This is what I want to say to all my friends who are leaving JET soon:
This was never going to last forever.
We could get into pseudo-intellectual ideas about how nothing lasts forever, etc. etc. but practically speaking (and what I want to say is), JET is a very short-term program. Everyone I know has used JET either has a springboard for something amazing, or a recalibration from the lives they had previously been living. JET is not made to last forever, nor should it be.
And yet, I don’t think I’ve ever met a more important group of people. We’re all pretty average, I suppose, but at least the impact you guys have made on me has been anything but. So it’s hard to believe, but we’ve only known each other for two years almost to the day. It’s not a long time by any measure, and we knew that coming in. We knew, even when we met, that it would be supremely transient.
But when you’re living in a foreign country just after graduating university, working your first real, full-time job, two years feels like a long time. You make friends quickly, and you get real deep, real fast. It’s a survival tactic I suppose, and if you’re lucky it transforms into genuine love for the people around you.
For me, and I know for some of you as well, JET was the college experience I always heard about but never had.
I didn’t make so many friends in university. My school was mostly a commuter school so it was difficult to meet people after the first year. I also disrupted my own social circle by studying abroad for a year and when I came back I couldn’t really get back in.
So in university, I became really close with my professors, and even closer to my research, to books, to films… I’m grateful for that time and all it taught me, but JET was a total shift. Instead of finding books, I found people who challenged me and frustrated me and made me want to understand new perspectives.
And unlike books, people offer two-way communication. You all have been there for me through weird and chaotic times, and have listened to all kinds of crazy shit and periods of panic. We’ve travelled within and without the country. We’ve gotten stranded in strange places, spent whole nights walking cities all around Asia, made grave traffic-related mistakes, gotten kind of sick and crabby in tropical heat, and ended up knee deep in snowdrifts. We’ve been everywhere from gutter bars to Michelin restaurants together, and from middle-of-the-night walks in the ocean to some of the fanciest neighborhoods in the city.
Most importantly, it’s with all the people I’ve met on JET that I’ve started to grow into the person I want to be, and I owe a lot of that to everyone here. In some ways, you all know the best version of me, even as you’ve seen me at my worst moments.
Of course, there are many people I didn’t get as many chances to hang out with as I would have liked, and there have been people who have straight up annoyed the hell out of me. In fact, by becoming so much more socially active I have realized just how much I need to be alone sometimes. And as great as our joint travels have been, I still like travelling alone better.
But none of the bad parts make saying goodbye any easier.
If I’ve been distant in these months leading up to everyone’s departure, it’s because I literally cannot compute the fact of people leaving. I can’t say goodbye to you all.
Something we have often talked about here, in a foreign country far from our homes, is what “home” even means when you’ve geographically displaced yourself.
Some of you aren’t leaving, which helps, but certainly the majority of people I know will be out of here in less than a month. Somehow the end of these two years snuck up on us, and as you guys prepare to leave, I’m wondering where my home will go when you guys go. For me, home is the people you surround yourself with, and it’s with you guys that I’ve made Tokyo into a temporary home.
So what is home, now?
Are you still at home without the friend who is always finding stylish cafes and restaurants, always going to art exhibits and looking for beauty in small corners of the city?
Are you still at home without the friend who you know you can text about anything anytime, and they’ll not only respond but make you laugh and help you kill time or chill the hell out?
Are you still at home without the same group of people you’ve seen every week, who realistically you probably wouldn’t even be friends with in other circumstances, but who have become some of the most important people in your life?
Are you still at home without the friend who upended your life completely one day and who, though the timing was totally wrong, broke something open in your that started to shine brighter than anything?
My conclusion for now is that home has to reside within as well as in the people around you. Because now that you guys are leaving, and my office and my neighborhood and my weekends are becoming less and less familiar, I’m trying to find some other touchstone.
But again, it doesn’t make saying goodbye any easier.
I recently moved, so even coming back from work feels strange, like maybe I forgot to leave a forwarding address for some important part of me and now she’s wandering around wondering where everyone’s gone.
None of us are really the overly emotional type, and I don’t want to change that now, so I’m not going to get all heartfelt on you guys.
But I will say this: the past two years feel like a complete lifetime, and while it’s been important for me on an individual level, so many of my good things come from you all. You gave me so much, and I really never expected to come to like a group of people as much as I’ve come to like all of you. I think I’m a better person having met you guys, and while a lot of us will lose touch in a few years’ time, I’m not about to forget everything you’ve meant to me.
So I hope you enjoy your lives, you goddamn jerks. If you’re sad about leaving, it’s your own damn fault for signing the wrong part of the recontracting papers, but just know that you’ll be missed a whole lot by at least one person on this godforsaken archipelago.