Suffice it to say, a lot has happened in the last two weeks (more so in the last 2 months but that’s a story for another day.) After a few weeks of hanging in limbo (read: hiking, snacking, and of course, karaoke) with some friends around Kitakyushu, I was offered a last minute position in rural Miyazaki. I found out on a Monday, was whisked down here on Tuesday, and was thrown into teaching a real live classroom (or rather, 5 of them) - for the first time - bright and early Wednesday morning. Somehow it's already been two weeks of that, and after nearly a month of bouncing around hotels in several different cities, I am officially set up in my apartment for the next year.
Cue: A moment to finally breathe. And reflect.
On a drive with another ALT (Assistant Language Teacher, or, another ex-pat here on an Instructor’s Visa) this weekend to check out some waterfalls and a nearby volcano, he mentioned that even after 9 months teaching here it can be hard to relay to folks back home what this experience is like. To paraphrase: "They ask vague questions, and want to hear it’s going well, and I give them the vague positive answers they are looking for. It’s difficult to say that while it is really quite incredible it’s also really fucking hard. And having to spend most of my days in the first few months just struggling to understand enough of the language to survive was honestly just exhausting. Yes it is beautiful, and cool, and I am lucky to have this opportunity but it’s also a lot.”
That last part, admittedly, struck a chord.
I absolutely subscribe to the idea that this next year will be nothing short of an awesome life experience. But that blanket statement misses the key part: life.
Life is awesome. And it is scary, and stressful, and lovely and messy, and confusing, and sad, and breathtaking and comforting, and often downright strange. And sometimes it’s all of those things at once.
An interesting thing I have noticed ("interesting" is the Midwestern term for funny, strange, or, in this case, surprising) during my first month abroad is that many people seem to assume that because I am enjoying myself, this transition - to a completely new job, country, language, life - is a walk in the park. We view each other's lives through the scope of social media posts and Instagram stories, so most of what we glean is surface level. It's easy to scroll past and make those assumptions.
And, to be fair, it is in my nature to be cavalier about stressful things in order to curb my own anxieties and stress about them.
But make no mistake: uprooting your life, however you may do it, is hard as hell. Being able to handle big things does not negate the bigness of them. Being self sufficient or resilient does not make the actual load any lighter; it just means you've learned how to carry it.
This is not to say some of the responsibility is not on me. It's often difficult to convey transparency through social media , and while I appreciate my privacy (and believe it to be a necessary, healthy thing), there is certainly a tendency to just show the highlight reel. And even in moments of candor, it is natural to present our lows, our sadness, our struggles, in perfectly packaged, copyedited, filtered forms. They become presentations: “look how far I’ve come” or “watch me power through.”
This is not meant to be that presentation. This is merely a moment to share two things that are both true:
Japan has thus far been incredibly amazing. And, incredibly hard.
Take today for example: my classes went super well! I made it to every school on time! I didn’t spill my lunch or drop my chopsticks, and I made the kids laugh!
I spent the rest of my afternoon at the bank feeling like an idiot for not being able to answer basic questions. I needed to be helped through every step of every process, navigating through a space where I don’t speak Japanese and they don’t speak English. While the lady at the bank was quite sweet as she tried to help me set up automatic withdrawal for my utilities, she ended up calling my maintenance man to come answer questions instead. Imagine my surprise (and subsequent mortification) knowing he had to drive to the bank just because I had no idea what I was doing. Yes, you start to take the embarrassment in stride, but helplessness feels good to no one.
One part awesome, equal parts difficult. Wash, rinse, repeat. But, I’ll keep doing my best.
Till next time ✌🏻
Oh, and here's a few photos of some things: