The Journey to Japan

I know my last post on Japan was kind of a downer, but I promise things aren’t actually so bleak. I am rockin’ and rollin’ with my own business after all. It’s just… falling out of love with Japan– especially to this extent– has me more stumped than anything.

I mean, I really thought that love was going to be for forever, guys! Saying stuff like that almost makes it seem like I didn’t mature after all, huh?

Tracing things back to the source might be helpful. The time gap in between feels surreal. But the memories? Reminiscing where that love came from, and remembering the reason why I wanted to go in the first place isn’t hard to do at all.

Over the years, I’ve had many obsessions with Japan. Some were not the healthiest. To be honest, I think a lot of people thought my main reason to go to Japan were the girls. So when my girlfriend at the time dumped me, it’s no surprise those same people thought I’d be on a plane home the next day.

did have some crazy, yellow fever; but that’s not why I wanted to go over there.

The idea to teach The idea to help students came from one of my anime heroes: Great Teacher Onizuka.

Onizuka, a high school dropout/ex-gang member decides he wants to become… a teacher?

How lame is that? Sure enough, he’s a klutz, unorganized, and by all accounts a crappy teacher– in the traditional sense anyway.

What separates him from the rest is his resolve to teach his students. It’s not all about books and scores, there’s a lot to learn about life. And what better environment to teach these kinds of lessons than a school? For that very notion, Onizuka thinks school is cool. School is fun. He tells his students that he’d go back to school in a heartbeat.

His students react in disbelief. I shared the same disbelief. Can school really be that kind of place?

He made school more than school. He was more than just a teacher. He gave a shit.

I’ve had my fair share of teachers that taught me about life, but they never hit that level of ambitiousness. And even in the days of having low self-esteem, I wanted to be that kind of leader. I wished at least.

And for awhile, that idea just floated in my head as a fantasy. “Yeah, that’d be nice.” But then in my freshman year, a former JET Program participant spoke at my school, and I was instantly hooked. Here was the path to make that fantasy a reality.

I was so excited to join that I asked the speaker to help me set up an interview. But then I found out I either needed three years of teaching experience or a college degree.

I decided in that moment that I would do both. I would build the beefiest resume that no way they could turn me down. I wanted to be the best ALT in the JET Program like no one ever was.

And that’s a real big reason why I chose my major and minor. That’s the key factor why I tutored and why I connected with the international community at my school. These are the steps, in addition to studying Japanese, that I had hoped would show the JET Program I was the go-to pick for the job.

When I was finally over there, I really felt like I was living the dream. I channeled my anime heroes into the dorkiest introduction speech ever.

(You can tell me how dorky it was. I can’t bring myself to re-watch it.)

But that level insanity worked. That crazy vision of making a difference drove me to learn all 600 of my students names. It pushed me to throw caution to the wind and make the craziest lesson plans on making commercials and building your dream hubby/wife.

I did have some challenges early on (i.e. being able to read the reactions of my students, recognizing shyness, working around low participation, etc.) but I enjoyed the challenge.

I loved my job.

I’d hear other people talk about the grind of the workweek and the dread of the weekend ending. I’d almost slip into the same line of small talk until I remembered, “Nope! I love what I do.”

I wasn’t perfect. I don’t know how close to being the “best” I actually was, but I enjoyed the hell out of the successes of the day to day. Being able to tweak a lesson plan that bombed in the morning into a crowd favorite in the afternoon? That kind of turn around victory is one of the best feelings in the world.

And maybe I could’ve ridden that momentum into eternity. At least, maybe I would’ve stayed the original 5 years like I originally planned. Maybe I could’ve settled down over there, if it weren’t for one change in my third year


Published by Jon Dao

Formerly, the Conversation Coach

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