After a whirlwind of new experiences, it was time for some formal training. We were up at the crack of dawn ready to storm the beaches, office attire equipped and hair done up. Our first days of orientation involved introductions from different company representatives and reminding us that this would not be easy. They compared it to hell. They smiled, and we laughed, but we were mistaken - it wasn't a joke. The President of the company graced us with a brief introduction. He was an older Japanese man that didn't speak a word of English, and was accompanied by a translator, another man in the company. He asked us who we thought the top 3 private TESL schools were in the country. Interestingly, the top 2 had invited me for interviews, but I declined (it was 3,500 km away). This is when we found out PKC was the top 3 company for teaching English in Japan AND they had the same number of schools as KFC had restaurants. He was incredibly enthusiastic about this fact, and before he left we all recited in unison our new creed, "Otsukaresama desu!". It's essentially a formal way of thanking someone for their good work. We were sternly instructed to say it every time we saw a co-worker, started or ended a phone call with the office, and at meetings. It was a sign of respect. (However, it eventually became a tireless mantra that seemed to lose all meaning.) Each day we were up early, and each night we came home late - then everyone tried to relax/study in the wee hours, leaving maybe 4 hours for sleep. The first few days were learning how to deal with emergencies, and filling out incident reports. Then came the really brutal days - trying to learn the curriculum and teach it to students.
We spent the first half of the day practicing the material we had learned, then were instructed to go to our first school. This would be our first big activity alone. I had hours before I needed to be there, and I hadn't spoken to my mom since I had gotten there. So I found a phone booth, used my phone card, and called her up. She was shocked to hear from me but so pleased. I told her about everything. Then realized an hour had passed. I let her go and headed to the subway. I reviewed the instructions which assured me the ride would be half an hour. I found the right platform, got in the colour coded line and listened for the correct destination. When the train arrived, I was ready. Soon we were outside of the metropolitan and in the countryside. It was refreshing. The train stopped at every little station. Half an hour went by, I hadn't heard my stop yet and I still had another train to take. An hour. Panic struck. Was this the wrong train? No, it couldn't be. It was headed for the right destination. I looked at the time. If the next ride took any amount of time I would still run the very real risk of being late. I didn't have a phone, and if I risked looking for one at the next stop I might miss the only train that could get me there on time. My nerves took over. I have never been late for anything. I'm being honest (it's a bit of a story as to why though). So here I am, my first time observing a class, and I was going to be late. In North America it would be bad, but not "maybe we should fire her" bad. In Japan, it was different. With this particular company being late meant a decrease in pay, paperwork to fill out, and a strike against you. If you were late three times, it was equivalent to being fired. They don't mess around. I've had innumerable panic attacks, but this one took the cake. If I ever felt like my world was collapsing and I was about to die, it was then. So I made a plan. I had to call them and let them know what happened, then immediately run to the next train. I took the change out of my wallet (local calls don't use phone cards), made sure my backpack was on tight, then as soon as the train pulled into its final destination, I would bolt for the gate and look for a phone. Since Japan is a nation simultaneously living in the past and future, I knew there was a good chance there were payphones - especially since I had just used one.
At last the final stop (my stop) was called and I readied myself. The doors whooshed open and I sprinted. Down the stairs, around the corner, up the stairs, there was the gate, and there were the phones. I ran over and felt like god himself had answered my prayers. I shoved in the coins and punched in the number for the office. I stumbled through my greeting and gave my information, then quickly let them know I was going to be late. I explained that the instructions said half an hour but I had already spent 2 hours on the train. I could hear the judgement oozing through the phone. Then they asked if I could make the next train, I said I would have to leave right that second. They urged me to go and call back. So I ran. Back down the stairs, around the corner, down the hall, down the stairs and up again. I was on another platform and the train was just pulling in. I got inside and sat down. My heart was racing. I still had one more leg to go. I sat in agitated silence and read the rest of the directions over and over. They didn't make much sense and I was wary to trust them after they had failed me, but it was all I had. The train pulled in, and I ran like I never had before. I held the paper in one hand, and my backpack strap in the other. What would have been a ten minute walk I had transformed into three. I found the building and stumbled up the stairs where I stood breathlessly. I knocked on the door and found myself greeted by a goofy looking guy. No students yet. Shoes off, bag away, and phone in hand. I called them back and while they were angry, they were glad no one was there yet. They reprimanded me for being careless and insisted I immediately fax in the right form. When that was done, the terrible day didn't end. The teacher ended up being an incredibly lackadaisical man who spent most of his time discussing how he liked to get sauced, and then proceeded to talk about drugs in front of the Japanese students since none of them understood. None of his classes contained any real content and I eventually found out he wrote the directions. Apparently I was supposed to take an express train - which wasn't noted anywhere.
After classes were finished, I desperately had to use the bathroom since I hadn't gone for hours. I glanced at the bathroom and noticed it was a squatting toilet. I was too tired to deal with that. So I said my goodbyes and headed to the first konbini I could find. I used the facilities happily, and bought a beer. I continued my walk back to the station, taking large, greedy gulps. It was hot, the air was fetid with manure, and it was possibly one of the most stressful days of my life. When I got back on the train, I was beat. I managed to catch an express back to the city, and after I got on the subway heading home, I fell asleep. I hit the end of the line when someone woke me with an aggressive, "hey buddy" and a nudge. I opened my eyes and watched people disembarking. Embarrassed that I had fallen asleep, I immediately walked off the train. I was trying to get my bearings when a lady ran up to me in a panic and handed me my wallet. My mouth agape, I muttered "Arigatou" and she scrambled off. I tried to thank her again, but she was already gone. Never had I been more grateful. I tucked it back into my bag and made sure I zipped it this time, then steadied myself for the walk back. I had just caught the last train.
Thank you for reading! The next update will be March 2!
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