or Arabic for my last year at college. But sure enough, after three days of being home, eating American food, and speaking only English, I felt that first feeling of loss. I didn’t realize how much of an impact Japan had on me until I came back; and now it’s all I want.
With that being said, I have decided that I DO want to do the JET Program. I’m looking at applying either this year or the next, and hopefully I’ll succeed in landing a position as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT)! I’ve heard lots about the program (both good and bad), but I’m positive that I can make the best of whatever it has to offer. Studying abroad showed me that I CAN make it in a country where I know absolutely no one. I CAN travel halfway around the world by myself, survive staying in an airport for 11 hours straight, and thrive being away from America for a long period of time, away from anything familiar and comfortable and just dive into the unknown. It has given me a better idea of who I am, who I can be, and who I want to be. It has given me more courage, curiosity, strength, and ideas than I know what to do with; I guess the only thing to do now is to share all of those with people thinking about studying abroad back in Charleston and try and convince them to follow in my steps. In order to do that, I successfully applied for and accepted a volunteer position at my college’s Center for International Education where I will be helping students familiarize themselves with the study abroad options available to them and offer my advice and experience. I’m really looking forward to it!
I suppose that’s it! I’d like to thank those of you who have been keeping up with my blog while I was in Japan; your support and interest helped motivate me to keep posting stories and pictures! I don’t expect I’ll be posting much now that I’m back, but I may try and pick it back up once I go back for the JET Program. Until then, さようなら！