I promise this is just how I am

This is something I think about a lot but don’t usually like talking about because it makes me feel like there’s something wrong with me. Then I remembered that everyone is crazy, so whatever. Here it is:

There is a strong possibility that I worry too much, but almost everyday (and especially when I’m at my junior high), I feel so out of touch and awkward. I’m sure tons of people living in foreign countries feel this way; I mean, having to speak a foreign language everyday and living within a culture you don’t understand is hard. BUT, I constantly feel like my own personality flaws make living here so much more difficult at times.

I’m generally a shy, awkward, anxious, and awkward person. A professor once described me as a Chihuahua, and I really can’t think of a better analogy. I think she was trying to say that I seem small and meek, but I’ve got these big aspirations and big “bite” so to speak, but I really think the high-strung, somewhat anti-social aspect is more befitting. I freakin’ hate Chihuahuas though.

"You mean I have to actually talk to people!?"

“You mean I have to actually talk to people!?”

I’ve gotten over a lot of these issues in the past by faking outgoing traits, but when a language and cultural barrier are involved, pretending becomes hard. Take the time I spend with kids at lunch for example. At first, I tried really hard to talk to the junior high kids in English and sometimes basic Japanese, because I wanted them to think I was friendly and cool. But a few lunches with kids equally as shy as me has made eating lunch with kids who don’t talk to me first really difficult. With the staff, I was kind of the opposite. I’m so so nervous when I speak Japanese without the help of alcohol, that I often just don’t talk to anyone. If I need to ask something, I’d wait until the English teacher was present. Or I just don’t ask. Slowly, I’ve begun to talk to the other teachers at the junior high, but only because they are super nice and still talk to me when I’m awkward and abruptly end conversations for no reason.

I’m honestly surprised the adorable turtle-glasses wearing, mini Cooper driving social studies teacher still talks to me. Once we spent an entire lunch talking about Southeast Asia, IN ENGLISH. I think a normal person would take that as the start of an office friendship, but I kinda acted like nothing happened because I’m a Chihuahua and I prefer hiding. Thankfully for me, turtle glasses loves practicing his English, so he talks to me quite a bit when he isn’t busy. We talk about mountains, how cold it is, how weird the kids are…he even gave me a flyer to the Michael Jackson Cirque du Soleil tour in Japan. This guy is awesome. But I never ever talk to him unless he talks to me first. (Since I started this post, turtle-glasses has moved on to quite an awesome job actually. I’m going to miss him… man, he was so cool!)

I had this problem in high school, too. I am convinced everyone thought I was a huge beotch, because I’m sure I always looked uninterested when people talked to me. The truth is/was that I’m too nervous to function. When I worked at a school in America, I pretty much only talked/enjoyed the company of two teachers because one of them was my teacher when I was in junior high and the other was really nice and just a real person. And my mom. My mom worked there, so I hung out with her and her friends, because I knew them. I could have made real friends with some of those teachers, maybe, if I wasn’t so weird and awkward. Did I mention I’m awkward already?

And now I live in Japan. And I’m afraid most of the time to speak Japanese. I think I’m afraid of being judged or unwanted, but by not communicating with people, won’t that happen anyway? What is the solution to this problem? It’s seriously getting to be too much. I try to combat my fear of sober Japanese by smiling a lot, but I feel like that just makes me look insane. Ya know, like one of those quiet but deadly future serial killer types. EW. I think I’m getting better. With all the new teachers and staff members introducing themselves and talking to me, some of my previous tensions have been removed. Also, I am so in love with some of my kids; I can’t not talk to them. Sometimes I can use them as a medium…or at least a topic of discussion. I can see, “man, that kid is super annoying” being a really good ice breaker…In terms of making real human connections, though, everyday is a struggle.

Spring forward!

Spring in Japan is both beautiful and deeply saddening. There are new beginnings and also bitter farewells. There are the more obvious changes, like the blooming flowers and the warming weather, but a lot more happens in March and April than a shift in the season.

The fiscal year ends and begins during spring, so people leave their jobs and move on to new ones. This usually means transferring to a different branch or office within the same company, but it can be really sad. Office dynamics are momentarily thrown off as your friends leave and new people come in. And, naturally, there are a few sending off parties (送別会ーsoubetsukai), and welcoming parties (歓迎会ーkangeikai), and parties that are both for sending off and welcoming (歓送迎会). A few good teachers from my schools and staff members from my BOE have left me! I’ve even had some ALT friends leave. I know it happens here and in life in general, but when people move away, it makes you realize how fleeting everything around you is. I can meet awesome people and enjoy their company and all that, but they won’t be around forever. It’s so depressing! But with goodbyes come hello’s! I haven’t experienced a lot of the welcoming part yet, but I know it’s going to be awkward jikoshoukai (self-intro) central all over again. Probably the best part of all this is that all of the new teachers and employees in the city have to come to the BOE to introduce themselves (and the ones leaving had to say goodbye). In America, this would be so laid back; you’d shake some hands, hear a little about their backgrounds and they’d be on their way. In Japan, all the old staff (or new, depending) stand at the front of the office (which is one big open room with desks lined up in little groups), introduce themselves and give little speeches. I, who had no idea this is what would happen during my spring office days, literally stood, bowed, bowed some more, clapped, and sat down on repeat all day for a week! I didn’t even know most of those people.

The weather and new growth of the spring season makes up for the sad parting though. Spring is cherry blossom season in Japan, and with that comes opportunities to meet people and make new connections. These chance meetings are often called 出会い (deai), and apparently this is the time of the year to make lots of them. The first weekend of school spring break, I went to Fukuoka with a friend for some shopping and relaxation. We spent the first day bouncing around the various malls and shopping centers in the city, then we ate Mexican food at a rather authentic restaurant and headed off to downtown Fukuoka for some drinking and dancing. Fukuoka isn’t known for it’s raging dance club scene, but we managed to find a decent spot. The best part is that we stayed up to the next train in the morning. How? I don’t know. But MacDonald’s probably helped a bit. Oh, and the craziness of people at night in that city. Guess how many people asked me if I was half (as in half Japanese)? More than should have. Granted, I refused to talk to some people in English, because it’s fun to mess with drunk people, but still. I’m pretty white, I’d say. It was entertaining though.

The next day we met up with Yukina’s friend’s family. We had a wonderful dinner as is expected from a Japanese family, and I went to bed super early because of the lack of sleep from the night before. The next day we went to CostCo, and spent lunch time eating pizza under sakura (桜). Sakura are beautiful, gorgeous, all of those adjectives. The way the petals flutter down so delicately when a gust of wind blows in, the soft pink glow they emit, completely beautiful. Every year, people look forward to these trees blossoms, they have picnics and barbeques under the branches, enjoy their friendships and look forward to what’s to come. Unfortunately, because of the unnaturally warm weather, the sakura came and went too quickly. Is this a sign?! I’m not sure, but I can tell you that this past winter was not warm, at least not to Texas standards. Just sayin’.

flowers in Fukuoka

flowers in Fukuoka

DSCN1136

Pizza!

Pizza!

桜

In addition to all of that, the new school year has started! I don’t know how it’s going to be yet because actual classes have yet to begin, but I’m excited for that! I’ve been in Japan over six months, and it is admittedly hard at times. I’m living alone for the first time in my life, in a foreign country no less. So when I’m feeling down, I think of the sakura, and tulips, and the approaching summer heat, and wonder what’s to come. I am always afraid for the future, but hopeful. I don’t have a choice really, not with all those crazy new kids coming from the elementary schools! Seriously, this year’s going to be interesting…