About Me

I was another bright-eyed fool. With a degree in my hand and a pocket full of dreams, I thought that the world was my oyster. I was soon to discover that an economic recession is not a good time to graduate.

Fortunately, I had stumbled into a Careers Fair a few months previously and picked up flyers for a variety of companies. A few years previously, I had developed a mild interest in Japan, acquired a couple of Japanese penpals and taught myself a smattering of the language. I read Gaijin Smash and had the burning urge to get out of the U.K. and broaden my horizons as much as possible. So, when I found myself looking at Interac's flyer - "Teach English in Japan!" - I thought "why not?", applied, and carried on with my life.

A mere two days after my last exam at university, I received a call from Interac. They asked if I would like to complete a telephone interview. Well, why not? From the hundred or so jobs that I had applied for before completing my Psychology BSc, I had heard approximately nothing. I had nothing to lose. I took up the one job that I was offered - coffee lounge assistant at a company that my cousin manages - and waited for a follow-up.

Within a couple of weeks, I was invited to York to perform a demonstration lesson for Interac. Now that I would actually be meeting people, things were suddenly real. I was applying for a job in Japan! Where had that come from?? I had no idea. In Manchester, I worked from 7am to 4pm every day, polo shirts reeking of bacon fat, biting my tongue in front of condescending businessmen who had no idea that I had a 2:1 from the University of Manchester. The days drifted by in a caffeine-scented haze. I lived with a man who I had given up on trying to change in a flat that I could never successfully clean. We slowly drifted away from each other, and I spent most evenings looking at websites about travelling, volunteering, adventure.

My demonstration lesson was to last five minutes and to be about colours. I panicked. Teaching? I had never taught a child in my life. Well... there was that week of work experience at my former primary school, when I was only fourteen myself. I had trained younger university students to be telephone listeners for Nightline. I had been a mentor for first year Psychology students, and a reading tutor for younger children back in secondary school. But actually standing up in front of a class of children who can't speak a word of English - and teaching them? I had no idea what I was doing. I suddenly had doubts. What if they hated me? What if I was an awful teacher?

Still, I had nothing to lose, so I went to York and bluffed my way through a five-minute colour drill. I smiled a lot, which may be what got me through - then again, I smile all the time...at everything; it's probably quite annoying. But I was "genki" (energetic, friendly, bubbly) and didn't stop. I don't suppose my Aryan looks hurt, either. A few weeks later I was offered a placement. Suddenly, it was back on. My life had purpose again. Adventure was on the horizon. I knew in my heart that this was what I was meant to do.

I would have originally gone in August (2009), only a month after my university graduation ceremony. To my relief, Interac asked me whether I would mind waiting until March 2010. This gave me a lot more time to save up some money, learn some Japanese and get my head around the concept of moving halfway around the world on my own. As March approached, the reality of what I was about to do made my world seem less real. I researched the country until I was sick of it. I learnt about manners, culture, politeness, how I would always be seen as an outsider, how people would never get over the fact that I could use chopsticks, and - when I was offered a placement in Fuji City one January morning - how the prefecture that I was moving to was expecting a massive earthquake. I became convinced that my days were numbered, and started to act like it.

My family were upset that I was moving so far away, of course, but my parents were very supportive. My friends acted in a similar way - of course they would miss me, but nobody openly condemned my decision or tried to discourage me from leaving. Many of my parents' friends revealed that their own children had worked in Japan and loved it. Around the same time, a friend that I've known my entire life was starting to teach English in China - a family friend, which possibly encouraged my family that it was a good idea. I told them that I would definitely be back after a year.

The rest of my story has been documented on this blog. Ten days before I was due to fly, I was told that my placement had been changed to Hamamatsu. This is probably one of the best, luckiest decisions that has ever been made for me. Hamamatsu is an amazing place, and had I been in Fuji, I think that I would have perished from boredom. The other amazingly lucky decision was that I was placed in the same training branch and training week as a few people who would later become some of my closest friends - and, of course, it is where I met Jeff, although it would be several months until we hung out properly and fell for each other in a matter of days.

Moving to Japan was a massive step, and one that I could only cope with in smaller chunks. My first step, for example, was getting to the airport. After that, it was getting on the plane. After surviving the 12 hour flight, the next step was checking out. To view the entire experience in one go would have been overwhelming. Before I knew it, I was in Hamamatsu. Training for my first real job. Moving into my first real apartment. Starting a life away from everyone I had ever known. And wow, it has been amazing.

A year has passed, and I'm still here. I can't bring myself to leave, yet, even with the recent earthquake and nuclear power plant fears. Hamamatsu is far away from all that, and although we are expecting a big earthquake of our own, something keeps me hanging on. I fell in love. With Jeff, yes, of course, but also with Japan - with life here, with cherry blossoms, with teaching, with nomi hodai, with creepy cute characters, with the spirit that unites all the wandering souls who find themselves here. My new apartment is amazing, I am no longer teaching at the school that I didn't like as much, and I am saving enough money to do some serious travelling this summer (I hope). Could I give it up to return home to potential unemployment, to living with my parents again, to not being able to bring my American boyfriend with me, to freezing winters and outrageous tuition fees (my hopes of doing a Masters were recently dashed, thanks Cameron), to chavs? I don't think so. But the world is a big place, and those of us blessed with English as a native language, a warm heart and a knack for language have truly been given a gift. Perhaps, later, I will look into teaching in other countries. For now, though, I have had to tell my family that I have renewed my contract for another year - they were not surprised - and I will enjoy the cycle of the seasons once again.

*Additional - Despite that touching last paragraph, I did in fact leave Japan in July 2011. The decision was not an easy one, and is one that you can read about in other posts. I did not return to the UK, however; I am currently enjoying another new culture, in Prague, Czech Republic. As always, I have started merrily blogging away from Jeff and my new apartment.

I loved my time in Japan, and will probably always look back on it as the best time of my life, although I don't really want to think that more adventure isn't on the horizon! I met amazing people, I did amazing things, and I will take all of those memories and experiences with me onto the next adventure. To those of you who have been in any way inspired by this blog, and it is so exciting for me when people say that, I would encourage you to go to Japan. Don't let the earthquake or fear of radiation put you off (as long as you're a respectable distance from it). Life is short, and anything can happen to those who sit around, terrified of leaving their comfort zones, so you might as well embrace it and follow your dreams. If you are open enough, living in Japan will change your attitudes, your perspective and your life.