If I Did It: Returning to Japan

October 12, 2012

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It’s not the same as it was before, when I had to return to Dallas with my head hung low, lacking any job prospects and feeling pretty miserable about myself and the direction my life was headed. Such was the state I was in when I decided to apply to schools in South Korea. Neat, huh?

Even though I’m currently unemployed and in Dallas, containing the most boring suburban sprawl of all, the situation feels different. I feel stronger, more in control. I spend my days searching Craigslist and LinkedIn for jobs stateside. Although it is my goal to find something I can be happy doing in the US without worrying about visas or feeling like an outsider, I haven’t ruled out the possibility of, yet again, returning to Japan.

Why? Why on earth would I, thirty years old and having already lived there for two years, want to go back? Fair question.

For one, Japan was my first experience living abroad. In being so, it helped shape who I am. I’ve been told by friends I sometimes talk in Japanese or Thai when I sleep. I still have a bucket list for adventures over there. And, more practically, learning the language to a greater degree of fluency would help me with more jobs stateside. When I was in Germany, I received a call from Princess Cruises; they had read my Japan articles on the Matador Network and wanted to hire me as a destination expert for their stops in Japan and Korea in 2013. Four months, all overhead cover, plus a generous salary. I had to turn it down. The clientele was to be all Japanese, and my language skills simply aren’t adequate for answering complicated questions on history and culture. Fail.

If I were to go back, it would give me opportunities to continue my Japanese studies. Some people could do that outside Japan, but not me; I have to be required to speak Japanese to advance. How did I learn five years ago? I had to eat, travel, and work there. Simple.

If I were to return to Japan, what options would there be for me? My Japanese is at least functional, but it’s far from JLPT 1 and 2; and so, I can’t rely on it to get me a job outside of teaching English. Would I return to AEON? Try to apply to the JET Programme? It’s disheartening to think all my experience abroad will count for nothing once I’m in Japan; yet again, I’m just an English-speaking monkey who enjoys running and writing for some reason (to outside observers, anyway).

If I did it, I’d want to go into the country with a smaller eikaiwa (private language school), not an ALT position with the JET Programme or services like Interac. Maybe it’s just arrogance on my part, but I don’t want to be lumped into a group of 22-year-olds fresh off the boat from Canada and hysterically laughing at vending machines and love hotels. The larger eikaiwa and groups like JET are very summer camp to me; teachers fly in, are told where to go, hang out with other foreigners during orientation, and have regular gatherings instead of branching out on their own.

Granted, I understand the reason for this: it’s good to have support your first time abroad. But it’s not my first time. I know how to live in Japan. I’ve seen and gotten over the things most first year JETs find so amusing or confusing. To return to that state of mind would not only be a giant step backwards in my development as a traveler, it’s just not who I am anymore. I’m not a fresh graduate looking for sushi and samurai. I’m looking for a place to call home, a comfortable culture in which I can find inspiration to write my book, a country in which running is appreciated.

So, I’m sending out the applications and keeping my options open. See you out there.

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