Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Story So Far

As I begin a new adventure, it seems like a good time to give you a bit of background on myself. If you’re reading this blog, you probably know a lot about me already, but even if you don’t, this quick summary of my life should get you up to speed.

The first seven years:

I lived with my mother, father, and sister in a small house in London, Ontario. I remember this as a mostly happy time in my life, although, as so often happens, I may just be viewing the past through rose-tinted glasses.

The next seven years:

My parents split up. My mom, sister, and I spent another year in London, then went on an extended vacation to England and Europe. Although my memory of this period is pretty vague, I credit it with instilling in me a love of travel and of exploring new cities. During the six months we were abroad, we visited Cornwall, Stratford, the Lake District, Scotland, Denmark, and Austria, besides spending a great deal of time in London.

When we returned to Canada we moved to Ottawa, and I started going to school again. I had to start learning French, which I didn’t understand and resented. I didn’t have any friends, and everybody teased me. Life was hell.

Around grade six, I started watching Sailor Moon. It was one of my first experiences with Japanese animation, although years later I would discover that many of the cartoons I’d watched as a child had also been anime. In my last year of elementary school, I saw Star Wars and it ruined my life. I developed a consuming obsession with the trilogy that eventually evolved into an passion for in movies in general.

High school:

I still didn’t have any friends, but people stopped teasing me, and some of them even started hanging out with me. Life sucked, but was notably not hell anymore. I developed a reputation as a film buff, and since I’d never been good at anything in my life, I decided to cultivate it. Some of the people I hung out with watched anime and studied Japanese, and in my last two years I began watching anime too, although I didn’t think very much of it. I kept taking French, and by Grade 13 was surprised to discover that I’d grown to really like it. Sadly, high school was also where my French education ended, and my fluency has been declining ever since.


I moved back to London and completed a four year B.A. at the University of Western Ontario. I initially enrolled with a major in Political Science, with an eye to possibly applying to law school. However, in the interest of keeping up my reputation, I took a few film courses, and liked them so much that I decided to add Film Studies as a second major.

I joined the school anime club, although it was the people more than the shows that attracted me to it. Eventually I warmed to one or two of the series we watched, and in my third year I even wrote an essay on the films of Miyazaki Hayao.

Around this time, I also made a couple of friends, thanks to which my life no longer completely sucks, and I even allow myself to entertain the romantic notion that it might actually be worth living.

The last four years:

As the time for me to graduate university approached, I became increasingly aware of the fact that I still had no career path chosen. I had more or less dismissed the idea of going into law, and neither of my majors suggested an obvious course of action. I didn’t think I had what it would take to be a filmmaker, and government jobs are notoriously difficult to land. A trip to my guidance counsellor was not very helpful. The personality test he had me take revealed that the job I would most enjoy was that of university professor. I laughed out loud, and then made a comment about “those who can’t”. In fact, I think a part of me was secretly expecting that answer, but the thing about pursuing a career as a professor is that first you have to decide what you want to be a professor of. And if there’s one thing I’ve always found difficult, it’s choosing one academic discipline over the others.

At this point, something else was becoming painfully clear to me: I had spent the last nineteen years of my life in school, and they had taught me to be really really good at being in school! But occasionally, one hears about a different world, a world that exists beyond the walls of academia, a world referred to, rather intriguingly, as “real life”. And it occurred to me that for a truly well-rounded education, I might want to try experiencing this “real life” thing, at least for a little while. And so I began to zero in on a less ambitious plan. While I was still studying, an acquaintance told me about the “JET Programme”, an initiative that allowed English-speaking university graduates to spend a year teaching in Japan. During my last year of university, I heard similar suggestions from several people, including my counsellor. In fact, there are several countries, particularly in Asia, where you can get a job with a good salary and benefits just for being a native English speaker. Most of the better jobs also prefer that you have a university degree, but that was no longer something I needed to worry about.

Besides the fact that it was one of the few jobs I was qualified for, the idea of teaching English overseas appealed to me on a couple of other levels. First, in the area of real life experience, it would force me out of my comfort zone and into a more self-sufficient lifestyle. Second, it would give me valuable job experience, which would be good to have on my résumé. Third, as mentioned above, I have always had a love of travel, but since moving to Ottawa my international experience had been limited to a week in Austria, a week in Washington, D.C., and two weeks in London and Paris. I had never been to Asia at all, so the opportunity to go there was especially enticing. Moreover, another thing my travels as a child had instilled me with was the notion that it wasn’t enough just to visit a country for a few days. To really experience it, you needed to live there for an extended period, allowing it to become part of your daily routine, and seeing not just the big sights but the small oddities.

So I decided to take a break from school and do a stint as an English teacher. I took a TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) course, with the idea of applying to the JET Programme right away. Unfortunately, I missed the deadline, and spent a year working at Shoppers Drug Mart and applying for other positions in east Asia. I eventually got hired by an agency in Hong Kong, and spent ten months teaching in a Chinese-language high school there. When I was done, instead of moving back to Ottawa, I decided to try living in Vancouver for a while. There were a few reasons for this: I wasn’t ready to stop travelling, but I still intended to apply to the JET Programme, and needed to be in my home country to do it. The clincher was my experience in Hong Kong: it seemed that everyone I met there had either been to Vancouver, or knew someone in Vancouver, or had family in Vancouver. Having to admit that I’d never so much as been to B.C. made me realise how little I really knew my country, and I resolved to learn a bit more about it. I spent fifteen months in Vancouver, during which time I worked for a total of nine months in three different language schools. I applied to the JET Programme and made it to the interview stage, but was ultimately rejected. I was disappointed by this, but undeterred. Having spent over a year in Vancouver, I decided to move back to Ottawa and apply again.

In retrospect, I’m really grateful things worked out that way. The intervening year gave me a chance to get re-acquainted with Ottawa and spend time with my friends. I re-applied to the JET Programme, and this time I got accepted! Now, four years after graduating university, I am finally leaving Ottawa to begin a year of living and working in Japan. I hope to continue this blog as a chronicle of my experiences there.

1 comment:

Val said...

Thanks for this. It's mostly stuff I knew, but it's nice to have it laid out in order.