More of that introspective stuff

I’ve had all these things in mind to blog about, but as soon as I think of them, something else comes along to distract me, and away they go. Well, anyway.

Firstly, happy 17th birthday to my brother! I can’t believe he’s a junior in high school…it’s getting to the point where thinking about his age is making me feel old. (Freaking quarter-century…)

So I’ve been feeling a bit up and down, health-wise–the change in season has come surprisingly quickly. The evenings are now cool enough to warrant a fleece, or at least a substantial long-sleeved shirt, and I was even chilly while at work yesterday in a short-sleeved shirt and slacks. I brought my fleece today and it’s keeping me very comfortable. I don’t remember the chill setting in so quickly last year, or maybe I’m just adjusting to the cold differently–it makes me wonder what this winter will be like.

We had another earthquake this morning–this one had an epicenter between Kyushu and Shikoku, so it was yet again minor for us; the NHK announcements didn’t even list Tokushima as having felt it (just Ehime and Kochi), so maybe it was just us westies who were the privileged ones. At least this one was after I’d woken up and was still lying in bed, right around 7 AM, and not at 5 AM like the last one. I almost want a big one, just to know what a big one is like, but I know I’m going to regret saying that, especially considering how close we are to Kobe, which was hit really hard by a major earthquake just over 10 years ago.

I also am really behind in uploading photos; due to my volcano trip and my junior high and elementary school sports festivals (Thursday and Sunday, respectively), I’m pretty sure I have at least 200 more to go up! I need to go through my Flickr account and weed out some photos to get the number a bit more manageable, instead of just uploading everything that wasn’t bad-quality.

And this week, I’ve been taking my violin to school with me and practicing for at least an hour after classes finish. The teachers are all there until at least 6 anyway, so the school’s open and most of the rooms are empty, so it’s a perfect opportunity to practice without distraction (and with encouragement from passing teachers and students). I’m working, very slowly, on the Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso by Saint-Saens…it’s certainly not going to be complete any time soon, but it at least sounds recognizable–the music teacher recognized it (and asked me if I have any upcoming concerts, amazingly enough…heh, I wish I were good enough to put on a recital! Though if our JET music ensemble ever gets off the ground, maybe we’ll have something after all).

A general thing I wanted to comment on…I’m pretty sure I’ve written about it before, but I’ve definitely noticed a change in myself. There are times, like this weekend, when my personality is the same and when I can socialize really easily with people in individual or group settings…but there are other times when I just say really awkward things that I kick myself for as soon as they come out, or times where I just have no idea what to say, when my spontaneity and conversational skills go out the window. If I was like this at home, it was a long time ago or to a much lesser degree.

Another strange thing is that while my view of the world grows and changes every day, some of my ability to be really open-minded has diminished, as strange as that sounds–I think it’s partly because the dynamic of this group sometimes is very different from what I’m used to (and even what I’m comfortable with on occasion, especially at the really big parties), and people here choose to do certain things that my friends at home aren’t so big on. The crazy thing is that in response, I find myself clinging silently to a few people, hanging around with them or gravitating back to them, which is something I haven’t done since high school. It seriously feels like I’m moving backwards sometimes. I had more written, but I know I’m repeating what I’ve written before and it’s not worth it to rehash it.

I know that everybody gets hit by this in varying degrees–but this is totally something that they just gloss over in the JET orientations. I know a lot of the first-years are now going through the initial culture shock–it’s never an easy thing to handle, and it does come in waves. Besides the culture shock of being in a new country, there’s also the culture shock of being around a completely different group of people from all walks of life while in a new country, and some people can handle that better than others. I guess I don’t handle it very well sometimes.

But that isn’t to say that it’s always miserable and I can’t relate to anyone–the new westie crowd for this year is getting along really well. I think, for the most part, we just match each other really nicely and get along well with everyone else. We’re going to be instituting weekly get-togethers (we used to meet at least once every few weeks over the last year), and we got together this weekend for dinner and a game of Settlers of Catan, which I actually won. I also headed into the city on Saturday and ended up hanging out with a bunch of people who’d met for dinner, including a bunch of first-years I haven’t seen since English Camp, and one of the two Group C ALTs, who arrived after the camp.

Maybe things will be different this year. Maybe the isolation won’t be so crippling, now that I have a car (though the miles-per-gallon rate, or kilometers-per-liter rate, isn’t nearly as optimal as I’d like), and maybe having a new group will refresh things. Maybe the homesickness won’t be as bad this year, now that I’ve gone through some major ups and downs already.

I’m also hoping with all my heart that I don’t lose any other friends or relatives this year. Coping with their loss, particularly the loss of Adam, made life very difficult for a time, especially in a culture where expressing extreme emotions like this openly isn’t really done and is something I had to always be conscious of during the grieving process…and especially because there’s still so much about Adam’s death that’s unresolved. I lost two other people this year, my mother’s uncle and my across-the-street neighbor, but Sividas-uncle was elderly, and though his death was very sudden, it was still an approaching eventuality, and I’d known for several months that Miss JoAnn had cancer, and chemotherapy at her age would have weakened her extremely, so there really was no way for her to survive it.

This is another thing they don’t really tell you about JET: it isn’t a vacation. It is, in that you get an easy job with full benefits and pretty good pay, and it’ll more likely than not be the best setup of any job placement you can find, but it’s like any life experience. It isn’t a vacation in Japan–it isn’t the rosy image that nearly every single ALT has in mind during the application process, of wearing kimono, attending tea ceremonies, visiting the big metropolitan areas and the pristine temples and castles, making a bunch of Japanese friends, teaching classes and getting involved with students and teachers, and transforming and internationalizing towns with your very presence. Things will happen that are harder to deal with while you’re away. You’ll be surprised by who you lose touch with from home, and you’ll be surprised by who you keep in touch with sometimes. It’s not a completely rosy experience, but you grow and learn from everything, and you take that newfound strength and that ability to survive in a completely new environment with you as you take on new problems and situations in and beyond Japan. There’ll be successes and there’ll be frustrations. You’ll change, sometimes in ways you like and sometimes in ways you don’t. It’s an inevitability–the phrase “this will change your life” isn’t necessarily positive, but it isn’t negative. Change can go either way, and it’s a constant aspect of life in Japan. You come to learn that quickly, and for better or worse, you stick with it and weather it out. You learn a lot while you’re here, beyond factoids about Japanese life and culture. Being here and removing yourself from familiar surroundings and implanting yourself among strangers makes you face your insecurities and even exaggerates them sometimes. If you’re lucky, you confront your best and your worst and you reconcile it all and come out stronger on the other side–and I think most people do succeed at that, to varying degrees. But that confrontation does happen, and you quickly learn who you truly are. In some ways, I think it’s one of the best things about this experience. I don’t know if everyone realizes it, but I can guarantee that everyone does go through some introspection and soul-searching while they’re here. JET isn’t just about internationalizing and transforming mindsets–at least part of you is transformed yourself, and it’s a tough path, but it’s worth it in the end.

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