Back to the Grind

I’m not going to lie, as excited as I was about getting a job with Freecom, I was not excited about working again. As hard as it was to adjust from a work schedule to total freedom at the beginning of my trip in 2017, it has been so much harder going from freedom to work. It reminded me of going from that super easy last semester of college to a full-time job for the very first time. I think it was even more difficult because as soon as I left the comfort of my parents house in Henderson and landed in Tokyo my mind immediately reverted back to “travel-mode”. I was ready for the unexpected, rolling with the punches, honestly I was really surprised how quickly I went back to the “let’s have an adventure!” feeling. BUT, then I had to go to work! Work?! I was shocked by the daily hourly commitment I was suddenly swept back into. One day it just starts, and that’s it. You’re in it until you make a decision not to be. I was a little caught off guard by the feeling of, oh no, not this again, especially after having so much time off. Surely, I’m ready for this after all that time?

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Sleeping on the train is the norm here, if you are lucky enough to snag a seat!

As I charged through my first week of work, several other realizations hit me in quick succession. I think it’s natural for someone who has changed careers to compare their prior job to their current one. I found myself thinking of all the great things I had at my last job that I didn’t have at this one. Days with no meetings. The ability to go out to lunch. Occasionally working from home. On slow days, just hanging out with co-workers. A much, much, higher salary. Free coffee and soda, and I never even drank the soda. The list goes on. It suddenly seemed hard to remember why I left that job in the first place. What was I doing here?

Reading this over it all sounds a bit dramatic, but it’s honest. I think the first couple of weeks were overwhelming not only because I’d just started a new job in a new industry after not working for nearly eighteen months, but also because I was in a foreign country where I knew next to nobody and had just moved into an empty apartment where I didn’t know how the simplest things worked. Then, just when things were semi-settling in, a teacher in our Koriyama office (up north in Fukushima Prefecture) had a family emergency and had to fly home. Based on scheduling it made the most sense for me to go to Koriyama for a week to fill in. So here we are in week two and again: New city. New students. New coworkers. New Japanese business hotel. I tried my best to channel my “anything can happen/roll with it” mode but it was hard.

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Freecom office in Koriyama City, the original Freecom location.

I finished up my second week of work on a Saturday in Koriyama and headed back to Tokyo. That night the Tokyo branch was having a party to say goodbye to a teacher and welcome new teachers (including myself) to the school. I walked into the restaurant about an hour late to find all the smiling faces of the students I had met week one, the students I went snowboarding with, and the familiar faces of the Tokyo teachers. It felt like a homecoming. It was so comforting to see faces I knew and who knew me. I was finally settling in.

Well, there’s a lot of negativity up there, but I think for the most part this was all generally expected. Working is hard. But, all that said, I really do love my company. The variety of students is wonderful – my students are six-year-olds, housewives, corporate execs, retirees, professional piano players, twenty-somethings freshly joining the work force, amateur snowboarders, and everything in between. Everyone has their own reason for learning English – their children moved abroad, they want travel to be more accessible, their company expanded to Vietnam and English is the common language, they just want a useful hobby, the list goes on.

The conversations are generally interesting and sometimes hilarious. I once asked a student if Japan had any restaurants with salad bars and after several minutes of confused pronunciation and translations I discovered she was recommending I go to Sizzler. Aside from the normal fast food chains there are some strange American restaurant chains in Japan, including Sizzler and Denny’s (which is oddly quite expensive). I’ve had an exec explain that the only place he’s been in the US is Nashville because his company purchased a whiskey company called Jim Beam, had I heard of them? Yeah…wait who do you work for? Suntory, have you heard of them? Ummm yeah…I’ve heard of Suntory. Shockingly I am yet to find a Japanese person who has heard of the movie Lost in Translation.

It really is everything I was looking for in an English school. And the students themselves are generally great people. I have housewives giving me advice on Japanese cooking and buying me ingredients, we’ve started a baking club, and of course you already know about the snowboarding trip. It seems very promising that I can become good friends with some of these students.

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My very first class was with this six-year-old boy who did NOT want to be there. We ended up playing cards on the ground. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The schedule also provides for a nice variety of settings. Sometimes I’m at the school in Akasaka all day. Sometimes I travel to contracts at a corporate site, including at Under Armour in Odaiba, where every student loves sports. Sometimes I travel to a family home where I teach the children of one of our corporate exec students. I have always enjoyed using public transportation in foreign countries so getting to travel around Tokyo to teach in different settings is great fun for me. Just today I had to make two transfers around 7:30 pm, at Ikebukuro and Shinjuku Station, two of the most crowded stations in Tokyo. It was crazy, I almost got trampled several times, but so fun.

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Sports memorabilia in a corporate client’s lobby, surely someone famous…

Last week I was talking to a new student and, as is common with the higher level students, we were discussing my background. As much as the US needs to improve on the status of women in business, it is leaps and bounds ahead of Japan. When this student found out I was a tax accountant doing transaction advisory at a big accounting firm in the US, and that I left that job for this, she couldn’t believe it. In fact she said (I swear, I’m not even paraphrasing here) “I would love to be an accountant. Why would you leave such a respectable job to be an English teacher?”

The bluntness of the question shocked me a bit, especially because this is Japan, where directness is not common. Well, I stumbled, I wanted to do a job that more directly helped people, that was more fulfilling…for me. The conversation went on, but I found myself thinking about it during my commute home, and even after. What was I doing, a woman, leaving a well-paid, well-respected job in San Francisco to make one-fifth the salary doing an apparently less-respectable job in a foreign country? It got me thinking about how we, and more importantly how I, measure success. Yes, I believe my prior life was successful, in fact very much so, I was able to take a year off and travel. I also believe my current life is successful, and more importantly, I’m excited about it. I was missing that feeling in San Francisco; my life felt repetitive and stuck. Time will tell whether those feelings creep back in to this new lifestyle, but for now I’m happy, I’m growing, and I’m excited about what the future holds. To me, that is the best measure of success.

4 thoughts on “Back to the Grind

  1. What a great read! What you’re going through, the range of emotions, and the insights you’re having about yourself – priceless! There will be ups and downs, as I’m sure you’re finding and any self-help book will tell you, but it sounds like you’re living your best life, and I hope you continue to grow and enjoy yourself!

  2. kmcraig32

    Em- I have heard that the movie ‘Lost in Translation’ is called ‘Time in Japan’ in Japanese. Isn’t that just perfect. 😉

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