Wait… it’s WHAT DAY?! (The End of Pre-Departure)

Wait… what?! Holy crap! Where did my time go? I want my time back! I stopped ripping pages out of my word-a-day calendar to stop time, but apparently, my tactics have failed entirely. The day for heading off to Japan has finally arrived, and I find myself… well, for lack of a better term… scared shitless.

And excited. Very excited. But scared nonetheless. Because change simply does that to me. I know I’m not just entering a new culture. I’m getting ready to change as a person. I don’t feel ready. I don’t believe you should ever feel ready. Nonetheless, my time has come, and I prepare to fly westward with an open mind.

Because of my sudden panic, I overlooked eating anything more than an apple for dinner. I have started my mass water intake and am actually feeling drowsy despite my lingering nervousness/excitement.

I spent most of the day wrapping up last-minute packing things. I had my friend Melissa along to help and bought her lunch. Cue tips for packing:

  1. Make sure you have everything you need BEFORE you start packing. It really sucks to find out that you forgot toothpaste at the last minute. Making lists is a good way to avoid this.
  2. Find a packing buddy. If someone else is going with you, it’s nice to have moral support and a helping hand so when you set things down and have a lapse of short-term memory, you have one less thing to have a heart attack about. This is also handy for tip number 3.
  3. Make an itemized list of everything in each bag. I put these lists in each of the bags, but you could also make one master list and keep it in your carry-on. It doesn’t have to be anything super-specific, but I feel this will help reduce the stress once I land in Japan. I won’t have to rummage through bags to find things because I’ll already know what’s in them.
  4. Put everything in one suitcase first, then divide the full weight between two bags. I did this because I plan on buying some souvenirs, and I wanted some extra luggage space in case I can’t ship them home. Of course, you can pack your carry on and personal item first, but I wanted to make sure I had enough room to pack some things I buy there. When I did this, I learned I had a heck of a lot more room than I thought I did and was actually able to pack some extra things.
  5. Finally, remember to keep calm. Moving to Japan (or really, going on any long trip) can be stressful, but keeping a positive mindset and trying not to go totally postal will make the experience even more enjoyable than it’s already going to be. You can avoid this by keeping in mind the things that keep you calm. For me, that happens to be writing fiction, reading books, and listening to music, so I plan to spend most of my plane ride doing those things… oh, and sleeping of course. ^_^

It is really hard to say good-bye to everyone in the States. Still, I take comfort in knowing that the internet will connect us… sometimes… and that my friends have awesome things going on in their lives, too… new boyfriends, pregnancies, marriages, moving out, new jobs, new degrees… I take solace in knowing that everyone has a door they need to walk through, and that even though mine is on the far side of the world, we’re still walking together, pursuing our own dreams.

I want to close this entry with a line of poetry that brings me great hope. Although I profess I dislike much American Literature, I do enjoy a Finnish symphonic metal band called Nightwish, and they actually quoted this line in their song “Song of Myself.” I later found out it originated from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” and find myself delighted at the direct allusion. May it bring you the joy and reassurance that it has brought me:

I want to travel where life travels,
Following it’s permanent lead.
Where the air tastes like snow music,
Where grass smells like fresh-born Eden,
I would pass no man, no stranger, no tragedy or rapture,
I would bathe in a world of sensation,
Love, goodness and simplicity.

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T-Minus Seven Days

Somehow, time wound up in the passing lane and whirred by. Now, I have a week until my departure. I know what I need to pack, but I haven’t started. I’m still working my way through things I need to finish reading. I am still frantically trying to fill the final pages of a journal I started writing in two years ago so I don’t have to take it with me. I need to print some things. I need to study my Japanese. I need to. I need to. I need to.

But more than anything else, I need to relax. My past few days have been stressful for more reasons than my impending departure. I’ve been trying frantically to keep a disagreement between friends peaceful, and I finally lost it last night. Now, I face the possibility of losing a friend, and the pain is eating me up, a consequence I was well aware of when I engaged in total rage mode, but it doesn’t change the fact that my head has hurt a bit all day, that my vision has been blurry due to the stress and fatigue, and that when my parents started arguing in the car on the way to dinner, I almost broke down completely.

Time doesn’t stop for things like that, and neither can I.

Today was wonderful in many ways despite the complications I face in light of the quarrel and the plane ride. I got to eat Panera bread with a friend I haven’t seen since June, and we wandered the mall for a while. I finally found a travel alarm clock and bought batteries for it as well. Then, I went to Teavanna, and the gentleman running the store offered me a cup of gyokuro imperial, one of the highest-quality green teas in the world. His kindness and generosity touched me, and I graciously accepted (in Japan, though, I would have been sure to politely refuse at least twice before accepting). The complexity of the flavor is incredible beyond words. The first sip tastes strongly of tea, but as it fades, a bunch of different flavors pop up on every area of your tongue. It was an incredible experience that served to remind me just how close my departure is.

More exciting still, I came home to find that I had received a piece of paper that has absolutely nothing to do with going to Japan, and one that I didn’t think I’d get to see until after I came back. Today, my Master of Arts degree came in the mail, and that just made the day all that much more thrilling. I’m so happy to have gotten this far in life, and I’m happy that my road is changing directions for a bit. The degree makes me feel both accomplished and nostalgic. I’m probably going to miss taking classes, but I’m of the firm belief that you just start learning new things after leaving the classroom.

It’s surreal that in only seven days, I will be in Japan. I’m scared and anxious, but I’m also excited! I’ve been talking to a friend of a friend and getting her advice about settling, and when I discussed the landing and training protocol with the recruiters on Monday, I was informed that one of the people I’m training with is from Britain. Better still, she’ll be going to the other school in Nara. I’m excited to meet her, and excited to experience Japan with her. I hope we’ll become friends quickly and keep each other sane!

Tomorrow, I get to say farewell to one of my old bosses from my undergraduate days. I’m not sure if she knows about me leaving the country yet, but she’s about to find out! ๐Ÿ™‚

Also tomorrow, I begin my packing. Tips to follow!

T-Minus 2 Weeks

Where does time go after it passes? It seems like only thisย  morning that I learned I even had a job in Japan. Now, with two weeks left before my departure, I find myself facing the pressure of last-minute preparation, including investment in luggage, a last-minute Japanese language and English Grammar cram, purchasing some omiyage, and making sure I have plenty of decent socks. Of course, I plan to take care of most of that Monday since I am scheduled to have my final phone conversation with the recruiters at 11 am.

As for what I have been doing in the mean time, I have spent the last week or so traveling around the states of Kentucky and Michigan, saying good-bye to a lot of awesome people. Last weekend, I visited my great grandmother for a few days, and my great aunt decided to throw a cook-out in my honor. I was more than thrilled, and it was nice to see so many of my relatives (although my family is so big that I can’t keep my uncles straight from my cousin… ^_^’). They call me their “career girl” down there and wished me all the best, and I also got some lovely pictures of them to show my Japanese students.

After a single night at home, I went north of Detroit to see one of my old professors one more time. She was a significant impact on my choice to become a Christian, so I really wanted to see her again before I left for Japan. We went antiquing, had some really nice tea, and played some cards. Next morning, I was on the road to Mount Pleasant and Central Michigan University for one last farewell to my undergraduate friends from the Writing Center. They put me up for a couple of nights, and I got to finish the “bucket list” I couldn’t because of post-thesis exhaustion, allergies, etc. I also got to see a couple of graduate students I hung out with, one from the math department and a couple from the Writing Center. I was pleasantly surprised to see so many people that I hadn’t planned on seeing!

I finally came back home today to find that the watch I ordered on Amazon had arrived. Other than being about a half an inch too big for my wrist, it is in perfect working order. I’m hoping that my dad can shorten the band. Otherwise, I’m more than willing to take it to a jeweler. I just don’t want to have to order another one with my departure date so close.

But the travel isn’t over. A weekend in Ohio with my dad using my laptop means that I probably won’t be able to post again.

I recently changed the URL of this blog, and I feel that before I close this entry, I should explain why. I felt like it reflected my situation better. In Japan, I will be a gaijin (foreigner), and this is a solo mission (this second part was inspired by my family, who asked me on multiple occasions whether or not I was going alone). Despite the added pressure of being alone, I know my friends and family will be thinking of me and supporting me in their own way, so I’m trying to stay calm for their sakes as well as mine. Suffice to say that at this moment, I am feeling perfectly fine, but during my first morning in Mount Pleasant, I was panicked beyond all reason. The morning before, I had a horrible anxiety dream about my new job–well, actually about my old job at Pizza Hut, but I think the dream symbolizes my anxiety for the approaching change. It’s normal to be afraid and worried at this point in time. After all, Japan is the far side of the world for someone like me, someone who has lived about an hour from the Canadian border for practically her whole life and has never even bothered to go.

So goes preparing for the adventure. Next week features cramming suitcases, cramming Japanese, and cramming English grammar. I feel like there should be a meme here. Oh, look… a meme!

Pre-Departure Misadventures Volume 2: Yenly Woes and Shipping Throes

Today, my bank account suffered the detriment of… you guessed it… yen.

Ordering the yen itself was surprisingly easy. Apparently, it ships to most banks in three to five days. I just went to the bank where I’ve been keeping my little nest-egg (originally for a house or car; now for my trip to Japan and for whatever else I can buy with the spare change) and, after asking for it, was sent to the nearest available banker, who punched some numbers in and let me know exactly how much the yen would cost me. At the request of the company, I took more than the minimum recommended amount. I don’t foresee any major issues since I arrive in Japan on August 18 and should get my first full paycheck on September 20 or 21. I was happy that the banker was friendly and patient since I am (already) treading on new ground (though not as new as Japan is going to be).

I’ve also reconsidered my initial plan to cram everything into suitcases and am now planning to mail myself a single box. The easiest would be the USPS’s international flat rate boxes, since the largest one ships for about $65. Nonetheless, I decided to weigh my options. Since there is a UPS store in town, I checked their website before I left and found that they offered international shipping services with delivery confirmation and tracking. What’s more, I got really excited when I saw that they delivered door-to-door, meaning my box would not sit uselessly at Nara’s post office but could be delivered directly to the branch school. Of the things I plan to ship, toothpaste, panty hose, deodorant, peanut butter, and perhaps a simple Japanese cookbook top the list. The practical reasons are as follows:

  • Japanese toothpaste does not contain fluoride, so I figure I should ship enough to last me at least a year.
  • Although I’m sure that I could find panty hose to fit me somewhere in Japan, the fact remains that it may be difficult to find. If I order online after arriving, I may wind up paying more than I should (aside: I am more than prepared for Japan’s prices). Shipping some extras will just be easier.
  • According to paperwork supplied by my company, some Americans find that Japanese antiperspirants are not as powerful as American ones. To be on the safe side, I’m shipping some over and plan to order more as needed. After all, no one wants a smelly teacher. ๐Ÿ™‚
  • Graduate school taught me just how much I could survive without. I lived two years without an electric mixer or a rolling pin, using elbow grease and the side of a glass instead. However, one thing I cannot live without is peanut butter. When I crave sweet things, chocolate and/or peanut butter usually appear somewhere in the mix. I just figure that peanut butter is more versatile.
  • Although I have gotten pretty good at winging food preparation, I like to have some guidelines that I can adjust as necessary when I’m cooking in an area I haven’t really explored. Since I have never prepared fish in my entire life, I feel like a Japanese cookbook will give me something to be work with.

I went to UPS to get some pricing estimates. I foolishly forgot to grab a postal code before leaving, but I did provide the woman looking up prices with the city name. After crunching some numbers, she estimated that my shipping cost would be between $200 and $250 for a single package. FedEx is no better. I crunched similar numbers for a package valued at $50, and the total wound up being $285.

My current hopes are that the company e-mails me back with some information about Nara’s post office policies or that I completely overshot my weight of 17 pounds and that the actual weight comes to about 5 or 6. I plan to update this post again when I get some information back from the company. Until then, I think this matter may be up for reconsideration.

Feeling the Heat

I am feeling the heat in more ways than one this morning because I anticipate another hot, humid day today.

Last night, I went to dinner with Kristin, a friend of mine, and she asked me the question that almost everyone has been asking me lately. “Are you getting nervous yet?” Of course, I anticipate getting nervous, having never been out of the country in my entire life and having never taught before.

I provided the same response as I always do. “Of course I’m nervous, but I’m also really excited.”

This morning, I think I would say something more like, “Nervous? That doesn’t even begin to cover what I’m experiencing right now! Panic, more like. Wave after wave of it. I have three weeks to departure. I haven’t started packing. I haven’t bought anyone gifts. I haven’t decided if I need to ship a box or what I need to ship. I know almost four chapters of a beginner’s Japanese book, and even those chapters are a little muddled because I haven’t touched it in so long. I really hope I know enough English grammar for this. I need the bank and a souvenir store and… jeez, do we even HAVE a map of my hometown floating around anywhere? Family… pictures of my family over the next two weekends, and I still have boxes in the garage to unpack so I can find my camera charger. I need to get to the bank before rush hour. Where the heck are my keys?”

And so it goes.

In moments like this, I find it’s best to pause and enjoy the little things. Mozzarella sticks for breakfast? Yes, please. I doubt I’ll be getting many of those in Japan.

After calming down and finishing some reading this morning, I was relieved to learn that the business provides business cards, that I could purchase tea or candy for my branch school (I’m opting for tea), and that I have a pretty good grasp of the grammar point I reviewed this morning.

Japan is happening. It’s happening, and all the preparing in the world will never make me feel ready (that is just my personality, I suppose), so the best I can do is to keep calm and do everything I can now to make the transition easier. That includes (as the company’s paperwork recommended) keeping an open mind and enjoying every moment of things, the good, the bad, and the downright panicked. That also means studying Japanese, reading another culture book, and reducing my 600-page grammar book to bullet points for a nice review. No matter how hard my heart is hammering, I won’t let it slow me down.

Let the preparations continue!

Pre-Departure Misadventures Volume 1: Shoe-Shopping, Crafting, and Scary Movies, Oh My!

Whew! The past few days have been full of a ton of misadventures, but not nearly as many as today. I need to take my mind off The Woman in Black, which I just watched and which will probably give me nightmares. For the record, I blame my affinity for horror films on Japan. If it weren’t for Ju-on, I never would have watched a horror film in my entire life.

This week’s misadventures started with shoe-shopping early in the week. Normally, finding dress shoes that fit me is like finding an unbroken glass in a china shop full of rambunctious, screaming, caffeinated children. Perhaps I have grotesquely misshapen feet. Or perhaps the shoe companies just make misshapen shoes. In either case, my fortune was nonexistent when I bought heels for my interview in March. After two hours of shopping, I finally had to settle for something that was just a little too tight, and by the end of the trip, my feet despised me. However, in one day, I managed to find three pairs of shoes that not only fit well in width and length; I also avoided paying exorbitant amounts of money because of all the sales. Not horribly exciting… until you consider the fact that I drove from one JcPenney’s to another one (about 15 minutes further away) just to get a pair in my size. They all have about one-inch heals on them, but I find them all very comfortable, and when you anticipate being on your feet a lot while at work, it is important to have comfortable, good-fitting shoes that also fit the dress code (must have a back, cannot be too casual, black or brown preferred, etc.). I also needed more than one pair since Japanese feet usually run smaller than mine. If worse comes to worse, the digital cornucopia of Amazon.com will undoubtedly provide…

Tuesday also featured a trip to the Japanese Consulate to retrieve my visa. Having my passport and visa back in my possession is a relief, and my family and I ate dinner out at an amazing Mexican restaurant before coming back home. Perhaps I pride myself too much in being able to navigate the GM Renaissance Center on my second trip there, but I feel like it is a navigational achievement. If my skills stick around until I get to Japan, I might actually have a chance at finding more than one route from my apartment to the school where I’ll be teaching.

Wednesday, I read a whole culture book, albeit a brief one. You can find my review and more details here. The best part was that I read it while listening to a radio station that plays a lot of J-Rock and stumbled across some things that I liked. In addition to drowning out the noise, it provided some good listening practice. I hope that it will also help me get used to hearing Japanese spoken everywhere, at least a little bit. It’s not quite the same since I can turn off the music whenever I want to and hear English spoken, but hey… it’s a step in the right direction.

Today, instead of studying Japanese language/culture and English grammar like I was supposed to, I decided to spend the entire day (yes, 9 to 5) deciphering instructions for and constructing a padded iPad case. I wanted to make sure the Kindlenook (the nickname I gave to the iPad, as I use it primarily for reading) traveled as safely as I did. It literally took the entire day, and when I was finished, I wanted nothing more than to relax. Curling up in a chair and watching The Woman in Black was probably not my best decision, but the movie was fun, and it eased the frustration of having to guess at directions. I expect I’ll experience more of the same once I land in Osaka, but like the cryptic and convoluted iPad cover, I plan to face them with a calm demeanor… and I’ll probably do my swearing on the inside so I don’t offend anyone!

It’s trite, but I’ll say it anyway: It just goes to show that even crafty things can provide insight on how (not) to act in an unfamiliar culture.

Even so, perhaps I did more studying today than I thought.

T-Minus One Month

In one month, at 5:50 am, I will climb on an airplane heading for Osaka, where I will receive my initial training for a teaching job in Nara-shi. Having only flown twice before, once cross-country as an infant, once to and from Disney World, I can only hope for a smooth flight with as few delays as possible. I’ve never flown alone, so it comes as no surprise that I’m practically illiterate in airport procedures.

But I have much greater things to be nervous about. I have never left the country. I live one hour from Canada’s border, and not once in all that time have I ever taken advantage of it. Most people my age flocked to Canada to drink before they were twenty-one, but that was before the drinking age changed. I personally never saw the appeal. With the navigational skills of a blind ADD mouse, I figured it was best to stay stateside to avoid winding up in Alberta.

Japan is sort of like Canada, except smaller geography-wise. I also have a personal and professional interest in going to Japan that does not involve bending America’s drinking laws by crossing borders. Although English is common in older cities, most people speak Japanese. Their culture is completely different. The only similarity is that I’ve never been there and therefore anticipate getting lost quite a bit, only I’ll probably wind up more lost because most of the signs are written in kanji. Nonetheless, I’ve resolved to stay optimistic.

I’m feeling more positive about the teaching aspect of my life, which I probably won’t discuss a lot in this blog because of confidentiality, or if I do, it will be more of a self-evaluative thing. Having four years of Writing Center experience more than likely gave me a competitive edge at the interview in many ways, not just in regards to grammatical knowledge but also interpersonal and intrapersonal skills, leadership skills, and written communication skills (my specialty was working online; students would send a paper in, and the Writing Consultant would write comments back using the comment feature in Microsoft Word). However, I still expect to make mistakes: big ones, little ones, some as big as your head, as the old song goes. I’ve learned not to let such things stop me from trying, however.

With a month left, I have to seriously think about studying more Japanese and read the culture books on my shelf (I’ll be sure to review them for anyone interested). I also recently ordered a grammar book, which I also plan to review. Aside from that, I still need to see my old professor Beth, my relatives in Ohio and Kentucky, and my friend who lives in Illinois. I have to finish reading and watching couple of things I won’t be able to take with me on the plane. Most of all, I need to get my passport back from the Japanese Embassy.

As with all things new, I find myself facing the trip with an anxious, excited sort of anticipation. I know I’ll have moments of homesickness, frustration, mortification, and panic, but I also expect a lot of fun and exciting things to happen. Knowing there will be both going into things will hopefully make the transition easier.

It took me almost two months for me to realize that I was really going to Japan. My interview seems like it only happened yesterday. With one month left, I can only do my best to stay both optimistic and realistic. That means preparing. Preparing means reading.

Reading is what I thrive on.

Let the page-turning begin.