A couple days later, as I was looking at this picture, I thought to myself, “How beautiful our lives have become, how amazing are the people we’ve met.” Generally, people always assume that Kyle and I had always wanted to move here, that we’ve been interested in the country, and that we knew Japanese. But in reality, I never wanted to move, I couldn’t care less about Japan, I knew zero Japanese (and still fumble through most of it), and most certainly did not want to live on the countryside. So, with such a piss-poor attitude, how does someone become so happy and interested in Japan? Well, I’m a realistic optimist who realized I needed to be optimistic. There’s no other way to put it. Kyle, is Kyle. He could live anywhere. And with that, I realized why we have such a rad life here. We never expected to get anything out of Japan, we truly were on this adventure just for that reason. For it to be an adventure. Only one thing was certain: I had a job to help assist other teachers in teaching English. Beyond that was up to us. And now, we’re experiencing the raddest life ever, with some of the most caring people in the world.
Don’t get me wrong… I’d be lying if I said nothing about Japanese people or Japan itself bothered me, or that I didn’t have an ache for Portland, OR. Every day there is something that grinds my gears, Kyle’s too, but we choose to move past it and accept it for a cultural difference. No big deal. It’s all about perspective. So, anyway, I have narrowed down my JET Advice For Rad Living into 5 pieces of advice I would give to anyone coming on the JET Programme, or moving to another country. Trust me people, I’ve been here for 3 years now, and talking to other JETs who are having a great time would say a lot of the same things as I am about to now…
1) Have high hopes and low expectations. (AKA be completely open-minded)
Everything will be a delightful surprise! You’ll always find the good things great, and never be disappointed. I never expected to teach much, so now when I do, I’m stoked. And when I don’t I’m like, “Meh, now I can catch up on some reading or drawing.” Every time I get presents from Japanese people I’m like, “Awwwwww Yeeeeeeeeah!” Be open-minded about food, drinking, and even hobbies.
2) Put absolutely no weight in your placement requests.
Let’s be honest, you probably won’t get them. We had family in one place and friends in another, and the places we wanted weren’t even really that big. But alas! We got nothin’. Imagine our surprise when we were put in a place that even Lonely Planet had slim to nothin’ to say about. But, we knew it didn’t matter, we were here for me to assist in teaching English, and to have an adventure… even if it meant being out in the sticks.
3) Let learning Japanese be part of learning about Japan and the culture.
Japanese people love being helpful and especially love teaching you things. Once you let a Japanese person teach you how to eat something (that you could have figured out on your own) they will be your instant friend. Or, ask someone to teach you a new local word every day or something, be creative with it. Whatever you do, don’t compare what you know about Japan or Japanese with any of the other people in your organization. Who frickin’ cares what they know? The more you seem interested in their culture, they more interested they are in you. This also helps later when you make giant cultural mistakes, and they are much more forgiving:)
4) Pursue whatever hobbies you had at home, but now pursue them in Japan. You’ll make friends through that language.
Trust me when I say, you do not need to know how to speak Japanese to make really great friends. In fact, there is sort of a special beauty in learning Japanese as new friends learn English too. It’s a really unique bond you get to have with Japanese people. Learning from each other. You can usually find ONE of your hobbies from home somewhere in your town. Maybe not all of them, but again, be open-minded and choose something to pursue. Most of the friends I have are from one hobby or another.
5) Always show people your appreciation either by words, gifts, or deeds.
It helps with networking and helps you to be the connecting piece between all types of groups. Japanese and foreign, clubbers and moms, etc. Just always connect people and always let people know how awesome they are. We’ve met a lot of really nice people, and weekly/daily tell them how much we appreciate them. Sometimes it’s as simple as a vending machine coffee, or a quick text message. Either way, who doesn’t love hearing how much someone else likes them? Both in the workplace and social life, this can be an extremely amazing way to let people know you are approachable. Sometimes I’ve had to ask someone to hangout at least 5 times before they finally accepted, because apparently little old me was intimidating to them, and they thought I was just “trying to be nice”. Appearance and the fact that you’re foreign is enough to scare someone off.
And now finally, my boring office time is over, and now I’ll go ride my bike home 4 miles in the cold rain. At least I have my rain boots! Schweeeeeet!!