The Real Stuff

So, I haven’t done many introspective posts about Japan. Because, really, who wants to read all about my feelings? But as I am creeping up to the two-month mark of my arrival here (it will be a month and a half on May 15th), I thought that I would take a short pause to record what living in a foreign country is REALLY like – that is, what it is like aside from the fun travels and the new experiences. So let’s get started!

OK, number one: what is culture shock like? I think my first perception of culture shock is that it is different for EVERYONE. Everyone has had different experiences to draw from, and a personality that reacts differently to new situations. Supposedly there are four or five different stages of culture shock; I don’t even know which one I’m in. As I live through it, it’s really not that clear cut to me, and I don’t think that it necessarily will be. I still feel a sense of newness and enjoyment of a lot of the things I’m experiencing, which I think would be considered the honeymoon phase. That means some of the harder phases are coming up next (scary thought!), which brings me to the next topic…

Adjusting! It seems like I’m only just now starting to visualize my life here for the next two years. April was chock full of new experiences, meeting new people, and doing lots of traveling. The first week in May was a three-holiday week. Now we’re just starting to settle into a normal routine, and I’m gradually starting to realize that no, I don’t get a three-month break like I would as a teacher in the States, and this is the job that I will be doing for at least the next two years. It actually feels good to settle into a sense of routine, although I’m a bit nervously awaiting the feelings of homesickness and monotony that may creep in as I realize that this IS my life for two years.

Number three: communication. I felt like I knew a “good amount” of Japanese before I came – and I do know a lot of basic vocabulary, sentence structures, and symbols. But it doesn’t lessen the fact that it’s still difficult to actually communicate in Japanese. When people try to hold a conversation with me, I’m able to pick out a few words and sometimes get the gist of what they’re saying. The rest of the time, I just nod and pretend I understand. It’s really frustrating to not understand more, but it’s great motivation to continue learning the language.

Conclusion: Yep, living in a foreign country is fun. But it’s not ALL fun. I embarrass myself a lot, and feel uncertain of myself a lot. I’ve felt unsettled knowing that I’m not near ANY family or close friends anymore (although I have felt hugely supported by my team). But, on the flip side, there are so many good things about being here! I feel braver, more willing to take risks and try new things (or embarrass myself) because, well, that’s just my way of life here. I feel loved and supported by both my team and my family back home. And I feel so, so grateful to be here, because this really has been my dream almost since I was a child. It didn’t necessarily happen in my timing, but it did happen. And I’m so thankful that God led me to this opportunity, at this time. Even if I still have four more stages of culture shock to go… 🙂

Happy Golden Week!

Yes, this week is…golden. At least, Japan says it is. For those of you who may not be familiar with Japanese holidays, Golden Week is a week of several consecutive holidays. April 29, May 3, May 4, and May 5 are all holidays. Since April 29 fell on a Saturday this year, we didn’t get that one officially “off,” but since May 3, 4, and 5 fell on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday (respectively), we got Wednesday through Sunday off this week!

Most of the senior teachers on our team already had trips planned, and we newer teachers also wanted to take advantage of the 5-day break by doing some travelling. It turned out that we didn’t go very far – first, because we haven’t had much time to plan and most everything this week was already booked; and second, because we’ve only been working here for a month and didn’t want to spend much money! However, at least for me, it ended up being a satisfying week.  So, what does one do on a Golden Week in which there are no major trips planned? Well, for me it went something like this:

Wednesday: Walk to the local shopping center. Eat sushi and cake at a revolving sushi restaurant (the sushi revolves, not the restaurant!). Buy soil. Lug it home, use my three planters to plant seeds I bought at the 100-yen store – tomatoes, carrots, beans, lettuce, spinach, flowers. Wait breathlessly for them to grow.

Thursday: Day trip to Iwaki (a city near the coast, and one of the places where the tsunami hit in 2011). Take the train with some other team members. Try to figure out where the aquarium is located. Decide that we need to take a bus. Take the bus to the aquarium. Spend a couple hours exploring. Ride the bus back to the train station. Ask about a hamburger place we want to visit, and find out it’s closed. (Cue some very disappointed team members.) Buy food at a convenience store and sandwich shop instead. Ride the train home.

Friday: Walk to the farthest (but larger) grocery store. Buy lots of food, and as usual, spend more than I want to. But hey! I found oats. And brown and white sugar. And vanilla. Which leads to the next activity…Baking. In the afternoon, I try my mom’s chocolate chip cookie recipe, using my microwave-sized “oven” to bake with for the first time. Partial success – the cookies did, at least, bake and taste somewhat edible. Partial failure – they taste NOTHING like my mother’s. Mom, I’m taking the next flight home!! Later, for supper, make okonomiyaki (vegetable pancakes) with two of my teammates. Total success! I’d forgotten how much I like okonomiyaki!!

Saturday: Take three of my team members and climb Mount Katasone for the second time. Everything’s a little greener and prettier now. Eat sushi at the top, and look out over our town, and at the mountains across from us. “I will lift my eyes to the hills..” Now I know why the mountains made Maria sing. And why David wrote about them in the Psalms. God seems bigger up there, and life seems…smaller.

Sunday: Try going to the local church by myself for the first time! Even though I’m nervous, it turns out to be OK, except for the fact that I can’t understand anything. But I enjoy going and lending some support to the local church, if only by being present sometimes. Japanese churches are so tiny (most of the time), and there are so few of them – this one is the only church in town that I know of! However, it’s very convenient; since it’s being held at the school where I work (until a new church can be built), it’s only a two-minute walk from where I live.

Now it’s Sunday afternoon, which means Golden Week is almost over. It’s been a refreshing week, and I’ve been able to try lots of little projects that have been on my mental “list.” But now, it’s back to the grindstone for a solid few months. No lengthy American summer vacation for me! The summer vacation is a lot shorter here; plus, I work at an after-school program, so it’s shorter for us teachers than it is for the students in public school. I’ll get about 15 days in August, which right now seems a long way away. However, there is Ocean Day – a national holiday – sometime in July. Hey, here’s an idea, America: Why don’t we have an Ocean Day? Maybe I’ll institute one when I get back. In any case, as I wave goodbye to my five days of freedom, I’ll look forward to the coming of summer. Even if I have to work, summer still means hot weather, flip-flops, ice cream, and sunny days!

 

We’re Here!

Ohayou gozaimasu! Good morning from Japan! After a grueling twelve-hour flight, we arrived in Japan on Saturday afternoon at about three o’clock. We were all somewhat shell-shocked, and overwhelmed by the thought that this was our new home for the next two years. After going through immigration and customs, we were picked up in a couple of vans by two of the school’s staff members, and had another three-hour drive or so from Tokyo up here to Tamura city in Fukushima.

A good night’s sleep and waking up to morning sunlight yesterday morning helped revive me a little. We had a relaxing day yesterday, exploring town with some of the experienced team members (the ones who arrived a year ago) and trying out some of the restaurants. In the afternoon, one of my other team members and I went back to the grocery store to stock up on some food. There were so many new products to explore! It will take awhile to get used to what the stores here have (and don’t have), but fortunately I was able to find some of my favorite food items.

We each have our own small apartment, although two of my teammates have to share temporarily. We all live in the same building, which is great. It is an incredibly comforting feeling to know that I have my team for support as I navigate all of these new experiences. I haven’t had serious homesickness or culture shock hit me yet, but I think I’m still living in the surreal experience of adjusting and trying to figure out exactly how I ended up here on the other side of the world. 🙂

We have one more day of exploring and relaxing today, and then orientation begins tomorrow. After two days of orientation, we officially begin our jobs, although some of us will just be shadowing and not actually teaching yet. Phew! There’s going to be a lot to take in over the next few days and weeks, but for now I am thankful that we are at least somewhat settled, and can try to start adjusting to life here.

That’s all for now, but there will be more stories and pictures to come! I’m hoping to do a post about my apartment and possibly the grocery store. If there are any topics you would particularly like to know about, or questions that you have, let me know in the comments section and I will try to address them in a future post!

Getting Ready…

Hello from Ohio! I can’t believe it’s already been one week since we arrived! It has been a full week for our team – getting to know each other, learning about Japanese history and culture, and studying the Japanese language. The setting here is absolutely beautiful; the church at which we are having our orientation is like a lodge, with a spacious upstairs area that has a kitchen, a library, a huge room with a fireplace, and a balcony with a picturesque view of the field and pond behind the church.  A very generous family has allowed us to stay in their home, which is just a couple minutes’ walk away from the church, so we get some nice walking time in as we head to the church every morning and come home at night.

View from the church balcony

The church community here is amazing, offering their support through their prayers, their kind interest, and their hospitality. Every day, someone from church brings in lunch for us, which we heartily enjoy as we give our minds a break from learning. I have been overwhelmed by the kindness and love shown to us, and it’s so comforting to realize that these wonderful people will be thinking of us and praying for us as we head to Japan. I was so excited to go to Japan with the support of a team, but I didn’t expect to have the support of the whole church community here as well!

Our team has spent some quality time together this past week, even making time for a few fun activities like bowling and hiking. It’s been fun to get to know the unique personalities of each person, and to see us start to mesh as a group. Although we all have different backgrounds and motivations for coming here, it is really cool to see the focus for God that each person has, and the heart that each has for following Him into this new adventure.

This week we are wrapping up our orientation, taking three more days to study more about Japanese culture, the jobs we will have, and teaching techniques. On Thursday, we get ready to head to Columbus, where we will stay overnight so that we can head out early in the morning for our flight on Friday!

Although I have some trepidation about finally going to Japan and starting a new job there, I’m also excited. God has provided and blessed in such awesome ways up this point, and I know He will into the future. The adventure has only begun, yet already it is amazing…

 

 

This Is the Month!

Well, it has finally arrived. March is the month in which I start my new overseas adventure – going to teach English in Japan! It has felt like a long road sometimes since I first started seriously looking into teaching jobs in Japan about a year ago. Of course, working in Japan has been a dream of mine for a long time, but for many years the timing just didn’t seem right.

But after I graduated in December 2015, I decided that I really would like to try teaching in Japan. I started looking into different opportunities, but the one that stood out the most to me was the Wakakusa English Program. I sent them an application last February, and in the subsequent months continued thinking, praying, and looking into other opportunities. Nothing appealed to me as much as the Wakakusa program, so I was very happy when my application led to Skype interviews and then eventually acceptance in the program!

My contract with the Wakakusa program is for two years (!!), and I will be teaching English in Tamura city, which is in Fukushima prefecture. The employers are Christians, and I will be going over with a team of other American teachers and working with some teachers who are already there. I know that there are going to be a lot of new (scary!) experiences and culture shock, but I also know that it’s going to be a fabulous opportunity to learn, grow, and gain new perspectives.

My plan is to keep this blog regularly updated, so please check in from time to time if you want to know what’s going on! Also please feel free to post questions and comments below. If you are interested in learning more about the program I’ll be working with, check out this link:

http://teachintamura.com/

Talk to you all later!

(Note: comments can be added by clicking on the title of the post and scrolling down to the comment section. There is probably a better way for me to set it up, but, well….I haven’t figured it out yet. I’m new to all this blogging stuff. 🙂 )