Thursday, September 1, 2011

I Have Arrived.

Well, I'm about a month into this program and it has been one long month. It's hard to sum up everything but one word to describe this month would be: tough.

I had a lot of concerns before I left - the weight of my luggage's, the obligatory presents I have to bring my employers, my living situation, just to name a few. I traveled with a big group (about 18 of us) of other JETs from Florida that were leaving from Miami with me. With so many people around as I was leaving and boarding the plane, I didn't feel the urge to cry like I thought I would. The whole application, interview, and acceptance process had been so tedious and lengthy that I think I was just ready to do this already. My boyfriend coming with me has also been a great comfort. A lot of JETs I've talked to have had the added stress of leaving significant others behind, but like I told one girl, "I packed mine."

The plane ride was okay. I honestly can't think of a more descriptive word to describe it. I had a good movie selection but I was in a seat that had no leg room and in the middle of the aisle. I had cool people around me to talk to, but I got absolutely no sleep. Around half way through the flight, I got so restless I thought I was going to scream. Like the thought of being in the plane for another seven hours was too much to handle. Panic attack signs? I ate a cookie and got over it, so I guess not.

As soon as I landed my boyfriend was there waiting. He had arrived two hours before I did and connected our old prepaid phones. Then, I headed off on a bus to the Keio Plaza hotel in Shinjuku. Coincidentally, I had stayed at this hotel during my first trip to Japan so I knew we were in for the royal treatment. My three days there were great - ate some of my favorite Japanese food, bonded with my fellow JETs, hung out at night with friends from Tokyo, and the last day my roommate got sick (sorry girl!), so I was moved to my own room which had a wicked view of Tokyo. I definitely took advantage is all I'll say.
I skipped most of the afternoon orientation sessions on both days because of jet lag, but I should have just planned to skip these sessions ahead of time to hang out more in Tokyo with my friends. Oh well. I'll be back in Tokyo before heading home.

Kakigori! Why you so good?!
Next I was off to Tamba. They gathered all of the Hyogo Prefecture JETs together and took us to Tokyo Station to board Japan's famous shinkansen (bullet train). We bought some bento for the ride and settled in for the two and half hour ride. A fellow JET from Miami located some other Tamba JETs so we found a cozy 4-seater and talked the whole time. Once we arrived at Osaka station, we then split up by regions and took a bus the rest of the way. We stopped at a rest stop, so I took the opportunity to buy my first (of many) kakigori - a snow cone-like concoction with fruit syrup and condensed milk -delish! At this point I started getting nervous about the itinerary for the rest of the day which included meeting my supervisor and principals for the first time.

 We arrived at an official looking building where we went around the room and introduced ourselves to a sea of Japanese strangers dressed in business suits. Later, I would learn that this is where I'd also have my orientation for high school ALTs and is dubbed 'Yashiro Prison,' by my peers. So I kept waiting for one of the strangers to meet my eye, but it wasn't until it the introductions were over and everyone was being approached by their supervisors that was I suddenly approached and shaking hands with Taniguchi-san. He's very kind and outgoing but immediately gave me the impression of being a by-the-books kind of man (which he has since proven to be). Thankfully, his English is great so he immediately dove into telling me about Hikami High School. My only gripe with him was his lack of initiative concerning me. This school has had ALTs before so I felt that he should have been more responsible and offered to help me more with important things like getting a car, phone, and internet. But oh well..resourceful as I am, I managed.

After he dropped me off at my apartment and briefly gave me a tour, I found myself completely alone for the first time since I left Miami. My nerves started swelling up.  Although Taniguchi-san offered to take me somewhere for dinner, I politely refused and feigned jet lag fatigue to get him to finally leave before I started bawling. As soon as the door closed I had what was definitely closer to a panic attack than what had happened on the plane. I was completely overwhelmed. A combination of being alone in strange new place with nothing and no one familiar around, being told I had to report to work bright and early the next morning when I was exhausted with all my unpacked luggage around me, and most disconcerting - I was surrounded by filth! I am an insanely clean person but this place wasn't dirty by just my standards, oh no, by anyone's standards it was gross! Mold, spiders, dust, hair, rust - just disgusting! Despite an already 12-hour day, I unpacked my Lysol wipes (I packed my own, I'm that clean) and started cleaning between sobs. That first day here is not something I like to remember.

You're probably wondering where my boyfriend was during all of this. Well, we agreed that at first, my school and supervisors should only be presented with me. So, he was traveling with a friend of ours for a few days before heading to Tamba. But having the prepaid phones was truly a Godsend. Of course it had already super useful and the object of envy for some of my fellow JETs who couldn't believe I had a cell phone on the first day, but on this night I called my boyfriend and just sobbed. I found out later that this was the experience of many ALTs shortly after arriving. It was comforting to know it was normal and not just me being unable to hack it. I guess the change just hits you all at once.

Tamba...I think you get the idea?
The next couple of weeks were full of learning experiences. I was signing up for services, exploring the area, and getting used to being out of my element completely. Some might think that my previous experiences in Japan would mean that this would be a total cake walk, but that wasn't the case. Although my previous experiences in Japan made things easier in many aspects, I think I've also been hindered by it. For example, all my previous lodging in Japan (even as a study abroad student) have always been in new, clean, furnished settings - not this old, dirty apartment. My expectations of my surroundings were pretty high as well considering I've previously lived in the urban sprawls of Kyoto and Osaka. Tamba on the other hand is RURAL. Even Japanese people were saying, whoa that's inaka.  Also, in my previous experiences I've always been treated fairly by the program that I was a part of and took comfort in the fact that the terms and conditions were the same for everyone. But not in the JET Program. JET is basically just the middle man who finds a school for you to work at. A few things are stipulated as standard for all JETs, but these things can be counted on one hand. Without going into a rant, I'll just say that I've had the short-end of the stick in most cases. Even among JETs in my same town.

There were also added stress factors which, in the past, had enhanced my experience in Japan, but this time they were just a pain. However, once I installed the internet, purchased an iPhone, leased a car, bought a mattress, gutted the apartment, and found some me time, I started to see that the experience has been getting a little better each day. Also, as bad as it sounds, hearing about other people who are in the same boat or worse encourages me that I can stick it out too.

iPhone. You make my life complete. haha!
I'm going to do my best - that's the only way I do things - and enjoy this experience to the fullest. I've wanted to be a JET for such a long time and given that the program motto revolves around 'every situation is different,' I will make the best of mine.
Wish me luck!

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