Tuesday, October 18, 2011

"The Difference"

Well today is speech contest day. I've been really, really busy. You might be thinking to yourself, she can't be that busy, or she wouldn't have crafted such lovely photo-complimented blog posts and put them up within the last two weeks. Well, thank you for your kind words, but no seriously, I only wrote those because I was on shinkansen for hours and hours, and those kings of transport have electric outlets where you can plug in your devices.

Because my computer has begun informing me that my battery is "reaching the end of its usable life." Whatever that means is something I intend to deal with later. I have intended to deal with a lot of things later. A few of them got done on the train (I wrote those two entries and more, but the last is unfinished) or the bus or what have you.

Today is speech contest, the big event, what we've been preparing for these last few weeks, and I don't mean just my speech contestants (although I do, bless their hearts), but also the skit kids, and me, and the ALTs, oh and model speech (which I will type out for you, from memory, after this brief intro writing of mine). I'm actually kind of pleased with how the model speech turned out, although I despaired after my initial excitement, that I had too many things I wanted to say, that none of them were appropriate or comprehensible. What eventually came out of it was something that is about 40% crap and 60% awesome, so I'll settle for those stats. I have no idea how good the translation into Japanese is. I have my doubts, from looking over the page, but I'm hopeful, and also after this point, I can hardly care. Up or down, win or lose, it will be, oh thank God, over.

All that prep, all those evenings of staying late.. the pansies I bought that are still in little plastic containers because I was quite literally never home when it was light outside enough to do anything with them.

I like that image, of a battery that is used and recharged, used and recharged, but eventually it needs to just be replaced. Because it may seem small, the idea of an hour here, an hour there, staying late, missing one little thing, running to catch your transportation. But all those things add up. I think of being a JET sort of like having that battery. It gets drained all to hell sometimes, like this month, and then gets recharged, yeah, and it'll do, but it works less and less well, until such time as you need a major shift or change in your life. Some people upgrade regularly, but others can become stuck in a life pattern that never changes, and that's more my type. I won't get a new smart awesomephone until my old one actually ceases to function..!

Lately, I've had very little patience for anyone, including myself, and have been overly emotional when listening to Disney songs. I think about things while driving (since I can't bus and read) and have strange dreams at night. I can't wait to return to "normal" because I like the person I become better when I can be nicer to others (because I'm not so preoccupied trying to be nice to myself-- I do have to work at this, and when it becomes a priority, it's a lot harder to take care of anyone else, because shit, son, I'm a handful!)

ANYWAY! Today is the first day in a very long time I've not had a full schedule of classes (or been away on business) at work. I have no classes. And while I know it is frustrating and annoying to go to work each day and not have anything to do, I personally like these days now and then, to just sort of catch up, so I'm not clinging to the last edge of my sanity while crafting the crappiest of lesson plans at 6pm when I'm still at work on a Tuesday night.

I joked that it meant I could use the morning class periods to FREAK OUT ABOUT--haha, I mean "get ready for" speech contest, but honestly I won't get nervous until it's upon us, so all morning I'll just... do what I gratefully do with any given morning. Write, think, pace, try to get on top of the stuff I've let go in a big way, try to stay on top of the stuff I couldn't afford to let go.

My model speech is long, as has been noted by lots of people, but I have memorized it all, and fairly well. I paced around outside until that happened. How well I'll be able to keep it when standing on the stage remains to be seen, but I am sure that with my page in front of me to glance at surreptitiously, I will be able to give the appearance of knowing it excellently. And now, because I know you're dying of curiousity to know what today's model speech will say.

It's called "The Difference"

It seems like people are always asking me, do you have suchandsuch in your country? No matter what they are asking about, my answer is almost always the same. Yes, but it's different there.

Everyone wants to know what is different about a foreign place. My family back in America is amazed by some of the stories that I tell about how life is different in Japan. They want to know about Japanese toilets and Japanese festivals and Japanese hierarchy systems and Japanese food. Things that are different catch our attention, because they are more exciting and interesting.

People in Japan also want to know what is different about life in the US. Sometimes they are amazed by what I say. My school did not have uniforms, we didn't clean the classrooms ourselves, and we could eat snacks in class sometimes, if the teacher didn't mind. We never practiced for sports day, and we got to choose our lunches. Students moved from classroom to classroom, instead of teachers. Even though I didn't live in the city, there were 750 students at my JHS, and we rode the big yellow bus to school. But these are all examples of things American students do. This does not say who they are.

It is important to understand what is is different, but it is also important to keep in mind what is not. Because teenagers, whether they live in Japan or America, still want to be cool, and are afraid of being rejected. And people, no matter where they live, still want to matter and to do something meaningful with their lives. Families still love their children, and children still need their families. This is true not only in Japan, and in America, but everywhere in the world.

When people in Japan look at me, they can see right away that I am different. It takes a lot more effort to find out how like them I may be. If they only look at the surface, they will only see the difference. But if they open their minds and hearts, they can see what kind of person I may be, whether I am funny or serious, laid-back, or strict. Not everyone is what they seem to be at first-- for example, even though no one in Japan or America will ever think that I am Japanese, I'll tell you a secret. Inside my heart, because I lived in Shiso, I will always be a little bit Japanese.

What is most important to people is the same for everyone. We share in common our hopes and our fears, our happiness and worries, even if our actions and ways of dealing with them are not alike. That is why communication between cultures is possible, and that is also why it is important. The reason we need to discover what is different between cultures is so that we can discern what we have in common as people, therefore, what is most human.

Students in the US and students at Ichinan may be different, but we are all part of the human family. I encourage you to open your mind to people who seem at first to be very different from you. Although we are all unique, we are also all connected. When you understand this, you can truly appreciate the difference for what it is, and what it is not.
Thank you.

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