By: Natalie Berry
2006 I first experienced the hardest part of my job as an ESL instructor – the day a student’s three-year visit to America ends and they
return to Japan. This has now happened to me
dozens of times with my students from the Hitachi Automotive plant. Each time, I soberly accept that I might never again share a laugh and a hot cup
of ocha (tea)
with a student whom I have come to call
Ladies are usually so good at correspondence,
sending pictures and cards at Christmas or the hot summer
months to reinforce the distant friendship.
However, as anyone who has friends overseas knows, it is just not
the same as being together.
And, well, the gentlemen are just not
as forthcoming with those cards and letters. It can be
disheartening to watch the children I taught grow
up in sporadic images sent via cards and letters. I just know that as
they have grown they have forgotten sensei (teacher), along with a better part of their
JASK’s Japan Idol contest winner in
2009, I received two round-trip tickets to Tokyo, courtesy of All Nippon Airways. I invited my
Webb, who is half-Japanese and
spent her youth in the Fusa-area of Japan. Arleen also works
employees and their families as an ESL Instructor. She had not seen her hometown in over 20
Arleen and I were anxious to visit Japan
to visit her home; I, to
visit my former host family;
and both to visit Hitachi families in Ibaraki whom we had taught.
and I cannot thank the JASK enough for the opportunity to make these visits. We spent three days
in Ibaraki. Most memorable was the day the Hitachi families
organized a party for us. I think we
spent the entire afternoon crying – I do not remember ever crying so much in my entire life! More than 30 members of the extended Hitachi family joined us
for food and karaoke.
opportunity for me to reconnect with my host family was also unbelievable. My host sisters are now in their teens –
they were nearly babies when I visited in 2002. We are closer than ever after this
visit. This could not have happened
without the generosity of JASK and ANA.
to JASK and the Idol Contest, Arleen
were able to reinforce these special relationships
by visiting the hometown of Hitachi, where our students live.
I am also
happy to report that Arleen’s home was still standing, although the city has
sprung up around it. The trip
was an incredible experience for both of us, and
one we will never forget.