Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Few Words About Initial Communication

I already mentioned in another post a few of the woes that came along with being submersed in a Japanese-only environment. But I want to explore them some more now before I lose myself in it and forget how strange it felt to me once.
At Tokyo orientation you have the chance to get your feet wet as far as being in Japan goes, but it is essentially Japan with some pretty major training wheels. This is because Tokyo is a major metropolitan city, and also because the JET program does a great job of holding your hand during the first 72 hours. We were all too busy walking around with dinner plate eyes and talking to other ALTs in English amid rousing rounds of back-slapping and so on. When the dust clears, and you're in the car with two Japanese people who have never seen your country or spoken your mother tongue, then you get to really check your communication strategies.

"Huh, what? I have no idea what you're saying, where we're going, where my luggage is, I can't read, I forgot your name and I'm not sure where I'm going to eat or sleep tonight. But... DANG that's pretty." (Day 1)

The feeling I had was how you might feel right AFTER you bungie jump off a bridge or jump out of a plane-- your heart is perhaps racing and your stress level is elevated and does not really go down. Perhaps comparing talking to Japanese people to jumping out of a plane is a bit extreme, but I want you to understand the feeling of elevated stress that just does not go down. The whole time. But you don't have time to really dwell on it, because you're constantly dealing with communication. Trying to communicate. Trying to understand and form coherent thoughts, while at the same time marvelling at how different your town (in my case Chizu) is from Tokyo. Fortunately though, that stress level does not last forever. It has largely diminished now (two months in). Make no mistake-- it's not that I suddenly got much better and can easily communicate; it's that I no longer sweat the small stuff. No one's head exploded when I used the wrong word. Nobody yelled at me for zigging when I should have zagged. Well, yet anyway-- fingers still crossed.

And there is sunshine on the other side of the hill. As I settled in at my BOE during my first week, I slowly got over the initial language shock. I realized too how much it means when someone is willing to slog through a dictionary or tolerate your awful butchering of thier language so they can explain your water bill, or your key money, or how banking works. They told us at orientation that it will go a long way with people if you just TRY. Just TRY to communicate, and many things will fall into place. I found that working through ideas and sentences and words and so on is actually very rewarding. And it got easier the more time I spent talking to my supervisors. And it continues to get easier and, dare I say it, FUN. I enjoy "talking" with my supervisors because whether or not I can say exactly how I feel, the very act of working together to be understood leaves everyone smiling and usually laughing. And in the end, I always leave feeling a little warmer and brighter than when I arrived.

That mountain keeps blocking out the sun. I gotta do something to make some light and stay warm.

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