Today was the last day of term at school, which meant farewell speeches, prize givings and the closing ceremony. It also brought with it one final encore from the rainy season.
I got off to a bad start this morning; with my alarm set for 6.30am to give me enough time to get up shower and make myself presentable and have a leisurely stroll to school in time for a rehearsal at 8.00, I successfully woke up at 7.30 … after a frantic panic and the speediest shower I have ever had, I made it out of the door at 7.55 and raced to school. I was only a few minutes late for the rehearsal but it was a sticky start to a very sweaty day.
My first speech of the day was to the staffroom, I’d been told the day before that I would need a short speech but it got sidelined by other things going on and I’d more or less forgotten about it. I was also going to give a really long speech for the closing ceremony so I didn’t want to repeat myself. I said a few lines about how quickly the year had passed and how much I had appreciated their support and kindness.
Japanese schools, and in fact most organisations, offices, etc. love ceremonies. There are opening and closing ceremonies every term and they are all fairly full of pomp. They are usually incredibly dull but I have begun to like them as they give a sense of new beginnings and closure each term; looking forward to what is to come throughout the school year and celebrating the students’ successes.
This morning’s closing ceremony began with an introduction from the school Principal about what I had done over the last year, I was then invited on stage to receive a certificate from the Board of Education thanking me for my contributions to international relations. Then it came to my farewell speech. It was long; it was always going to be long. After a year of not really being able to express myself fully due to language, I have all of a sudden become incredibly verbose. I want to try so hard to express to the people in my daily life that they mean so much to me, they are the fabric that makes up my experience. We may only have small interactions but without them it would not be complete. Anyway, it was a long speech and it was made even longer with the translation. Madoka, the student who translated for me, had worked so hard. It was complicated English, full of idioms and subtleties that I felt I couldn’t lose or I’d lose my voice. She said she had enjoyed it thought because it had improved with her English. With a little help from Naomi, my go between, it was pretty close. It felt like the longest speech ever … probably around 10-12 minutes in total, but I was glad I had been indulged. I then received a small gift and a thank you speech from the school council, in ENGLISH! I had held it together up until that point, my voice only cracking once or twice; after having cried with Madoka in a rehearsal and then balling my eyes out to my English teachers at my sayounara party, I had been determined to get through it. The students sang the school song to me as I stood on the stage and my eyes welled up. But I recovered myself and managed to smile and laugh with students as they formed a corridor through the hall for me to leave. I was greeted by smiling teachers and students as I left.
Whenever I think about leaving, I have to take deep breaths. There are so many people here that I will miss; friends, colleagues and students. Oh, for all the days that I’ve struggled and felt home sick and cried down the phone to my parents, nothing compares with the sheer joy of a handful of smiling students or the mexican wave of ‘Konnichiwa!!” and bowing that greets you if you happen across the baseball boys in the corridor. They are so full of energy and life. I adore all of them, even the ones who avoid eye contact with me in the corridors for fear of me speaking to them. I’ll miss them all.
I’ve tried to relate this to how I felt when I left Scotland, but it’s so much sharper because I know I won’t be able to come back to this. I am in a perfect crystalline period in time and once I leave it fractures. The memories will begin to fade in the minds of others and eventually I will just be another English teacher from high school. I suppose I’ve known this would be the case all along but it’s easy to kid yourself otherwise when you’re in the moment. It’s going to be hard coming back and I’m reluctant to admit that to people at home for fear that it will be interpreted as rejection; it’s not. I love my life here and I’m just not sure I’m ready to give it up.