Randomata: 1. Students are not allowed to have any colour in their hair. A couple students (who, I guess, tried something new in the holidays) came into the office to have teachers quickly spray-dye their hair back to its natural black. 2. In the assembly, everybody speaks from a lower microphone on the floor until the principal has gone to the elevated mike up on the stage; when he bows in front of the mike, the entire school bows back. Teachers scan the rows of chairs (brought down from the classrooms with impeccable efficiency) and shift individual students to make sure the rows are in perfect alignment. Quite a sight is the sea of straight students with the same black suits and black hair and their straight rows of chairs, all bowing in unison to the man on stage. (I’m really not trying to say everybody is the same, only that in this they strive to make it look so).
The new year has turned; Thailand has come and gone, revelries galore as well: welcome back to work after three weeks of delicious and horrendous slothing. I forget how to wake up in the morning, I forget how to think, and I definitely forget how to work (hopefully I don’t forget how to write).
Several things hit me immediately when I get to my school for the first time in what feels like an eternity. Surprisingly, I just realized how little these kids are: in size and age and maturity, the kids at Junior High are soooo young. I think because I was nervous and had no basis for comparison, I didn’t see it before. Now, after that week at elementary schools and after a bit of time for reflection, and now that I’m not quite so nervous and intimidated by everything (for example, my girlfriend doesn’t frighten me so much or seem so tall anymore), I have a bit better idea of where these kids are at. Hopefully I continue to treat them with respect, as people of all ages deserve full respect; however, hopefully I continue to learn to better communicate and connect with them.
The next thing that hit me was just how much energy I put into ‘simply being’ here, which I’ve commented on before. The moment I got through those doors – actually, when I turned onto the street – I jumped into ‘work mode’, which means instant smiles, incessant greetings (whether students want them or not), and openness to any initiation of conversation or contact in any way whatsoever; putting on the appropriate face, attitude, body language, and voice; and then of course there is the psychological shift in an attempt to avoid a disconnect between the superficial and the internal.
Then I saw the students’ faces (as they passed me and my annoying greetings). Some were basically disinterested, which I totally understand. However, others had a big grin when they saw me and offered a really friendly greeting, as if they didn’t mind seeing me again after some time apart; that was a nice feeling! Of course, these are the same reactions that I receive day after day, and I think it more a reflection on the students’ personalities and moods than on what I do. In any case, many kids did seem happy to see me, and that’s a relief!
Let’s see, what’s next… Ah yes, how quickly things return to normal. After some quick friendly exchanges with the other teachers, about the same as after a usual weekend, they moved off with the usual hustle as I sat in my quiet shell amidst the usual bustle of the office. I look around at all these people, who I know to be amicable, but I can’t think of something worth enough consequence to start an enduring conversation. And never has anybody approached me seeking anything more than a quickie. Sigh. Back to that.
Also normal is the fact that we have an assembly (by the way, my tenses are mixed up because I’m presently writing this at work with the intention of posting it past-tense later…) and nobody tells me about it (this is more amusing than annoying), as well as the fact that today, as oft, I am pretty much the only person not wearing a suit. Oh, and I’m the only person with a beard, which quite fascinates some of the students, and most likely bothers some of the teachers.
Let’s see… what else… did I mention that I have to decide whether I’m going to stay a second year or not – by next week!?! I have waffled more than Eggo about this decision. The long and short of it is that I don’t think this job (in its current manifestation) holds nearly enough stimulation to interest and challenge me. I am not the type of person who is capable of sitting on a cushy position, relaxing, and enjoying the doing of nothing. I have tried for the last five months to learn this ability, but it’s just not me. At best, I can do about half ‘n half, work ‘n laze - a low standard which in this job I am yet below!
But, if I were to leave now, I would feel somewhat defeated, like my experience here has been one of drained energies and a bit too much disappointment. I think my brain closed off in frustration, and I don’t think I learned half as much Japanese as I could – with or without hordes of friends with whom to practice. Also, I’ve been lazy, and I’ve yet to see many other places in Japan. Central to my disappointment, I don’t feel like I grew in my job, had a challenge and overcame it. Instead, I was accepted with low expectations and little motivation to exceed them (I just feel like I’m getting in the way when I try!), and I let myself remain in that increasingly apathetic funk.
This is not to say that nothing good has happened. Far from that, I’m really proud of myself for coming over here, and I feel like I have learnt a lot about myself already – mostly about personal limitations that need expanding. I had so many great experiences, hiking, skiing, sightseeing, traveling, and of course just hanging out with friends. And I surely I have learned a lot by being in such a different work environment as well. I have learnt some Japanese, and surely gained some experience of the life and culture here – though progress in both these areas is hard to quantify.
The hope is that I can maintain (/increase) all those worthwhile things, and get rid of this nagging sense of disappointment in myself: feel a slight sense of challenge and improvement in work, learn a bit more of the language, meet more new people here (ie Japanese people), and see some more of this country while I have the fortune to live here.
I am going to request to change schools, perhaps to High School, or ask for more changes of location during the year (I think I’m the only Junior High JET who doesn’t change schools all year).
The risk is that a change of scene for my job won’t improve things and I will become like other disenchanted second-year ALT’s, with piddling interest in their jobs, who seem like they really should have gone home after just one year! The risk is that after two years I will feel like I’ve spent two years stuck in this place, getting nowhere except farther away from the world I used to know (to be slightly melodramatic about it), with no sense of new direction to show for it and, to boot, no identifiable or re-applicable job-skills! Suddenly I’m a 24 year old with no skills and only one job on my resume. Eep.
Also, there’s that girl, and I know she’ll be here for a second year… trying not to let that affect my decision too much.