Set to JET

August 1, 2009

Pre-Departure Orientation – Check.

I’m going back to Japan today.

Below is a copy of the speech I presented at last night’s first official meeting.

Quill Anderson

CIR Representative

JET Pre-Departure Orientation


Portland, OR

The email finally came. Scarcely willing to believe it, I reached out towards the mouse, fingers trembling, and clicked to open it. Congratulations! The words sprang up on the screen. I’m in. I’m in! I did it. I’m actually in! Then it hit me. Oh god… Now what do I do?

I’ve been preparing for this for the last five years. I went to Japan as a tourist, having the adventure of my youth, and came back with the certainty that I had discovered where I needed to be in the future. Japan, a magical land. It made no sense. I didn’t understand anything. But I knew I wanted to. So, I started studying. I changed my major from engineering to Japanese and began my search for the impetus behind this strange land that was so new to me, so different.

So here I am. I’ve graduated. I have a degree now. This symbolizes that I’ve completed sixteen, (well, okay, actually seventeen) years of schooling and that I’m ready to get out there and start working in the real world. Now that it’s all over, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. What exactly have I learned? What can I take from this, the academic world, and use in the real world? As a Japanese major, I spent the majority of my time studying Japan. Now, I’m expected to teach about America. What’s this all about? I didn’t study America. What can I possibly teach? I really started to wonder about whether I was actually ready for this. And then, finally, it hit me. The most important thing in my whole academic career – show and tell. I’m totally serious. The most important experience of my education, that which has prepared me best to enter the world, is something I have been doing since kindergarten. But how can this possibly be? Have you ever seen that poster, “The most important things I needed to know about life I learned in kindergarten?” All those years, and the most important thing I’m taking from my schooling is something I learned in kindergarten? That’s preposterous! But it’s true. Teaching is taking something that is important to you, getting up in front of a bunch of people, and transmitting your love for that to them. Public speaking should not be a scary thing for us. We’ve been doing it since we were five years old.

I was a little nervous at first. I didn’t think that I fit the stereotypical image in Japan of an American. I wondered if there were things I should learn about my country, things I should study, in order to make sure that I could get in there and show them the “real America.” I hardly know anything about American pop stars. At karaoke, I couldn’t possibly sing a Michael Jackson song. I don’t even know where to begin! In fact, I probably know more songs in Japanese than I do in English. This is because, for me, karaoke is a Japanese phenomenon. My friends always want me to sing songs in English, yet I imagine they’re getting tired of the few eccentric songs I actually know. But you know what? We are the real America. We come from such a huge diversity of backgrounds and that is exactly what America is all about. We don’t need to know which Hollywood actor is dating Christian Bale, or even which team won this year’s world series. Just be yourself, and share what you know.

Mass media and pop culture. These could be said to be the enemies of internationalization. One day in Japan, I was riding on a train, and I began an interesting conversation with the older man sitting next to me. At one point, he asked me, “Oh, you’re American? How many guns do you have?” This is as ridiculous as saying, “Oh, you’re Japanese? How many samurai swords do you own?” Yet I’ve heard good-hearted and well-meaning yet confused people, American and Japanese, asking these exact questions. And that’s why we’re going to Japan as JETs. We are here to fight stereotypes. We are here to show that not only are we Americans, we are people. That’s what I think is the point of internationalization. To bring us all together and remove the fear that is caused by the unknown and the different.

I’ve been to Japan several times now. The more I learn about it, the more I love it. Japan becomes less and less exotic, and more and more real, and I find that while Japan is becoming less interesting, it is certainly becoming more real and feeling more like a home to me. This last month especially, as I’ve been preparing to come to Japan, I took a really close look at what was going on around me here in the United States. And I realized a funny thing. The more I study Japan, the greater an appreciation I have for my situation here in America. Don’t get me wrong, I love Japan. I mean, that’s why we’re all here, right? We all share a desire to go to Japan and learn about the customs and the people of this beautiful and bountiful archipelago. But at the same time, I’ve realized how much I do love my country, and that is what I want to share with the rest of the world.

I’ve been to Japan as a tourist and as a student. Now I’m going to Japan as a shakaijin – a working member of public society. This is an important job. We are the ambassadors of our country, representatives of an entire vast nation. We are expected to perform our duties well and bring something of value with us. For some of us, this is our first “real” job. We’re still greenhorns, wet behind the ears, fresh out of college, and the real world seems a little intimidating. Others of us have accumulated valuable experience working here in America. Some of us have been to Japan before. For some, this will be the first time. Yet, for all of us, this will be an entirely new experience. No matter where we’re coming from, we’re all here for a reason. We were selected for this job. Obviously, they think we’ve got what it takes. Go in with confidence. You’re here because you are just right for this job.

We have to work hard, but we are not alone. Nobody expects us to do everything perfectly all the time. We will make mistakes, and we’ll have to deal with them, but there is a vast network to support us no matter what happens. So, go ahead – make mistakes. Then have the grace to laugh at yourself, apologize, and move on.

So, are we ready for this? I think we are. We’ve spent our whole lives becoming who we are, and our culture is a vital part of each of our respective identities. Of course, I hope that all of us have prepared in other ways as well. Did you pack your swimming suit? Did you read your handbook? Even if we’re not all ready, we’ll adapt, and become better JETs as we go along.

We are Americans. We are teachers. We are JETs. It’s time for us to go show and tell.


One comment

  1. “I’m going back to Japan today.”
    A very interesting way to start your entry because to me and myself the way I see it, there is still a part of me living in Hirakata just as there is a part of me living in Connecticut today.

    Duality aside, if I may be so presumptuous to impart part of my experiences from the time I spent as student teacher. Teaching is much more than just being an art and science, it is away of communitcating. One can look into all the pretty and petty theories of teaching pedagogy but I find that it boils down to three parts:

    1: Before any teaching can even occur a teacher must build a relationship with their students, this can mean that the first few weeks are not the nuts and bolts, but “Hi my name is Trevor and it has been predicted that I will die in an avalanche of falling books because I read too much.”

    2: Everything you teach should have real world relevance, students can rarely ever think in the abstract. While this may sound easy for teaching social studies and language and hard for science or math, its irrelevant, because you have to show how what your teaching is relevant to the real world. If you wish to impart your students with knowledge.

    3: Be flexible or else one will shatter. The general method of a lesson planning goes along the lines of, initiation (warm up), lesson (meat and potatoes), closure (wrap everything up), and assessment (how do I know they know what I want them to know). Sometimes though, you have to break the mold.

    I wouldn’t worry so much about the content, it will come to you or be scripted for you, just work on communitcating it in a concrete and real world relevant way. I mean as your musings have shown, there will be plenty of misconceptions to use as content, (by the way I don’t own any guns but I do have a number of broken pocket knives that I seem to some how collect).

    The last piece of advice on teaching I have is that the hardest part of being a teacher is first two years. It is a harsh living because one may have trouble with building teacher-student relationships, or that the students haven’t learned a thing (sometimes they can surprise you a year later with, “Oh yeah we were talking about that….” “wait you were listening to me???”), or just a number of stresses that comes with the teaching profession. But let me tell you, there are moments of absolute joy because you can actually see the difference you have made. There will be nights where you will be completely stressed but they are equaled by the number of nights that you are on top the world.

    Well I do hope you can excuse my excess of verbiage but it is a topic I tend to be very passionate about. I wish you the best

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