Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Atsumi's Story

Hey everyone!

In the spirit of recounting my time overseas to my loved ones back home, I have begun to write and record little vignettes of memories that are particularly important to me or that stick out in my mind. Please have a look at this video if you want to hear a bit of Addy's story! If you'd like to watch it on Youtube (from a PC only) please use this link:

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Where We're Going, Where We've Been 2

This is the second part in a two part series. It details my experience between being accepted onto the JET program and leaving for Japan. Below is the video, followed by a transcript.

It's August of 2012, and I have just decided to throw the full weight of my commitment behind my application to the JET program. I prepare to draft a statement of purpose, and I brainstorm potential sources for letters of recommendation. I reflect back on the last few years and try to pick out my most shining examples of international experience and teaching. As I agonize over checking every detail before I send out my application, I am totally clueless that the hardest part still lies ahead of me. That I will spend handfuls of near-sleepless nights wrapped up in my own anxiety like a blanket.

You can find many videos on the JET application and interview process, so I don't think I can really add much to that. For my part, I made the trip down to Nashville and felt like a fish out of water all dolled up in my suit and acting the part of an accomplished young professional. To double down on the weirdness of it all, it was around Valentines Day and I was interviewing for the opportunity that would end my relationship of four years. Though much is said about the process of interviewing and applying, not much is said about the other 99% of the time. It varies wildly from person to person I guess, but for me the period between being accepted onto the program and actually going to Japan was sometimes very difficult. I felt a building sense of anxiety as the departure date grew closer and closer. Some of my friends started to inexplicably pull away from me and I couldn't figure out why. I became aware of how little I knew about my new life as I tried to put together the things I wanted to take with me and the things I could leave behind. I felt extremely insecure about losing all my safety nets and moving. In my last video I mentioned how I had things pretty well -  I was in a long term relationship, had an OK job, and lived in an apartment with two of my friends. I wasn't setting the world on fire, but it was predictable and comfortable. As I started stripping that stuff away and preparing myself to lose all of it, I felt more and more anxiety about leaving. I laid awake every night for hours as I turned over every possibility in my head. I'm not exaggerating about this, either. I actually laid awake for HOURS each night for over a month before I left. I resorted to taking over the counter sleep aids to help me fall asleep. I was all messed up about it.

But the hardest thing, and I will never forget this, was the night before I left. I was with my girlfriend and one of my best friends, and I just felt weird going through the motions like I wasn't going to abandon them the next day. At the end of the night I saw my friend off, and walked my girlfriend to her car parked under a streetlight. That was rough. That goodbye was rough. What kind of a man can hug and kiss someone even as he chooses to hurt them? I watched her car disappear down the street and felt like the worst piece of S in the world.

The next day I was up early and on to Nashville. We had a pre-departure orientation and a dinner with the Japanese ambassador. At the end of the day I sat on the edge of a hotel bed and swapped stories of family and home with a guy I'd never met who was brushing his teeth in his underwear. The next morning, wide-eyed and still slightly in shock, I got on the plane and changed my life forever.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Where We're going, Where We've Been 1

(This entry was written in June of 2013)

It's coming up on mid- June now and already the new JET participants are filtering into our online communities and getting ready for their big move to Japan. Nothing makes you look backward like seeing someone else in the same position you were once in. Since I'm writing this blog at least in part for my own successor, and because I've never really told the whole narrative of my journey, I think I might reflect on it now.

The Genesis of my JET Idea

Teaching English in a foreign country was never a goal of mine. I didn't have the daring to think I could ever qualify for or do or afford such an undertaking. Other people in college would go on about studying abroad and the varied, wonderful experiences (and debaucheries) they experienced during their stay. But it was never possible for me. I didn't have the resources, the drive or the courage to make it happen. I was content with what I was doing. And anyway I was aimless through much of college. I had a goal I was working toward but I really had no idea what I would actually end up doing. So it was in this way that I rolled through college.
It finally came time, after 5 years, for me to graduate. At the time I was working in the distance learning office of my university, preparing courses to launch in the university's new online education program. But that employment stopped when I was no longer a student. So I began to consider other options.

Being aimless can become a habit. After five years of studying what I wanted, being comfortably stuck in college and job opportunities, I still had no career. Nor did I wish for a career quite yet. Throughout my college life I, like many people do, experienced a degree of wanderlust from time to time. It's that periodic existential crisis that you're stuck in a rut and one day maybe you'll just drop everything and go. Just GO somewhere and do something crazy, shake things up, meet new people, start a new kind of life. But of course, I never did it. I was on a roll; and in truth, I had things pretty well, but I did still want to travel somehow before I settled into the routine of adulthood.

So I began looking for opportunities to put my life on hold, to be aimless just a bit longer, while also doing something meaningful. And so I began to think about Japan, as it had been a samurai and video game filled dream of mine since I was a youth. My last year in college I had taken two Japanese language courses just for the fun of it. During these courses, I had learned about a few study abroad and international exchange programs. But it wasn't until my last summer in college that I sat down and began seriously looking at them. My job opportunities were slim, and this served as a kind of motivation. I figured if I was ever going to realize this dream, I needed to make it happen right out of college. Plus, I had just earned a black belt which had also been a dream of mine since I was young. I was feeling buoyed by that success and thought maybe it was time to get out of the roll of daily life, to satisfy my wanderlust and to chase another dream. Maybe it was time to try something really, really different…