“Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future.”

Yoda, the empire strikes back

Facing the Responsibilities

For the last couple of weeks I have spent much time wondering about which direction my life may take in the coming year. I knew, of course, that I would re-sign my contract with the JET Programme for a second year from 2019-2020, and I did just that a week ago. However, my mind’s ceaseless preoccupations have been concerned not with signing the contract, where I want to visit on my vacation, or what kind of dinner to make tonight, but larger, more existential, questions: how can I make myself the best teacher I can be, where will I go when I am done with JET, and so on.

Over the past couple of weeks these questions have been addressed in varying degrees of scrutiny, in conversations with varying degrees of solemnity, and with people of varying degrees of personality, and from these interactions I have taken one nugget of wisdom: the answers to these questions will come to me whenever they come to me, and in the meantime I will just have to enjoy the ride while I can.

This is advice is one which I routinely tell myself and others, though to have it shine through in personal experience was a somewhat surreal experience, one which instilled both anxiety and comfort in me upon its arrival. What made it all the more impactful was the serendipity that brought about the realization. Rather than intentionally having all these different conversations with the intent of putting my thoughts out there, each of these conversations happened in close temporal proximity, completely unrelated to each other, and none of their impetuses were my own personal qualms. Just like everything else in life, these experiences came on their own time, and there was nothing that I could have done to speed them up or slow them down

The first of these qualms to be addressed was my uneasiness about being able to reach my students. My mother has been a teacher in the Rochester City School District for almost 30 years, and I know this is an issue that she also struggles with, so I take some solace in the fact that I am not alone in my fear. Nonetheless, that does not assuage my unease.

I have many students who I know enjoy my classes, and I can see the smiles on their faces when I am in the room, trying to bring energy and a sense of amusement to what could otherwise be a boring class. Though, as fun as the class may be, I am always anxious that many of the students will not enjoy the lesson, or they will not be able to take away a meaningful lesson about English and how to use it. And there is one student in particular, a third-year, who personifies and legitimizes my anxieties above all others:

Ryuusei

Since I began teaching at Sakuragi Junior High, I can count on one hand the amount of times Ryuusei has not been asleep or absent during my class. In my conversations with Mr. Fukuzawa, the third grade English teacher, I have learned much about Ryuusei. In the last year, he has been arrested for stealing from a convenience store, riding a motorcycle without a license, smoking and drinking underage, and a few other infractions. He has also all but given up on his schooling and will more than likely not pursue further education in Senior High School. On top of all of this, his friends and peers have all followed the standard path of buckling down to study hard and get into the best schools they can, so he feels like everything that has been present in his life up until now is falling out from under him. When Fukuzawa told me all of this, I was shocked but not surprised. His actions, to me, scream like someone who just wants to be noticed, and he thinks that acting out like this is the only way to get that.

It makes me very sad to see Ryuusei like that. At heart, I don’t think he is a bad kid, just one that thinks he is. I wish I had a way to talk to him, but with his English almost non-existent and my Japanese far too insufficient, I fear that I may not be able to talk to him before graduation in March. I plan to do everything in my power to talk to him, even if just a little bit, before graduation. Whether or not I am successful in this remains to be seen, but at the very least I will have tried my best and come away with some lesson that I will use to sharpen my teaching abilities closer to a razor’s edge.

Alongside these questions of how to augment my scholastic aspirations, my preoccupations of a post-JET career have also reared their heads as of late, always begging the same question:

Where Next?

While I do recognize that obsessively worrying about this question is not a top priority at this moment, I try to be proactive, so I have been trying to brainstorm what the next step may be, especially now that I have re-contracted for my second year with JET. I bounce back and forth, among other things, between returning home to attend Graduate School and eventually enter the State Department, staying in Japan to teach at International Schools, deciding to instead dedicate my time to this blog, moving to California to try my hand at film-making, or just leaving everything behind to travel to Nepal and become a Sherpa. Needless to say, many different ideas have been entertained thus far, and none in particular have held any clout over the others as of yet. Though as my conversation with another JET taught, me I am fairly ordinary in that regard.

I went ice skating with a group of JETs and one of them, Jasmine, and I got to talking, and eventually the conversation ended up on our post-JET plans. Jasmine is a second-year JET, and she has found herself going back and forth between re-contracting and not. She told me how she loves the lifestyle here in Japan, how the job is rewarding, and she loves the freedom her life here offers, but at the same time she realizes the impermanence of the position and knows that she will need to leave and find a more long-term career path, a hurdle that exists regardless of how long she may try to delay its arrival. Yet, in our conversations, Jasmine was never outwardly nervous.

Yes, she definitely expressed some anxieties, but never did she seem as though she felt out of control of the situation; it was this aspect of our discussion that brought me a proper sense of solace. I always try to maintain a level-headed perspective about my life, though I am not always successful, and our camaraderie gave me the confidence to trust this process and myself to work out this conundrum, be it sooner, later, or sometime even further down the line.

Traveling Down the Line

As I near the final days of 2018, all of these questions continue to occupy part of my day, but, because of the people I have met and the conversations we have shared, I feel at peace as I close out another year. The answers have not been found yet, but I will find them or they will come to me in due time. I am addressing tomorrow’s responsibilities today, little by little, with the help of my compatriots my friends, and eventually they will help lead me to whatever answers I need.

In Japanese, the word 仲間, nakama, means one’s company or one’s friends. They are the people who we rely on and who help us just as we help them. Slowly but surely, I am creating my own nakama, and with them I hope to attack 2019 with the fervor that I used in 2018.

Tomorrow’s responsibilities will come on their own time, and I hope to see my nakama by my side when they do.

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Song of the Week

Memoirs of a Gaijin Playlist

“Spaceship” by Kanye West

“Spaceship” is a song that I have always appreciated since I first listened to The College Dropout. The song is one of arrogant, unabashed ambition, and I love the way that the song portrays Kanye’s vivacious creative drive and self-assurance. Whenever I feel a need to re-encourage myself to maintain course in whatever goals I have set for myself, and it has not failed me yet. My gut tells me that I may be listening to this song more than ever before in 2019, and I cannot wait to see if my instincts will guide me to my spaceship.

If you would like to listen to this song or any of the other prior Songs of the Week, check out the Spotify Playlist linked above!

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