Thursday, June 24, 2010

I just got punched by a student... 6 weeks left in Japan.

Over the last 21 months I’ve found myself questioning cultural elements again and again. There’s a kid in one of my elementary school classes who always acts out. He just told me to die, twice. Then he flipped me the bird. So I stood beside his desk like a South Korean soldier in the demilitarized zone and didn’t stand for it. Then I spoke to the teacher and she told me that the kid has no father. I went back to his desk when the other kids were performing and made sure he let them because I’ve gotten sick of his acting out.

He then proceeded to kick my feet. When I didn’t react he grabbed the bag that has his placemat for school lunch in it and hit me with that to no avail, it’s soft, no worries at all. The next thing I know he’s attempting to punch me! I jumped out of the way of course, quite the fan of boxing as exercise even though I don’t actually do it and know when getting out of the way is required. When he missed I put my hand up for him and told him to go ahead. He punched me 4 times with progressive strength. I figured it was best to let him do it.

I am a little upset, though. Whilst my mother assures me that I dealt with the kid the best way possible, it erks me that this kid clearly isn’t getting the help that he needs to deal with the loss of his father, however that might have come about. A teacher shouldn’t need to be considering borrowing her friends boxing pads so that the kid can have an outlet for his anger each week. Mechanisms should be in place for dealing with kids like these.

Back home I have numerous friends (and a good percentage of my family) from single parent households who have turned out ok, or even gone on to have very successful lives. They know who they are and I am immensely proud of them. It breaks my heart to think that this boy is going the right way towards having a really tough life.

In 6 weeks I will leave this place for one where I can actually do something to help troubled kids or whatever. Where I can say something to make them feel better. Where I can actually explain why I am standing beside their desk hovering. Where I’ll be able to teach people who WANT to learn.

This week I am lamenting the apparent collapse in society that is meaning that more and more children are left without fathers, either through divorce, death or otherwise. This week all illusions about what a ‘perfect’ society Japan is have been relegated to was. This week in light of certain world events too, I realise that elements of this place that are tough to deal with are not going to change. I’m realising that maybe I’ve grown up a lot over the last 2 years. Things that used to irritate me no end are no longer getting to me and things like getting punched by a student whilst interesting and slightly upsetting are no biggie anymore.

Being able to brush things off like water off a duck’s back is certainly something that JET has helped me to learn. I think I can go home in 6 weeks proud of the last two years and that is a good feeling.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

6 weeks of work in Japan left...

Time for some more reflections.

With less than 6 weeks to go in this job I'm starting to feel like I might miss it. I've been really busy of late and have started trying to organise to meet up with people whom I feel have been a real positive influence on my time here but have moved schools or are not associated with any of my schools. I'm starting to realise how daunting this prospect is and am thinking of setting up a management system to try to see everyone whilst maintaining a) my physical health and b) my financial health. If that means that I'm going to have to miss some JET activities in the process then so be it. Sorry JET friends, I love you but my Japanese friends will be very disappointed if I don't see them and spend all my time with you.

Over the years of moving around, first to the US as a kid, then back to NZ then changing schools then going away for university, moving to Wellington, then coming here. I've come to realise how easy it can be to just lose touch. It's strange how that happens so often. So, as part of my efforts to keep in touch with people I am planning a whole series of catch ups with the vice principal who gave me a hug the second she met me, to the crazy English teacher who is still trying to convert me to her brand of Buddhism, to the friend whom a friend introduced me to. I'm making lists. I'm going to try to see one or two of them each weekend that I have remaining, bar this weekend because I am broke and need a rest. It's going to be my mission in life to attempt to keep my ties to Takaoka and Toyama, I guess time will tell.

In the coming weeks I have JET events pouring out my ears. I have a plan to climb Hakusan on July 10th. I have the Japanese Language Proficiency Test on July 4th. I have MUCH going on. Not to mention needing to pack.

My days in my schools are numbered now. That scares me. Yesterday, my colleague and I realised that I only have one more full day at my once every 2 weeks primary school. I walked out of there just a little subdued. Just now my 3rd grade class forgot about me and I'm a little bit sad. Next time, I will remind the teacher because that is going to be my last class with them, my second and last class with them. Scary thought.

The thing is though, that I'm glad I'm leaving now. One more year here and I feel like I would form too much of an attachment to too many people. Leaving at the two year point means that I've made lasting friendships but won't cry my eyes out when I go. I WILL cry my eyes out when I say goodbye to my 'host family' in Kansai but I don't know how much I'm going to cry when I actually go. I say all this now but I'm an incredibly loyal person and emotional when I leave people and places, so we shall see soon enough.

More reflections soon... if I find the time.


Thursday, June 3, 2010

2 months left: Reflecting...

I only have 2 months of this experience to go.

I almost can’t believe that on Saturday June 5th 2010 I will only have 2 months left in Japan. The past 2 years have absolutely flown by.

The people around me seem to have not noticed that ALT san is leaving. That or they know and just don’t want to admit it, which would warm my heart no end.

Lately, at times when I have no classes to teach, I’ve been reflecting on my time on the JET Programme. What it has done for me as a person. What it has done for my students and colleagues. What impact have I had on them? What impact have they had on me? I’m inclined to say that the answers to these questions will not be fully clear until I return home. One night when I’m sitting in Dad’s armchair with the cat on my lap watching TV it will all become clear, I’m sure of it. At least that’s what I hope.

Looking back, I have this haze of emotional ups and downs. A blur of classes, students and people; of fun, farce and fear. My life in Japan has been a rollercoaster that has taught me so much about myself. It’s tested my limits. It’s taught me my downfalls. I like to think that it has strengthened me as a person and solidified who I am.

For me the JET experience has been as much about being an expat as it has about living in Japan. It has forced me to interact with people that I might never have been friends with back home and it has taught be to stand on my own two feet as me, Raewyn.

More than anything it has taught me to make an impact. To get out there and do stuff to help where help is needed.

A friend of mine, she knows who she is, told me in a Facebook message during my first year when I told her that I had decided to stay for a second year, to not stay away too long because ‘New Zealand needs you’. I have no idea what she meant by that or what she sees in me that I don’t. But I can tell you one thing, I know more about who the ‘you’ is that she was referring to.

I’m sure one day all will become clear. What did she mean? What did she see that I don’t? What am I supposed to do? I honestly, have no clue right now.

There will be more of these musings over the next few months I think as my experience comes to a close. Just now though, I have packing, studying and selling to do.

Anyone want any of my books? My heater? My tofu-san soap dispenser?