Well, I am nearing 2 months in. Naturally, my co-workers thought my language skills would have progressed more over this short time. I, however, was not so naive. Of course I am learning but I don’t expect it to come so quickly. My co-worker does admit that my hearing has improved. What she may not understand is that I am not naturally talkative in English to begin with.
Two days ago she took me to the Mito Cultural Center to study Japanese. I guess every day they offer a class to foreigners for 500 yen (approx. 5 dollars). I was hesitant, but it turned out to go really well. The class was one-on-one, and we brushed up on adjectives that day. My co-worker told me to go every day. Today I went again and had another good class. Today we reviewed gift-giving sentence structure. A sentence such as: Mary gave Tim a book she bought. It seems easy, but it came with its fair share of difficulty. By the end of the class, I got it.
After class was a “party”. A time for foreigners and locals alike to communicate. We had tea and snacks. It was fun. Everyone had a uniquely interesting story to share. A staff member pulled me aside at this time to share something with me. Apparently, he was struck by how much more relaxed I was today than the first day that I came. Then, he said how it seems like my co-worker and I have had our share of disagreements, and miscommunications. He said that once I left for class on my first day, that my co-worker was crying to him about how hard it was supervising me. I felt badly, but I’ve often felt the same way. Each day at work I do not know what is going to happen and sometimes won’t understand until I am in the car with someone going somewhere. I figure that is just the nature of my situation in its beginnings. Further, he explained how it is something that is so new for her. And then it really hit me! Think about it. Growing up in Los Angeles, I am constantly exposed to people wanting to learn English, or people that need help. Everyone from a big town in the U.S. gets this. We know how to, say, communicate with someone who doesn’t speak English. We know to how to show someone around who has never been before, to show them what is unique or show them what they may find interesting. My friends in Tokyo get this, too. But not in Mito. Many of my co-workers have never met foreigners, let alone worked with one. They would often take me places and not get what was “cool” about it until I pointed it out. They just do not understand any culture other than their own, thereby they cannot recognize any differences. Practically the opposite from me.
Where to go from here? Nowhere but up, of course. My relationship with my co-workers can only improve as my language ability progresses, as my ability to express myself and communicate with my co-workers improves.