Mar 22, 2015

A Warm Welcome Home

SURPRISE!! I made it back to Japan for my students' graduation!

My heart's been bursting at the seams ever since Japan came into view from the airplane window. I kept thinking, "I'm home, I'm home, I'm home!"

When I reached Ishikawa, everything felt so familiar and welcoming it was as if I'd never left. Of course, it's been so emotional. My mind has been playing the "Did you make the right choice when you left?" guilt game, and I have to gently admonish the thoughts with, I made the right choice; I'm happy pursuing my new dream now.

After reuniting with my friends, I met the wonderful young woman who works at my former schools. I was relieved to see how much she loved the students, too. We went to graduation together –– me hidden under a disguise –– and I surprised the teachers when I walked into the staffroom for the big reveal! They rose to their feet and started clapping. I felt so happy to see everyone again.

At the graduation ceremony, as the names of the graduates were read, tears came to my eyes because I know them; I am one of the few people in the entire world who know these kids and became a part of their lives. I was a witness to their everyday lives.
"We need a witness to our lives. There's a billion people on the planet. I mean, what does any one life really mean? But... you're promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things; all of it, all the time, every day. You're saying 'Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness.'"  
-- Shall We Dance, 2004
Junior High Graduation Ceremony

The graduating third years singing goodbye to their younger classmates. All the feels!

After the formal graduation ceremony, the students and I had opportunities to take photos, share lots of hugs despite it not being a cultural norm, and play table tennis together. That night I was invited along with the Asahi staff to their graduation/retirement enkai (work party) at a famous onsen ryokan (special hot springs Japanese-style hotel) in Wakura.

It felt like I was living a dream – as if I had died and was getting "one last day" surrounded by so many people I love before having to say goodbye forever.

The two retirees cut their cake together.

The view from Ae no Kaze Ryokan.

The next morning, I went to the Salad Bowl International Group in Nanao to make gyoza (potstickers). I was reunited with Olivia, befriended a fellow Michigander living in the Oku-Noto, and met a young Japanese woman who'd studied abroad in Buffalo, NY. After eating copious amounts of gyoza, we all went out for sweet potato ice cream parfaits.


Singing Maps by Maroon 5

On a rare club activities rest day, a former student and I hung out around Nanao. We went to karaoke where she impressed me by singing all English songs! Her English conversation level is very high, and she's only going into the equivalent of 11th grade this year.

I'm so proud of her, and feel incredibly lucky to be a part of her and other students' lives, no matter how small that part may be. She insists I've made a real difference from my contribution to her and other students' lives, and that's inexpressibly priceless.

Elementary Graduation Ceremony

When graduation day came for my favorite elementary school, there was only one sixth grader who walked across the stage. The rest of the students – who were mysteriously replaced while I've been gone with taller, older versions of themselves – sang songs telling her to "do her best" and how much they care about her. In a few weeks she'll be starting junior high and, for the first time, be in a class of 60 kids her own age.


Every month I send a postcard to my junior high and elementary schools, telling them the country I'm in, a word or two in the native language, and what skill I'm currently studying. The principal assured me he's been practicing the words of the foreign languages with the kids, and in his weekly newsletter he's reprinted my postcard for the kid's parents and surrounding community to learn from. I was deeply touched; it was everything I had hoped for when I first thought of sending them messages from abroad.

When I saw this corner of the staircase with all the postcards hanging up, my heart sang. I'm so glad I ultimately made the decision to come back here for these moments. ♥


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