|A rainbow on this beautiful island|
So, now that I have some of my thoughts down about where I am as a writer, I should probably mention some of the things I've been confronting while living in Japan. This past week I had a really good chat with some of my students during recess (they get about a 45 minute break to relax or spend time hanging out with each other after lunch and cleaning time -- yes, the students all have to work together to clean the classrooms -- sweeping, moping, scrubbing and washing windows -- and yes, I help too). One of the girls I was speaking with asked me, "Do you speak Japanese?" and I said, "only a little bit." Then another girl asked, "but how do you manage to live here without speaking Japanese?" This student's question hit home because I have been asking myself the same thing. How am I surviving here without speaking this language at least on a conversational level? It's a very good question and something that I need to focus on. I know I'll gain a better sense of the big picture if I can just get over this language barrier, but it is quite a process. It is always this way when learning a new language, especially one that is almost brand new to my ears. While I am learning some of it through osmosis, I'm not learning it fast enough. And there is also a sense that because I am a Gaikokujin, that I probably will never learn it. It would be really nice to surprise people though and I think it would help me to make friends who I do not yet have access to because I lack the ability to converse with them and they do not feel confident about their Eigo skills.
I learn quite a bit from the students I interact with, not just language based learning, but also learning how to fit into this culture with more ease. Some students are incredibly kind and really enjoy speaking with me while others are cruel or disenchanted or just disinterested. I've been thinking about what each of these students as individuals mean to this society. These individuals are the future of Okinawa/Japan and I think underneath the old traditions and rituals, there is a rapid shift occurring in this culture that may be directly related to the influence of Western values and images through TV, Film and the Internet. That being said, these kids I teach are not urbanites. They're kids in the Inaka. They live on a tiny island that is quite far away from mainland Okinawa where Western influence can be seen on a daily basis (military presence), and even further away from mainland Japan. So, I wonder often what my presence in their lives means to them. Do I represent the stereotypes they are taught to maintain in order to separate the foreigners from the Japanese, or do I have more of a chance to connect with them and maybe enable them to think outside of the mainstream way of perceiving "us" vs. "them"? (By the way, this is "us - them" mentality also happens in the USA and I do remember making a conscious effort around my early teenage years to learn from what was different...in fact I was really drawn towards living overseas, learning new languages and towards the foreigners in my own country (and not out of an exoticism either). Rather, I felt that their presence in my life as friends or colleagues taught me how to perceive the world through a different lens, and that was very crucial for me during my teenage years when the force of conformity is at its highest. So, I wonder...am I doing a good job as this foreign exchange teacher? If I don't make the effort to learn about Okinawan culture or the Japanese language, I doubt it. It's a two way street...
|Yes, that's a real cat on Kokusai Dori in Naha, Okinawa.|