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Sayonara: TESOL Graduate Prepares for Next Chapter

Sayonara: TESOL Graduate Prepares for Next Chapter

We caught up with Morgan Attaway, TESOL graduate, who has been teaching in Japan for the past two years. She will be returning to the U.S. this summer for graduate school. Here, she reflects on her time with the program and what’s up ahead.

I can’t believe that this is my final blog post from Japan! With my return to the U.S. scheduled for this July, it will mark two years of living, teaching and growing in the “land of the rising sun.” While I still have work and other responsibilities to occupy my time for the next couple of months, an awareness has already started to creep in that my time here is quickly coming to an end. Looking back, I can barely recognize the person I was when I first arrived.

I must admit that when I first found out that I had been accepted to the JET Program, I was terrified that I was making a huge mistake and getting in over my head. This feeling hit an all-time high (or low) the first night in my new apartment: Lying in the dark on my futon with the wind from the Japanese Sea whipping at my windows; no phone or internet to call home; totally alone and aware of the choice I had made to come here and teach English at a local high school to about 1,000 Japanese teenagers.

Little did I know at the time that it would become one of the best decisions I have ever made.

Living in Japan

Morgan stands in front of a famous hole-in-the-wall ramen shop in Sapporo, Japan, during a camping trip on the northern island of Hokkaido.

The changes I have undergone and confidence I have gained are only the tip of a vast iceberg of experiences that sum up my life here. By working abroad, I have gained a level of confidence in myself and my abilities that I never achieved before. I learned how to adapt to a new culture, a new education system, and a new life. Issues seem to magnify while overseas due to such things as language barriers or distance from family and friends, but you develop new ways of dealing with them and come out stronger for having done so.

Morgan Attaway in Japan

Morgan made these chopsticks by hand at the Food & Culture Museum in her new hometown of Obama.

For me, this encompassed everything from learning Japanese, to having my first surgery, to losing loved ones back home, to keeping warm in freezing temperatures when there is no insulation in the buildings and no central heating (which is a lot harder than it sounds when you’re a Georgia girl like me). However cliché it may sound, I know now that no matter what ups and downs may come my way, I am able to handle them all.

On the other side of that coin, however, are all the wonderful experiences that change your life forever. Japan is a delightful blend of old and new, filled to the brim with cherry blossoms, anime, temples, robots and sushi. While the virtues of Japan seem endless, I must say that I will miss the people here the most: my coworkers, students, neighbors, other expats and even the local convenience store workers who have my coffee order memorized.

By living in a small coastal town, I have had the chance to become a part of a community where there are no strangers. I have formed friendships that will last a lifetime. I have attended the wedding of a dear friend and saw her garbed in her intricate wedding kimono. I have met people with a vast array of backgrounds and worldviews and learned so much more about the world around me.

And even though I will be leaving soon, I plan to still keep in touch. With the rapidly developing world of smartphones and apps, I am already able to stay updated on former students who have graduated, fellow coworkers who have transferred to other schools, and other expats who have moved on to another job or country. Through the magic of technology (thank goodness for FaceTime!) I can have regular chats with friends 14 hours in the future and still catch up on all the local gossip.

Swimming in Japan

A festival in Mihama, north of Obama, involves men jumping off the bridge, swimming to a river side and doing a “tug-of-war” with a large rope made of grass fibers. It reenacts a legend that a large water snake attacked the town, which the men defended by jumping in the water and pulling apart the snake.

While these past two years have been amazing, it is time to move on to the next adventure. For me, that next step is graduate school to obtain my Master’s degree in TESOL. While I have always enjoyed learning and desired to further my education, teaching abroad cemented my resolve that teaching English is the career path for me and that an MA in TESOL would refine my skills as an educator as well as expand my prospects in the field. Ultimately, I hope to manage and facilitate ESL programs at the university level and work as an English Language Fellow or Specialist for the U.S. State Department.

I’m unbelievably thrilled to be taking this next step and am already looking forward to the opportunities that await me afterwards. While I will miss Japan dearly, I must admit that I’m very excited to be returning to the U.S. for graduate school. While I will still be far away from my family (Vermont is a hike from Georgia!), it’s at least in the same time zone which will make communication a bit easier and flights much cheaper for the holidays. I also can’t tell you how excited I am to be around English language libraries and bookstores again! One of my favorite pastimes is to roam up and down aisles of books searching for a new favorite author; it’s just not as fun when everything is written in Japanese.

The Eihei-ji Temple is just north of Morgan's prefecture Fukui and is home to Zen Buddhism.

The Eihei-ji Temple is just north of Morgan’s prefecture Fukui and is home to Zen Buddhism.

With these last few weeks approaching, I must admit that my emotions are all over the place. I’m torn between leaving the life that I have built in Japan over the past two years and embracing the new path that will lead to more experiences and adventures. Whatever may come, I can never express how thankful I am for having had the opportunity to live and teach abroad and to grow as an educator and as a person. Working as a TESOL instructor has allowed me to meet people, visit places, and experience moments that I never would have otherwise.

Just the other day, one of my former students messaged me and told me that she had decided to choose English as her college major so she could become an English teacher like me. Not only was I thrilled for her, I was incredibly moved that my teaching had reached out and touched a student in such an impactful way.

For those considering the idea of teaching TESOL, or are already ESL educators and are contemplating a move overseas, get ready for a path unlike any other. Students are diverse and will come to your classroom with a story of their own. Your coworkers are some of the most passionate and talented people you will ever meet and probably speak a foreign language or two (which will inspire you to brush off those dusty Spanish books from school and refresh yourself). You will come home from work with stories and points of view that most people will never encounter in their lifetime let alone on a daily basis.

Personally, I can’t envision myself doing anything else.

See you next time — from the rice fields of Japan to the mountains of Vermont!

Read about Morgan’s past adventures in her blog posts.

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