My story, part two

I had three dreams to chase after

A TV miniseries changed my life. When I graduated from college with a BA in French, I was planning to return to Oregon, earn a teaching certificate, and teach French to high school students in my home state. What changed my mind was remembering something I watched on TV back when I was in junior high school (also called middle school). It was called Shogun. Starring Richard Chamberlin, and based on a novel by James Clavell, it covered a turning point in medieval Japanese history as witnessed by an English captain who was shipwrecked there. The movie portrayed the Japanese culture as exotic and the locals kept everything clean and organized, despite its barbaric aspects during that time period. As a teenager, I had never heard of manga, J-Pop, etc., though maybe we had a little anime on TV. Most of my impressions of Japan were from that miniseries, but it was enough to make me want to go there and see what the Japanese culture was like today.

I forgot to mention that I had had another dream since junior high, and that was to be a translator or interpreter. I interviewed a multilingual translator for Career Day. He read newspapers in several European languages every day in order to maintain his languages at a high level. In college, I used a short school break to fly to Monterrey, California to visit Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterrey (which went by a different name back then). MIIS has a two-year Master’s degree program in Conference Interpretation which I wanted to learn more about. Frankly, I didn’t want the lifestyle of an interpreter (working evenings and weekends, concentrating for hours, being social, etc.), but I did want the intellectual challenge of simultaneously interpreting from Japanese to English. Also, after mastering Japanese, I would have had to study in a Japanese university for a year or two before I was ready to enter MIIS, so the whole plan would have cost me too much money. Nonetheless, the dream was very strong when I graduated from college.

I still wanted to teach a foreign language. That meant I had three dreams to chase after (teaching, mastering Japanese for interpreter school, and experiencing Japanese culture). The obvious solution was to teach English in Japan. The problem was that teaching jobs in Japan were competitive, so I went to Busan, South Korea first for teaching experience for a year, then started my Master’s degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) at Portland State University. I ran out of money and was itching to go overseas again, so I quit PSU after a year, but I had earned enough credits for a post-bac certificate. The program was offered by the Applied Linguistics department, so many of my classes were in linguistics. After one more year of teaching in South Korea (this time, in a small town called Gunsan), I landed a job at a junior college in Nagoya, Japan, where I taught for three years.

Things went wrong in Japan. First, my Japanese was progressing too slowly. I had to speak English all day. I only knew textbook Japanese, not colloquial speech–much less the Nagoya dialect. When I went out to Japanese bars in the evening, I couldn’t understand what anyone said. So, I usually went out to westernized bars and restaurants instead, or I bought a bento on the way home and studied Japanese reading at home. Second, I thought I was losing my hearing, and I was only in my twenties! It was only after returning to the US that I found out that it was because of ear wax buildup, and I wasn’t really losing my hearing. Third, I was still homesick for my family and for the variety of restaurants and groceries in Portland. Discouraged, I returned home and started my current career in IT. I knew that I would only be able to find part-time work as an ESL teacher in Portland, so I gave up on teaching. But computers were another interest of mine, so my career change worked out all right.

In the next installments of “My story,” I’ll go into more detail about my life and teaching experiences in Korea and Japan.

3 thoughts on “My story, part two”

  1. So glad to be able to read the next part of your story! I just watched a video by polyglot Lindie Botes on why she chose the career she did, which is unrelated to languages. There are opportunities for her to use languages but it isn’t a specific language job like a diplomat or interpreter. I found it very interesting because she mentioned about wanting to keep her hobby separate from work. You, on the other hand, wanted to combine the two but ended up going in a different direction. You say that it worked out but I’m curious to know more about how you feel. As someone who studies Translation and Interpreting now, I sometimes wonder what would be if I had gone in a completely different direction and kept languages as my hobby. I’ll be eagerly awaiting the next part of your story

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    1. I watched that video, too. I still want to incorporate languages into a career, but more like Lindie does. For example, at the beginning of my IT career, I got an IT job working at a Japanese company in my hometown. I wasn’t experienced enough to keep the job, but I will be if I look for a job like that in the future. Or I could do technical phone support. A temp agency reached out to me a year or two ago about a job like that using French, and it paid well (but I love my current job and said no). Alternatively, I’m still considering becoming a multilingual tour guide when I retire, or else doing volunteer work to help the refugees and immigrants in my city. In a way I’m still a little heartbroken and impatient about not using my languages on-the-job yet (and I miss living overseas and seeing other cultures and places), but I’m willing to wait until I’m advanced in two or three languages.

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