A lot happened yesterday, but I think that the most important thing was at the very end: the long discussion Evan and I had about our future. We have both decided that I will not be re-contracting with the Japanese Exchange Teaching Program (JET) for a fifth year, and so we will be leaving Fukuoka in August 2018.
Right now I feel a little bit like a goldfish that’s become too big for it’s bowl, and I need more space to swim around in. My role as Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) is beginning to plateau. I don’t feel like there’s anything left for me to learn as an ALT. These days I simply pass the time and get through work until my next big trip abroad or new experience here in Japan. Now that all those places and experiences on my list have been getting crossed out though… What do I have to look forward to? And is there anything actually tying me to this place any more?
After close to three years of teaching English as a Second Language (ESL), Evan and I are both able to say that it is not where our passions lie. It isn’t that we don’t love the people or the kids, or that we’ve grown tired of Japan, and we aren’t jaded exactly. We’ve just both come to realize that we have more to give to the world, and that we want more in return as well. What do I mean by “more”? Neither of us are really sure.
My interview for High School Prefectural Advisor (PA) was yesterday. For those who don’t know, a PA is the person in charge of overseeing all JET ALTs in their prefecture. PAs help new ALTs transition into their homes and positions in Japan, help ALTs who have chosen not to continue teaching transition back to their home countries and into post-JET jobs, help all ALTs with life and work problems at any time, and also help organize the many meetings and training sessions with the Board of Education (BOE) in order to improve ESL teaching standards throughout the prefecture.
I think that challenging myself with a more involved, upper level position is the kind of thing I need to maybe upgrade my fishbowl and make it a little bigger. Changing jobs will help me shake some of these cobwebs that I’ve been forming and give me the kind of administrative experience and resume padding I need to open a few more doors down the road in terms of future job-searching.
I did my best while putting together my application and cover letter, and during the interview. Things probably could’ve gone better during the interview (especially during the Japanese language portion), but overall I feel like my answers were solid and that I came off as a thoughtful and sincere applicant. There were at least two other people interviewing for the job though, the guy before me and the gal after me. I don’t know them very well, but from our brief interactions I know they are both very put-together, intelligent people who are just as capable if not more capable than I to become the next PA.
So what happens if I don’t get the gig? In the weeks leading up to now I feel very much like I have been collecting all my eggs and putting them into this one basket labeled “Prefectural Advisor,” but I know that’s not realistic. I have a 33% chance of becoming PA, maybe even less if there are other applicants I am not aware of. It is very possible I will remain an ALT for the rest of my time here in Japan, and if that’s the case I can’t just be mopey and twiddle my thumbs. I will need to shake the cobwebs and pad the resume some other way.
The Japanese Challenge
Evan reminded me last night about how difficult it was for him to find work in the States before I joined JET. He has a Masters in Environmental Studies, and he still couldn’t find a steady job that didn’t at least require him to do some sort of 6+ month unpaid internship that was just as difficult to obtain as the job itself because of how much competition there was. Rather than work in his field he had to take really shitty jobs doing things that he hated, and Evan told me that his big fear is returning right back to something like that post-JET (especially since Trump’s America is harder than ever on environmentalists).
When Evan talks about our future, speaking Japanese is always in the picture for both of us. There we are raising our child bilingually and watching Ghibli movies with no subtitles. Evan has made learning Japanese a priority because he believes it is the best way for him to make a future for us somewhere, whether it’s in Hawaii as a translator or a travel agent, or somewhere on the mainland as a Japanese teacher, or even here in Japan at an environmental company. He is passionate about Japanese because it will help him personally (I can only imagine all the Japanese comics and games he will get into), but because it will help him professionally too.
I am not sure when, but at some point I became a real cynic about my ability to learn Japanese. The language became really daunting and scary. Too many people have told me that it’s impossible, that it’s too hard. Studying Japanese started feeling pointless. I wondered, if I am never going to master it beyond where I am now, why should I bother?
My negativity about this has made me into a really terrible partner for Evan. He has needed my support and I haven’t given it to him. Whenever he has said that he is going to learn Japanese, I have immediately projected my personal reservations and doubts onto him. All I have seen is expectation of my own failure. I haven’t acknowledged his hard work and capability to become successful. I have been selfish, and that isn’t reasonable or fair to him at all.
Before coming to Japan Evan knew zero Japanese. He caught up to my rudimentary level of Japanese I got in high school in practically no time, and then he quickly surpassed me. He passed the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) N4 his first try where it took me three. And let’s face it, the main reason I passed it that third time is because I was so frustrated and embarrassed that I had gotten left in his dust I studied my ass off to be sure I wouldn’t fail again.
Evan is smart, driven, and 100% capable of learning Japanese because he wants it and can envision it for himself in the future. Not so long ago that was my goal too, before something happened and I convinced myself I couldn’t do it. I totally support Evan and believe in him to follow through with his intentions. So I need to support and believe in myself too, because I think the only way he and I are going to truly learn Japanese is if we do it together.
The Things I Know & All the Rest
I don’t want to delve any deeper into the mess of question marks punctuating my future. I don’t know where I’ll be or what I’ll be doing in a year and a half from now. I don’t even know if I am going to get that PA job or not. But there are a few things that I do know:
- Evan and I are leaving Fukuoka in August 2018
- We are going to cherish our remaining days here as much as possible
- Evan wants to and will reach JLPT N2 fluency of Japanese
- I support Evan 100%
- Evan isn’t learning Japanese without me; I can and will do it too
- All the rest will come with time
Sometimes the things I don’t know threaten to overwhelm me. I am trying to remind myself that this uncertainty doesn’t have to be terrible. It is also an opportunity to make something unexpected, unique, custom-fit. Anything is possible. And it won’t be scary because the thing I know above all else is that he will be right there with me.