Monday, March 24, 2008

So much to think about

Yesterday, I celebrated Easter with my family for the first time in four years. (I’ve missed the last three because of traveling.) And who knows? It could be another four years before I get to celebrate Easter with them again, which is a sad thought.

I love my family. Being away from them for so long is one of the hardest things – if not the hardest thing – about moving to Kuji.

Although I try not to focus on it much, I can’t help but think about what I’ll be missing during the year (maybe even two) that I’m in Japan.

Besides Easter, I’ll miss other major holidays, birthdays, my brother’s graduation from high school (possibly my sister’s, too) and other family gatherings. I’ll most likely miss a family vacation or two. I know that I’ll miss spending time with my family and friends. See? Thinking about all of this can be downright depressing.

I try not to spend a lot of time thinking about Japan in general, which is easier said than done because I’m constantly being asked what I’m doing after I graduate. Part of me wants to put off thinking about this major life change because, well, to be honest, it’s overwhelming! Besides, there are so many other things that I need to focus on right now, like classes and senior comps.

Nevertheless, my mind wanders to thoughts of Japan. I often see things and then wonder if I’ll see those items in Japan. And if I do, will they be the same? For example, the other day when I was drinking milk, I thought, “Hmmm. I wonder if I’ll be able to buy milk in Japan? What about cereal? What will I eat for breakfast? What will a typical lunch or dinner be like?” And the thought process continues.

I realized recently that the first time in my life that I’ll do my own grocery shopping will be in Japan! I’ve never had to shop for myself or fix my own meals. I went from living at home to living in a dorm, and when I lived in Washington, D.C., the meals were provided where I stayed. So this will be an experience!

I also realized that I’ll be in Japan during this year’s presidential election. I need to learn more about how to vote absentee from Japan – I’ve never had to think about that before. I also need to learn more about this year’s presidential candidates. I found a site that helps you determine who to vote for, in case you’re having trouble sorting it all out, like I am.

One of the major things on my mind right now is my upcoming spring break trip to Nicaragua! I’ll be leaving on Thursday for the mission trip with two of my best friends and a group from College Park Chruch. I’m so excited about this! I really do love to have adventures.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Why (not) Japan?

I had an interview last week. Not for a job, but for a story in Franklin College’s alumni magazine, The Reporter.

The first question I was asked was, “What made you want to apply for the job in Kuji?”

Easy. I said that two years ago, I lived in Washington D.C. for a semester. (This was another opportunity that I’ve had through Franklin College.) I was there as an intern for Sen. Richard Lugar. It was a wonderful experience --
one that I blogged out every single day, in fact.

When I moved to Washington, I didn’t know anyone there (unless you count Lugar), and it felt like another culture to me. So even though I wasn’t studying abroad, it kind of felt like I was.

I knew after the semester in Washington that the next step for me would be to live in another country. I decided then that I wanted to live somewhere far away and totally different for a while after graduation.

But I didn’t know where until a few months ago. I was thinking more along the lines of working in Europe somewhere or doing service/mission work in Africa.

Last fall, I received an e-mail. It said “Attention seniors” and then went on to explain that FC sends two graduates every other year to work in Kuji, Japan. I had never heard of Kuji until then, did not know that Franklin had a sister city until then, and certainly had never thought about living in Japan --
or Asia, for that matter --
until then. People sometimes ask me, "Why live in Japan?" My answer is, "Why not!?"

Maybe I’ll live in Europe or Africa (or both!) after I live in Kuji. I’ve told people that I’d like to use my “twenties” to do things like this. I’ve been exploring other options like the
Peace Corps and mission experiences like the World Race. I could also see doing public relations work for a nonprofit organization at some point in the future.

One of my friends recently said it best: “Dana, you just want to help people.” That’s true. My ultimate goal is to live like Jesus Christ did – loving others and helping them selflessly.

I’m not exactly sure what the future holds, or where I’ll be living besides Japan, but I do know that I want to live near my parents when I have children someday. Until then, I’m going to take advantage of being young and single and do things that I won’t be able to do once I have my own family.

(I’m not ending with “sayonara for now” anymore because I’ve been told that the Japanese rarely say that, so I won’t either!)

Sunday, March 9, 2008

A fun story to tell

As a college senior, I’m often asked, "What are your plans after graduation?"

If I didn't have a job lined up, I think I would dread this question. But I love giving the shocking news that I'm moving to Japan, and then witnessing the reactions that result.

Most people are caught off guard, and I don't blame them. After all, I don't speak Japanese, I don't have any ties to Japan, and I don't know anyone there.

Well, I take that last part back. I can say that I somewhat know my boss and some of the students I'll be teaching. Here's the story of when we met:

I found out before Christmas break that a group of students from Kuji--remember, the sister city of Franklin--would be coming to visit in January. I was asked to speak to them, so I wrote a speech expressing my excitement and nervousness about moving to their hometown in the near future.

Before speaking, I ate dinner with some of the students. Keep in mind that I don't speak Japanese, and they speak very little English. They know some of the basics, like how to say hello, introduce themselves and tell me their favorite foods. (Sushi is a common favorite.)

The boy next to me got out his cell phone, and I was surprised to see that it was big! I figured that the cell phones would be more technologically advanced, and therefore much smaller, right? Wrong. When I got out my cell phone to show them the size difference, they all stopped eating and "ooohed" and "ahhhed,” which I thought was hilarious. "So small!" said one of the girls at my table.

I think that his phone was bigger because it had a lot of features. Like many American cell phones (but not mine), it could take pictures. The boy had hundreds of photos on his phone that he had taken in Franklin earlier that day, and many of them were of the court house! We laughed together at some of the silly pictures he had taken of the other students, then shared them with the others at the table. I could tell that other people at the dinner were looking over at our table to see what we were all laughing about.

When it was my time to speak, I was introduced by the interpreter, and everything I said went through her. The students at my table realized for the first time (since I wasn't able to tell them myself!) that I would be their teacher soon; they all had looks of sudden understanding as well as big smiles, which was definitely reassuring for me!

While speaking, I couldn't help but notice one of the chaperones from Kuji, who was sitting at the front table grinning from ear to ear and giving me the thumbs-up sign! Once I sat back down, "Smiley," got up to speak, and I learned that he was my future supervisor at the Board of Education office, named Yamadate. He was extremely enthusiastic about being at the dinner, and talked about how happy he was to meet me because "we be working together side-by-side, and we'll have great times! Okay!?"

I'm convinced that we really will have great times because Yamadate seems like such a fun person! I like to share this story about my night with the Japanese guests because I had a great time, and the experience has made me more at ease about moving to Japan.

A picture of me with Yamadate

Monday, March 3, 2008

I'll soon be a foreigner from Franklin!

I’ve had a special request from one of my faithful readers that I use this blog post to share my fears and excitements about moving to Japan.

The truth is that enough things provoke fear and excitement within me to write about each one individually from now until I leave in August! It’s almost official now that I’ll be leaving for Japan the first week of August. I’ve been e-mailing back and forth with my supervisor, Yamadate, about my start date.

I’ve actually already met Yamadate, which is a story for perhaps the next blog entry. Each one of my fears (the language barrier, being away from my family and friends for such a long time, the food!) and excitements (getting outside my comfort zone, learning more about all things Japanese, meeting new people/making friends) will also be blog subjects in the near future, so stay tuned!

But for now, I want to write a little more about what I learned from looking at materials about Kuji.

I knew that Kuji and Franklin are sister cities, but I did not realize that Kuji has another sister city besides Franklin, Ind. – Klaipeda, Lithuania. So I’ll probably be living and working with people from Lithuania! Cool.

I love what one of the brochures says about the people from other countries who go teach in Kuji, from both Franklin (that would be Liz and me!) and Lithuania:

“The children in Kuji City…learn to recognize the differences of the city’s practices and cultures from other foreign countries. Through international exchange with these cities, the children in Kuji will grow up with confidence, vitality, and greater comprehension of both their own and other cultures.”

At first, it seemed strange to me that they’re referring to the Unites States as a foreign country! After all, I’m going to a foreign country, not coming from one! It will definitely be an interesting experience to be in the minority, the foreigner. And I really love how it sounds like I’m responsible for the self-confidence and vivacity of children in Kuji! No pressure. Seriously though, I’m sure that I’ll learn just as much, if not more, from them as they learn from me.

Another paragraph from the brochure says: “Kuji City will be the place where every citizen will extend their help to each other, supporting one another and living in harmony. As a whole, Kuji City will continue to blaze with cheerfulness.”

Kuji blazes with cheerfulness!?!? This is great! Sounds like my kind of place! Also, Melissa (who is teaching in Kuji now and graduated from Franklin two years ago) told me that people in Kuji are generally very friendly and go out of their way to be helpful, so that’s good. Kuji also claims that it is a “center of interaction.” This is also wonderful news for me because I love to interact. After reading more about Kuji and seeing Melissa's pictures of Japan
, I’m definitely looking forward to interacting with the people there – whether everyone really lives in harmony or not.

Sayonara for now.