Thoughts Before Leaving.
In my experience…
A long flight. That’s what can be looked forward to when anybody is planning on moving countries, not to mention daunting amounts of paperwork, much tying up of ends, and an eventual build of anticipation and anxiety. Visas need to be obtained, bank accounts need to be shored up and credit card companies notified, and once that’s all done, a subsequent waiting period where a person counts down the days until they’re meant to board their flight. There is a point of no return somewhere between the boarding gate and a reserved seat on the plane, and it’s in that one infinitesimal second that a thought of, “Well shit, this is actually happening…ohmygodohmygodohmygod!” blasts through to reality. That’s what happened to me on my first trip to Japan.
Five years ago I was just finishing my first year of university. I was coming out of the winter semester with a decent GPA, lots of new friends, and the prospect of spending the next year studying overseas. My plan had always been to apply for the JET Programme because it seemed like the most fun and outstanding goal I could think of, and taking advantage of my university’s exchange program seemed like a good way to dip my toes and see how the onsen was (so to speak). After months of filling out the paper application and sweating through interviews I was accepted to go study at Hirosaki University in Aomori Prefecture. After having graduated and made good on years of boasting that I will teach in Japan, this sensation of what feels like the inevitable is no different now than it was the first time–I’m going (back) to Japan.
Considering how ridiculous this last school year has been–having to research, write, and present a complete and original honours thesis in the span of three months, all while keeping my grades up in my regular classes; my sisters having even more kids; working full-time while going to school; etc.–it was a spectacular feat to remember to apply to JET. The time between September and April was a bit of a whirlwind, and to be honest it’s hard to remember doing anything that didn’t involve school or work. I felt like my only state of being was to work hard and not collapse, so that when the JET application was made available in late September (or early October?) it became my number one reprieve and priority.
It took me nearly the whole month to complete the application. I mailed it from the 7-11 down the road from my university campus. Afterward I had a beer with my friend Travis at the campus bar, and it was only then that I noticed my hand was shaking on my pint. Anticipation, as I wrote before, is often a build-up, but very rarely does it sneak up on a person without them even noticing. Anticipation can take on a form of shock, like stepping on a nail or when your jerk friend pokes you in the ribs even though they know you’re stupidly ticklish. It can be shocking, but it’s also exciting, and the time that comes after it, the waiting period, becomes a roller coaster of emotion until whatever that’s being waited for is finally known. What I was feeling at the bar was that sudden sort of anticipation in light of taking the first step toward the next part of my life.
At this point all of the paperwork that had needed to be done in Canada is handed in, and time is being spent saving money, converting it to yen, buying omiyage and spending time with friends and family. But there is a different type of preparation that us incoming JETs have to take care of: our relationships. What we have to understand is that while our lives are incredibly material, there are other very intangible tangibles that help to make us who we are. Friends and family, our acquaintances, we are leaving them for who knows how long. My main concern right now is who do I split my time with? Who do I say goodbye to? Who do I consider to be truly close with? Family is easy, but among my friends, I don’t know. We all have our own lives and whether or not we’ll be able to organize a time to say bye to everyone is possible, we will more than likely not have the chance for many of those we care about. Whatever happens between now and tomorrow is something we can never know. The only thing we can do is move on, and embrace what’s coming toward us, because really that’s the only thing we can do with our lives. We can only move forward, and embrace all the awesomeness that’s coming our way. Peoples’ lives are transient. That fact is one of the few irrevocable truths that I or anybody should be willing to accept. What really matters is how we choose to enjoy our next adventure.
Mitchell is a humble fellow, talented in his own way, with a fondness for small and fluffy creatures. He melts into puddles at the thought of puppies, though would prefer kittens leave him alone once they're older as their inherent predisposition towards snootiness is quite exasperating.