By Jennifer Cerna
“Take a chance, you stupid hoe. 怖がってるんじゃねえ。” –Gwen Stefani
February started off on a positive note. Work was going fine and I no longer felt on the brink of losing anything. I felt extremely busy, and found myself working overtime. One Tuesday, my manager sent me home early for that reason and my week seemed to slow down immediately. I finished my transcription assignments for my other job and got some things done for several police departments.
I had begun to realize that there was a very important difference between feeling isolated and being alone. I enjoyed being alone; it gave me time to recharge and reflect. But I hated feeling isolated. I didn’t know anybody in my area who could relate to my experiences as a JET participant and alumna. I was beginning to make solid friends, finally, but in some ways I still felt adrift. The worst part about being isolated in that way was that I wasn’t alone. Not only was I not getting some needs met, but I was also getting too little space to myself. I will always appreciate that my parents are so gracious about involving me in their lives but it was beginning to really wear on me that I was never actually alone. There was always someone in the house and they might call me at seemingly inopportune moments for something. For this reason among many others, I was looking forward to the time I would be able to spend in Houston for the JETAA reception for returning JETs.
Though I felt incredibly awkward at the JETAA reception and hardly talked to more than a handful of people, it was immensely helpful to hear from and see people who understood what I was going through. The ones who had come back a while ago were happy, upbeat, and still involved in Japanese-American relations. That really struck me because I realized that I had been trying really hard to shut out everything that I could of Japan. I have a lot of things I brought back from Japan, but they are all put away in boxes where I can’t see or think of them. I told one of the JET alumni that I had been trying not to think about my time in Japan and her reaction made me realize that I had been going about a lot of things wrong. Why would I try to shut out four very eventful, fantastic, formative years of my life? It gave me a new perspective on how to approach my relationship with Japan. Maybe it would be possible for me to maintain some sort of relationship with Japan. Maybe pretending that those four years hadn’t happened was not the best way for me to cope with the culture shock and challenges that come with returning to the States. Maybe I could continue to study Japanese, or join my mother in watching NHK (her favorite channel). I really do miss the quick little flicks of my pen whenever I wrote complex kanji.
Later in the month, I hung out with someone whom I realized I had a lot in common with, and we became quick friends. I got a third job and signed up for the CrossFit Open. I had my first interview with a police department. I planned a road trip with a couple other people. I was getting a lot of projects and random things, like my health, taken care of at last and everything seemed to finally be coming together. I worked hard and used every minute as efficiently as I could. I focused.
Towards the end of February, I felt that I was finally getting somewhere. My fear of becoming stagnant in my life was no longer at the forefront of my mind. I felt immensely hopeful that everything was finally falling into place. Most of the tasks that I had laid out at the beginning of the year, with an April 1st deadline, were completed.
On the last day of the month after a long day at work, I came home to find a letter addressed to me from the police department I had interviewed with: I did not meet their qualifications. Until that point, I had rarely felt so abruptly and profoundly disappointed. Policing was the one thing that I truly wanted to do, and neither my first nor second-choice police department worked out. My mind raced, and the thought that I would spend the next six months to a year working at the same two restaurants, constantly working, filled me with panic. What would I do? I could not go on like this, could I? I already felt that I was wearing myself thin. The only reason I was okay with going full throttle like I had been was because it was temporary. I tried to calm myself. While I was crying harder than I had in years, a small voice inside my mind tried to comfort me. It’s okay. It doesn’t have to be like that. There are many other things I can do. I still had two more police tests to take in March, and there are countless departments all over the country. Though I understood the logic, the only word I could describe the way I felt was “crushed.”
The next day, I woke up and tried to feel better. I was beginning to feel more optimistic and seriously considered alternatives to policing, at least for the time being. There were still many things I could do while I waited to be accepted into a police department. I didn’t have to feel stuck at jobs I disliked. The world will always be full of opportunities. That’s how February ended. I felt that I had fallen from a part of a gargantuan mountain that I had been climbing for a long time, to the bottom, but I was beginning to look up and accept that all I could do was continue to move along.
When I decided to write my Post-JET Series, I wanted it to be six months long. I had thought that by the time I got to the six month mark, I would be in police academy and everything would be going smoothly: I would have my own apartment, my finances and administrative tasks I had to deal with would all be taken care of. I would have completed my transition and adjustment to U.S. life and everything would be ideal, and I would be over all of the reverse-culture shock. I would even stop missing and thinking about Japan. Though I was a bit off and see now that I have a long ways to go before I get there (do I even want to get to the point where Japan isn’t a part of me?), I still believe that this is a good place to end the series before writing a follow-up article one year after leaving Japan. For those of you who have re-contracted for another year, remember to savor each moment. Don’t let any moment slip by, taken for granted, because in hindsight, they will all have been unique. For those of you returning to your home countries or moving to a new one, best of luck! Most importantly, in either case, keep your heart and mind open.
Jennifer is a JET alumna currently living in Texas. She is the published author of novelette My Imagined Pregnancy: A Daydream Gone Wild and several flash fiction and narrative non-fiction pieces. In her free time she enjoys exercise, food, and movies