Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Getting Ready...Getting Set

With Commencement only 18 days away (not that I’m counting or anything), people like to ask, “So, are you ready to graduate?”

Well, yes and no. It’s been a great four years at Franklin College, but I feel like I’m ready to move on to the next thing. (It’s nice to know what the next “thing” is!) Plus, I’m ready to be done with schoolwork, pop quizzes and final exams. However, there are so many people I’ll miss at Franklin; I’ve definitely made life-long friends here!

The follow-up question to “Are you ready to graduate?” is usually, “Are you ready for Japan?”

Again, yes and no. While I’m excited for the next big adventure, I don’t think I’m quite mentally prepared (there’s a lot to think about!), and I know for sure that I’m nowhere near physically ready.

When I think about packing for possibly two years in only two suitcases, the task seems daunting. I will definitely have to pack strategically, taking only the bare necessities. (I’m now singing the song from The Jungle Book, haha.)

Besides packing – an obvious step in preparing to move to Kuji – I’m also preparing/going to prepare in a few not-so-obvious ways:

1.) I bought a keychain. Yep, you read that right. The keychain says, “Life is a journey, God is my guide; we travel safely together, side by side.” Isn’t that cute? It just makes me happy! But more than being cute, it expresses exactly how I feel about flying to Japan to live for a while and is a nice reminder – it’s a journey, but everything will be fine with God by my side at all times.

2.) I’m thinking that I might give up rice this summer. After all, absence makes the heart grow fonder, right!? I have a feeling I could experience some serious “rice burnout” once I’m in Japan.

3.) I went to Franklin Community High School and sat in on a Japanese class, as I wrote last time that I would. The class was learning how to write some words they already knew in the hiragana form of writing into the kanji style of writing. I was impressed by how much the students in the first-year class already knew! It was a great experience, and I’m glad I had that opportunity.

Here’s a couple of pictures from the classroom:

The front wall of the classroom

Oh, and another thing that demonstrates how I’ve been thinking about Japan: I got some more Japanese body art on Saturday at the Grizzly Grand Prix festival at school. But unfortunately, it washed off before I could take a picture of it. It was the words “peace” and “love” in kanji.

Well, paz y amor – “peace and love,” as they say in Nicaragua – until next time! (I’m becoming so multi-lingual, haha.)

Monday, April 21, 2008

Got a Ticket to Ride

Yesterday I did something I’ve never done before. Something that makes me feel independent and grown-up.

I bought my own airplane ticket. (The good news is that I’ll be reimbursed, one of the perks of this job – it was just over $1,000).

I’ll definitely be feeling independent when I’m flying by myself all the way to Tokyo, via Chicago. The total length in the airplane will be about 16 hours, which is by far the longest I’ve spent in the air at one time.

My flight departs at 10:45 a.m. on Thursday, Aug. 7. I’ll arrive in Tokyo at 3 p.m. the next day. Honestly, it makes me a tad bit nervous to spend that long traveling by myself, but I know it will be fine because I’ve had experience with international flying and airports in general. Besides, I don’t have any problem striking up a conversation with the stranger sitting next to me on the flight, as long as she (or he) doesn’t stick headphones in her ears as soon as she boards, which has happened to me before.

Besides purchasing my plane ticket, I’m preparing for the journey to Japan in other ways, too.

A couple of weeks ago, I met the Japanese teacher at Franklin Community High School. Mrs. Streit has been to Kuji before and was able to tell me about the city. She was extremely friendly and even offered to teach me a little bit of Japanese before I leave!

I’ve taken her up on her offer and am going to sit in on one of her classes this Wednesday. Otherwise, I haven’t really spent much time trying to learn the language. I picked up a “learn Japanese while you’re driving CD” at the library a while back, but after listening to it for a little while, I got tired of it and wanted to jam to upbeat songs on the radio instead. (Imagine that!)
Another way I’m getting ready for Japan is…
I got a tattoo on my arm!
It wasn’t painful at all. And it shouldn’t have been since it was airbrushed! It’s a tattoo of the Japanese characters for “teacher.” I thought that was very appropriate since I’ll be a teacher in Japan. Maybe I’ll get so used to seeing the fake tattoo (at left) that I’ll want to get the same thing, only real. (Only kidding, Mom).

Last week, Liz and I had a photo shoot for The Reporter, so pictures can accompany the story about us moving to Kuji. Here’s a sneak peak of the pictures that will appear in the July edition of the alumni magazine.

Now that the departure date is quickly approaching, I’ve been thinking a little more about this big move to Japan. But I’m still not dwelling on it. After all, I need to think about the end of the school year and graduation (in less than one month!) first.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Food for Thought

It’s no secret that I love to eat. The picture above (me eating ice cream, my favorite) is proof.

I’ll eat anything that doesn’t eat me first! I’m not a picky eater, and one of my passions in life is trying new foods. In fact, I’ll try anything once. Escargot, calamari and sushi are three things that I’ve dared to try and ended up liking.

I thought all of the food in Nicaragua over spring break was delicious. Well, almost all the food. I didn’t really care for the fried cheese (which I thought tasted like a salt block), and wasn’t thrilled about the rum raisin ice cream I ordered that was covered in caramel sauce. (That’s what can happen when you don’t speak the language!)

Because I’m an adventurous eater, I’m not too nervous about the food in Japan. I know that it will definitely be different from what I’m used to. It will be interesting to see and taste the differences and similarities between authentic Japanese cuisine and the foods I’m used to eating. I've tried green tea ice cream before, and I didn't like it at all. (see below) I'm not a fan of tea, but I'll still try different flavors of tea -- and ice cream, too -- when I'm on the other side of the world.

*Not my cup of tea...or bowl of ice cream!*

As I’ve written before, I sometimes think about the foods I often eat and wonder if they’ll be available in Kuji – such as cereal. Over the weekend, my friend Darren told me that I’ll probably be eating Rice Krispies cereal for breakfast in Japan, haha!

I’m sure that I’ll eat a lot of rice in Japan, which is something that I don’t eat a whole lot of now. I like rice though. I also like all kinds of seafood. I had rice and seafood last night at an Asian restaurant in Greenwood called Stir Crazy. Of course I couldn’t help but wonder if any of the food I ate last night will be similar to the food I’ll be eating in just a few months.

I really enjoy Asian food. In America (I might add.) Japanese grill restaurants – where they fix the food in front of you – are fantastic. And when I go to a good Chinese buffet with crab ragoons and all the different types of chicken, I can just about eat my weight in food! But as much as I love the food at Chinese buffets, I’ve never been impressed with the desserts. They’re usually kind of bland and not very sugary.

So I was a little worried about the (lack of) dessert situation in Kuji, but Melissa told me there’s a bakery across the street from my future apartment, where the cakes are decent. Plus, my friend Lauren told me that I could be her “sponsored child,” and she’ll send me packages with American cookies, brownies and other goodies to satisfy my sweet teeth. (It’s more than just a sweet tooth.)

I think that idea is pretty sweet!

Monday, April 7, 2008

We all smile in the same language

Me with Francisco, one of the boys who lives in La Concha.

I feel like last week was one of the fastest weeks of my life. I returned from an amazing time in Nicaragua on Friday, and I miss it. I went with a group that included two of my amigas from Franklin – Amanda and Lauren. Amanda wrote a fantastic blog entry that has more details about our trip.

I have fond memories of the children in the village chanting, "Daaaayna!" and holding my hands as we walked down the dirt road together. Memories of Nicaragua will also forever include making crafts, eating fresh pineapple and enjoying the tropical climate. And of course I won't forget attempting (and often failing) to speak Spanish.

It's no secret that I don't speak Spanish. It would be great if I did because then I'd be able to talk even more with the children in La Concha, the village where we did our ministry. I'd be able to have more meaningful conversations, instead of basically just "Hi. How are you? What is your name? Bye."

Despite the language barrier, I could still communicate with the people in La Concha. After all, a simple smile and a hug can say so much. Plus, our group had translators with us throughout the week, and they tremendously helped calm the classroom chaos while we were teaching crafts.

When I was in Nicaragua, I couldn't help but think of moving to Japan in the near future because it will be the next time I travel internationally. (By the way, my departure date for Japan is set for August 7 – I found out last week.) I feel that teaching in Japan will be similar to teaching in Nicaragua, in a sense, because I'll be in a classroom setting with students who speak a different language. Since I'll be an assistant English teacher, I'll have another English-speaker with me, so it will probably be like having a translator there.

The language barrier is of course one of the concerns I have about moving to Kuji. But honestly, it is not a major concern. I think this might be because I've had experience interacting with people who speak a foreign language. I know it will be fine. But don't get me wrong; I don't think it's going to be at all easy!

I'm sure that I'll be frustrated by my lack of Japanese-speaking skills, just like I was sometimes frustrated about not speaking or understanding much Spanish in Nicaragua. And just like I tried my best to learn more Spanish (I learned how to sing "Open My Eyes"/"Abres Mis Ojos"), I'm going to study Japanese once I'm in Japan.

I'll just have to practice. A whole lot. At this point, I know more Spanish than Japanese. And that’s saying something!