The other day, I read a friend’s Facebook status about being homesick and really being stuck about whether to re-contract or not (most of us have received the papers by now). I remember being in that same spot, last year. Struggling with my job and the little bit of teaching I actually did at the time. Struggling with the tiny amount of Japanese I could speak and the fact that so many of the English speakers in Hokkaido are so far away. Struggling with the fact that I had left all my amazing friends at home and hadn’t made any friends that were near so good. Being in strong debate as to whether I could do another year here.
About this time last year, I came out of the super home-sick feeling. What changed? I took on some challenges, a friend and I posted a blog everyday. I started really pushing hard to study Japanese (what I was studying at the time was over my head and I eventually stopped, but it gave me a goal). I realized that I needed to do things I love and keep my house the way I want it (rather than being lazy and letting living alone be an excuse not to clean).
Last winter, all of us ALTs went to Mid –year conference. Vicki (the old PA – Prefectural Advisor) had the previous PA come and talk about re-contracting. I remember that she had us list the three things we liked most about our job and the three things that we hated the most. Not being in the presence of my co-workers, I could be completely open about it. I hated the distance between me and friends (by this point, I had become pretty good friends with a few ALTs here – so both them and friends at home), I hated a couple of other things (I don’t remember now). The things, the “stranger” (another ALT I hadn’t met before) and I talked about were all things that with some energy and time, could be remedied.
Here, I sit, on the other end of that decision, knowing that I made the right decision. It was just before my first year was up that things really started to improve. I got to know the JET community as a whole, I got over my fear of getting stuck in a situation and not knowing what to say and started jumping in and trying, people started talking to me more.
I’m really glad I stayed, I don’t love being a human tape recorder, but more and more I am convincing my JTEs to let me have a small part in the classes. Not always huge change, but sometimes small things. Because I now have a relationship with them and some rapport, I can make suggestions and ask questions.
More and more I just feel included instead of excluded. This weekend, my supervisor invited me to go to her son’s school festival. I went and it being the largest school in town, lots and lots of my students were there (any kid that was there was either my student, my future student or my predecessor’s student). It was fun being surrounded by people I knew, rather than being in a crowd feeling lost. I got introduced to the kids who were sitting behind me, yochien kids (preschoolers) and was told that one of them would be in the first grade next year and I’d get to teach him. I had a fun time between performances tickling their toes and playing silly games.
In the end, recontracting is a hard decision, if you hate your job now, it may or may not improve in the next year, but on the other hand, having relationships around you just might make the difference. I don’t love everything about my job now, but I’ve built relationships with the students and teachers around me and really am loving living in Japan, now.
Not yet sure what I'll do next year, but at this point, I'm leaning toward staying.