by Erica Grainger
Looking back at a first year on JET
“Good friends, good books and a sleepy conscience: that is the ideal life” (Mark Twain). Those words ring true when I reflect on my JET experience so far.
Looking back, it was only a year ago, but I can still remember arriving in the scorching hot summer of late July 2012 for Tokyo Orientation at Keio Plaza. I was feeling a little hot and sticky (from the heat and humidity, don’t get the wrong idea) and was joined by hundreds of other new JETs, who were fresh off the plane and a little jet-lagged. I think we were all feeling eager, nervous, excited, and overwhelmed to various degrees. There were no doubts or fears in my mind, just a sheer feeling of amazement, “Is this all really happening to little ol’ me?” Indeed, I was one of “the chosen ones” as Xan once told me.
Those early months were full of new and exciting events in Fukushima and it was a whirlwind of constant self-introductions at my schools. I can’t remember how many times I uttered the words, “I’m Erica-sensei, I’m from Australia,” and the amount of times I got asked if I was Michael’s girlfriend. “No,” we both groaned. We just happened to arrive together in Group A and teach at the same schools and live around the corner from each other…I suppose looking back it does sound a bit suspicious to those innocent young minds (not so innocent trust me).
From the very beginning I knew I loved JET and the JET community….well, they would grow to love me too (hopefully). One of the reasons was due to FuJET. They ran so many fantastic events and encouraged everyone to get involved and socialize, forming close friendships and a sense of belonging and identity within Fukushima. For example, who could forget such misadventures as: the Iwaki Beach Bomb and the rite of passage for new JETs (especially Iwaki JETs) – skinny-dipping at midnight. Other events include the Nagano Soccer Tournament, where I probably befriended half of the opposing teams and met the infamous “growler/grabber”, she was a little scary I must admit!
My first Christmas in Japan, without my family was a very special time and non-traditional in everyway possible. Firstly, Christmas eve involved a group sleepover (not how it sounds, trust me) and a ‘Cards against Humanity’ evening with lots of laughs and evil giggles with all my new Iwaki friends and Caveman, an honorary Iwaki JET! Secondly, Christmas Day was celebrated at Baba’s, which meant a huge Indian dinner banquet with curry and chai tea. My first Indian Christmas dinner in Japan! It certainly was unforgettable for all the right reasons.
Throughout the year, there have been many amazing events and celebrations like Christmas that capture the essence of being a JET and the importance of friendship. For instance, I was extremely touched and humbled when my closest JET friends and many other wonderful JETs joined me at Baba’s to celebrate my birthday in February. Some of them even drove from Aizu and returned home that night! That night was one of the highlights of my JET experience, just being surrounded by some of the most extraordinary people I’ve ever met. Thank you all for coming and celebrating with me. I would love to do it again next year with you and the new JETs!
Finally, what I’ve really grown to value during my time on JET is not just the friendships you make and the experiences you have, but what you learn through JET and the importance of being resilient to change. I’ve lived overseas before, but never on my own and my initial plan was to stay for 1 year and return to Melbourne. However over the course of my first year on JET, through thick and thin and trips to Hokkaido with Xan, Hong Kong, Kyoto, etc. I’ve grown to realise that my new home away from home is Japan! I simply know that Fukushima will always be in my heart. There are far too many marvellous and special people to thank for making my first JET year such an incredible experience, but you all know who you are. So, thank you all and welcome new JETs – you are all unique!