By Bennett Pérez
Darling you gotta let me know,
Should I stay or should I go?”
Time froze as I stared at the recontracting paperwork lying in front of me. I was flanked by my BOE supervisor and Carolyn, a fellow ALT, who had only just confirmed that she was not recontracting. What was taking me so long? I had walked into the Board of Education with my mind already made. I had spent all of Christmas break discussing whether I should recontract, and why, and why not, with my loved ones (in Japan and back home). It felt like I had had the same conversation a million times. I was trying my utter best to ensure that I wasn’t making a hasty or irrational choice. When there seemed to be nothing left unsaid, I was finally satisfied that the choice that made me happiest was to return home.
And yet as I stared at that document, along with my supervisor and Carolyn, doubt hit me like a tram. I couldn’t think of anything other than all the love I was agreeing to leave behind, and all that it would mean.
I was consenting to leave all of my wonderful friends here. The weekly Hamazushi dates, rounds of King’s Cup on the weekends, trips to Osaka, Hiroshima and Fukuoka sponsored by Strong Zero, enough inside jokes and group chats to last a lifetime. The friends who supported me during some of the darkest days in my life, showering me with constant understanding, care and support. I felt, and still feel, able to be vulnerable and close to them in a way I had never really been able to with a friend group.
I was acknowledging that I would leave my beloved students, my kids who I cannot deny my affinity for. It meant I was now counting down the days that I got to spend with all of them. From the tiny 7 year olds who babble to me in the cutest, yet lightning fast, Japanese (that I can barely piece together most of the time) to my JHS students who compete with one another to see who can make me laugh the most. Was I ready to know that the last time I’d most likely ever see them again would be in the 2nd week of September?
I was stepping down from my role as RA, a job I had wanted to do since day 1 . I enjoyed every single second of it, even when I almost destroyed my kitchen trying to make a traditional Thanksgiving turkey in an oven that was no bigger than a desktop computer, or when I almost lost my mind trying to get the Welcome Pack as perfect as possible (even though I knew no one cared about it more than me!).
I was waving goodbye to my bestest friend here at the time, who had proclaimed me his favorite person in Japan (among other things). How could I consent to leave, knowing that it meant that someday soon, he wouldn’t be just a short train ride away?
Observing the sky’s amalgamation of colors from my balcony; wearing a yukata to summer festivals; riding my bike pass endless rice fields; all the different kinds of coffee sold in the vending machines; the rows of mikan trees I see as I ride the train, specks of orange dancing by….I could speak for forever about the beauty Japan that has introduced to me, and of course, go on even longer about the people it has brought into my life.
All these thoughts and so much more flooded my mind. But as I picked up the pen, I remembered what I had to do. I held my breath as I signed on the line to not recontract.
“Oh wait, we need to give a reason?” I asked Carolyn, my eyes widening as I noticed the small section allocated to explain why you weren’t recontracting. “I thought we just had to sign! I didn’t notice this part last year.”
“Yeah, dude,” she replied, a look of understanding on her face. She also knew that there was not enough room on those mere three lines to adequately explain why we were choosing to go. I scribbled a mediocre sentence and handed the paper back to my supervisor, who gave me a weak smile. I pushed any blue feelings away and did my best to give her back a toothy, content grin.
As heartbreaking as it will be to part with Japan and all it has taught me, to part with all of the people I’ve come to know and love, to part with all the experiences that I would not have gotten anywhere else, I knew that I had to begin making progress towards the next chapter in my life. Those experiences will become fond memories, those loved ones will hopefully remain in my life if they’re meant to remain, and I’ll be able to take all the lessons I’ve learned in Japan with me on a fresh journey. And so, I decided to make the first steps to begin to say all kinds of goodbyes.
Instead of just scrolling through LinkedIn and Instagram, dreaming of the day I’d get to begin working towards my career, I will have the actual chance to start! Deskwarming has given me the chance to research so many different things I possibly want to do: internships at Planned Parenthood and/or the Wildlife Conservation Society, applications for graduate school in Europe, networking for a future PhD, volunteering at an animal sanctuary….and so much more.
Ultimately, I realized I won’t get to any of these goals by deskwarming. Yeah, it’s been nice to have had all those hours to make lists and dream boards of all my goals, but now I can finally put them into action. I will stop pinning ideas left and right on Pinterest, and in contrast I’ll be out there making my life happen. I am ready to further my knowledge and explore what other opportunities lie ahead.
I began to write this piece in February, and it has taken so long to finish because I was worried I would regret the decision to leave later. I have had a few months to sit and reflect on my choice, and I am relieved to say I feel better than ever about it. I’ve held those dear to me closer than ever (even if recently it’s just been limited to Zoom) and delighted in every experience as much as possible. Although at the present moment recent unfortunate events in the world have changed some of my plans for the near foreseeable future (and caused quite a bit of uncertainty), I’m still ecstatic about beginning a new adventure sooner than later.
Beni is a second year ALT in Ozu, originally from New York City. She enjoys spending a lot of time with friends and family, but most of all with animals. She didn’t admit it in the article, but she’ll probably miss Lawson above everything else when she leaves Japan. <