So many things happened this past year. It never ceases to put me in a state of disbelief when I think about what had happened to me towards the end of last year versus what I’m doing now.
Let’s start at the very beginning, shall we?
It actually didn’t happen in January, I believe it happened on December 30th or something like that, but, I lost my job at Clean Water Action after not being able to hold up my fundraising average – which was fine. I knew it was coming eventually, I hadn’t been able to raise any money for weeks, I had pretty much lost all motivation, and I had quietly accepted my defeat long before my last day. I actually didn’t ever plan on working there as long as I did, and after what I shall hereafter refer to as the “November incident,” I had no desire to work there any more. I was sad to leave a good cause and a good group of people, but it was most definitely time for me to move on.
I had been grappling with the idea of going to graduate school, and I had already taken my GREs twice and applied to the University of Washington for the Japan Studies Program in their Jackson school of International Studies. However, I had also been applying to jobs in the meantime. One of those jobs was English teaching in Japan. I received word from my current company of an offer of an ALT position. After the winter holidays were over, I sent a reply to my current company that I would be happy to accept their offer of an ALT position. I was no longer looking toward Seattle, but rather much further West. I started my paperwork. In the meantime, I had exhausted a couple of avenues looking for other work at home, so in early January I started interning for Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey Jr. Unpaid interning. Many of the incoming phone calls from ‘constituents’ were nothing short of vicious (although I really did try my best to be nice with people. If they got really mean, I’d just have to say, “Sir/ ma’am, I am an unpaid intern,” and they would shut up.) albeit the mere act of being in the office for a few hours was actually quite interesting, and I learned quite a bit about the role of the local senate office in national politics. It was also really exciting to be in the office during President Obama’s inauguration. How many of you could say you were interning for a Senator during the Obama administration? Yeah, I didn’t think so.
I turned 23 to no great excite.
My dad and I visited my brother in Florida for a week or so. We were in desperate need of sun and heat in the dead of a freezing Pittsburgh winter. I informed the Senator’s office that I would no longer be available to work come the second week of March – when I would be leaving for Japan.
I returned to Pennsylvania full of good moods and positivity after basking in the glorious Florida sun for a week or so. I got the letter saying that I had been accepted to the Japan Studies program at the University of Washington. I sent my reply along with the form saying that I was declining admission. I wrapped up whatever I was doing (opening mail? getting harassed by constituents?) at Casey’s office, said my goodbyes and after a lot of anxious packing and waiting, got on a plane back to Japan. I hadn’t been in Japan since May of 2007.
It was my first time to Kanto, I had never been to Narita airport, Tokyo, more or less Ibaraki prefecture. From my company headquarters in Ibaraki, I received word that I would be placed in Tochigi prefecture and teaching English at two elementary schools. It was so strange how all of these details that had been a complete mystery back in January had now come to light and I still had months before I could completely come to terms with their factuality.
The day after I arrived in Japan I got a call on my cell phone (which somehow miraculously had full service in Mito City) from the Director of the Japan Studies program at the University of Washington. He had called to say that he was sorry I wouldn’t be attending the program this year, but I was more than welcome to re-apply and come next year.
April is when cherry blossoms start blooming and the new school year starts. I was living off of the savings I brought with me. I did not receive my first paycheck until May, but I managed to do a fair bit of checking out my new surroundings during this period of time. I spent most of my time in Ashikaga, but I had a few acquaintances from my company who I spent time with during this month, which included my awesome friend, Taryn, who I knew from Penn State. I was also lucky enough to have Mr. John Milito comment on this very blog, and because of that singular occurrence, got to meet pretty much all the awesome people in Ashikaga & Sano. Thanks John, I would be so isolated had you not commented on my blog way back when! School started around the middle of the month, so I was working and keeping myself fairly busy trying to get myself oriented to this new and kind of crazy work situation.
I spent Golden Week in Ashikaga, seeing…you know, the sights… but later on in the month, luckily, my paycheck finally came! I was off to Tokyo! I visited the Metropolitan Government Buildings, Shibuya, Harajuku, Shinjuku, Ueno, yada yada yada, all that and so on and so forth. At this point, I was still kind of fudging it as far as English class. Actually, to tell you the truth… I had really no idea whatsoever what I was doing. I didn’t major in Education, I had no proper training or experience for this kind of thing – or so I thought. Until one day it occurred to me that I should just be like all of my old teachers. They were great people, and what can I say? Other than: I learned a lot from them! So I read up on the English curriculum, checked out the lesson plans of the past ALTs and realized that I had more than enough materials at my disposal. This job was going to be cake from now on.
Things at work were going really well. Everyone seemed pretty happy with what I was doing, and I got some pretty good feedback from company types as well as school and BOE types. Unfortunately, despite all of these good things, I had my first and only bicycle accident. Got hit by a car on my way to school. I was in a rush and decided it’d be good to take a shortcut. Well, neither of us saw each other. We decided not to involve the insurance companies. Long story short, he had a dent in his car, and I needed a new bicycle. Thankfully, I was not hurt and neither was he. Later that day, one of my wonderful teachers gave me one of her daughters’ old bikes and I then had an awesome pink bicycle.
The first semester came to a close and I got to know my co-workers a little better by (what else?) going drinking with them and hanging out in Yokohama with them. I also visited Kamakura and of course went to Tokyo for some late nights and summertime fireworks. My pink bicycle was stolen at the train station and two days later had miraculously (mysteriously?) been returned. After collecting myself after all of the end-of the semester insanity, I was on a flight back to Pittsburgh come the end of the month.
Home again home again! Pittsburgh was a glorious retreat from the sweltering Japanese summer. I went to Kennywood and a Pirates game with Pat, saw all of my awesome relations and friends, ate glorious pizza, hamburgers, pierogies, and all of those other incredible American foods that I should probably only eat once or twice a year. When I arrived back in Japan at the end of the month, I still had a few days with nothing to do, so I made a trip to Nikko. At that point I had come to the realization that I was much more comfortable traveling alone than with other people. I could take my time and enjoy things at my own pace. Life by myself wasn’t so lonely anymore, as long as I could surround myself with my interests and things I enjoyed doing, I would be able to stick this out.
The beginning of a long second semester. September was hot. I mean it was so much more hot than what I am used to. So hot, in fact, that I was able to jut sit… and sweat. Absolutely stifling humidity. Despite the heat I carried on with lessons and daily life. Both of my schools had their Undokai during September. I actually missed one because of thte silver week holidays. Once silver week rolled around, I made elaborate plans to make a pilgrimage to Kansai. It was my first time back in 2 years. I would stay in Kyoto and venture south to Osaka. Needless to say it was a wonderful trip. I got to see all of my old friends, and make new ones too. Kansai is and will continue to be my home away from home. I love it dearly, like one loves an old friend or the house they grew up in. That’s how I feel about Kansai.
Did anything special happen in October? Other than my BFFFFFFF Aki coming to visit one weekend, It’s almost hard for me to remember. If I go back and read my blog posts, I see that there was a typhoon that didn’t ever come to Ashikaga, the Benesse magazine with the article about my English class was published, I came across reruns of Alf on TV… I visited the Ashikaga Museum of Art, um.. . I know that this was the beginning of crunch time for me for JLPT studying. I know I really started doing review (almost) every day at this point. I know I went through that awful speech contest ordeal one weekend, but the following weekend was a too-awesome ALT Halloween party that entirely made up for the ghastliness of the speech contest.
In November, I was still getting ready for the JLPT. Really, outside of work, my regular hanging out & drinking with people and the Coco Winery Harvest Festival, I didn’t exactly make myself available during November. Actually, the whole becoming slightly unsocial because of studying for a test thing kind of got to me after a few weeks – I mean, really, wouldn’t it get to you after awhile, too? I made a successful attempt at Thanksgiving dinner (which I made in my shit-as Leopalace kitchen) and left November at that.
After the JLPT was over during the first week of the month, I and a good number of my friends who were also taking the test breathed a sigh of relief. I guess nothing really really exciting happened this past month. I opened for that show a couple of weeks ago, I showed my students how to make awesome paper snowflakes (and if I have to make one more I swear I’ll go bananas), and I had a broken reverse cycle heating/air-conditioner which was fixed with a simple reset of the machine. A friend of mine invited me to a year-end party with her friends last weekend. It was awesome and I also had winter vacation to worry about. I had a flight home booked, but as far as going home was concerned, things were looking impossible. However, my wonderful parents booked me a flight back to Japan so I’d be able to make it home for the season for at least a week.
So that’s it. Today is my last day of school before winter break. I have a faculty drinking party this evening and I’m going home on the 30th and spending time with friends until then. Well, I suppose that’s all I have to say for now.
Until next year. FTW.