1.25.2007

A Word On Internationalization

Early this week I participated in the JET "Opinion Sharing Sessions" with other JETs from around my area. We met with the lovely PAs, Will and Nicola, and discussed many aspects of our jobs here in Japan. I thought the experience was, on the whole, a lot more positive and useful than I had initially expected it to be.

The basic idea of the exercise was to have us share ideas that might help future JETs, as well as discuss some concerns about or jobs and work situations. In fact, our superiors at the BoE were in a similar meeting down the hall talking about similar things. The discussions opened up my eyes to a lot of goings on, including the fact that our current situation in Hamada is not as positive as it could be, and a lot of it is due to a lack of communication between the JETs and the people who are in charge of us. And a lot of that is truly our fault.

For those who don't know, I'm contracted to a municipal Board of Education. I serve under a supervisor in the BoE, but on a daily basis I work out of one of the two schools to which I am assigned. Some time ago our BoE hired an amazing young woman named Nori to work as a liaison to the local JETs. She is not our supervisor, she's basically a psuedo-BoE employee and our friend. It's not clear whether they did this because our actual supervisor was overworked or just didn't want to deal with us or whatever, but the end result has been that our current supervisor has little or nothing to do with us on a daily, weekly or even monthly basis, yet she still remains officially in charge of us. This is how the divide has grown between the JETs and the supervisor, and sadly we haven't done much to curb it.

So back to the Opinion Sharing Session. The part of the meeting that struck me the most was when the PAs read some input they had received from JET supervisors in another city, just to give us an insight into what their typical complaints were about JETs. Disclaimer: These weren't our supervisors, they were a random sampling from elsewhere, and most of the observations were fairly reasonable. However, there was one thing that kept creeping up in many of the complaints that really fucking pissed me off.

[Objectivity goes out the window here, what follows is all based on personal experience and opinion...]

A fair number of the supervisors had the gall to suggest that we weren't doing our best at "internationalizing."

The list of complaints under this heading went something like: "They don't try to speak enough Japanese" "They only befriend other JETs and don't have time for Japanese people" "They show little interest in local events and culture" et cetera, et cetera, et cetera...

Well, sorry to use annoying blog-o-speak but: I call bullshit.

Who moved away from their home country and chose to come live in Japan? Who agreed in their contract to basically take whatever situation they were given and never complain about it? Who tries, day in and day out, to make English seem interesting and attractive to kids who'd much rather be doing something else?

Being a JET is not difficult by any stretch. I almost never complain about it, and why would I? I get paid very well to do a job that isn't that hard (simply frustrating at times). I understood as part of that job that I would be expected to foster "internationalization" within my community, and believe me at any given chance I try. So it really hurt to hear that many of the people we work with feel like we aren't making the effort. [Again, I will admit the opinions read to us did not come from our town...]

What I really felt like, after hearing the opinions of those supervisors, was that maybe these people don't understand internationalization. In fact it seemed to them that the idea of internationalization was simply us acting more Japanese! This, to me, is the absolute center of the bullshit. The process of internationalization has to be a two-way street, a give-and-take. They can't sit back and expect us to practice being more Japanese unless they also make the effort to act a little more American, or Canadian, or British or Austrian or Kiwi or whatever.

All to often I feel like Japanese people take for granted the fact that we're here, and hearing those opinions I couldn't help but think maybe I've been right about that. I learned Japanese before I came here, and I try to avoid using it on purpose in order to give people the chance to practice English. I would love to make Japanese friends, but too many Japanese people look upon us simply as entertainment or a free English lesson. They love to go out drinking with us, but they'd never invite us over for dinner or to meet the family. And as for attending cultural festivals and the like, my understanding of Japanese is mediocre at best, but I can't imagine what it must be like for those who can't read newspapers and signs or understand the radio and television! What I'm trying to say is, we got on the plane and came here...is it too much to ask to throw us a fucking bone every now and then? This isn't our homeland, we're just visiting!

And I'm not trying to criminalize the nation of Japan, some people do honestly try. Nori is a prime example. She bends over backwards for us, I'm sure because she knows how hard it is to live in another country due to the time she spent abroad in America. There are surely some amazing, kind people who will reach out to you, but even some of them will only reach so far, because in the end you're still just a foreigner.

[End tirade]

So anyway, I felt I needed to get that off my chest. Obviously I don't hate Japan, I'm staying here for another year, but there are some things about it that really piss me off. Interestingly enough they were highlighted in those compliants I heard on Tuesday and I felt like I did a relatively decent job of articulating them here.

I will concede that I think I can do a better job as a JET. I will try harder to communicate with the people who live around me and the people with whom I work. However, I hope they also make the effort to learn something from me, and not just treat me as a novelty, or as Ken or someone said, "like the circus. They love to see you come to town, but you kinda creep them out and they're happy when you leave."

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3 Comments:

Anonymous isaac said...

I call bullshit too. What more can you do to "internationalize" besides moving to their country, living there, and trying to spread a skill which will foster further understanding between your culture and theirs?

It's the very definition of responsible tourism. It's not like you're visiting Japan for two weeks, talking really loud, pointing at stuff with your meaty red fingers, tromping through the temple in your Timberlands and eating burgers at tourist restaurants.

P.S that GHWB quote was me, if you didn't guess from the M:TG references.

02:45  
Blogger Atheist in a mini van. said...

My friend, Jerry Ptrizek, was involved in JET- in Japan. Small world. :)

18:13  
Anonymous Andrew Kudlick said...

HA! That circus analogy is amazingly accurate!

My friend in a town over got singled out in a meeting the other week... the teachers were upset that he was trying to teach the alphabet to elementary school students... they said that they wanted more "colors, fruits, songs and dances." so, he said, "well, if you want, i will put on a wig, and come in each week as a clown."

10:06  

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