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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Going To Japan Takes Some Courage

I have to admit that every Monday when it was time for me to go an team-teach at one of the seven junior high schools in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken, I was scared spitless.

There was no reason for it, of course. It was just that feeling of the unknown - like oh crap, what have they got planned for me this week.

Between the late summer of 1990 and 1993, I was a member of the JET (Japan exchange & Teaching) Programme. I was/am from Toronto, Canada and was fresh off a summer internship as a reporter with the Toronto Star... no mean accomplishment to get into it, as journalism students from across the country applied, and only nine of us got in.

I was the first ever Community College journalism student to get into the program, as the internship focused more on the bigger journalism schools from university. I did have a degree from university, though, but that was in political science... big whoop. For me, as a Humber College student, getting into this internship was a big deal, as it would help prove the validity of the college journalism program, setting the mark thereafter for all who would follow.

And I did well. I covered two stories initially that were major national headliners for weeks in Canada.

Even before all this, I was a piano and clarinet teacher, coached college soccer, and pretty much was a success at everything I touched between 1988 and 1990. So what the deuce was I afraid off every Monday morning in Japan?

There was the unknown factor.

Now... you'll notice I placed a timeline there when everything was coming up Andrew. Before 1988, everything was coming up and all over Andrew - like vomit. Someone else's vomit, to paraphrase a line from Spinal Tap.

Before going to journalism school I was a quiet, shy kid. I had dated two girls - only one of whom I know considered me her boyfriend - a gorgeous young lady named Bryndis Swan whom I believe resides in Kingston, Ontario now.  I was deathly shy... afraid of rejection... afraid of trying.

Even though I had come out of my shell while at journalism school, people still knew the old me. And while I was in the processing of growing a set of wings like a swan, sometimes the old me showed up - especially where women were concerned.

I lusted after every woman I saw, and very few ever saw me more than just a horny guy who wanted to sleep with them (all true, of course). 

But going to Japan... this was my chance to change all of that. No one would know me. No one knew of my insecurities... my fears of rejection.

And so... as I landed in Japan, I'm going to say 'subconsciously', I grew a set of cajones to go with the new-found wings that had flown me to this new land... the land of the rising son (sic).

I don't think I became arrogant, but I did suddenly buy into the whole thing of 'look at me... I'm a JET!' And we all know that when you're a JET, you're the top of the heap - to paraphrase a line from West Side Story.

Yeah... I like a lot of movies most guys would never admit to. I've watched the Wizard of Oz over 40 times (I want the Wizard to give me some courage!), and gone down the rabbit hole reading Alice in Wonderland maybe 30 times.
It reminds me of the fact that I am still a kid... and in both those movies/books I am off on an adventure.

And yet, despite either finally growing up upon arriving in Japan and embracing each and every day full of awe and wonder and bravery, I knew that deep down inside every day scared the crap out of me.

But despite admitting some fear, I am not a coward. Not once did I really think I would leave Japan early to go back home. Not once. It was around my entry into Japan that I promised myself that if I started anything, I would finish it. Every single little thing.

It's why, even though I was always a bit fearful about what the new day would bring - or whether or not the kids would like me (fears from my youth - growing up as a minority), I still always got up and faced the challenge.

In a roundabout way, should any JETs be reading this now... and have been in the country for nearly four months... and have missed Thanksgiving, perhaps a birthday, and know that Christmas is coming up... you are at the point in your AET career when you are thinking about packing it all in. Not all of you, of course. But some of you.


Tough it out. This Japan experience may not be the defining moment in your life, but it is the defining moment of your life right now.

Loneliness can be a bitch... but there's a long list of names and phone numbers on the JET list. Just call. Call home. Talk. Relax. Breath.

Tomorrow will come. And, if I may quote the title of a song from a Beatles song - the last song of the first side from the Revolver album - Tomorrow Never Knows.

Every Monday morning I would work myself up expecting the worst whenever I had a new school to visit. And by the time I entered the school and had students bowing at me... all of that fear was forgotten.

I never wrote a bit of the fear down in any of my journals. I didn't want to be reminded of being afraid, as though writing it down would empower the fear within me.

But now... 22 years after I first arrived, I can sit here in my office in Toronto and realize that just the mere act of leaving a country where I was comfortable to go and live in a place where I didn't know anyone or speak the language... well... ya-ha-ha, Pilgrim. Japan is a brave new world.

Have fun. Go explore it. Take lots of photos. Write everything down. Trust me... you won't remember as much as you think you will. And, I did all of the above.

Enjoy yourself. It's just life happening.
Andrew Joseph
PS: I need to try and take my own advice.

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