Well, today is the day! On this day a year ago, I arrived in Japan, head swimmy with jet lag and overwhelmed with the thoughts of living two whole years in a different country. A year later, I can say that I have safely survived the effects of culture shock and the stress of starting a new job, and have learned to manage all kinds of new experiences – navigating the train system, using appropriate work greetings, and digesting things like natto (fermented beans) and fish eggs.
It’s been quite a year of wonderful experiences, tough experiences, and everything in between. So in honor of my first year here, I’ll do one of my favorite things: making a list!
Best Memory: I can’t choose just one! But the highlights would be the excitement of going into classes for the first time, the thrill of being able to manage simple things (like mailing something at the post office and using public transportation!), and participating in the students’ fun school events such as sports days. It’s also been cool to experience things that are “authentically Japanese” – things like planting rice, soaking in an outdoor tub, and making and eating soba noodles.
Worst Memory: Feeling awkward and making embarrassing cultural and language mistakes. Experiencing the after-effects of culture shock, with a dollop of homesickness for good measure…
Favorite Food: Golden, crispy tempura (battered and deep-fried vegetables and seafood). My favorites are squash and sweet potato. Oh, and I love daifuku (cream-filled rice cakes), too. Can I have two favorites?
Least Favorite Food: Natto. And fish eggs. Natto just smells, and even though it doesn’t taste bad, it can have a gritty consistency. Fish eggs are something I can get down, but the thought of what they are just kind of grosses me out.
Something I’d Like Japan to Start Using: Warm water in public restrooms. And soap. And paper towels!
Something I’d Like America to Start Using: A train system in my area. Then I would never have to drive again…
Favorite Thing About Teaching English: Playing games with my students. Seeing the faces of my sweet first-graders, happy to be there and eager to learn. (Not that I have a favorite class or anything…)
Least Favorite Thing About Teaching English: Some of the rote things we have to teach that are part of the curriculum. But I guess that’s true of teaching anywhere in the world! Also, the attitudes of students who don’t want to be there or who make snide remarks (it doesn’t matter if I can’t understand your language, I can still tell if you’re saying something snarky). Yes, I guess students are the same all over the world, too!
Looking back over the year, I am incredibly grateful for all of the things I’ve had the chance to experience, and for the ways that I have grown. I’ve adjusted little by little, of course, but I feel like I’m only just starting to feel more comfortable here and to feel a sense of familiarity with my home and surroundings. In some ways it’s been a rough year as I struggled through a bunch of mental and emotional turbulence triggered by the change. But, thanks be to God, He has been leading me through that, and I feel like I’ve done a lot of growing in the past year. As the new school year starts, we will have a new work schedule, some different students, and a new set of teachers from America! I’m looking forward to experiencing another year in this amazing country, hopefully with less culture shock this time around!