Life on JET

Why I’m Moving to Japan When I Don’t Speak Japanese

When I tell someone I’m moving to Japan in August, one of the first questions I’m asked is if I speak any Japanese.

And I always respond with “noooope.” I’m trying to teach myself some phrases and how to recognize katakana and hiragana but it’s a little overwhelming honestly.

This feels surreal. I still can’t imagine myself actually being in Japan in just a little over a month. Is this really happening?

So I’ve started a list compiling the reasons why I’ve made this crazy-once-in-a-life-time decision to remind myself of why I’m doing this when I’m feeling down about saying goodbye to my family, friends, and awesome boyfriend for an entire calendar year.

*This list is in no particular order and is subject to change over time. “f I get it all down on paper it’s no longer inside of me, threatening the life it belongs to.” – Ana Nalick

1) I want to live abroad. I didn’t study abroad in college, but it wasn’t until after I graduated that I realized I wanted to spend some time traveling and experiencing other cultures.

2) In March 2013, I spent 8 days in Nicaragua volunteering with La Esperanza Granada,, an organization that focuses on improving education for youth in Granada, Nicaragua. Though my trip was short, it was still my first taste of going abroad without my family. I loved volunteering and interacting with the children, their families, and the other volunteers. I’ve spent my time since then chasing the incredible feeling I had while volunteering in the classroom and doing something greater than myself.

3)  I met several people over the past two years who are teaching abroad with their TEFL certifications. I’m pretty sure I have actual stars dancing around my pupils when I listen to people talk about their teaching abroad experiences. Especially those I know who teach in Japan. I want that to be my life. (And wow, it’s going to be.)

4) I’m hoping that my time in Japan will help me figure out exactly what it is I want to do for my career.

Since graduating with my MFA in Creative & Professional Writing in 2013, I’ve had a lot of different jobs. I was an adjunct college professor, a literary agent apprentice, an after school program teacher, and a project coordinator at a small sales consulting firm. (Many of those gigs I held down at the same time and I was constantly traveling back and forth between Connecticut and Massachusetts for work. My work life often makes people scratch their heads…including myself at times.)

I now have my Teaching English as a Foreign Language Certification. I’m thinking about teaching abroad for a year or two then coming back to America and hopefully working with ESL students full time, or possibly going back to school for my MA in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages.

5) I want to learn a new language. I studied Spanish for years, but I want to challenge myself and learn something entirely new. Learning how to speak, write, and understand Japanese is going to be difficult but I am up for it.

6) I want to be immersed in another country’s culture so I can provide a more well-rounded perspective for the students in my future classroom. This is probably one of my top reasons. I love teaching so much, but I was playing it safe staying in Connecticut. I hope that teaching abroad in Japan will provide me with a new cultural understanding and appreciation that I can share with my future students.

7) I hope that living abroad will truly teach me the difference between what I can and cannot live without. I am a pack rat (though much better than I was a few years ago) but I can still downsize more. I hope that moving across the world with minimal belongings will force me to abolish my need for superfluous things like a “purse tree” (a coat rack that I turned into a place to hang my dozens of bags.)

8) I want to pull myself out of my comfort zone so I can grow and learn. I’m scared for this experience but at the same time, it’s going to force me to be dependent on only myself for the first time in my life. I don’t have any friends yet in Japan. The two other ALTs I know out there are both coming back to America this summer. I can’t read Japanese let alone speak it. (The only words I can seem to retain so far are the formal version of good morning, and the exclamatory remarks “yatta” (yay) and “oishi” (delicious.)) I have a terrible sense of direction so I’m going to get lost.  I’m a 100% extrovert and there is a good chance I could be placed in a remote part of Japan where I am the only ALT for miles.

9) I worked really freaking hard to get into the JET Program. I put more effort into my application than I did my college applications. I mailed them my heart along with my Statement of Purpose.

But this is what I’m looking for. I want to learn how to be dependent on just myself. I’ve played it safe my entire life. .

So here goes something. If I don’t do this now, I never will.

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