There is No Guidebook to Life
Abstract: “ta-te” my Japanese teacher said to me during my senior year in high school. Everyone stared at me and wondered why I was standing up. I had put in an application to go to Japan for two weeks through the Japan Foundation’s 2011 JET Memorial Invitation Program for U.S. High School Students about a week before. I did not think I would be accepted but thought I would try anyway. I did not know that it would change my life and what I saw myself doing in the future. Find out about my journey towards studying Japanese and wanting to teach in Japan here!
During the time that I was in middle school, I had next door neighbors that spoke Spanish. I did not realize it until later, but I have always been interested in learning about other cultures and languages. I would go to their house and ask them to teach me words in Spanish like hola! como estas! and watch everyone dance to Latin music at their parties. I even took three years of Spanish. I still want to continue learning Spanish today!
One day my cousin began showing me how to write my name in Japanese and say konnichiwa. I was interested in the strange symbols that made sounds like “ta” (た) and “ma” (ま) that I had never really paid attention to before. One day she convinced me to listen to a song that was in Japanese. “I’m not going to understand it anyway,” I said to her. As I listened to “Flowers” by Crystal Kay, a popular singer in Japan, I began to like it and I wanted to hear more. I did not realize that one day I would return to Japan and go to a Crystal Kay concert in Shibuya and have the chance to touch hear her sing live and even touch her hand!
I decided to take Japanese in high school and I had the best teacher, Sensei Coyle, a woman from Osaka, Japan. So there I was in my second year of Japanese standing in front of all my classmates.
“Do you remember the application to go to Japan?” Sensei asked the class. (Sensei means “teacher” in Japanese so everyone called her that for short). Everyone nodded. “Well, Chamarra has been accepted to the program.”
I was shocked. Everyone clapped for me and said “good job!” I did not know what to feel. “Was this really happening?” I thought. The contest was nationwide and only two people from each high school in the U.S. could be chosen. Therefore, it was really hard to get into the program. They only chose thirty-two students and I could not believe that I was one of them.
When I first applied I told my mom about it and she did not want me to go. I have always looked up to my mom and could ask her for help or advice. She always wanted the best for me, so she was scared to let me go to Japan. She has never been out of the country and she also knew about the big earthquake that Japan had earlier that year. I went home and told my mom that I had been accepted into the program and she said “Well, I guess I can’t stop you now.” I was nervous to go to Japan, but I knew that I had to take the opportunity. I would not have been able to afford to go overseas otherwise, and I always wanted to visit a foreign country.
The day came to leave. I got on a plane and flew six hours to San Francisco where I met the program creators and the other students who had been accepted into the program. I immediately became friends with a group of people who I still keep in contact with today. One of them has even become one of my best friends and she lived in Alaska at the time I met her! We all flew to Osaka where we stayed during the two weeks. We visited Kyoto, a city with a lot of Japanese temples and Kobe, which has the earthquake museum and Chinatown! We lived near an area called Rinku Town which brings back memories for all of us. I stayed with a host family for two days and even tried on a kimono for the first time!
When the trip was over we all did not want to say goodbye. We had made so many great memories. I came back knowing that I wanted to continue studying Japanese and I even decided that I wanted to become an English teacher in Japan. During the trip, I had learned about the JET Program which was created by the Japan Foundation. It allows people to go to Japan and teach English for one to four years. We even met a participant who told us about the difficult and fun parts about living in Japan. I thought “wow! I can do that!”
I decided to attend Temple University and study English Education as well as Japanese. I even decided to study abroad again for four months to really learn about Japan. I want to teach in Japan for a few years then come back to the U.S. and teach English as a second language. I wanted to do a career that combines all of my interests. Teaching English as a second language allows me to meet students from all over the world, learn about their culture, and share my culture with them. I will feel great knowing that I am helping someone to learn a new language and culture, because that is what I always wanted to do! I do not only want to become fluent in Japanese but also Spanish and maybe even Chinese or Italian!
I think learning about different cultures and studying in or exploring other countries is the best way to learn about all the cool and interesting things in the world. There is so much that we do not know about how other people live and there are so many small details that people may not think about as being different until they have experienced living in another country or being around people of a different culture. I also think that by helping people learn about other cultures, they will not see something as strange but as exciting and fun! I tried so many things in Japan that I would have never thought to try before like eating a sea slug or making fresh wasabi, the spicy green stuff you get when you order sushi.
I want you all to remember that there really is not a guidebook to life. What I mean by that is no one can tell you who to be or what to do with your future. Of course your parents, teachers, and family may want you to go to school and get good grades and maybe even go to college, but it is up to you to want to do that! Of course there will be people to help you. For me, that is my mom, but sometimes you have to be willing to explore what is out there. Is there something that you really enjoy? Do you like to play an instrument or play a sport? If so, go for it! Keep practicing and do not stop. It is important to keep doing something that you like to do, because it will make you happy! Also, if you want to go to college one day maybe you can study your instrument and go on to play in an orchestra, or play sports in college and go on to become a professional athlete. If you liked learning about different cultures, think about how you can meet people in your own neighborhood! You do not have to travel to Japan to learn everything about Japan. Sometimes you can learn by looking right where you are. Do you know someone who speaks another language or has a different culture than you? Ask them questions about their culture. What kind of food do you like? How do you say “hello” in your language? Keep exploring and keep learning about new things! It’s fun! Who knows, maybe you will have great opportunities like I did to visit a foreign country or do something you never thought you would have before!