Coming Full Circle

Hisashiburi!  Sorry for disappearing again, but I was swamped with events and assignments, one of which is the subject of this post.  Last month, I got to help with hosting activities for a group of kids that included my former students.  It was a great experience, and I thought I’d write about what Sister Cities and JET have done for me.

My first trip to Japan (real trip and not an overnight layover) happened through the Southlake Sister Cities Youth Ambassador Program. Although 19 made me technically too old to be considered a “youth”, my parents managed to convince the organization to tag along with my brother and the other high schoolers. I was nervous because it would be the first time I’d be out of contact with my family for more than a couple of days. On top of that, my finger had gotten a horrible infection before the trip. It felt as though I was going to be on my own. That turned out to be not true at all.

My host family, as well as the individuals overseeing our trip, made me feel at home. I fell in love with Tome, which was large enough to have different things to do (like shop, learn kendo, listen to music at a pub) but small enough to experience the peaceful solitude of the countryside. One of the days I met an American woman who was an assistant English teacher. She encouraged the high schoolers who were eating lunch with us to speak English. I remembered that she came to Tome through the JET Programme, and I saw that as my ticket to return to Japan.

I came away from the trip with new friends, better insight on Japanese life, and a greater love of cultural exchange. My parents also visited Tome with the Sister Cities adult trip, and the connection they formed helped me adjust to moving to Japan when I got accepted into the JET Programme. Most applicants don’t get to go to the city of their choice, but because of the relationship between Tome and Southlake, I got what I wanted. This time around, I would be an employee instead of a visitor. That gave me a whole new perspective on Japan.

I loved teaching my students about American life as much as I loved experiencing Japanese life. My biggest success was getting the second year elective class to write letters to my brothers’ friends and classmates back home. Despite the joys of facilitating cultural exchange, being an ALT wasn’t my calling. I probably should have realized that I wasn’t ready to step into the parent-like role of a teacher when I was more comfortable with my third grade girls calling me “oneesan” (“big sister”) than my kindergarteners asking me whose mom I was. There was much I still needed to learn about life, and thus after many tearful goodbyes to new and old friends, as well as my “kids”, I came home.

I couldn’t quit teaching though, and that was how this blog got started. Even after moving, I remained connected to Southlake Sister Cities because I knew that it would allow me to see some of my students again and possibly return to Tome. However, I would have to be patient. The 2010 trip had been cancelled early on due to H1N1 concerns, and the following year was when the Tohoku earthquake struck.

Finally, last month, a group of high school students came to Southlake. Among them were two of my junior high students and one elementary student (whom I am embarrassed to admit that I didn’t recognize and who gave no indication of recognizing me). I take no credit for their improved English skills, but it was rewarding to see how far they’ve come. While I got a brief taste of my former ALT celebrity status again, the focus was all on the kids.

When my parents hosted in the past, I was always away at college. This time I was able to help; I learned firsthand how much work hosting is. One of the days was devoted to activities with the family, and I was in charge of it. Being the fun oneesan is still a more comfortable role for me, but I sort of reverted back to my ALT duties of encouraging conversation at the youth party and keeping an eye on the reticent students for concerned host parents. At the party, my former junior high schoolers decided to turn the tables on me after finding out that their friends’ host sister had a Japanese textbook. They quizzed me on basic grammar, and I passed. I couldn’t help but think that things really have come full circle.

Of course, I’m not going to be satisfied until I get a chance to go back to Tome again.

Listening to: “www.” by Alice Nine

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