Summer is rapidly taking over Shizuoka once again as we are powering through the “rainy season.” (This is a joke because it’s basically always raining.) I finally, after almost an entire year, had an air conditioner/heater unit installed in my living room this weekend. I’m firmly in the AC honeymoon period where I am using it all the time with no regard for my electric bill. Life in my apartment (well, my living room) has never been this comfortable and I’m loving it, even though I didn’t love the $1000 it cost to obtain in the first place.
Next week is final exams and then summer vacation is right around the corner. One would think that after final exams the term would be over, but alas, in Japan we have two weeks of classes for the next term before the closing ceremony and the start of the month-long summer holiday.
It’s hard to believe that I have been in Japan for almost a year now. I look back on everything I have learned and experienced, and everything I’ve written here on Annamarie Abroad, and I think how amazing it is that we can change and adjust to so much in such a relatively short period of time. I am excited to begin my second year in Japan, where hopefully I will be able to have some of the stability my first year lacked. Now that I have an idea of what to expect, I hope to be able to enjoy myself more, and be more successful in my work and life.
Now that my first year is coming to a close, I’ve been spending a lot of time looking towards my future plans. I go back and forth continually between wanting to stay in Japan for a third year or moving on to a graduate program (most likely in literature… that’s changed again as well). It’s a tough decision. If I decide to not renew my contract, that is the end of my time in Japan (unless I decide to apply to JET again in the future, which is a not a guarantee). I can’t change my mind after saying I do not intend to re-contract. But on the other hand, if I wait another year before going to graduate school I am spending more time removed from an academic environment, more time removed from academic English (something that is already taking its toll), and am stuck in a work environment that I do not necessarily find fulfilling.
I asked my Facebook friends to help me make a pro/con list for staying in Japan, and this is what I have on my own list so far.
- Another year of interesting experiences abroad.
- Money. Right now my expenses are very low in comparison to my paycheck, so I’ve been able to make decent, consistent payments on my student loans.
- My students. My students are great and I enjoy teaching them.
- My friends in Japan. Most of my friends who are staying for 2016-2017 are also planning on staying for the year after. I will have more time with them if I stay as well.
- Increased Japanese ability. I’m not sure how this will be relevant going forward, but it can’t hurt. While I understand a lot now, my speaking is still pretty rudimentary.
- Travel. I have many more opportunities to travel here because of my location and finances.
- Personal projects and personal betterment. For better or for worse, I spend a significant amount of my time in Japan alone and/or in silence. This gives me a lot of time to think, and can also give me more time to work on things like my writing and any other project ideas I have.
- Finding new opportunities in Japan. The longer I stay, I may find new reasons to want to stay.
- I may not have another chance to travel and live as freely as I am now. While I have no intention of “settling down” any time soon, I do not know what the future holds, and I worry about leaving Japan before I’ve exhausted all of my opportunities here.
- Stressful work environment. There isn’t much I can say about this publicly, but it does carry a lot of weight in my decision-making process.
- Being an ALT is a short-term job. This is not what I want to do for the rest of my life, and even if it were the JET program has a strict time limit and doesn’t really offer any opportunities for advancement. If I were to stay for a third year, I would essentially be doing the same things I am doing now, and being a glorified TA with no real responsibilities is not necessarily something I want to do for 3 years.
- Career relevancy. If I stay on my current path of wanting to study literature, teaching high school English in Japan is not necessarily very relevant. Going to graduate school is the logical next step in that career path.
- Is this where I want to be? I’ve been trying to keep track of the days that I want to be in Japan and the days where I’d rather be somewhere else, and recently there have been more days that I would rather be leaving next year than days where I would like to stay. Part of this is of course the stress of the end of term and the rainy season, and I’m trying to take that into account, but I often wonder if I would not be happier moving on after my second year to whatever the next adventure may be. Japan is not going to be my permanent home, and knowing that makes it sort of feel like I am wasting my time on my adventure here, even though I know that the learning, growing, and experiencing I’m doing here are not a waste.
It’s a tough decision, definitely more difficult than deciding to come to Japan, and I’m not sure yet exactly what I’m going to do. At the moment I am trying to be involved with ALT life, but also prepare materials and information for applying to graduate programs in the fall. I have until early January to decide if I will re-contract, and while that is unfortunately before I will know about any potential grad school acceptances, I hope to be confident in my decision by them. If you have any advice or other things to consider for my pro/con list, please let me know in a comment, email, LINE message, or by carrier pigeon. (Smoke signals are unacceptable as it is still the rainy season.)
While I am struggling with the big picture questions, life is still going on. I’ve been taking on more responsibility at work and in ALT things, and my calendar is full more often than not. As we plunge into summer, I have some events in my calendar I’m very excited about.
- This week: I’m taking the Japanese Language Proficiency Test on July 3rd. I’m looking forward to this being over.
- Next week:
- July 8. Leavers party for my many ALT friends leaving JET this year.
- July 10. Second event for the Shizuoka Writing Circle.
- July 16-18
- Atami Beach Retreat. There is a long weekend, and we are going to spend it enjoying everything the city Atami has to offer, including hot springs, the beach, and a festival. I am also part of a group hosting Beach Olympics as a part of the event, which will hopefully be fun and ridiculous.
- July 22-23
- A friend from Tokyo Orientation, which was almost one year ago now, and I are going to attempt to do the most touristy thing possible: climb Mt. Fuji. We are going to do the overnight hike to watch the sunrise from the summit, which it turns out is actually the most popular way to climb this famous mountain.
- July 29-August 12
- I’m taking two weeks off of work and going back to the U.S.! Finally I’m putting all the vacation days I’ve been saving to use.
- July 29-August 1. I’m going to Disneyland! I will hopefully be meeting up with some alumni of Tau Beta Sigma and Kappa Kappa Psi for a while, and then my mom will be joining me for the second half of the weekend.
- August 1-August 5. Arizona time. My family is putting me up in a casino in Laughlin and I’m going to spend time visiting my family, resting by the pool, and reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (I already pre-ordered the kindle edition and it’s coming out July 31), and will probably spend a day in Flagstaff eating at my favorite spots and hopefully seeing some friends.
- August 6-9. Seattle! I’m going to visit my dear friend Katie in Seattle. It’s been over a year since we last saw each other in person, and I’m so looking forward to catching up.
- August 11. Start the long journey back to Japan.
After I go back to work on August 15th, I begin the time-honored ALT tradition of summer desk warming. In Japan, teachers do not get any time off during the summer vacation. There are summer classes, club practice, and myriad other projects to work on. I am supposed to be at my desk every day even though I have nothing to work on. It’s a special part of the ALT experience. I will have a little break from my summer desk warming this year as I am working a 2 day English camp in Hamamatsu, which I’m looking forward to.
Shortly after my return and immediately following the English camp, I am turning 24. On August 20th I will hopefully be celebrating the occasion with friends, food, and alcohol. It’s strange and yet satisfying to be moving from my early twenties to my mid-twenties. I’m not sad to see 23 go, especially because as we all know, nobody likes you when you’re 23.
Life is happening. I’m passing another year of life and my first year in Japan, working hard, and making big life decisions. But no matter what is coming next, I want to enjoy the time I have now and all the exciting events this summer. I have no idea what the next year will bring, but for now I’m ready to have some fun.