Life on JET, Teaching

Have You Heard of Thanksgiving?

So it’s Thanksgiving day. It’s weird to be without my family on one of my favorite holidays, but even weirder that while it’s Thanksgiving here, it’s still not Thanksgiving back home because of the 14-hour time distance that separates us.

Naturally, I’ve felt pretty homesick this week. I’m sad I won’t be in Rhode Island and that I won’t get to have Granny’s Portuguese stuffing, or watch the Macy’s Day parade with mom, or be there for Teagan and Owen’s second turkey day. (And Auntie Lisa, since I know you’ll read this–I will sorely miss going to Brewed with you for a hot vanilla chai!) I’ve taught a few lessons on Thanksgiving culture in America to my students and tried to convey what this holiday means to me, but it’s obviously not the same as being  there with my family to experience it.

When I walked into school this morning, I was sulking. I missed home and it’s a blustery day so I didn’t even have the island warmth to cheer me up.


I rounded the corner to the teacher’s room and saw one of my sannensei (third-year) students waiting outside. I hadn’t seen him in a month, so I was surprised to discover that he was waiting for me.

“I passed my entrance exam,” he said.

I shrieked, and gave him a high five. I worked with this student almost every week from August-October on his liberal English essays for a program at a private university he dreamed of going to in Tokyo.  He showed so much improvement with his writing, and his determination to succeed never wavered. This kid is so smart, he taught me  new English words–like extrinsic. I was so impressed that he knew how to use big words sparingly and correctly. If I ever go back to teaching college…I’ll be using him as an example for my pompous writers.

But this is not going to be a post about how I helped my student get into the university he wanted to. Because I didn’t have a hand in that. He did this all on his own with his tenacity, hard work, and drive. I just encouraged him along the way and made sure his ideas made sense in English.

This is about how grateful I am to have the opportunity to work with such intelligent, capable students who have an unabashed desire to improve their English.

Of course not every student at my school is like this, but I’ve been teaching long enough now to know that it’s the ones who truly care about their education that make it all worthwhile. This was the best news I could have ever received on Thanksgiving when I am  far away from home and missing my family. It reminded me why I made the decision to come to Japan in the first place.

I came to Japan so I could teach. This is is my first time teaching English as a foreign language instead of college writing to native speakers. It is challenging and at times frustrating because of language barriers as high as the moon. I have enough perspective to realize that I’m not going to change the lives of all of my students by being here, but they certainly have changed mine.






2 thoughts on “Have You Heard of Thanksgiving?”

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