On Graduating

My years as a student have officially ended. Nights of papers and chai tea lattes in the library are things of the past. Saturdays of proudly representing my school on the rugby field are gone forever. And the discounts that I received from flashing my student I.D. all over France last year… well, I’m going to keep my I.D. safe and see if I can still cash in on those. Anyway, as of a few days ago, I am a proud alum of the College of the Holy Cross, a small gem of a liberal arts school in Massachusetts.

IMG_7981

It’s quite a strange feeling, no longer being a student. It’s become such a major slice of my identity these last 16 years. My occupation as a student has been the topic of conversation that fills any awkward silence; it’s been the tried and true subject for any adult family member or neighbor at a gathering. At the dentist’s office, with my mouth full of fluoride, I’ve always been able to field any question about what school I’m studying at, what year I’m in, or how school is going (although, admittedly, my responses were always of questionable clarity with all the poking and prodding that my teeth were receiving).

“Does this have anything to do with Japan?” you may ask. Why yes, it does! Because before I was offered a position with the JET Program, I was dreading every adult who had the “What are your plans after graduating?” bomb on their lips. Last semester, I would smile my most winning smile and politely reply “I’ve applied to a few positions, and I’m waiting to see.” Inwardly, I would fume at the muggle who dared to ask me that question.

That is, until I opened that magical email from JET, telling me that I was shortlisted.

From that moment onward, graduation wasn’t such a dreaded event. Losing my identity as a student wasn’t really a loss as much as it was a transition into gaining an identity as a teacher. And any adult who has filled the awkward silence with a query into my post-graduation plans has been bombed in return with an earful about teaching in Japan through the JET Program.

They always seem a little stunned to hear about my future job. I love surprising people.

Destination: Ibaraki

So I finally (sort of) know where I am going!

The JET fairy sent me an email a few days ago, informing me that my year(s) of teaching in Japan will be spent somewhere in the prefecture of Ibaraki. It’s one of the first places that comes to mind when you thing “Japan,” isn’t it? No? You’ve never heard of it? Same here. Ibaraki is a coastal prefecture in the Kanto region, just a few hours north of Tokyo, and just a bit south of the now infamous Fukushima prefecture.

Ibarakiii

My reaction to this news? Was I jumping up and down for joy? Was I calling everyone I know to tell them to visit me in Ibaraki? Mehh, overall I’m pretty mixed.

Let’s get the negatives out of the way first, shall we?

On one hand, Ibaraki has been consistently voted the least appealing and least desirable prefecture in Japan by the Japanese people… for years. It is currently ranked 47th out of Japan’s 47 prefectures. It seems like most people never even visit Ibaraki because there are basically no tourist attractions in the entire prefecture. In fact, the only attraction listed for the entire prefecture on one website is–drum roll please–Kairakuen garden. Yes, a garden. So far, Ibaraki isn’t looking too exciting.

Also, since I’m hired by the prefecture itself, and not by a city, it means that I’ll only be teaching at senior high schools. ….Actually, though, this is probably more of a positive than a negative, because my students will most likely have a basic understanding of English, so teaching might be less of a struggle for a non-Japanese-speaker like me. But seriously, how cute would it have been to have a classroom full of elementary school students learning colors and holidays?!

On a more positive note, life is what you make it. I may not be placed in the prettiest or the most well-known prefecture in Japan, but by the time I leave, I’ll have explored a region that most people never even see! (Perhaps I’ll find out why people don’t go there? Or perhaps Ibaraki will turn out to be a hidden gem!) And really, relationships are the things to make or break your time in a foreign country. I could end up working with some really amazing teachers and students, and by the end of the year, I could be thanking whatever higher power placed me in Ibaraki.

Briefly, I’ll throw out all the culture about Ibaraki that I learned from Wikipedia: the prefecture is known for natto (strongly fermented soybeans), watermelons, agricultural products in general, and Aikido (a martial art). My first thought, after all my frantic Ibaraki-googling: “Well, everything is going to be okay. I like watermelon.” Also, one of my secret goals for the upcoming year is to begin learning a martial art; Judo has been on the brain, but perhaps I’ll switch to Aikido if any dojo is willing to take on an uncoordinated and confused foreigner like me. I imagine being placed in a class with 15 little Japanese kindergartners who all team up to bring me down.

If I seem a tiny bit negative about my placement, it’s because, well, I am a little disappointed. Apologies. This blog is my medium to record and share my thoughts. And right now, I’m wondering why the JET gods chose to put me in Ibaraki. I’m wondering what is in store for me in the upcoming year.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Although Ibaraki is not exactly what I was hoping for, it’s exciting news all the same. I’m one step closer… this is all becoming real! Because seriously, I’M GOING TO JAPAN!! So I’m setting off for Ibaraki with an open mind and an open heart.

And there’s still more to learn! (In other words: there’s still more to wait for). Ibaraki is not a tiny prefecture. I don’t know if I’ll be in a huge city or a tiny little village out in the countryside. I don’t know if I’ll be living on the coast, or near mountains (I’m really, really hoping for mountains) or in the middle of a flat plain, or on the shores of a lake. And I’m eager to find out.

Cheers to another few weeks of waiting!