Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Where's the enthusiasm? (blog entry#5)

We have arrived safely in the US of A, and I have started my schoolwork. Despite the "new" surroundings and the business of classes, this all still feels like a vacation of sorts. People keep asking "How does it feel to be home?" My response is rather disappointing for them. "It doesn't feel like anything at all..." which I then qualify with "yet". Somehow my subconscious hasn't latched onto the idea that I won't be packing up and heading back to Japan in a week or two.

Ask me again in 6 months.

So what's shocking and different so far? Well, there seem to be all sorts of ribbons and arm bands to be found on cars and wrists these days. For lack of anything else I took my Japanese "new driver" magnet that rookies have to place on their cars for their first year of driving in Japan and put it on my old 1990 Acura.

But the biggest thing that struck me, and that my wife has complained about so far, is the service in department stores and other such sales shops. Japan of course is famous for it's service, where your local Seven-Eleven clerk has undergone actual speech and language training so that they treat each individual customer with the same respect and attentiveness. Self-service is a swear word in Japan. Even my local "self-serve" gas station had 3 full time attendents who would rush out and help you operate the gas pump, thus defeating the purpose of the words "self-serve" on the sign.

In the US of course it's the exact opposite. Mumbled words, curt statements, vague pointing if you ask where something is, all lets you know exactly how much people with these jobs value their customers. The most irritating example that has happened on a number of occasions so far is the clerk who makes it obvious that you are an asshole because you interrupted their conversation with their friend because you just HAD to buy something. Perhaps the service in Japan is rather... impersonal, but at least it exists.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

I've been avoiding this.

August is here, and time is moving closer and closer to the day we fly to the States. On August 28th, we will board a plane at Narita airport and fly to the US of A.
I have avoided posting anything for a while, simply because I figured whatever I typed would come out all melodramatic and ridiculous. Stuff like "I remember such and such when I arrived three years ago, and now this is my last such and such". However, if I am going to keep a serious blog going, I need to... well, keep it going.
Essentially what is happening now is the goodbye period. My wife and I are spending our time trying to be in touch with the people we wont see for some time, and in the meantime make it remain clear that "yes, we are coming back to Japan."
It's tough. Really tough. Grad school will not allow me the time and money to come and visit Japan often, so now I feel like a frantic tourist trying to see everything and everyone at once.
I think I will leave this blog for now. When we are settled in the USA, my intention is to post on a weekly basis, following our trials with reverse culture shock/culture shock respectively.
For those of you reading this, check back in September, when this blog will see regular love and care and hopefully insightful information.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Problems and Solutions

Lake Motosu, 40 mins from my home.

A question I should address for the purpose of this blog is, since I don't want to return to the USA...Why am I? After all, I live in a beautiful place and enjoy my lifestyle immensely.

The problem I face is, the JET program has a limit of 3 years and cannot be made into a career. After JET is finished, with my current 3kyuu level Japanese and a BA in Education I could in all liklihood get a job as an English teacher easily. However, privately contracted language teachers are paid considerably less, and are dead end jobs in the respect that they do not allow advancement as in a normal career. Eikaiwa (private language schools) would be another option, if I wanted to give up my nights and weekends (and take a pay cut). No thank you.

The best jobs in Japan are if you get hired by a company (foreign or Japanese), but with no experience in IT and with no business degree or experience, that's an avenue I can't take. So...I'm stuck with the choice of a dead-end English teaching gig, or going back to school to get a degree that I can use in Japan.

The decision was an easy one.

My wife and I are going to the States so I can go to graduate school. With a graduate degree in linguistics, TESOL or a similar field, I can compete in the job market in Japan for a University position. My ultimate goal is to return to Japan and work my way into the University system here. This would provide me with a real career pursuit, and the potential for a very comfortable life.

The road starts with the taking of pre-requisite courses this Fall at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. My hope is that Madison will then accept my application to their Linguistics graduate program beginning in January of 2006. Fingers are crossed.....

So there it is. I don't want to return to the USA, but I have to in order to make a living some day in Japan. It's not ideal, but it cannot be helped.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Visa, it's never what you think it will be.....

My wife and I spent 6 hours on American soil on Monday, June 13th. After pulling together information (medical checks, police records, financial reports) we set off for Tokyo and the US Embassy on the border of Roppongi and Asakusa.

After three years of reading articles about the Patriot Act, toughening immigration laws, and horror stories of Visa refusals, we felt some trepidation about our chances of success, despite it being a simple spousal Visa from a friendly country. After a few hours of waiting, we came before a surprisingly cheerful embassy counsular who told my wife to "raise your right hand and swear that all of this information is correct".

That was it.

Maybe Japan has a favored nation status, because we were expecting tough questions and requests for further proof of our benign intent. It might have been easy, given the relatively few numbers of Japanese who emmigrate. Or maybe, this is just one of those things I've lost perspective on, coming to view the US government as a bureacratic nightmare, a giant slobbering monster that guards the gates against foreigners.

Well, whatever it is, the Visa's in the mail.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The re-entry experience, with aliens.

Less than three months and counting....

The Daily Reckoning-

It's been 3 years since I've spent any significant time on American soil, and I'm not sure how much it will feel like home. Three years you might say, is nothing! Many expats have been away much longer than that. For that matter, most people on my program (Japan Teaching Exchange program) will be experiencing the exact same thing come August.

But a combination of factors lead me to create this blog.
One: Truth is, I don't want to return and this will likely cloud my vision and give rise to the cynic within me.
Two: I bring a wife who has never lived abroad, and will be experiencing residency in a culture greatly different from her own.
Three: The bad dreams have started.
Four: No doubt I've lost perspective, which is why this blog starts today, rather than after I've touched down in the U.S., allowing me to look back on my mental preparation.

. Over the course of this blogs existence, I intend to focus on what it means to return to ones mother country and experience it through new eyes. I also wish to share unique observations and wisdom from someone who is experiencing the United States though new eyes entirely.