Hello Home, I’m Back From Home

Hello everyone! Three weeks later (from my last post), I’m finally back in Blog World! It’s been a busy three weeks, stuffed with my all-too-quick trip to the States and my subsequent first week back at work. Time to take a breather!

My trip home was amazing! I got to see my youngest brother get married, and to squeeze in a quick visit to my grandparents who live out of state. I also got to spend quality time with my siblings, and to meet my niece for the first time! Although my visit was a mere seven days, I was thankful for everything I got to experience while I was home. Needless to say, I also ate a fair amount of pizza – my most-missed American food – and blackberry chip and cherry chip ice cream.

The trip out was a bit emotionally stressful, as a typhoon was rolling into Tokyo right around the same date that my flight was supposed to go out. However, when I arrived in Tokyo, it was only a bit rainy and windy, so my flight departed on time and I arrived in the States safe, sound, and on schedule.

On the way back, it appeared to be smooth sailing as well – genial summer weather, with my 5:47 a.m. flight to D.C. making good time and delivering us to the city a bit early. I located my departure gate for Chicago and wandered around, looking for an open spot to sit and charge my laptop. I did some Japanese study online for awhile, then at boarding time got up and made my way to the correct gate – just in time to hear that the flight had been delayed for an hour due to maintenance issues. “Any customers with concerns about missing connecting flights, please go to the service desk,” we were told. Well, I was supposed to have a two-hour layover in Chicago before my Japan flight, so hopefully I’d have time. But still, if I had to switch terminals, it could be a bit tight. I hopped into the customer service line, just in case.

As I was standing in the giant line leading up to the customer service desk (fortunately more toward the front than the back), the gentleman behind me said, “They just delayed the flight by another half hour.” OK, so maybe I WOULD miss my connection. When I got to the desk, the agent told me that he would switch me to the next flight to Japan, which left half an hour later. I agreed and hoped that would be an easy solution. I went back to the gate to wait, snagging some complimentary snacks which the airport personnel kindly put out as an apology for the wait.

At the appointed time to board, there was still no sign of action, and the maintenance workers were still roaming about near our plane. The agents kept announcing that they were waiting to hear what was going on. Finally, about twenty minutes later, we boarded, only to wait for ANOTHER maintenance issue to be dealt with. Finally, we taxiied for a few yards, then stopped for no apparent reason. The pilot announced that there had been another issue they’d had to run by someone or other, and, oh yes, due to weather in Chicago, we might not be allowed to take off. Fortunately, a few minutes later, we began taxiing for real, and finally took off. A crying baby (just a couple of rows behind me) and a jolty landing polished the whole trip off nicely.

Oh, but wait. We were originally supposed to land at 10:50 a.m., and it’s now 3:00 p.m. The airline had already emailed me that I’d been rescheduled for another flight to Japan – at one p.m. THE NEXT DAY. Considering that I had only planned one gap day in between my return to Japan and the start of work, I didn’t really want to waste a full day hanging around in Chicago. I went to the service desk. “Do you have anything earlier?” Well, only the one at 12:40 p.m. tomorrow.

Oh.

I took the hotel voucher and the one meal voucher that they gave me, and picked up a hamburger and M&M McFlurry from McDonald’s before catching a shuttle to my hotel. Disappointed in the turn of events, but thankful to at least have a free hotel stay, I lounged around until the next day, when I finally got on a Japan-bound flight. After 12 hours in the air and another 5 hours on trains (or waiting for them), I made it back to my little Japanese apartment and soon collapsed into bed.

The next day it was back to work, although all things considered, I didn’t feel as bad as I could have. Now, a week later, my body is finally re-adjusting back to Japanese time, and I think my body and mind are back in the swing of things. I’m a bit emotionally tumultuous every time I return home, trying to remember who I am and to re-adjust from being an American living in Japan to just being an American. It doesn’t take me long to slide back into the routine of American life, although I find myself losing the Japanese part of me, which I don’t want either! I guess that will all be stuff to deal with when I go back to America for good and have to deal with all that re-entry and reverse culture shock business.  For now, I’m two people living in two worlds. I think of my little apartment here in Japan as home, and yet my home in America will always be more home than any other home is. At least for now. 🙂

Looking ahead, I’m in the home stretch – the final half-year of my two years here. I never thought I’d say that I’m ready to be back in America after only two years, but oddly, I am. It was really hard for me to leave home (the American one) this time, and I’m already looking forward to things I might do when I get back. However, I know how easy it is to look with longing on past and future lives, and to take for granted the one we’re living now. So my goal for the next seven months is to really capitalize on my time here, learning Japanese, enjoying my friends, and taking advantage of travel and cultural opportunities as they come up.

Here’s to making the most of the now, and to enjoying the next half a year together. Talk to you all next week!

English Camp!

This year, the board of education here in Tamura City asked us to help with a new project – a two-night, three-day English camp. In the past, the English teachers on our team have helped prepare students to stay at British Hills, which is a place here in Japan that has British-style accommodations and activities. For some reason or another, the BOE changed the program this year, and instead chose to send the students to a lodge up on the top of a nearby mountain. They also asked us American teachers to actually participate in the camp, instead of just being trainers like we were before.

After thinking about and planning the camp for weeks, last week was finally “the weekend.” Almost all of us American teachers participated, so there were eight of us, along with some BOE staff members and some students from Waseda University, who run similar programs around the country and who did most of the planning and implementation for our camp. Twenty-three students participated, so there was a very high teacher-to-student ratio!

Even though participating in the camp meant extra work, I’d been looking forward to it, and it turned out to be quite a bit of fun. I had been hoping for a bit more of an outdoor camping experience, but unfortunately most of the activities were inside. However, the facility was very nice, and the views were amazing!!

The weekend was filled with discussions, games, and other activities. On the second day, the students were able to experience tree climbing using ropes, and to watch a drone being flown out over the valley. They also practiced flying small drones inside. On the third and final day, we split into groups and helped the students come up with original skits using a known fairy tale and adding a plot twist. My group chose Cinderella as the main story, and we drew a paper asking us to include an alien in the story. The group of students I worked with was incredibly creative, and ended up coming up with a lot of the skit on their own. They decided that, when the prince went to retrieve Cinderella’s left-behind shoe at midnight, an alien would swoop in and snatch it, and Cinderella would fall in love with him instead of the prince! It was pretty funny!

Here are the groups of students preparing for the play:

One of my favorite parts of our play was when a male student (who had volunteered to play the part of the evil stepmother), brandishing a folding fan, told Cinderella, “Shut up!” (a line he thought of himself!) in response to her question about why she couldn’t go to the ball. The students were even creative with their names. They named the girl who played the stepsister “Blossom,” because her Japanese name is the word for cherry blossom, and the girl who played the prince was “Prince Sky” because her real name includes the word for sky! We didn’t have much in the way of props or costumes, but our “prince” took off her skirt and wore her school shorts instead, and “Cinderella” completed her dress transformation by wearing her jersey over her uniform and taking it off to symbolize her transfiguration by the fairy godmother.

The “alien” also did a good job, although he had a lot of difficulty interacting comfortably with Cinderella. When he put her shoe back on, he couldn’t look her in the face, and he had a hard time pretending to be romantic. When one of the other teachers in my group asked if he would put his hand on Cinderella’s shoulder and waist during the final dance, he freaked out. “Zettai muri!” he said, which basically means, “That’s completely impossible!” So we had to settle for a mere holding of hands. 🙂

Since I generally don’t work with middle school students, it was very interesting for me to get a chance to interact with them. As is customary for middle school students participating in school activities, all the students wore their uniforms to the camp, although on the second day they wore their school athletic wear instead of the formal uniform. Each school also has a different style of uniform, so I really enjoyed learning more about the different schools’ uniforms and how to recognize them.

English camp turned out to be a busy three days, but it was fun and went quickly. On Wednesday, it was back to my regular work at the after-school program, which doesn’t let out until this coming Thursday. I’ve been busy writing term reports, but I finally have that wrapped up, and can now focus on what I’m really excited about – packing for a trip home this week! Next weekend, I’ll be in the States, so there will be a bit of a lull in posting for the next couple of weeks while I take some time off and get to do one of the most important things in life – spend time with family! Talk to you in a few weeks!