September 24, 2014

The Very Best of Me May Come Together Again

For the last six years, I’ve called Tokyo home.

With another year-and-a-half studying in Japan during undergrad, I’ve spent a majority of my adult life living there. Tokyo is now more familiar to me than my birthplace of Detroit. Memories of Michigan are blurred in the bokeh of nostalgia. My time in Los Angeles seems an awkward detour.

I was content with my life in Japan. I taught writing at a highly regarded school, met regularly with friends I had known for years, and had ample time to travel. The simple life of a schoolteacher, helping young people learn and doing-no-harm, appealed to my sense of serving the greater good. I considered, quite seriously, making Tokyo my permanent residence.

So, why did I leave? The simple answer is: I wanted to learn again.

The comfort of Japan, the kindness and generosity of its people, the clean streets and lack of crime, the smooth trains and strong society, wasn’t enough to quell my desire for novel experience. After six years of stability, I had a growing, undeniable need for change.

I began looking for affordable ways to gain unique experiences in new places. I considered the Peace Corps, Master’s programs in Taiwan, fellowships in Europe. None of them seemed like a good fit.

During this search, my friend Kate sent me a link to Experience Institute. It was just the type of program I had been looking for—active learning based on real world experiences in varied locations. I applied, interviewed, and to my surprise, I was accepted. Within a month I had dismantled my life in Tokyo and flown back to America.

Since arriving in Chicago, I’ve been at Ei, fully immersed in learning and listening, emotion and expression, structure and storytelling. It’s as intense as it is invigorating. The steady routine of Tokyo life has been swept away by a typhoon of new information and interactions.

I’ve already connected with leaders from organizations I would have never considered before. I’ve been introduced to like-minded students in an intimate setting that is challenging us to shed our self-doubt and refocus our goals.

These are the glimmers of a future I’ve long imagined, one that demands initiative and agency to make a reality. There’s a sense of open-ended possibility knowing the experiences I choose will alter the course of my life dramatically, yet, I can’t predict where I might be at the end of this week, let alone the end of this term, or this year.

The only thing I can say with any certainty is that I will not be the same person writing this essay: a culture-shocked Tokyoite finding his footing in Chicago, a native son rediscovering his American edge, a teacher trying to become a student.

I know who I am now, but I’m interested to meet the man I will become in the year ahead, and to know where that man might call his home.

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