The first time I went to Japan, I was 15. I was participating in an exchange program between my home town and a tiny city in Japan named Hanno. I knew nothing about Japan – its history, culture, language. The only thing I had going for me was a few months worth of beginner’s Japanese. I could spell out my name in katakana characters, maybe give a decent self-introduction, and that was about it.
It was also the first time I’d ever left the country before. Visiting Japan was like discovering a new world; I was all at once immersed in a new environment and had the opportunity to experience a rich and complex culture, a different way of life. The exchange program only lasted 10 days, but those 10 days had a tremendous influence on my life. I remember saying goodbye to my host sister before boarding the shuttle to the airport on the last day. I promised that I would visit her again.
Several months later, I figured out how I could go back to Japan. My Japanese language teacher, Mrs. White, told the class about JET – a program sponsored by the Japanese government that sends English speakers from around the world to teach English in Japanese classrooms. All you need to apply to the program is a Bachelor’s degree. So at 15, I told myself that once I graduated from college, I would apply. I knew that if I wanted to return to Japan, the JET Program would take me there.
Fast forward to my final year of college, 5 years later: I don’t know if I want to apply to the program anymore. I have new dreams and aspirations now, a different direction for my future. Do I really see myself leaving everyone – my family, my friends – and everything behind just to acknowledge my 15 year old self’s lofty, if not unattainable, goals? And do I really envision myself in Japan, for a whole year?
As of the September entering this past academic year, I did not – I did not see myself departing for Japan upon graduation. But, I applied to the JET program anyway. Because I felt that if I didn’t apply, I’d be cheating my 15 year old self.
She wanted me to apply, so I did it for her.
After surviving a grueling 6-month-long application process, at the end of this past spring break I received the email offering me the position as an Assistant Language Teacher for JET. I accepted the position immediately. I remember running downstairs, hugging my mom, calling my dad. This is happening, I thought, I’m going to Japan.
I’ll be there for one year (or more, maybe!) starting on July 22nd.
This blog is dedicated to recording my experiences while living and working in Japan – not only as a way of keeping the people I care about updated, but also as a tribute to my 15 year old self.