Saturday, May 19, 2012

Introductions and new passions.


Hajimemashite. (Let me introduce myself.)
Guraui Kyandesu desu. (My name is Candace Graue.)
Douzo yoroshiku. (Nice to meet you.)

During my beginning Japanese class, back in my freshman year of college, we practiced self-introductions, or jikoshoukai, relentlessly. Every person was introduced to every other person a dozen times, followed by careful practicing of the Japanese bow: not too high, not too low, and with hands on the thighs for women. I had no idea that this beginner’s language course, taken on a whim, with all its introductions was introducing me to an entirely unpredicted, and therefore terrifying, direction in life.

Although I love “living in the moment” and going on spontaneous adventures, when it comes to the important, big parts of my life—career, marriage, children, lifestyle—I like to plan down to the smallest detail. I did not go into college with no idea what I wanted as a career, as many of my fellow students often do. Since my freshman year of high school I knew I wanted to be an English teacher. The more I learned about education and the issues surrounding it, the more I believed that this was my calling, my place to make a change in this world—even if it were only  through students I taught. I believed that through education, particularly English, a child’s mind could be opened to endless interests, causes, cultures, and viewpoints. They just needed the right guidance. With that passion burning in my heart, I entered college knowing my path, how to get there, and what to do in the meantime. On top of that, I knew how many kids I wanted, what their names would be, where I’d live, and what kind of house I wanted. I even knew what kinds of pets I would adopt and what I would name them. I would teach, I would live, and I would write—another passion of mine that began as early as elementary school.

But my interest in Japan and its culture and language did not diminish, and I continued to take the language courses and even studied abroad in Japan, despite the fact that these classes had no value towards my English and Education degree. Then, when I started to apply to the School of Education at my university, I came to realize that despite all my fervor for education, getting the required degree meant a lot more money and time in college than I felt was right. It meant taking on a huge amount of debt, spending an extra year and a half in school, only to go into a career that at this time is not hiring—in fact, it’s mainly cutting jobs. It was then, with a heavy heart, that I changed my Education double major to a Japanese one, feeling like I was cutting out a part of my soul for the sake of my future financial well-being.   
That’s not to say I am unhappy with a Japanese major. But after spending 6 years knowing I was going to be a teacher, suddenly not having that goal anymore left me hollow. What, I asked, would my passion be now? What would I do with a Japanese degree? Teach English in Japan? Translate? I needed that fiery motivation that kept me going through all the annoying little stuff, knowing that every small step was part of a bigger, happier picture.

Luckily, my trip to Japan for a semester and a year of pondering my future, has revealed to me a potential, new calling, one that draws on everything I believed in as a someday teacher. I still believe that people need to open their minds, to embrace curiosity, and to explore. And after traveling to Japan and a couple other countries, I think that exploration of other cultures and places of the world is particularly important. Only by exploring different ways of life can you ever truly understand yourself and the country you live in. You can never have perspective without experiencing the other side, first. Surely, this is the most important lesson I have taken from learning about and experiencing Japanese culture. Lately, I have started to think that I can still share this ideal with the world in ways other than teaching. And to be honest, I miss being tin Japan, or anywhere foreign, so deeply that is almost physically hurts in the center of my body.

So in order to explore this revised passion, I want to write about culture. Not just Japanese, but culture around the world, and even here at home. This blog will help me begin that path, and maybe find that plan I so desperately need to feel secure. Maybe I will inspire other people to go beyond their comfort zone and embrace different ways of life. This is not a travel blog, though there will be posts about travel. It is not a food blog, although I love tasting food from different countries. It is just going to be a blog about curiosity for the world—and everything that goes with it. I hope to visit many other countries as soon as I can and continue to share my experience through my writing.

Something else Japanese has taught me is that literal translations often don’t effectively communicate the same meanings. The literal translation of my opening jikoshoukai is something like “I am beginning.  I am Candace Graue. Please treat me well.” As an introduction, this translation into English isn’t much help. But for this, I believe the literal meaning works just as well. To both my future readers, and my future itself: I am beginning, please treat me well. 

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