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Archive for March, 2013

The Last Goodbyes

March 30th, 2013 No comments

The primary purpose of this journal has always been the preservation of memory for my future self, and some days just beg for detailed preservation from beginning to end. Last year’s final day of the school-year was one of those days, and this year was even more so. As such I’ll once again try to capture the entire day as I experienced it, though the entry that appears on the blog will be edited for names and things having to do with specific students.

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Wow, that was crazy. I don’t think I’ve ever actually been able to rewind a dream before. If only I could do that in real life.

It’s 4:30 now but I know I don’t have the slightest chance of being able to get back to sleep. I couldn’t even fall asleep until 12:30, but I’m pleased that at least I got four hours. That should be more than enough to keep me going on a day like today, when the emotional energy will drown out any fatigue.

As I expected, thoughts of what’s to come today keep me awake until the sun rises and it’s time to get up. I’ll get out of bed a little early this morning to give myself extra time to run through my speeches one last time before going into the school.

I’ve got three speeches prepared. The first is to be delivered in front of the whole school at the closing ceremony. The first half is the speech I gave in Japanese to the third-grade classes in our last lesson, and the second half is extra stuff I added about how I feel about my time at the school. Because it’s for the largest audience it’s the one I’m most nervous about, but I’ve got the first half down solid and have had two weeks to get the second half almost equally solid.

The second speech isn’t so much of a speech as it is a series of nice things to tell individual students in Japanese as I say goodbye. Things like, “I was lucky to have known you” and “If you believe in yourself, I know you can always succeed.”

The third speech is one I’ve been planning to give at the farewell enkai, as it’s tradition that all departing teachers give speeches, and I wrote one about how my time at the school has made me realize I want to be a teacher for the rest of my life. I decided not to overburden myself by memorizing that one, but I still had to practice it over and over again to get my mouth used to verbalizing complicated Japanese expressions. Because it’s in Japanese characters, the paper would only prompt me as to what to say next—I’d still need the words firmly in my head, as I couldn’t very well expect it to sound even remotely sincere if read syllable by syllable.

For the past two weeks I’ve been practicing these speeches over and over again from the time I wake up to the time I go to sleep, before and after everything else I do during the day. I want them to be so firmly in my head that I can rattle them off without even thinking about it, my mouth so used to verbalizing these phrases that it can say them on autopilot. I can’t wait until they’re over and I can cease this tedious exercise.

So one more time I run through the student speech, the enkai speech, the student speech again, then the ceremony speech, and find myself getting a little choked up near the end of it. I’ve been practicing this for weeks and today is finally the day I’m going to be giving it. This is the last day I’ll ever stand in front of those students. I wonder if I’m going to break into tears when the moment actually comes.

When I’m satisfied that I’m ready as I’ll ever be, I get my things together and make that final walk to work. My school—Togane Chugakkou (‘chu’ (中) means middle and ‘gakkou’ (学校) means school.)—is literally across the street from my apartment, so I’m still going to see that building every day, but this is the last time I’ll ever go inside for work.

I enter the teacher’s room and greet everyone with the standard “ohayou gozaimasu” for the last time. T-sensei is there, and she immediately approaches me to explain how this is going to go down. Because I’m not technically one of the actual full-time teachers at the school, the school will be separating my farewell speech from the others. I and one of the teacher’s aides will give our farewells first, then leave the gym as the rest of the teachers take the stage.

She tells me I’ll be going first, followed by the teacher’s aide. I ask her if this is set in stone, or if it’s okay if I go second. I’m going to be extremely nervous and I’d like to have a moment to mentally prepare on the stage as she gives her speech, rather than just be thrust on stage and dive right into it. She says she can check with the Kyoto-sensei (vice principal), and I accompany her as she begs his pardon and explains my request. He and the other vice principal get a laugh out of it, and say that it’s fine—I can go second.

The ceremony doesn’t begin until 9:30 and it’s only 8:30 now. I’d thought it started at 9:00 so I haven’t brought my computer or anything to pass the time. I sit at my next and run through the speeches in my mind again, but after five minutes A-sensei approaches me and tells me something I don’t understand until another teacher helps clarify that I’ve been invited to the principal’s room to wait with the other departing teachers before the ceremony begins.

So rather than sit at my desk doing nothing for an hour, I’ll be sitting in the principal’s room on a comfortable couch with the other departing faculty members doing nothing for an hour. Plenty of time to run through the speeches in my mind yet again.

The time is approaching. My stomach is in knots. I take deep breaths and try to calm myself down. I remind myself that the worst that can happen is I get tripped up or lose my place for a moment, and that it doesn’t matter if I do. This isn’t a Speech Contest. The people listening to the speech already know me and like me. Reminding myself that the audience is on my side really helps.

I go out to use the bathroom at 9:15, and when I come back some of the teachers are in the hall looking out the window trying to identify some of the students who are arriving now—a group of boys and a group of girls who appear to be among the previous year’s graduates. That’s cool—not only will I get to see this year’s graduates again, but some of last year’s as well.

Before I know it the Kyoto-sensei tells me and the teacher’s aide it’s time to go. He escorts us to the balcony above the gym and tells us to wait a moment until the initial greeting is over. When it’s time, he walks us down the stairs and across the gym. The first and second graders are in the front in standard formation: girls on the left, boys on the right. Behind them, sitting in the back, are my dearly-missed third-graders who are seated somewhat informally arranged only by class, from 3-1 on the right to 3-6 on the left. Wow, it feels even better to see them again than I’d imagined. Some of the students from 3-1 smile and wave to me as I pass. I return the gesture, letting it help me ease my nerves.

There’s a line of students on the far right, there to present flowers to departing teachers, and a few of them smile at me when I pass by as well.

We’re escorted onto the stage and take our seats to the left of the podium—to the right from our perspective. I scan the faces in front of me and feel my anxiety decrease rather than increase. The crowd is nothing but familiar faces. I’ve stood in front of all of them hundreds of times already. The only difference now is that they’re all there at the same time.

I was hoping the teacher’s aide’s speech would last a nice long time, but it’s over in less than a minute. I guess having only been there a year and not having actually taught the students, I shouldn’t have expected her to have all that much to say.

So now it’s time. I walk up to the podium and adjust the mike. I begin with the three words I’ve started almost every class with since the beginning, knowing this would be the last time: “Good morning, everyone.” After a moment’s hesitation, the students echo the greeting. I say, “OK, now I will speak Japanese,” and launch into it.

(In Japanese) “Togane Chugakkou is the first school I ever taught at as an ALT. For that, I think I’m very lucky. You were wonderful students. I’m grateful for your warmth and enthusiasm. I will miss you very much.”

Now I look to the back of the room for a little joke-section I added: “Especially you graduates! What are you doing back here!? I already said goodbye to you, now I have to do it again! I think you just came here to see me cry.”

This doesn’t get as much of a reaction as I’d been hoping for, but there is some audible chuckling.

“Everyone, I’ve been to many different places and met many people from all over the world. My advice to you is to meet as many people from different countries as you can and talk to them. What you learn in school is important, but what you learn from other people can be priceless. I’ve learned so much from you. If you’ve learned even a little from me, I’d be happy.”

This is much different than giving the speech to an individual classroom. Then I’d been able to read each student’s reaction to my words. Now I’m just staring into a sea of faces that all look expressionless. It’s impossible to tell whether I’m reaching anyone, but I press on.

“Never forget this time. Junior high school is over before you know it, but the people around you now will always be a part of you. If I’m a part of that too, it’s a privilege.”

I haven’t messed up so far, even on the parts I’ve added or altered, so now I’m ready for the second half.

“From now on, all of you are a part of me. I remember my first day at this school. For my self-introduction, I stood in front of all of you. I’d never been more nervous in my life. At the end of my speech, I held up a picture of President Obama and said ‘Yes we can!’ Many students gave me a ‘Yes we can!’ back. Not many, but enough. Everyone, shall we try it one more time? Yes we can!”

This is the part I’m most curious about. On my first day only about 20% of the students had repeated “Yes we can” and I wanted to see how it would go now. About half of them repeat it this time. I say it again and it sounds closer to 70%. I say it one more time, now really enthusiastically. It sounds like 70% again, and not particularly enthusiastic. So that’s the result of that experiment.

I continue, now reaching the most emotional part of my speech. I try to make sure I’m not just saying the words but really feeling them too.

“At that time, I knew I would enjoy teaching here. And that has really been the case. These two years have been the happiest of my life. I will probably teach at many different schools, but Togane Chugakkou will always have a special place in my heart. Students and faculty, you have been an inspiration to me.”

I’m projecting emotion with my voice, but I know I’m not really feeling the weight of this moment to its full significance. The nerves, the indiscernibility of the students’ faces, and simple relief that I haven’t messed up at all are overshadowing the reality of the fact that this really is the end. I do my best to maintain full awareness of that reality as I deliver the closing lines.

“From now on, whatever challenges you face, gambatte kudasai. I wish you all success and happiness. Goodbye. Thank you very much.”

[“gambatte kudasai” is an expression with no good translation. It’s just an encouragement to try hard and give it your best.]

I take my bow as the students applaud. The applause doesn’t sound particularly louder or more enthusiastic than typical school-assembly applause. I wasn’t expecting a standing ovation or anything, but now I’m uncertain as to whether the speech had been received well at all. I breathe a heavy sigh as I take my seat, trying to scan the crowd again for some indication, but from this vantage point it still just looks like a sea of expressionless faces.

Now the two of us stand up and a couple of students emerge from back-stage with bouquets of flowers. A first-grade boy hands one bouquet to the teacher’s aide, and a first-grade girl hands one to me. I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve ever been given flowers by anyone.

We take our flowers and walk off the stage. As I pass by that line of students again I finally get a closer look at some faces, and am comforted as some of them nod and smile at me even more warmly than before. Some of them had already heard the first half, but some had never heard me speak that much Japanese before ever. None of them had ever heard the second half, but now regardless what they thought of it, all of them know how I feel about their school. That was the whole point—if they knew how much I appreciated it, they might appreciate it more. Their school might just be one of a hundred thousand Japanese schools, but at least to one American it’s something very special.

I thought we had to leave the gym, but the teacher’s aide stops when we’re halfway to the back so I stop too. I guess we can watch the other teachers make their speeches after all.

The ten of them file in and take their seats on the stage. The Kyoto-sensei says a few short words, then one of the second-grade girls—the one from 2-6 who nearly cried at my final lesson—gives a speech on behalf of the students thanking each of them individually. This is the first point in the day (it would not be the last) that I feel like I’m being excluded.

I’m glad they let me give my speech, but it bothers me to have to be separated from the “real” teachers. I know that my job title is Assistant Language Teacher, but I’m every bit as much of a teacher as they are, at least insofar as planning and executing lessons. I’m not begrudging them—I understand they outrank me because they went to school for it and they have their certificate—I’m just saying it makes me feel like less than them. Trey expressed the same sort of feeling to me last year, describing an experience at a school ceremony where they introduced all the teachers and made him stand at the very end of the line. No matter what you do or how hard you work, he said, you’ll always be beneath them because you’re not Japanese.

As each teacher makes his or her speech I begin to feel more trepidation about my own. Had my speech not been appropriate for a Japanese closing ceremony? Did I talk about my feelings too much? Was it too long? Most of these teachers aren’t speaking for as long as I did. Also, they’re not leaning into the podium to talk into the mike like I did, and their voices are carrying just fine. Had my voice been too loud? Did I look silly?

I try to push these nagging thoughts out of my mind and tell myself it’s fine. With over 600 people in the audience, I’m sure at least some of them appreciated my message, took my words to heart. Even if I only reached one of them, it was still worth it.

When all of the speeches are over, they stand up and the students sing them what I assume is the standard bon voyage song for Japanese schools because they’ve sung it at every assembly since the send-off. I didn’t get a song, but whatever. So it goes. At least I’ll always have that moment with 1-5, and that was a million times more special than this. This is just standard closing ceremony procedure. 1-5 had given me a song of their own collective volition because they appreciated me.

Again, I push the negative thoughts aside and try to focus on the weight of the moment. It is, after all, the last assembly at Togane Chu I’ll ever be at, the last time I’ll ever stand in this gym, and most significantly the last time I’ll ever hear these particular voices sing together. I get slightly choked up at this last thought, but the reality just isn’t hitting me.

I’m more focused on what’s about to come next. There are some graduates I didn’t get to say a proper farewell to on the day of graduation, and since this will be my last chance I’m counting on being able to catch them on their way out.

The window of opportunity for this will be short. The graduates will leave the gym right after the ceremony and while most will certainly hang around for a short while, many will simply leave school property immediately and I can’t be sure whether the important ones will be among them.

When the final song is over, the students are told to stand up and make an aisle. Another song is played on the piano as the teachers exit the stage and walk down this aisle of students to cheers of thank yous and good lucks. Another experience I’ve been denied, but now I’m on a mission.

I walk out of the gym for the last time with only a trace of acknowledgement of that fact. I quickly head to the teacher’s room and deposit my flowers on my desk, make as fast a trip to the restroom as possible, head downstairs, change into my outside shoes, and walk on out towards the gym doors.

I get there before anybody has left. Luckily, everything happens as planned. I get to say the things I wanted to say to the students I’d wanted to say them too.

Now my plan is to head back to the teacher’s room until homeroom is over and the other two grades begin leaving, then head outside to say my goodbyes to the underclasses. As soon as I get into the teacher’s room, I’m escorted back to the principal’s room where I take my seat on the couch and resume doing nothing. Nobody says anything about my speech this morning, but they hadn’t been in the gym at the time so it’s possible they didn’t hear it.

After just a few minutes, the halls starts filling with noise and I see through the window that the students are leaving. I turn to To-sensei, one of the JTEs who’s leaving, and ask her if it would be okay to go outside and say goodbye. She translates my question to the vice principal (S-sensei, the one who’ll be the principal at my next school) and he just says, “ii yo” which means “that’s fine”. I thank him and head right back outside.

Some students are already on their way off school property by the time I get out there, but the vast majority are still in the process of leaving. There’s a large group of girls from the school band standing just outside the exits, and I approach them and say hello. They’re all holding DVDs, which I’m told when I ask about them is a DVD of the Spring Concert. I say “hoshi!” (I want one!) but they say it costs money. I ask the girl holding the bag of them how much and go in for my wallet. But she says she doesn’t know, and then there’s some discussion among them and I figure I’ll just have to be content without a DVD. Kind of a shame, because in addition to the enormous sentimental value it would have, it was also just a damn fine concert. I couldn’t believe how great the band had sounded this year.

Students start riding by on their bicycles and I’m able to get warm goodbye after warm goodbye in all kinds of various forms: ‘see you’, ‘goodbye’, ‘see you again’, ‘bye bye’, ‘sayounara’, ‘ja ne’. Some students appear to appreciate that this is really goodbye, though for most it’s just like any other goodbye we’ve exchanged. I’m not really feeling the weight of it either, as not only do I know I’ll continue to keep seeing a bunch of them out and about, but I fully intend to come back and visit for Sports Day if it doesn’t conflict with my other schools (and maybe even if it does).

At one point a girl from the band—a former Team C regular—calls my name and hands me a DVD. “Present for you.” I’m overjoyed! I thank them and say in Japanese, “I’ll treasure it forever” which they get a huge kick out of. Soon enough, they get on their bikes and cycle away too.

When I get back to the teacher’s room, everyone who’d been in the principal’s room is back so I just find T-sensei to confirm what’s happening later. She’s in the conference room with her baby—always very strange to see her in the mother-role—and I tell her I’m going home now and ask her what time I should come back to be given a ride to the enkai.

She says it starts at 5:00 so I should be here by 4:30—maybe earlier, like 4:15. I say 4:15 then, and then I ask her if I’ll be giving a speech at the enkai because I had one prepared. Before this morning I’d just assumed that of course I would, but after having been excluded from the main part of the ceremony I was no longer certain. T-sensei asks the Kyoto-sensei and he says no, I will not be giving a speech. Well okay then. I guess I can relax now—my speechifying is done for the day.

I pass by Y-sensei on the way out. He was in charge of the school band this year, and I thought they were extraordinary. I was going to compliment him in my speech, but since I won’t be giving it I just tell him now in Japanese: “The brass band this year was great. The spring concert was wonderful!” He gives me a sincere thank you and I move on.

I gather my things, pick up my flowers, and prepare to leave the teacher’s room for what is probably the last time ever. I might come back inside when I return at 4:15, but I might not. As I’m about to leave I turn and give the standard formal goodbye one last time: “otsukare sama deshita” and while it’s usually only a handful who say it back, today it’s just about everyone.

I’m through the doors and down the stairs, still unsure if this is my last time in this building but not really feeling like it is. I intend to come back inside later. But when I take my outside shoes from their locker I don’t put my school shoes back inside. For the first time in a year and a half, they’re coming home with me.

As I make the short journey home I think about the enkai speech. My immediate reaction had been simple relief—that’s one less speech to worry about. But now it’s starting to bother me. Every departing teacher at last year’s enkai gave a speech, even the part-timers. Half of the teachers leaving this year have been at the school for less time than I have, only one year. Being asked to speak at the enkai is an honor, so not being asked feels like dishonor. Not to mention all those hours wasted preparing for it, not just on my part but on O-sensei’s part for doing the translation.

I resolve to ask to speak anyway—they might let me give the speech if they know I’ve prepared one. But it’s entirely possible that they don’t want me to speak—that my speech this morning had not been well-received by them, they found it too long and sentimental, and the last thing anyone would want would be to give the gaijin more access to the microphone. I’ll ask T-sensei to be honest with me. If that speech had in fact been inappropriate for Japan, I’d best know about it so I can avoid whatever mistakes I made next time.

It’s 11:00 a.m. when I get home. I open up the bouquet of flowers and put them in the vase I bought yesterday—the first time I’ve ever purchased such an article. Now there are flowers in my apartment—another first.

I devote the next hour to jogging. It’s nice to have one part of this day that’s completely routine—this is not the last time I’ll be doing this by a long shot.

After the jog and a very small lunch, I feel like going for a bike ride, so I go the route that takes one hour, and I’m back at my place at 3:30, just enough time to practice my speech a couple of times and listen to a few sentimental songs.

At 4:15 I take the final final walk across the street to Togane Chu, and step onto school property for the last time as that school’s ALT. I’m heading towards the building when one of the teachers pulls up in her car and offers me a ride. Well, I guess I won’t be going in the building again after all. I have in fact seen the last of that teacher’s room.

The teacher who gives me a ride is really nice, and not shy at all about talking to me. Because of my speech that morning, she probably has the impression that my Japanese is better than it actually is, but I hold my own pretty well. Knowing what kinds of questions to expect goes a long way. I tell her where I’ll be going to school next year, about needing the driver’s license and failing the test the first time. When we get near the place she tells me that my speech at the closing ceremony had been wonderful. She says it made her cry. Wow, well that’s quite a vote of encouragement. If I’d reached her, there’s no doubt I must have reached some students.

When I get inside I quickly realize it’s the same place that last year’s farewell enkai had been, though the tables are arranged somewhat differently. There are two sets of smaller tables in the front for the ten departing teachers and one for a part-time teacher who’d made her farewell speech at last week’s closing ceremony. I of course will be sitting at one of the back tables, but at least in the seat closest to the seats of honor.

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K-sensei is there helping to set up the room, and he hands me a bag of presents from the first-grade teachers which I’ll open later. Well, at least this is a nice gesture. He also compliments me on my speech, saying he was impressed that I used such complicated Japanese phrases. I thanked him and told him I was afraid it was too long, but he said it didn’t matter. Speeches can be as long as you want. This further eases my concerns.

When T-sensei arrives, I tell her that because I’d been expecting to speak at this event I’d written a speech for it and O-sensei had translated it. I hand her the paper with the speech and ask if she thinks it would be OK to give this kind of speech at this event. Her eyes appear to moisten, but she doesn’t know what to say. The tradition is only for the school’s teachers to give a speech. I ask her to be honest with me about my speech from the morning, that I’m worried it was too long and not really appropriate for a closing ceremony. She doesn’t say otherwise, but she says that it was very unusual and some of the teachers who will be leaving didn’t think I should have been given a chance to speak at all. She explains that before me, this school only hired ALTs from the JET program, and their contracts are from September to July so they were never among the departing teachers at the end of the school-year. I tell her that if the tradition is only for the real teachers to give speeches, I understand. She can sense my disappointment, and very carefully suggests that after the speeches are over and the kampai is made, there’s a period where everyone just eats and talks and maybe they’d let me give my speech then. I thank her and take my seat, not at all hopeful about the prospects.

I sit there in silence for a good twenty minutes, feeling as much like an outsider as ever. I think about my speech from this morning and all that talk about my feelings of fondness for this school, which now seems rather ironic. I suppose it’s merely my time here, my love of teaching and the warmth of the students that I loved. When I come to think of it, the faculty in general—though there were exceptions—never really made me feel like a part of the team.

At 5:00, we all stand up and applaud as the honored guests arrive. I like most of these teachers a lot—I wonder which of them were saying I shouldn’t have been allowed to speak at the closing ceremony. I can’t imagine any of them saying that.

The principal, who is sitting directly across from me, makes a short speech, and then the ten departing teachers take the stage one by one to give their speeches. The teacher’s aide from the morning isn’t here, so I don’t know if she would have been included if she’d been here, but I’m guessing she would because the part-timer is.

I listen respectfully to each one of them, then it’s time for the kampai, which is good because I could really use a drink at this point.

K-sensei is the first to come pour me a drink and talk. He asks me what school I’ll be going to next and I tell him the one I expect even though I’m not 100% sure. He says that’s a very small school, just over a hundred students, but it’s in the rich part of town so it’s mostly very good students. I’m not sure why this is—do rich people have smarter children? Maybe they just expect more from them. In any case, I do like the sound of it. He also tells me the name of the new ALT for Togane Chu—Lola something. I was hoping it would be someone I know, but it’s not. He’s not sure if she’s brand new or transferring in from somewhere else.

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I’m already feeling a little better, and as various teachers come up to me to refill my drink and exchange a few words, it slowly chips away at my forlornness. Most of them compliment me on my speech from the morning, asking what I’d done to prepare. They all ask me what school I’ll be going to, and I tell them what I expect it will be. They tell me S-sensei will be the principal there and I say I know and I’m very happy about that.

In terms of making me feel welcome, S-sensei always did. He always greeted me with a smile and would compliment me on occasion for my hard work. He even mentioned me in his speech at the Christmas enkai, saying he’d missed me during my visa-related absence.

Conversely, the principal of the school never said two words to me. Even at this enkai, when we’re seated across from each other the entire time, he doesn’t say a thing. He might just be one of those educators who thinks ALTs in general are unnecessary and a waste of money. Perhaps it was actually he who said he didn’t think I should speak at the closing ceremony, and T-sensei had just told me it was a teacher out of deference to the principal.

But as teacher after teacher comes up to me and talks, the chip on my shoulder over being excluded breaks down and I remember that I actually do really like [most of] these people and I’m going to miss seeing them every day. The mood-warming effects of the alcohol aren’t hurting either.

At one point I head to the back-room for a cigarette and the Kyoto-sensei is there. I hadn’t planned on this, but when I hear them talking about the upcoming speeches I figure “what the hell?” and tell him in Japanese that I’d written a speech for this enkai and had been practicing it for a week. I ask him to take a look at it and tell me if he thinks it’s okay for me to give it if there’s time. He takes the paper and starts reading, his face breaking into a smile immediately at the opening joke. This appears to be going well. He scans the rest of the paper then hands it back to me, saying “OK, you will go last.”

Splendid. Sometimes you just have to have the will. I could have just sat sulking all night but I went for it and now it would appear I’ll get that moment I’d been hoping for. The downside though is that now I’ve got to go back to being nervous about messing up again. The alcohol helps with that, but it also might increase my chances of messing up.

Vice Principal S-sensei acknowledges me as he heads to the restroom. Word has gotten to him that I’ll probably be transferring to the same school as him. He says he’ll see me next week when I come to introduce myself to the faculty, and I tell him I’m looking forward to it.

The next teacher to come up and pour me a drink is O-sensei, the teacher who taught 3-4 and who I’d accidentally insulted at the Chorus Contest enkai and later corrected my mistake through T-sensei at the graduation enkai. He’s the same age as me, and I always thought he didn’t like me. But we proceed to have what is actually the most pleasant of all my conversations of the night. He’s among the departing teachers, one whom I thought might have had a problem with my speaking in the morning, but now I’m all but certain it couldn’t have been him. After asking me about what schools I’m going to he asks me if it’s difficult to say goodbye to Togane Chu. I tell him it is, and that I’d talked about it in my speech in the morning. He and the other departing teachers hadn’t heard it, but he says that some of his students had told him it was really good. That’s great to hear. I repeat the lines about this being the first school I ever taught at and that it will always have a special place in my heart. He says he feels the same way about his first school, but he loves this school too because he’s been here for five years and taught the same group of students for the last two: 2-4 which became 3-4. I tell him again how amazing their improvement had been from last year to this and he thanks me again. I say there were a lot of great students in that class, and proceed to rattle off some names starting with K-. He laughs and tells me yes, he was the number one student! S-. I hit the mark again, she was number two. M- (from the speech contest). Three in a row—Yes, yes, she’s a very smart, wonderful student. We pause for a moment, each remembering our time with that class, then he takes his leave with a gambatte kudasai.

That might have been the most real conversation I’ve ever had in Japanese.

The next thing I know it’s time for the second set of speeches. This time, each faculty member who’s leaving is given a speech by a faculty member who’s staying, sometimes very sincere and emotional but often filled with fun-poking humor. The departing teacher is then given a moment to respond, and the next two teachers take the stage.

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When the last of the ten are finished, everyone thinks they’re about to get back to eating, but no. They hand me the microphone, and it’s announced that Kyle-sensei has a short speech he’d like to give in Japanese.

My head’s a little swimming from the beer, but I manage to flawlessly deliver the opening line I memorized: “Everyone, I’m sorry. I used up all my Japanese at the closing ceremony.” Much to my delight, this is greeted with uproarious laughter. (Roberto Benigni, I owe you one.)

“However, there are still a few things I want to say.” I remove the speech from my coat pocket and say, “Please forgive me for reading this one.”

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The adrenaline is pumping and I stumble over a few phrases, but I manage to get through it all well enough.

“I became an English teacher because I wanted to experience life in many different countries. Teaching was just a means to an end. I came to Japan because I was interested in the culture, but this job has been the best part of my life here. Teaching kids is more wonderful than I ever imagined. One day I will return to America, and I don’t know what kind of teacher I want to be, but I now know that I always want to be a teacher.

“This is the best job I’ve ever had. Togane Chugakkou is the best place I’ve ever worked. When I was stuck in America because of my expired visa…” I trip over the next words but it doesn’t matter because the mention of my visa has everyone laughing loudly again, “…I missed Japan, but I missed Togane Chugakkou more. Teachers and faculty, thank you for everything.”

I put down the paper and they applaud, perhaps thinking I’m finished but I’m not. This is just the part where I thank a few teachers individually. This I do in English, but in simple enough language that I know most of them will understand.

DSCF2821“O-sensei, M-sensei,” they each say “hai” as I call their names, “thank you for your work on the undokai [Sports Day], it was one of the best days of the year.” Applause.

“Y-sensei, the brass band this year was wonderful.” More applause. “And you taught 3-6 all year and didn’t go crazy! You have my respect.” As 3-6 is the most notoriously loud, wild, and unruly class in the school, this generates the most uproarious laughter.

“To-sensei, K-sensei,” (the other two JTEs), “we only worked together for a short time, but I really enjoyed our lessons together. You’re both great teachers.”

“Finally, T-sensei.” She looks tearful as she acknowledges me. “You were with me since the beginning. You helped me adjust to the school and to life in Japan. I’ll always be grateful to you.” Applause. “I probably asked you a million questions last year but you were always very patient and kind. Thank you. I’ll miss you.”

Back to Japanese now. “Everyone,” I unfold the speech and deliver the final words. “Your hard work and professionalism were an inspiration to me. I am very sad to leave, but I’m looking forward to experiencing life at other schools. I hope they are as wonderful as Togane Chugakko. For these two years, thank you very much.”

I bow, they applaud, I step down from the stage. Mission accomplished. I’d done what I came here to do. My worries had been unfounded—the speech could not have been more well-received.

As we approach the end of the formal party, many teachers come up to tell me it was a great speech. The principal across from me still doesn’t say anything, but I’m beyond caring. I’m just glad I was able to let them all know that even though I may not be a “real” teacher, I fully intend to be one.

Before I know it, we’re standing in a circle to sing the school song one last time. That was the first Japanese text I memorized, but this time no one is surprised to see me singing along with it perfectly.

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The ceremonial end-of-party clap is made, then the teachers stand in two lines and make an arch with their arms, which the departing teachers pass under one by one. After getting that picture I stand back and just clap for them as they go, but one of the teachers tells me I should be the last one through the “Japanese arch”. Well, I’ll be damned. I’m being included!

I grab my bag of presents and head through the arch with a full heart. K-sensei grabs me and kisses my cheek in an exaggerated, joking-fashion. Everyone laughs and I give him a friendly pat on the back before proceeding through the arch, out the door, down the stairs, and out of the building.

When T-sensei comes outside I ask her if she’s going to the after-party and she is. I say that in case I don’t get to talk to her there, I want to ask her to e-mail me when she knows when Togane Chu’s undokai this year will be. She says they put posters up in stores around town, but she’ll e-mail me because it would be great if I came to visit.

H-sensei is the first to offer me a ride to the karaoke after-party, so I ride in his passenger’s seat as M-sensei (one of the two in charge of the undokai) rides in the back. He compliments me on the notes I wrote to the students, which he says were “very clear”. I’m not sure if he means my penmanship or that the English was simple enough for the meaning to be clear, but I thank him for the compliment.

The karaoke place this time is a very conspicuous bright-orange building I pass by on my jogging route and always assumed was a cheap motel. Turns out it’s actually cheap karaoke instead. I’m seated between T-sensei and one of the young departing teachers. She asks me what song I want to sing and I decide to stick with something I already know plays well with a Japanese audience: “Hey Jude”. I thought there were a lot more songs cued up before that one, but it turns out there’d only been one. So I’m going second, and though my voice is a little rusty I get through it okay, making sure to replace the name “Jude” with “Togane Chu” half-way through the song, and get a bunch of people singing, “Na na na na Togane Chu” at the end.

Nothing particularly noteworthy happens during this phase. It’s just good old fashioned fun, the teachers at their utmost loose and wild, clapping to the music and woo-wooing and all that good stuff. The departing vice principal S-sensei always refuses to sing, but after a couple of hours they finally get him to give in and he’s of course tremendously well-received just for doing it.

When they hand me the song-selection device again I again go with one I’ve done before—the same song I did at last year’s farewell enkai karaoke: “Bohemian Rhapsody”. That middle section is tough but I pull it off better this time, and of course my head-banging generates plenty of laughter and woo-woos.

A bit later, I ask T-sensei what other English bands are popular in Japan, and she suggests Oasis. I find Oasis on the device and ask her what song she thinks would be the best to do, and she picks “Don’t Look Back in Anger”. Hmmm…somewhat of a theme for the day, isn’t it? I somehow manage to sing this one really well—perhaps more beer actually does improve the vocal chords—and everyone is really into it and applauding throughout.

After that I know the party is approaching its end. The weight of the reality that had been failing to hit me all day is now bearing down on me, and as I look around the room at all these people having this fun and awesome time together, my eyes start to well up with tears. I’m not drunk because I’ve been pacing myself very consciously, but at this point I’ve definitely had enough to soften me up emotionally to the point where the presence of others is no longer enough to prevent me from crying.

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This is really the end now. A year and a half—it felt more like two years but still went by in a flash—and it’s all over now. The last song will be sung any minute, then we’re all going to leave and this group of colleagues will never work together again. I’ll officially no longer be a part of my first and most special school.

The moment comes. The music stops, the lights come up. T-sensei offers to drive me home, and I gladly accept. My eyes must be completely red. I’m sniffling all over the place. At least everyone knows why this is difficult for me thanks to my speeches, so I’m not embarrassed—just profoundly sad.

A handful of teachers make another “Japanese arch” with their arms and all of the departing teachers including me go through again.

Goodbyes are exchanged in the parking lot and the next thing I know I’m in T-sensei’s passenger seat with O-sensei in the back. I’m glad it’s him because he’s in an emotional state as well.

We arrive at my building. T-sensei stops the car. It’s time to go. “Thank you so much for everything,” I tell her again. “You really helped me a lot.”

Her eyes are moist as she says, “Thank you. You really helped me.” She tells me she’ll e-mail me when she knows when Sports Day will be—and I say that would be great because I really want to come back and visit.

O-sensei extends his hand to me and we exchange goodbyes with mutual respect and empathy. I give T-sensei one last goodbye and step out of the car. She pulls away.

As I make my way to my door, there’s Togane Chugakko in full view. I’ve seen it every single day since I’ve lived here. Now for the first time ever, it’s not my school anymore. By the time I get inside, I’m practically bawling.

I unfold my bed and sit down on it. I might as well open this bag of presents. There are some nicely-wrapped gifts including memo-pads and some kind of special soap-product, but the best gift is just wrapped up in newspaper.

Oh my god, is this what I think it is? Yes, it is. Since my first day at the school, the super-friendly janitor H-san has always poured my green tea they serve with school-lunch in a special ceramic cup and handed it to me personally. This took on a great deal of sentimental value to the point where the last time I drank from it I was sad to let it go. They’d given me the cup.

Now I can’t stop crying.

I put on some more music and drink several glasses of water, just letting the emotions run their course before finally getting into bed and falling asleep.

I learned more today than almost any other day of my life.

Driver’s License Adventures, Part 2

March 27th, 2013 No comments

I spend all of Monday morning in preparation-mode, cycling between practicing my speeches for Friday’s closing day of school, and this afternoon’s practical driving test. To prepare for the driving test, I go through the entire course in my mind, visualizing every part of it and even using the Mario Kart Wii wheel as a prop. I’ve got the entire thing down to a science, each and every procedure and for each and every section of the course. Most people fail on their first try, but it’s possible that the entire next year of my life is riding on this. If it looks like I might not pass in time, Interac might not transfer me to the schools I’m hoping to be transferred to.

I time my arrival at the Unten Menkyo center in Kaihinmakuhari to correspond with the beginning of the one-hour block of time from 12:00 to 1:00 in which people are allowed to walk the course. I walked it a couple of times the first time I was there, but I definitely want at least one more chance to get it even more firmly in my mind, walking the course and going through each procedure at the actual places I’d be carrying them out. Just my luck that it’s raining today—now I’ve got the whole windshield-wiper situation to add on top of everything else I need to be conscious of, not to mention the potentially slippery roads. I’ve got my umbrella but after a half-hour walk through the course, I’m still pretty wet and my left foot is soaked—there must be a crack in the bottom of my left shoe.

I would have used the whole hour but I don’t want to get completely drenched, and I feel pretty confident that I’m as prepared as I can possibly be, so I go back inside and wait where I think I’m supposed to wait. When I got in, the ladies at the information desk had told me to pay 2,200 yen for a stamp and take it to Station 8. I got the stamp but Station 8 and every other station was closed for the lunch break, so now I stand there waiting for it to open. To confirm that this is where I’m supposed to be, I ask “jichishiken?” (practical test?) to a girl there and she says something that sounds like confirmation.

At 1:00 four men who appear to be proctors come to the desks and I show them the sheet of paper for the exam I’d received last week. They tell me foreigners have to go to Window 10. I’m confused because the guy at Interac had told me I wouldn’t have to go back to Window 10 and could just show up at the driving course at my appointed time, but shockingly enough this was incorrect, as was the information the lady at the information desk had given me.

So I go to Window 10 and give them the form and the stamps. There hadn’t been a clear place on the form on which to put the stamps, and I find out now that this is because I didn’t need them if this was my first time taking the test because I’d already paid. They tell me to keep the stamps and put them on the form when I re-take the test. I have no intention of having to re-take the test, but OK. Wouldn’t be the first 20 bucks I’ve ever wasted.

After a short wait, I and three other foreigners are called back to the window and told to head over to the test-course waiting room. There are about thirty Japanese people there too, but only three of us who are foreigners who’ll be taking the test with the automatic transmission car. There’s an Indian man with his wife, and a Middle-Eastern guy dressed extremely casually and listening to his iPod. I myself am dressed in a full suit and tie, knowing that half the battle is making a good impression on the proctor.

Our proctor arrives after the others have already entered and begun their explanations to the various other groups taking other kinds of tests. He asks us all if we speak Japanese. The others do but I tell him it’s difficult for me. He apologizes for not speaking any English, but I try to explain that it’s okay because I’ve memorized the course. He shows us the map and explains the whole course to us, doing his best to make sure I understand. I keep assuring him that I do because I’ve studied it. I am relieved that he seems like a nice guy—probably not the kind of proctor who looks for any excuse to fail you.

He tells us that the Middle Eastern guy will be going first and I’ll be riding in the back. Then I’ll take the test while the Indian guy rides in the back. He asks us if there are any questions, and I do have a question so I try to ask. When you make a right turn into a road with two lanes, I’m not sure whether you’re supposed to turn into the right lane and then change lanes to the left, or just turn wide into the left lane. The Middle Eastern guy speaks English so he tells me you’re supposed to turn to the left lane. Unfortunately, I’ve been practicing the other way the whole time, so I’d have to adjust.

The proctors leave and there’s another short wait as they retrieve the test vehicles. At 1:55 the test vehicles pull up, and I’m shocked by how many there are. There are about ten cars, but also three busses and a tractor. The test course—it appears—is going to be a lot busier than I’d thought.

The three of us find our car and the Middle Eastern guy opens the back door for me to go inside. He’s a nice guy and I hope he passes, both for his sake and so that I can see what a passing test-run is like.

In the book about the driving tests I’d been studying, it tells you to carefully check under the back and under the front of the car before you get in. The Middle Eastern guy doesn’t do this but the proctor is already in the car and doesn’t seem to notice. It appears you don’t have to do that in this prefecture.

He takes his seat and fastens his seat-belt, so far appearing to do everything correctly. The proctor points out where the blinker is (the Japanese word is “winka”), as well as the emergency break and the windshield wipers. In Japanese the blinker and wiper are reversed, but luckily the pedals are the same. I’ve made sure to practice the right-side blinker motion in my head every time.

As we pull out, I’m relieved to find that it has in fact stopped raining. So that’s one less thing to worry about.

The book suggests you verbalize every action as you take it, but the Middle Eastern guy doesn’t and I don’t think it’s necessary anyway. The book also tells you to keep as far left within the left lane as possible, but he doesn’t do that either. As he rounds the first curve I’m already starting to doubt his chances of passing, as he not only doesn’t stay to the left of the left lane but drifts a little into the right.

The next section is a long straight road where you must accelerate to 40 km/hr. Some prefectures will make you change lanes so I’d practiced that as well, but this wasn’t part of the test. Another thing I can stop worrying about.

At the end of the long stretch, you can go straight into a right-hand curve or take a left-hand “exit” into a stretch of road with a hill and fake railroad tracks. My map had shown that for our test we’d have to take that road, so I’d practiced those two obstacles—making a full stop on the hill and accelerating without rolling backward, and stopping at the railroad tracks and rolling down the window to listen for a “train”—but apparently I didn’t have to worry about that stuff either.

The Middle Eastern guy starts to merge into the left but the proctor quickly shouts at him not to, to just keep going straight. I feel bad for the guy—it’s also his first time taking the test and he’d been nervous as hell going into it. That little slip-up undoubtedly got him rattled even more.

Around the next bend you have to change to the right lane to avoid an obstacle, then make a right turn onto the center road with four lanes (two for each side) and a traffic light. He starts to turn into the wrong road, and the proctor has to shout at him again. This really isn’t going well. But if he actually manages to pass that’s great news for me as it means the bar is much much lower than I’d expected.

But when he actually does make the right turn, I know it’s over for him. He turns into the lane second-from-the-right, which is the wrong side of the road. The proctor corrects him and he gets to the right (left) side of the road, but rather than a specific lane just straddles the line between them all the way through the traffic light. He makes the next three left turns, forgetting to put his blinker on, and just when he’s about to reach the crank, the proctor tells him it’s over. He’s failed. Just take the car back to the dock. On his way back he once again drives on the right side of the road. Ouch.

I get out of the car as the proctor explains to him all the reasons he failed. The Indian guy—who will be riding in the back during my test—is there and I inform him that our Middle Eastern friend failed. The Indian guy will be taking the test for the second time, and I tell him this is my first. He tells me how difficult it is, but somehow I’m much less nervous than I’d expected to be. Maybe it was because I knew I couldn’t possibly do as poorly as the first guy, and my driving would seem expert by comparison.

When I’m told to get in the car, the proctor is still inside but I go and check under the car anyway. Better safe than sorry. I go inside, lock the door, adjust the seat, and check all the mirrors (adjusting the rearview with both hands) before I realiz I’d forgotten the seat-belt. No matter, at least I remembered it before starting the car. I also check the blinker, the wipers, and the emergency brake. Once I’m sure I’ve done everything I was supposed to before starting the car, I ask if it’s OK to start. I start the engine, release the emergency break, put the car in drive, and do the “full-head spin”. The word for “check” in Japanese is “kakunin”, and I’ve been practicing saying that followed by a number for each thing I check. When you start you’re supposed to check 1- behind you, 2- the left mirror, 3- the rearview mirror, 4- the right mirror, and 5- over your right shoulder. I go through this while verbalizing, “kakunin ichi ni san shi go” then put the blinker on and pull out.

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I continue to verbalize everything as I make my way through the course. You’re supposed to check your rearview before every time you brake, so I say “baku mira” then “bureki” every time. At the long stretch of road it takes me awhile to accelerate to 40 but I get there, and make sure to verbalize the checking of my rearview four times along the stretch (the book says you fail if you don’t check at least twice).

I make it all the way around the course and am already feeling a little more at ease. This is the first time I’ve ever driven a vehicle in a foreign country and the first time I’ve ever driven on the left side with the wheel on the right. I haven’t driven a car at all since October, but it appears to have come right back to me with no rustiness at all, and the fact that the wheel is on the other side is not as disconcerting as I’d feared. Visualizing it all dozens of times beforehand really helped.

But so far has just been the easy part. Now we get to the turns and obstacles, starting with the right turn onto the center road. When you turn right you have look 1- left, 2- right, 3- at your right mirror, and 4- over your right shoulder. I say “kakunin ichi ni san shi” and make the turn, hand-over-hand like you’re supposed to, but my instinct is to turn into the lane closer to the center. That was a mistake, but at least it was the correct side of the road.

There’s not enough room to change lanes before the traffic light, and it’s just turning red. I say, “aka shingo desu” (the light is red) and stop. Ah, twenty seconds of rest before proceeding. When the light turns green I say, “aoi shingo desu” (the light is blue—yes, blue) and proceed. I kakunin at both crosswalks and check my rearview again, then change lanes to get in the left before the course’s series of three left turns around the block with the crank. There’s a stop sign there so I say “tomare desu” (it’s a stop) then stop and count to three (you must wait a full three seconds) before proceeding.

Left turns are the same procedure as right turns but in reverse, so I kakunin ichi ni san shi again and turn left, making sure to keep the turn as tight as possible. I signal left as soon as the first left turn is complete, which the book also suggests you to because it’s obviously better to signal too early than too late. The proctor has been calling out each turn in advance, but he can tell I’ve already got it memorized. I’m hoping my blatant use of Japanese is correcting his earlier impression that I’m just a dumb foreigner who can’t speak the language, and I think it’s helping. I even say “winka” every time I signal.

After the third left turn I’m at the point where the first guy failed, but now we’ve reached what most people consider the most difficult part of the course. It’s called the “crank”. A very narrow road with two sharp right-angle turns you must navigate without hitting the polls erected over the curbs, or driving over the curb. You’re allowed to hit the curb but driving over it is instant failure. If you hit the curb you’re allowed to back up, but only three times.

The book says the procedure for the left turn is to stay as far left as possible and turn at the last possible moment, then get as far to the right as possible for the right turn. This has been bugging me because I imagine that making it more likely to clip your tires, so instead I try to keep to the center. I take that turn as slowly as humanly possible, coming within a centimeter of hitting those polls but not doing so. I’m hugely relieved to have made it through the first turn without having to reverse at all, but half-way through my second turn I feel my back left tire hit the curb.

Okay, so we’ve got to back up. I shift into reverse and pull straight back like the book says, but the tire hits again when I continue. Now I turn the wheel a little as I back up, trying to get into what I imagine is a more favorable alignment. No avail—the tire hits again. As I shift into reverse the third time, the proctor informs me this is the third time. If I don’t make it this time, I fail. This time I turn the wheel massively as I reverse, really altering the alignment as much as possible. And it works! The tire doesn’t clip and I don’t hit the polls. The hardest part is over!

The next part is cake. A right turn back on the main road and a right turn at the traffic light—I turn into the closer lane again, but I merge left quickly enough and hope it’s not the difference between passing and failing. Slow down and kakunin at every little intersection, winka before the left turn at the end, stop and count to three at the stop sign. Left turn and around the bend, and now we’re at the course’s second major obstacle: the S-curve.

This is exactly what it sounds like: an extremely narrow S-shaped curve you have to navigate without hitting the curb. The books says it’s easier than the crank, but as soon as I enter it I can tell it ain’t that easy. I make the leftward curve as slowly as possible, ever conscious of the distance between my right tires and the curb, and keeping the blinker on the whole time. I get to the straight section, change to a right turn-signal, and begin turning the wheel to the right.

That’s when it happens. I feel my left rear tire rise up and plummet back down again. My sigh is so loud that the Indian guy in the back probably heard it too.

At the end of the curve, the proctor tells me what I already knew: because I drove up on the curb I have in fact failed, and I should return the car to the dock.

I don’t bother verbalizing anything anymore. I don’t even pay enough attention to what I’m doing to remember that the blinker is on the right side, and end up putting the windshield wipers on for the last turn. Doesn’t matter now anyway.

We pull in and the Indian guy gets out so the proctor can tell me my mistakes. It’s amazing how well I can understand Japanese when I know exactly what the person is going to say. He said my checking was very good, and I drove well. I failed because I drove on the curb in the S-curve, but I also lost points for not turning into the far left lane on two of the right turns, and also for turning the wheel too much in the crank. I think he wished me better luck next time.

So that was it. I’d done almost everything right and went to great lengths to give the proctor no excuse whatsoever to fail me. I did make a good impression on him, but it ultimately didn’t even matter. What did me in was a mistake of pure mechanics—I misjudged the position of the rear of my car during an obstacle. That’s instant failure no matter what the proctor might think of you.

As I walk away the Indian guy tells me he’d failed for the same exact reason his first time, and that he can’t believe how narrow that S-curve is. I wish him luck and go on my way, passing by the Middle Eastern guy outside as he’s smoking a cigarette and inform him of my failure. We wish each other better luck next time, and in I go to make another appointment.

I’m upset, but not as angry as I thought I might be. Having to take the test again is no big deal—what I’m worried about is how this might affect my job placement. If I can’t get the license before the school year starts on April 8th, they might not give me the position I’d been hoping for, the one with multiple schools including junior high and elementary. Unfortunately, the next appointment I can take is for April 4th, cutting it as close as possible. That’s also a Thursday which means if I get the license that day there’d only be Friday to get a car and be ready to drive to work on Monday, so this might mean they’ll change my placement already.

I call Interac but neither of the people who are handling my license-situation are in the office, so I have to wait until one of them calls me back. That happens as I’m waiting on the train platform, and when I tell him I fail he’s totally nonchalant, saying that’s the norm and not to worry about it. I express to him my worry about it affecting my placement, and he says he doesn’t think it will—that they’ll just look into bus routes or something until I get the license. I think if I can take a bus to these schools why do I need a car in the first place, but I don’t say anything. I’ve already gone this far—I’m going to see it through until I get that license, even if it takes me ten tries. (On the plus side, the 2,200 yen I’d spent on those stamps turned out not to be a waste after all!)

I’m relieved, but I want to talk to the woman in charge of that anyway, also to clear up my question about whether my school will have the official word I’m leaving before the closing ceremony. She’s out of the office all day but I reach her the following morning, and she tells me Interac informed the Board of Education about my transfer on Monday and they’d probably tell the school sometime this week. More good news.

She also tells me that they checked the route to my schools and I can use a bicycle to get to them until I get the license. Again I’m wondering why I need a car at all, but at this point I’m not turning back.

I also ask her why they can’t tell me what specific schools I’m going to, and she says it’s because of the contract, but they’ll tell me next week. But she can tell me that it’s one junior high school and two elementary schools, which all but completely confirms that it’s going to be what I think it is—that I’ll be taking over the schools from the Jamaican Jehovah’s witness, meaning I’ll be going to the same junior high school that one of my current vice principals is becoming the principal of. More good news.

So that was the second installment of my driver’s license adventures, both for those of you who know me and any foreigners who might have stumbled on this post while researching how to pass the driver’s test. Hopefully this will just be a trilogy rather than a long series of chronicles.

Categories: Personal Tags: , ,

The End Approaches

March 24th, 2013 No comments

Friday was my last actual paid work day at my school, so I suppose I technically don’t work there anymore. But it didn’t feel like the last day because in reality, it wasn’t. It was the last day for the students, but the teachers remain for another week before changing jobs within the school or transferring to their new schools. There was a closing ceremony on Friday, but the real, actual, final closing ceremony won’t be until this Friday, the 29th. Attending that is optional for me, but I wouldn’t dream of missing it.

Friday was, however, the last day for O-sensei, my teaching partner for every class for the last two semesters. Her husband is being transferred to Korea, so she’ll be moving there with him and just be a housewife for awhile until she’s comfortable enough with the language to get some kind of job. It’s a pity because she made a great teacher, but I suppose she never intended to make a career out of it.

Departing part-time teachers give farewell speeches at the first closing ceremony while full-timers go at the second, so O-sensei one of three teachers who gave a speech on Friday. One of others was being offered a position as a full-time teacher, so he had to give a farewell speech in spite of the fact that he’d already found out—though he was supposed to keep it secret—that his new job would be at the same school. The students are in for a pleasant surprise when they see him again in April.

I hadn’t stayed the whole day after the closing ceremony last year, so I hadn’t known how the whole teacher-transfer process goes down. At the end of the day of the closing ceremony, there’s a meeting in the teacher’s room in which the principal formally announces which teachers and faculty members will be transferring and where to, and he also reads the names and ages of the people who’ll be replacing them. Apparently it’s supposed to be kept secret until that moment, and even then they’re not supposed to tell anyone until the formal announcements are made in the newspaper the following week.

Why the need for secrecy, I have no earthly idea. O-sensei couldn’t explain it either. That’s just how it works in Japan.

Apparently, I was also supposed to keep my own impending transfer a secret. When I e-mailed Interac to ask them which specific schools I’d be going to, they wrote back telling me I should only be saying that I might transfer to another school, not that I definitely would. Oops. Too late. But that’s a mistake I couldn’t possibly regret any less, as I wouldn’t have had all those wonderful goodbyes from students if I hadn’t told them I’d be leaving.

But the whole secrecy thing complicates things in terms of my own role at the school’s final closing ceremony. I’ve been hoping to be able to give my farewell speech—to which I’ve added a few extra paragraphs and continue to practice every day—in front of the whole school like the other departing full-timers. But Interac hasn’t told my school’s administrators about the transfer yet, and I learned from T-sensei yesterday that the school actually received a letter telling them I would stay there. This confuses me greatly, and I called Interac to find out what the deal was but the woman who handles placement wasn’t there and she never called me back, so I have to wait until Monday to clear things up. She did write in her e-mail that they let the schools know about their shuffling of ALTs at the “end of March” and the 29th is the last weekday of March so I’m fairly confident they’ll know by the closing ceremony, but I’m not technically supposed to be a part of the closing ceremony unless they have the official word that I’m leaving. T-sensei said that I could still give my speech, but it would just be its own extra part of the assembly. I wouldn’t be in the formal goodbye part where all the departing teachers are handed flowers by students, make their speeches one by one, and formally exit the gym. I’d probably also be excluded from the farewell-speech giving portion of the enkai, for which I’ve also prepared a speech.

It’s a little annoying, but I’m pretty sure they’ll be told the news next week and everything will be ready for Friday. It would be extremely weird for Interac to withhold news about who the school’s ALT for the next school-year will be until it actually is the next school year.

Interac is even keeping the schools I’ll be going to secret from me, though I have a pretty strong clue as to which junior high school I’m going to. It came about in a bit of an odd way. A year ago, the mother of one of my students found my apartment while doing her Jehovah’s witness knocking-on-doors thing, and ever since then she’s been showing up at my door every couple of months or so to talk to me about Jesus and make me read Bible passages. I’m too polite to ask her to stop, so she keeps coming. The last couple of times she came, she brought with her a Jamaican girl who is also a Jehovah’s witness and also an Interac ALT. The first time, once we got through the Bible stuff she asked me if I’d be transferring and at that point I didn’t know. She said she already knew she’d be transferring and I should contact Interac and ask them, which is what prompted me to do that at the beginning of the month. The second time she came I said I would be transferring but I didn’t know where to, that it would be in Togane but they were making me get a car. She said that meant I’d probably be taking over her schools, as she needed a car to get to them. They’re in Togane, but way up in the hills so it’s not really feasible to walk or bike to them. As far as I know, there’s only one junior high school up in the hills, and since she was their ALT and she’s transferring, I think it’s a pretty safe bet that this is in fact where I’ll be transferring to.

At the meeting on Monday, I listened to where the other departing teachers are being transferred to, but none of them were going to that school. However, one of the vice principals—the really nice guy who once told me he wishes all Americans were like me—is going become the principal of that school, which needless to say is awesome news. No stress about making a good impression on that principal—I’ve already had two years to do so!

But we’ll see. If I fail the driver’s test tomorrow, there’s some chance Interac won’t offer me that position. They said they’d pay for a cab until I get the license, but I’ve long since learned not to always trust the information Interac gives me. For all I know, what they told my school was true and they won’t end up transferring me at all—leaving me with a substantial amount of egg on my face when I go back in April and face all those students I shared heartfelt farewells with.

In any case, I should know by Friday. Though the school-year is technically over for me, I pretty much consider this to be a work-week. Monday is the driver’s test and that’ll take up the whole day. Tuesday is the day of the Spring Concert, so I’ll be seeing a whole bunch of teachers and students that day. Wednesday and Thursday are free but I’m toying with the idea of going in anyway just for the hell of it. And Friday is the closing ceremony and farewell enkai. So it’s over but it’s not over.

The only absolute final goodbye I’ve said so far is to O-sensei, who will not be working next week and not attending the closing ceremony. She was given a very fond farewell by the faculty when she left at the end of the day, and I was asked to pose in a picture with her as she left. We exchanged a few words of mutual appreciation for each others’ help, and I gave her a note I’d written to further express my appreciation. I’d written messages to all the students, so it was only right to write one for her as well. She helped me tremendously throughout the school year both with lessons and basic life-in-Japan stuff. I was extraordinarily lucky to be partnered with her, but now that’s over.

I feel extraordinarily lucky to have taught at that school, but that’s over too and it’s time to move on. One week to go.

The Last Final Lesson

March 19th, 2013 No comments

It’s hard to believe I’ll never teach another class at this school again. It’s even harder to believe that after this Friday, I’ll never work another day here again. I’ll be back for the closing ceremony on the 29th, but that’s just a voluntary thing and I don’t get paid for it. Because tomorrow is a holiday, I’ll only walk to this building for the purpose of going to work two more times.

I had my last three lessons yesterday. They were the same routine as last week, with my announcement of leaving at the beginning, the word-guessing game in the middle, and note-distribution at the end. But the very last lesson was a little different.

That morning I went back and checked my very first work schedule from Interac, and determined that 1-2 was the first class I ever taught at the school. My last lesson was with 2-6, and because they shift the first-graders around I knew there’d be at least some students who had been in 1-2 last year. With O-sensei’s help I learned a couple of new Japanese sentences and used them at the beginning: “Which students here were in 1-2 last year? Please stand up for a moment. You were at my first lesson at this school. Now you are at my last.”

Only four of the students in 2-6 had been in 1-2, but it was interesting to see who they were. Back then they were just faces in a crowd, but now I’m quite familiar with them. I may not know them as well as their friends or someone who speaks their language, but I’ve dealt with them enough to have a pretty good sense of their personalities. Two were boys in the back, not great students but nice kids. Two were girls in the front, very quiet but great students.

I went through the game as normal, not bothered by their typical lack of enthusiasm. That’s just the collective personality of this particular class. Even their homeroom teacher I-sensei (of lost-key-incident fame) talked to me about how quiet they were at the enkai. But the game was enjoyable enough that there was plenty of laughter throughout, and they even politely applauded the winning team at the end. Throughout the game, my awareness that this was the last of more than a thousand lessons I’ve taught at this school was constant but not overwhelming.

The full weight of the significance only started to hit me at the very end as I was distributing the notes, knowing all that remained were my final words and then it would be over forever. The final note I handed out was to a girl named S-, a wonderfully smart and respectful student who had been among the four who had been at my first lesson.

Then it was time to say goodbye. I asked the students to listen for a moment, and they immediately returned to their natural state of silence. As I delivered the handful of lines from my speech that I’d already done for 16 other classes, I felt them more strongly than ever, as though I wasn’t speaking to just this particular class but the entire collective student body. “Everyone, you were wonderful students. I’m grateful for your warmth and enthusiasm. I will miss you very much.”

Apparently I was projecting enough feeling for some students to get a sense of it. The eyes of S- and the other girl who’d been at my first lesson were watering, perhaps sharing my sense of how far we’d come since then, and that this was the end of something precious.

I finished by wishing them a good spring vacation and good luck as third-graders, then they all stood and took the final, last, very final bow I’ll get from students at this school. My own eyes were watering as I said my final goodbye and walked out the door, the entire class still standing in respectful silence as I made my exit. S- was seated closest to the door, so my last image from my last lesson here was of the watery eyes of a student who had been there at my first.

It was the briefest of moments, but a memory that will last forever.

Categories: Personal Tags:

The Never-Ending Ending

March 16th, 2013 No comments

This March is just an endless series of goodbyes, one after another after another. It started with the third-graders, culminating in their graduation ceremony, and because I’m leaving the school is now continuing with the other two grades as well. This week I had my last lessons with all but three of the first and second-grade classes, and I’ll finish the final three on Monday.

It’s been quite an experience. I’ve never had to say goodbye to so many people at once. The only comparable time was high school (I actually knew less people in college, and most of them I continued to see after graduation), and even then it wasn’t as many, and it didn’t really feel like an absolute ending. I’d see my friends in the summer, and there were always reunions to look forward to (though I missed our 10-year reunion by about a month).

I start every class with a few rehearsed Japanese lines: “This will be our last lesson together. In April I will not return to this school. I will go to another school. It was very fun teaching you. I hope today will be fun too.” Reactions vary depending on the collective personality of each class (a fascinating phenomenon). Generally, the first-grade classes have had a much stronger reaction than the jaded second-graders, but there are usually a few cries of “Oh no!” whether genuine or in jest. Only a handful of students seemed really upset by the news, but I at least got the impression from every class that they would be sorry to see me go.

After I finish, O-sensei informs each class that she would be leaving as well, not just to a different school but a different country. This always elicits a major surprise, and occasionally laughter—which I assume has to do with their disbelief that both of us will be leaving them.

Once the opening is finished, I launch right into our final game, a variation of what was probably the most enjoyable game of the year for everyone—the draw/gesture word-guessing game. I call it “Spell, Draw, or Gesture”. I made three decks of word cards, one for each category. I split the class into two teams, and have students line up at the front three at a time. One student chooses whether to spell, draw, or gesture to make their team guess the word for a point. For spelling, the words are in Japanese and they have to spell the English word correctly to get the point. If they don’t know the word, they can pass to the next person but if the same word is passed three times, that’s three strikes and their team loses a point. Once the word has been guessed the student sits down and the next person gets up to stand in the line, making it progress very swiftly. Each team goes for three minutes at a time, and we continue until about five minutes before the end of the period.

Because of the success of my previous word-guessing game, I knew the students would like this one and they all definitely did. The game moves swiftly enough that each students gets two or three turns in the spotlight before the time is up. It’s a nice structure for a final lesson for me personally, as I get to focus on each individual student for a moment or two and appreciate whatever it is about them there is to appreciate.

Once the time is up, O-sensei gives her goodbye speech, followed by me. I don’t give the speech I gave to the third-graders—I’ll give that during the school’s final closing ceremony on the 29th—but I have a different sort of farewell. I had a bunch of extra CDs I made for the third-graders, so first I tell each class about them and say that if any student wants one they can just come ask me, either in the teacher’s room or in the “Kyle-store” after school.

The next part is my favorite. Signing the seniors’ yearbooks had been such a pleasant experience and knowing I was able to give personal messages to nearly all of those kids motivated me to write messages to every other student as well. Last weekend I went to the stationary store and picked up a bunch of notepads with cute designs—things like Mickey or Hello Kitty or other various characters—and set about writing a little note to every student in every class. Most of the notes are some variation of “I hope you enjoyed my lessons. It was fun to teach your class. Good luck in the future!” but for a great deal of students I made it more personal, thanking them for their kindness or enthusiasm and adding compliments or words of encouragement. With about 35 students in each class and 11 classes to get through, this has been quite a time-consuming process, taking longer than a class-period itself to get through one class.

But it’s totally worth it, and I intend to do the same thing every time I leave a school. The students sincerely appreciate the gesture, and it’s really nice to know that all of them have something to remember me by, and particularly that the best students know I believe in them, that I noticed them, that they weren’t just a face in the crowd to me.

I call each student’s name and they stand up to receive the note, then busily go about trying to figure out what it says, either with a dictionary or asking the closest smart student for help translating. I assume most will ask another English teach to translate the next time they get the chance, but even if they don’t understand the words they definitely just appreciate the fact that I took time to write something just for them.

Once all the notes are distributed, I close with a few lines from my speech along with some extra phrases: “You were great students. Thank you for your warmth and enthusiasm. I will really miss you. Enjoy your Spring Vacation. Good luck in second/third grade.” The students stand up for the ceremonial bow to end each lesson, and I exit the room, usually to a chorus of warm goodbyes from appreciative students.

The whole thing has had a massive warming effect on nearly everyone. The second-graders, whom I’ve mentioned several times had cooled off to me this year, seem to rediscover their friendliness after the goodbye. The first-graders, who were always warm to begin with, are now downright beaming. Most of them have come to me asking for the CD, and a few have come bearing notes of their own they wrote for me, either in simple Japanese so I could understand or adorably broken English. One first-grade girl wrote this: “Dear Kyle, We are very enjoyed your lesson! Kyle is popular with junior high school student. Thank your teaching till now!”

But the best experience by far was my last lesson of the day yesterday, with 1-5. That was always my last lesson of the week, which was great because it was the most spirited, warm, and enthusiastic class in the school. I had trouble remembering all the students’ names in each class, but never with 1-5. Each individual student stuck out enough to me that I never had trouble recalling any of their names. It took me twice as long to write my notes to that class because I had something personal to say to just about each and every student. When I announced I’d be leaving, there was the most genuine reaction of sadness from that group, and one girl even appeared to have tears in her eyes.

The game went better than with any other class, with both teams doing an excellent job. In nearly every other class, students would constantly pass the word to the next player, not even wanting to try to understand the word or make the gesture or pictures. But there was only one pass during that entire class. A typical score for a team at the end of the game in other classes was between 20 and 30 points. With 1-5 the final score was 45 to 43. But the most noticeable difference to me was that in every other class, students avoided doing gestures until the very end when they needed fast points, but the 1-5 students did gestures all throughout. The reason is clear enough—students are embarrassed to do gestures in front of the class, so they want to avoid it. But 1-5 was such a great atmosphere that all the students were comfortable enough not to give it a second thought. They were laughing, cheering, and applauding throughout, even giving encouragement to the most awkward kid in the room. It’s a shame they rearrange the students after first-grade, as it’s a tragedy that this group will be broken up.

After I distributed my notes, I gave my farewell lines and added that I’d especially miss this class because they were my number one favorite. When they stood up to take the final bow, the class president thanked me personally on behalf of everyone just like 3-4 had, and I got more shouts of “thank you” from the students.

But that wasn’t the best part. After the bow had taken place, everyone remained standing. The class president and a friend of hers walked to the front of the room and set up the CD player. All of the students moved to the back of the room and arranged themselves in chorus formation. They then proceeded to sing their class’s song for O-sensei and me, just as a special goodbye and thank you from their class.

The period had already ended. This was during the 10-minute break time between periods, and they were using five minutes of that time to sing a song for just the two of us. It might have been the most moving thing I’ve ever experienced. Such an unbelievably beautiful moment. Most beautiful moments are over so quickly that you barely have time to appreciate them, but their song lasted long enough for me to maintain full awareness that this was one of the most beautiful moments of my life and I should soak in every second of it. As I stood there and scanned their faces, the girls putting their heart and soul into their singing and some of the boys playfully goofing around as they sang, I felt the same beautiful sadness that I’d felt at graduation. I hadn’t known these students as long or as well as the third-graders, but an entire school-year is not an insignificant amount of time. Knowing that I’d never stand in front of this class again, that this class itself would soon be broken up and never exist again—that these voices would never sing together again—I almost lost it again. Some of the students seemed to notice when my eyes watered up and they were pointing it out to others, then when a couple of tears finally did fall and I had to wipe them away, everyone noticed and laughed warmly.

When it was over, I told them that was beautiful and thanked them sincerely. They remained in their formation as I left the room, waving and saying goodbye until I was completely out of sight. When I got back to the teacher’s room I thanked their homeroom teacher for cultivating such a wonderful class.

I only wish that had been my last lesson at the school altogether, as it will never get more beautiful than that. My actual last lesson will be with 2-6 on Monday, who are probably the least warm and enthusiastic class in the school, the least likely to give a damn about my leaving. But that’s just how it goes. Nothing can be perfect.

But it can come close. After school, nearly every student from 1-5 and a few from other classes came to the Kyle-store to get the CD, many bearing notes or little presents for me. A few of them asked me to sign the inside rim of their bike helmets, which is just about the most flattering thing imaginable. They’ll have those helmets throughout all of junior high school, so (assuming they don’t endeavor to wash it off for some reason) those students will have a little message from me at the top of their vision every time they ride to and from school.

I’ve learned so much from these students, and I continue to learn all the time. The most significant thing I learned yesterday is that what you see on the outside is not always what’s happening on the inside. Some students seem cold and distant and you think they either don’t like you or don’t give you a second thought, then you hand them a note and all of sudden they’re coming to see you after school and asking you to sign their bike helmet. You get the impression that many of them are sleepwalking through junior high school, just going through the daily routine without ever appreciating the significance of this time in their lives, but when it’s time to say goodbye they’re the most sentimental people ever. It’s amazing.

I don’t know if all kids are like this (it’s hard to tell when you’re one of them), if it’s just Japanese students, or if it’s just this school, but I’d like to find out. One thing I’m absolutely sure of is that I intend to teach kids for the rest of my life. It’s been rewarding beyond my wildest expectations. I can’t imagine ever doing anything else.

Categories: Personal Tags: , , ,

Driver’s License Adventures, Part 1

March 12th, 2013 No comments

Monday was a school holiday to make up for the Saturday of the graduation ceremony. It’s Tuesday now and I’m back at school for the first time since then, still in a strange state of mind. A third of the student body is missing, and about three-quarters of the students I liked most are gone. But I can’t consider them firmly lodged in the past just yet. Most of them—those who aren’t travelling for vacation—will be back for the closing ceremony in about three weeks, which will also be my very last day at this school. I’ll have to say farewell to them again at that point, as well as say farewell to everybody else. To make things even more confusing, I’m not leaving Togane so I’ll continue to see a few students out and about whenever I go out. Just this past weekend I saw five of the kids who just graduated. It must be a little like breaking up with someone that you still see regularly.

On Sunday I hung out with Lily, Jack, and his friend John at their apartment, which was a nice distraction from the heavy and confusing emotions. We spent most of the time playing with their iPads—it’s astonishing how much time such devices can kill. After going out to dinner at a curry restaurant, we parted ways for what might be quite awhile. They’re all moving to Tokyo at the end of the week, so that’s even more goodbyes to look forward to! At least I know I’ll see them again, as I can always visit them in Tokyo.

But yesterday’s distraction was by far the most effective, as I had to use the free weekday to take care of the first part of the process of getting my American driver’s license converted to a Japanese one. No time for dwelling on past and future now—I’ve got to obtain documents, fill out applications, and take tests!

The main center for driver’s licenses in Chiba prefecture is the Menkyo Center in the city of Makuhari, close to Chiba city. It’s about an hour-long journey by train altogether, with one or two changeovers in between. But before I went there I had to get off a few stations earlier to head to the JAF building (Japanese Automobile Federation) and obtain a Japanese translation of my American driver’s license.

I got there just as they were opening for business at 9:00, and had to wait a little extra time as all the employees paused for their morning meeting. I’m not sure what effect my had, but I was treated with a great deal of respect—far more than I’m used to from dealing with American or German bureaucracies. I’d decided to wear a full suit that day even though it wasn’t necessary. I find myself more comfortable in a suit in public, especially when I know I’ve got to be dealing with Japanese workers. In this case it was particularly comforting to know I looked professional, as it made up for my lack of Japanese speaking ability. I may sound like a dumb gaijin looking for a driver’s license, but I looked like a person who should have one.

The translation took about twenty minutes and cost 3000 yen ($30). As if that weren’t expensive enough, I spent an addition 1000 yen ($10) on a copy of the English translation of the Japanese “Rules of the Road” booklet, both as a resource to study for the writing test and simply to have something to read during the inevitable waiting periods at the Menkyo center.

I got back on the train, got off at Kaihinmakuhari station, found the bus that goes to the Menkyo center, and took it there. The whole thing was pleasantly un-confusing. I went inside and found the information desk, confirmed that I was supposed to head to Window 10, and headed on over. The guy at the window—like every other Japanese person there—spoke no English whatsoever, but I had a good enough idea what to expect and was able to pick up on enough words to make it through smoothly. I had all the necessary documents—more than what was necessary, actually—so that wasn’t a problem, and after waiting for about ten minutes was given an application form for the driving tests to fill out. I needed a photo for the license, and there were photo booths there with a worker who helpfully guided me through the process. She didn’t speak English, but the photo booth did, so that was no problem either.

I had to pay 2,200 yen for the test application, but by the time all that was finished Window 10 was closed for the morning. For whatever reason, they only accept applications between 8:30 and 9:00, and between 13:00 and 13:30. It was now just 10:25, which meant I had a ridiculous amount of time to kill.

From my research, I knew I’d be able to walk the driving test course between 12:00 and 13:00, so that shortened the waiting time by an hour, and the rest of it I spent reading the Rules of the Road book and heading across the street to a convenience store for a snack. The Rules of the Road book was just chapter after chapter of painfully obvious common sense (e.g. “You must always wear a safety belt while operating a motor vehicle” and “Always follow the instructions given by police officers”) occasionally interspersed with something that might be useful during the test. There was an appendix explaining all the road signs, but I’d found a website with them last week and had them sufficiently studied already.

When 12:00 came I headed out to the driving course, but hesitated before going out on it because there was absolutely no one else there, not even a worker from the center. There were a series of placards with maps of the course and various routes posted, which made me nervous because the map I’d found online had only one route, and that’s the one I’d spent the last few days memorizing in my mind. I had my route through the map down, but not knowing what the course actually looked like, it was hard to really picture myself taking the test.

course

When I saw someone else come out and begin walking the course, I figured it was safe to do so myself, and proceeded to trace the route from the map I’d memorized, pleased that the actual course matched up so perfectly with the map. I did more than just walk the course, but actually pictured myself in the car, going through all the motions of signaling and checking my mirrors before every turn, slowing down and stopping at intersections and crosswalks, and carefully navigating the two major obstacles of the course: “the crank” (a narrow, two-turn passageway that you must make it through without running up on the curb), and the “S-curve” (exactly what it sounds like—a narrow, S-shaped curve). After walking the entire course once, I already felt massively less stressed about the test. Knowing exactly what it really looks like and being able to visualize the whole process from start to finish is enormously beneficial, and I’m now thinking there could be a chance I will pass on the first try, though the odds are still against me.

After completing the course I’d memorized, I took out the iPhone photo I’d taken of one of the course maps in the waiting room and walked the parts of the other two routes that were different than the one I’d learned. I had extra time, so I figured I might as well play it safe, and it also increased my familiarity with the crank and the S-curve. There were a few other people walking the course, but by the end I was unselfconsciously holding an imaginary wheel and miming all the major driving motions I’d need to make. Once I started doing that, I saw a couple of other people doing it too.

When 1:00 rolled around I headed back inside and stood in the line for Window 10, which consisted of about ten other foreigners looking to convert their licenses. A few places ahead of me in line was an American girl that I could have sworn I knew, and after a few glances and hearing her voice a few times I was 99% certain it was a girl I worked with at the Doubletree in Santa Barbara, but I just couldn’t remember her name. She looked at me a few times but her face showed no recognition of me, which made me hesitate just enough not to ask if it was her. I resolved to do it later if I saw her again, but I didn’t. That would have been a coincidence of monumental proportions, to be at the same Japanese driving center on the same exact day. But I’ll never know if it was her.

I got to the counter and handed in my application, and was told to wait awhile and I could take the writing test today. It was a good twenty-minute wait, and I was just at the end of the Rules of the Road book—at the appendix explaining signs—when I was called back to take the test. It was just me and one other woman from some other Asian country, and we were seated at a couple of desks separated by a divider and given an answer sheet and a test booklet with ten questions taken from a list of about 30. Our instructions were given in Japanese, but I’d known what to expect so had no trouble understanding that it was a true or false test—circle means true and X means false—and we’d have ten minutes to finish it.

The first few questions were just as easy as I’d hoped. “You may drive under the influence of small quantities of alcohol or drowsy medicine if you feel fine.” False. “When the traffic light is green but the police officer signals stop, you should follow the police officer’s signal.” True.

Most of the questions were like that, but three of them were poorly worded and caused some confusion. For one of them, the picture didn’t match up with the question. The question was long and confusing, but it definitely said “when the white line is parallel to the yellow line on your side” it is permissible to change lanes. If the yellow line is on your side, it’s not permissible, but in the picture the white line was on the car’s side. Should I go with the picture or the words? The test proctor was not going to be of any help, so I went with the wording and said it wasn’t permissible.

The last question was by far the worst. It said something like, “On a narrow road where there is little traffic, you parked your car on the left side of the road.” Uh…what? It didn’t say, “you may park your car on the left” but that you “parked” your car on the left. Well, I know that’s false—I certainly haven’t been parking any cars on the left side of narrow roads, but I’ve seen plenty of Japanese people do just that. Obviously, you’re supposed to park on the left but I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to do it when the road is narrow. The section on parking in the Rules of the Road book made a lot to do about having a proper designated parking space and not leaving your car parked on roads for long periods of time. I looked at the test proctor and tried to tell him that this question makes no sense, but he didn’t understand and just repeated the instruction about true or false. Well, it’s fifty/fifty. I’ll just say false.

We had to wait about ten more minutes for the test results, and I was slightly nervous. You have to get 7 out of 10, but I was definitely unsure of about 3 of my answers and for all I knew I’d made a mistake on another as well. But when the test proctor emerged from the room he just told us that we’d both passed, and now it was time for the eye exam. Well, that’s a relief, but I wish I could have seen which questions I got right or wrong. I don’t even know if I passed with all 10 or just skated by with 7.

The other lady went in for the eye test first, and I tried to decipher the instructions on the outside of the booth. The first part was easy: just indicate which direction the opening in the C was pointing. The second part was even easier: say which color the lights are to make sure you’re not color-blind. But the third part was some kind of depth-perception test, and I couldn’t make heads or tails of what you were supposed to indicate. A woman and man I’d stood behind in line (they had Mongolian passports) came over to check the instructions too, and because she’d been translating the Japanese for him I asked her if she spoke English. She didn’t, but I told her in Japanese I didn’t understand the third part. As she read the Japanese and explained it to her friend, I was able to get a better idea of what it was and when she was done she communicated what it was to me with Japanese and hand signals.

The woman ahead of me was taking forever so I assumed it had to do with that confusing final test. When I went in I quickly got through the first two parts, and was shocked when that was the end. No depth-perception test at all. The proctor told me I did very well, and that was that. The woman before me must have been color-blind or something.

Finally, we were told a few things about the driving test and given a map of the course with the route indicated. I was pleasantly surprised to see it was the route I’d been studying already, and showed him my iPhone picture of the other routes just to make sure those were irrelevant. Indeed, the route I’ll be taking through the course is the one I’m most familiar with. So that was great news too.

I was hoping to schedule the test a.s.a.p. but when I got to the appointment window the earliest possible date was the 19th. That being next week and me not knowing my schedule for next week, I chose the first day of spring vacation—(the “unofficial” spring vacation, before the closing ceremony), Monday the 25th. That gives me two more weeks to stress about this, but also two more weeks to visualize my route through the course and practice in my head. I also intend to contact the only person I know with a car—Atsushi—and ask him if he’d be willing to take me to some back roads and let me practice driving with a right-side steering-wheel car. If I could get the hang of that before taking the exam, I think my chances of passing the first time would go up enormously.

So that was what it was like to go through the initial process of converting my driver’s license. I somehow made it through the whole thing successfully without anyone speaking English at all. I’ll have to study some driving vocabulary for the practical test so I can understand the proctor’s instructions, but having already memorized the course means I won’t have to rely exclusively on his verbal instructions anyway.

I have no idea how boring this was to read, but some people might find it interesting, and perhaps some fellow foreigners will find it useful, as I found some other blogs describing other people’s experiences with this process useful to me. Stay tuned for Part 2 in two weeks, which promises to be much more interesting and much more useful.

Categories: Personal Tags: , ,

Farewell

March 9th, 2013 No comments

This year’s graduation was, as I expected, a tremendously more emotional experience for me than last year’s. Last year I’d just been getting to know the third-graders, so while I was sad to see them go, the feeling wasn’t overwhelming. I’d only been teaching them for a few months, and towards the end I stopped having classes with them altogether. They never grew attached to me, and with just a handful of exceptions I didn’t have time to develop much fondness for them.

This year, it’s a completely different situation. I’ve been with these kids for a year and a half, watched them grow and change in just that short amount of time with the rapid pace kids at their age grow. I had more lessons with them last year than either of the other grades, and this year the lessons didn’t taper off at the end like last year—I taught them every week right up until the end, gave them great lesson after great lesson (this year I’ve been much better at it than I was when I started), and said a fond, heartfelt farewell during my last moments with each of their classes. These kids meant a great deal to me, and it turned out I meant something to them as well.

Thursday was graduation rehearsal day, the last day in which the senior class stays the entire day. During their last normal homeroom, yearbooks are handed out, and most of them stay in school for several hours afterwards to pass them around and get all their friends to sign. Last year, only four or five students came up to me and asked me to sign. This year, it was more than half of them. I sat outside in the courtyard and as the students left the school, they would come up to me and ask me for some words. I happily obliged, glad for the opportunity to leave a personal message specifically for each one of them. I was out there for two hours, but those were the nicest two hours of my entire teaching career.

They left after third period yesterday so I didn’t see any of them, but today was the day of the ceremony.

Everything was exactly the same as last year. The first and second graders arrive first as parents slowly file in and sit between the underclasses and the chairs for the seniors. They practice their songs a couple of times, then everything gets quiet as the seniors line up outside. They enter two-by-two to Pachelbel’s Canon in D and take their seats. I’m sitting on the same side of the gym as they enter but all the way on the other side, in the chairs for the teachers. As I watch them enter I can already feel a lump forming in my throat, but I know there are a good three hours to go.

After the singing of the national anthem, they get right down to the business of handing out diplomas. As each student steps up to receive their diploma, I try and pull up some memories I have of him or her. This was much different than last year. This time I know all their full names before they’re called, and I have tons of pleasant memories of nearly all of them. About half-way through, my emotions start catching up with me, as I notice it’s starting to hit some other teachers as well. Their homeroom teachers are seated right in front of me, and these normally very composed professionals are sniffling and fighting back tears. I find myself doing the same in spite of myself. I knew it was going to be hard but I had no idea how hard it was going to hit me.

Once all the students have their diplomas, the boring part begins and my emotions are mercifully allowed to subside. The principal gets up and gives the longest speech in the history of speeches, and when he’s finished there are even more ridiculously long speeches from various members of the Board of Education and PTA.

But when that’s done and the underclasses stand up to sing their song for the seniors, the emotions come right back again. More sniffles and tear-wiping from the teachers around me. The end is approaching now.

One of the underclassmen, whom I know best from his being in the Speech Contest both as a first-grader (when I was there) and a second-grader (when I wasn’t), moves to the front of the room to give a speech to the seniors on behalf of all of the underclasses. Then the principal takes the stage, and one of the seniors steps up to deliver a speech to him (and by extension the entire faculty) on behalf of the graduating class. It’s Y-, who was also in the Speech Contest this year that I very regrettably missed. As she approaches the end of her speech, her voice starts to crack and she struggles to finish speaking through her tears. I can’t help but get massively choked up again as well.

Now it’s really almost over. One of the faculty members says a few words to the parents on behalf of the faculty, then the third-graders stand up and turn around to sing their first of two songs. I do my best to keep it together, but holding back the tears is completely futile.

Finally, the graduates stand up and take their places on the risers in front of the stage for the final final song. One of them, a boy named K- from 3-4 who is just an absolutely all-around great kid, will be conducting. Before he begins, he says a personal thank you to all of the third grade teachers on behalf of the third-graders, and he generates a little bit of laughter when he realizes he doesn’t know some of their first names.

At this point I’ve stood up and moved back to where I can get a good view of the students, and let the emotion take its toll as the departing students stand up there as one class, all of them together for the very last time.

When they finish, the third-grade teachers head to the exit so they can watch the students as they leave, and I go over to join them. As they walk two-by-two out of the gym for that final exit as junior high school students, half of them in tears, I don’t even bother trying to wipe away my own. All of the third grade teachers are crying uncontrollably now.

As they leave, some students have smiles on their faces, and some laugh when they see their teachers crying, but it’s obvious that most of them are finally being hit with the reality that a precious time in their lives is finally at an end. One of the boys is sobbing uncontrollably. Most of them don’t even look up at the teachers, the sight of us in tears probably too much for them. The last two students to leave, one of them K-, turn around and take the final bow, the heaviness of that one final ceremonious action apparently overwhelming them as they both seem to erupt in tears at that instant. Then they turn around and head up the stairs, and it’s over.

All the teachers I was standing with leave as well, and I’m halfway to following them back to the main part of the building before I realize I’ve made a mistake. It was only the third-grade teachers heading back in, while the rest of the faculty remained in the gym. I quickly head back down the stairs but find myself caught in the slightly embarrassing situation of standing there while the school administrators and special guests (Board of Ed, PTA) make their own ceremonious exit.

I head back in the gym and re-take my seat as the first-graders exit and the second-graders are given their instructions for putting the gym back in order. Like last year, I try and help with the folding up of chairs, but the students have it under control and I’m pretty useless. I head back up to the teacher’s room and take my seat, wondering what happens next.

I open my lap-top and start the standard Japanese-flashcard program practice but I’m so distracted I keep messing up. When O-sensei comes I ask her what’s going on and she explains it. Last year when the ceremony was over I just stayed in the teacher’s room the whole time, but this year I wanted to be able to go say personal goodbyes to students before they left. O-sensei explained that the underclasses were leaving now, and the third-graders were all having their final final homeroom session, after which they’d leave and a bunch of teachers would go outside to say goodbyes.

At first I assume I’ll just wait until that happens, but then I hear piano music in the hallway and I go to check it out. It’s T-sensei’s class, 3-5, standing in one of the little piano areas and performing their song from the Chorus Contest for their parents, who are all taking pictures and videos. A few of them spot me and wave, and I feel the emotions start rising again.

But my crying for the day is done. As I watch them sing, I hear someone speaking English down the hallway, and I turn my head to see Heath, my temporary placement, talking to O-sensei. He’s come to say his own goodbyes as well. I can’t help but feel irrationally miffed about this—I’m their ALT goddammit, not you—but I know it’s ridiculous to feel that way. He only spent a month and a half with them, but that’s probably enough to make someone want to show up at their graduation. I might have done the same thing.

When their song is finished, Heath says hello to them and they respond with their typical warmth. Then all of us, T-sensei, me, Heath, and the head third-grade teacher, are invited to join them in the piano area as some formal goodbyes are said. A boy says farewell on behalf of all the boys and a girl says farewell on behalf of the girls, then the head third-grade teacher says a few words, and I’m asked to say a few words as well. I’m caught off guard, so I just recite a couple of lines from my speech before T-sensei tells me English is OK. I joke, “You understand English? Wow!” And I give them a few words about what a great class they were and how I really enjoyed teaching them and I’d miss them all very much.

When that’s over, Heath slips away towards the third-grade hallway, and I give him a bit of a head-start before following. I might as well check out the final homeroom sessions as well. I poke my head into each classroom to see what’s going on. The students’ parents are all there, either in the classrooms or standing outside, as the teachers give their final farewell speeches. One class is sitting in darkness just watching a video, so I don’t disturb them but a couple of students notice me and wave as I pass, tears in their eyes.

3-2 is in the middle of the school song when I get there, and after a moment’s hesitation I pop in and sing the second verse along with them, impressing not only the students (who probably never realized I knew the song) but their parents as well.

When I pop my head into 3-1, a couple of students shout at me to sign their yearbooks after, as they’d missed me on Thursday. They catch me heading back down the hall towards 3-6, and I give them both very nice messages.

Now I hear piano music again, and recognize immediately that it’s 3-6 singing their Chorus Contest song, the one I’d told them was the best and should have won. I get there as quickly as possible and I get happy waves from the students as they see me, glad I could be there for this moment. When they finish, all the girls want their picture taken with me so I stay and happily oblige them. Before they turn and head back to their classroom I give them all one last fond farewell, and one of them says, “Thank you for everything” before they turn and walk away.

I glance out the window and notice some students are already leaving school property, so I quickly head downstairs, slip into my outside shoes, and head out. For the next thirty minutes or so I walk around the courtyard catching almost every student I’d hoped to catch and say goodbye to on the way out. It was inevitable that I’d miss a few, but I’m very lucky to be able to say one last personal goodbye to the students I care about most.

But before I know it, the head third-grade teacher tells me it’s time to get back inside for lunch, and after a few more quick goodbyes I re-enter the building. That was that.

Our bento lunches are already distributed when I get back, and a few ceremonious words from the head third-grade teacher are said before the “itadakimasu” (the word you’re always supposed to say before eating). It’s 1:30 at this point, about an hour and a half after the normal lunch time, so I’m extremely hungry. Otherwise I don’t know how I’d be able to force myself to eat in such an emotional state. It feels very weird to chow down when all kinds of sad and beautiful images from the morning are floating through my mind, the ever-present awareness that all those kids are now officially no longer students at this school.

The afternoon has been pretty uneventful except for a series of smaller graduation ceremonies for some of the students who didn’t come to the main ceremony. I find this rather interesting. Many students either rarely came to school at all or never come to class, but they’re still required by law to graduate. Those who don’t want to join the main group for graduation are given a small ceremony in the music room, where the principal hands each of them their diploma. It lasts less than 10 minutes, but is just as formal as the main ceremony. I went to the first two, but after that decided to just stay in the teacher’s room and finish studying Japanese, as well as write this entry so I don’t have to tomorrow.

At 4:30 we’ll all be heading to the location of the enkai, which I expect will include more emotional speeches from the third-grade teachers, just as there had been last year. If anything particularly interesting happens, I’ll write about it, but for now I’ll just let this serve as my graduation entry.

Words can’t adequately capture what this day has felt like. I’ve never actually gone through this before (as I said, last year’s doesn’t even compare), so I don’t know if I’m really done with the tears or if it’s all going to hit me again like a ton of bricks when I get home tonight. I suspect it will.

The sadness may be overwhelming, but it’s a sadness wrapped in joy. Between the farewell speech I was able to give on our last lesson, the yearbooks I was able to sign on Thursday, and today’s personal goodbyes as they left the building, I’m not only completely satisfied with how it ended, but certain that my feelings of fondness for them are reciprocated—that I mean as much to them as they do to me.

The most important lines from my speech are lines I take tremendous comfort in knowing I got to say to them. They’re the lines I hope they’ll always take with them, as I will:

“Never forget this time. Your lives are about to change in so many ways, but the people around you now will always be a part of you. If I’m even a small part, I consider it a privilege.”

Farewell, class of Heisei 25. It’s been a privilege.

***UPDATE***

Just a few quick words about last night’s enkai. I don’t know if it’s because of the teachers or the students, but this year’s speeches from the third-grade teachers were far more emotional overall than last year. Last year only one of the third-grade homeroom teachers broke out in tears during her speech, but this year 5 out of 6 of them were at least a little choked up, and three of them had to really struggle to make it through their speech, constantly stopping to apologize and wipe away their tears.

The one who had the hardest time of it was O-sensei, who taught 3-4. He would deliver a few lines, then just stop completely, his eyes shut, pausing endlessly as though trying to remember what he wanted to say next but more likely just trying to keep himself from erupting in a fit of uncontrolled sobbing. I found the reaction of some of the other teachers curious, as they were laughing and poking fun at him. He took it with good humor though, even laughing at himself a bit along with them, so I figure it’s just that they know him and know he’s not the kind of guy to take it the wrong way. One of the last teachers to speak was another O-sensei, not a homeroom teacher but one who taught all the third-grade classes, and while he cried throughout his entire speech no one laughed at him.

T-sensei was the one to speak after the O-sensei who taught 3-4, and I was able to understand at the beginning of her speech she talked about how difficult that same class had been last year as 2-4, complimenting O-sensei on his ability to get that class in line. I’d tried to tell him the same thing back at the Chorus Contest enkai but I’d messed up and said the word for “this year” instead of “last year” making it sound like I was telling him his class was very unruly this year. When the speeches were done I asked T-sensei to help me correct my mistake, and tell him I’m also grateful for how he managed to turn that class around.

I was able to tell a few others teachers about how I won’t be coming back next year, which they were sad to hear. Apparently they don’t find out until almost the very end of the school-year whether they’ll be returning, which I find fascinating. Apparently it’s not just Interac that puts teacher placement off until the last minute—the Board of Education does too. The teachers seem to have an idea of what’s going to happen, but none of them know for sure.

As for the students who graduated yesterday, it’s not completely over yet. Yesterday was just the main goodbye—not the final goodbye. I confirmed last night that they do indeed come back for the final closing ceremony a week after regular classes end. Part of me wishes they wouldn’t—it was hard enough saying goodbye the first time. Doing it again, on what will also be my very last final day at the school—I don’t even want to think about it.

And as for the rest of the students, I have most of my final lessons with them this week, so the sadness is just going to continue. But I intend to write messages for all of them (since they don’t get yearbooks) and memorize a few more speeches, so my goodbye to them will hopefully be just as satisfying as it was for the graduating class.

It’s quite a month. I don’t want it to end, but I can’t wait until it’s over.

Categories: Personal Tags: , ,

Falling Into Placement

March 6th, 2013 No comments

I didn’t expect things to happen so quickly, but less than three days after I made that call to Interac I now pretty much know what the next school-year has in store for me.

I won’t go into the complicated little details of how this all came together, but suffice it to say it’s now beyond any doubt that I will not be returning to this school. I will still be operating under the Togane Board of Education, but I will have two schools instead of one—a different junior high school than the one I’m at now, and an elementary school. That’s as close to the kind of situation I’d been hoping for as I could have hoped for. Not only will I get to find out what life is like in another junior high school, but I’ll also get a taste of elementary school life as well.

I don’t yet know what the specific schools will be, but I do know that I will have to get a driver’s license in order to reach them. I find that a bit odd since Togane isn’t very big and I think I could easily reach anywhere by bicycle, but my being offered this position is predicated on my ability to get a Japanese driver’s license.

After doing some research, it looks like this is no easy task. There are the typical bureaucratic procedural hurdles to get through but that’s not the big obstacle. The written test is also apparently a joke, as I’ve done some sample tests online and pretty much all of it is plain common sense. I just need to study the road signs and I’ll be fine.

The huge hurdle, however, is the dreaded practical examination. It didn’t take long into my research to discover that they make the test as inhumanly difficult as possible, apparently actively searching for any reason whatsoever to fail you. Here’s a website describing what the process is like at the driving center where I have to go. And here’s a site where I downloaded an extraordinarily helpful book from which I can study every last thing they’re looking for, but if you just scan some of the comments at the bottom it’s quite intimidating. Passing the test on your first try, it would seem, is almost unheard of.

At least I have the advantage of plenty of downtime at school to not only memorize the course but the procedure for every little thing down to properly making turns. I’m supposed to go in and apply for the test on Monday, and while there I should be able to walk the course and get everything even more solid in my mind. Still, I expect to fail the first time for the simple reason that I’ve never driven on the left side of the road from the right side of the car in my life. If I were to actually manage to pass this insanely difficult driving test on my very first time behind a right-side steering wheel, it would be nothing short of a miracle of epic proportions.

But I have until April 8 to get the license, and the woman at the Chiba office who was in charge of my placement tells me you can take the test as many times as you want and only have to wait 3 or 4 days between each time. I’m sure I’ll get it on the second or third try, and if by some incredible stroke of misfortune I don’t have it by the 8th, she tells me they’ll arrange for a cab to take me to the schools until I get the license. But that was after she said they’d have to change plans if I couldn’t get the license, so I can’t be too sure of that. The back-up plan, she said, was to just switch me and Kim, giving me just one junior high school to teach at but at least it’s a different one.

Today I had my first final lesson with a non third-grade class. It also happened to be a day that O-sensei was absent so I ran the whole thing on my own. I spoke Japanese nearly the entire time, and was pleased they understood. The first thing I did was tell them it was our last lesson because I won’t be coming back in April, and their reaction was as nonchalant as I’d expect from the second-graders. Some of them seemed a bit warmer than usual, but none of them were upset or anything. Like I wrote before, they’ve long since taken me for granted and that’s a major part of the reason I want to leave in the first place.

But at the very end when I said my goodbyes (I didn’t give the whole big speech, just a few words of gratitude and encouragement) a couple of the students asked me to take a picture of me with the whole class. That was pretty touching, but it’s against the rules so I had to decline.

The next two months are going to be difficult, both in terms of emotion and stress, but they promise to be among the most interesting since I first arrived in Japan.

The Send-Off

March 5th, 2013 No comments

Every year at the beginning of the final week before the seniors graduate, there’s an assembly in which the underclasses give them a send-off. We had ours yesterday, and I guess I missed it last year because it was completely new to me. I might have been called to the Chiba office or something, as I’m sure I would have remembered it.

The first and second graders bring their chairs to the gym, while the third-graders have chairs set up for them. The underclasses are seated by the time the seniors line up at the entrance. Everyone applauds continuously as they enter and take their seats. There’s the singing of the school song, and then the ceremony begins.

I have no idea if it’s the same routine every year, but this year it started with a play performed by the drama club with cameos from some of the teachers. My Japanese isn’t good enough to really comprehend the play, but it obviously took place in school. One of the second-graders had the lead role and did an excellent job. I wonder if he wrote it himself, but I forgot to ask. It was a huge success, with everyone laughing frequently, especially during their teachers’ cameos.

Next came the band performance, and they totally rocked the house. I remember being pretty impressed at last year’s spring concert and was majorly impressed again by them this time. I don’t remember my middle-school band being that talented, but it makes sense that in Japan they’d be better, as Japanese students in general definitely seem to be far more dedicated to their hobbies and after-school activities. (I’d bet any of the sports teams from a Japanese school could beat an American school’s team if that competition were somehow arranged.)

The next part was the most interesting, as one of the teachers had put together a slideshow with pictures of the graduating class taken throughout their whole three years at the school, including pictures of them as first-graders which they got a huge kick out of. There were a lot of random pictures thrown in, but most were from significant events like class trips. There was a lengthy section dedicated exclusively to Sports Day, and I was pleased to see that some of my pictures—which I’d copied to the school’s computer network—were included in the show. A lot of people had worked really hard on this send-off and I hadn’t been asked to do anything, but at least with the inclusion of some of my pictures I could feel I contributed in some small sense.

After that, the emotion level in the room was now pretty high. Some of the girls had tears in their eyes, the reality of the impending end of this special time in their lives perhaps hitting them for the first time. At this point the seniors were asked to turn around and face the underclasses, as one of them gave a short speech thanking the seniors. The underclasses then sang a lovely song for them, thus raising the emotion level even higher. Then a senior gave a short speech to the underclassmen, and the seniors sang a song for them.

Finally, everyone faced the front and the principal gave a short speech of his own to the seniors. I was able to make out that he was talking about his best memories from their class, and he mentioned the pyramid the boys had done and the dance the girls had done on Sports Day, the first time they’d ever done that, and he’d been impressed by it.

Finally, the seniors stood up and left the room as they entered, to continuous applause. Once they were gone the second-graders were asked to help clear the gym floor and I helped a bit with then, then everyone filed out.

It was a beautiful little ceremony. I couldn’t help but get a little emotional myself, not just thinking about how this is the last week the seniors will be here, but probably one of the last weeks I’ll be at this school as well.

I’ve heard that some Interac teachers have already received their placement for the next school-year, so yesterday I called the office and asked if they knew what my situation was going to be. I was transferred to one of the women in charge of placement, and when she told me they were probably going to offer me to the same Board of Education and asked me if I’d like to stay at the same school, I realized absolutely nothing has been done in terms of my placement so far and none of what I’d previously written to Interac had been considered at all. But now the choice was actually being put to me directly—would I like to stay at the same school?

I couldn’t help but hesitate for a moment. I really love this school, and the thought of leaving definitely makes me sad. But all my other reasons for wanting to leave ultimately triumphed and I told them I’d like to change schools. She gave me the impression that I’d be staying in Togane but just switching schools. When I hung up I realized that this would most likely mean they’d simply switch me with Kim, and I’d just teach at the other junior high school next year.

While that would be OK with me, I’d still prefer to get more broad experience, so I sent her an e-mail and explained exactly where I was coming from, that I want to know what other schools are like and while I enjoy junior high school I’m also curious about elementary and high school. I said I’d prefer to work at multiple schools and would be willing to relocate but I don’t have a Japanese driver’s license.

This morning I had an e-mail back from her asking me if I had a valid driver’s license from my own country and if I’d be willing to get one for Japan. She said they were having placement meetings every day now and would discuss my situation this morning and she’d let me know. So nothing is confirmed yet but it definitely sounds like they’ll not only honor my request to change schools, but put me in multiple schools of various levels, which is exactly what I’d like the most.

As to the car question, that leads me to believe I might get to go to other schools without having to actually change my apartment, and I definitely like that idea. It would be cool to live in another part of Japan, but since I now know that I’ll be staying in Chiba anyway, I might as well stay in Togane.

If I do have to drive, I’ll have to go through the whole process of getting a Japanese driver’s license, and I have no idea how complicated that will be. It might just be a matter of filling out an application since I’ve already got an American license, or I might have to take a whole driver’s test—that would undoubtedly be challenging, but I’m sure I’d be up to the task. If that does end up happening it’ll also be the first time I’ll have driven a car in a foreign country (I never drove in my entire four years in Europe), and I’ll have to get used to driving on the left side of the road with the wheel on the right side of the car. That’ll be strange but cool.

Nothing has been decided yet, so I don’t want to get too ahead of myself. But it looks as though like the seniors, my time at this school is also rapidly coming to an end.

Wealth Inequality in America

March 5th, 2013 No comments

This video speaks for itself:

Categories: Political Tags: