Like everyone born and raised on the east coast, one of my favorite pastimes is judging other people. In fact, the only thing I like more than judging people is judging the photos of people I don’t know, because a photo can’t put you in a headlock in front of the girl you like in Mr. Huston’s 11th grade gym class. NOT COOL KEVIN ATKINS.
Anyway, after finally escaping the toil and trouble of school life, I went on to a four year university to get a BA in Education (why?) and then a Master’s, again, in Education (again, why?). I regret both of these decisions immensely, but I will say that, in the land where English teachers are truly a dime a dozen, these pieces of paper called diplomas have opened quite a few doors for me in the world of education.
My first full-time gig in Japan was teaching at a semi-international combined Junior High/High School. I say semi-international because the majority of students were ippansei (regular students), while by comparison only a select few were kikokushijo (Japanese students who have spent a significant amount of their upbringing overseas). As you might expect, the English office was (and probably still is – I don’t know because I quit) loaded from floor to ceiling with endless stacks of ESL books.
The above photo was taken from a Junior 1 (students age 11 to 12) English conversation textbook. I have saved this photo for over two years; it recalls a fond memory of sitting at my desk making up backstories for the stock model characters when I was supposed to be planning lessons. Now that I think of it, that’s also what I’m doing right now.
So, without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to some friends of mine.
Rie grew up in the outskirts of Sendai, Miyagi prefecture, before relocating to Tokyo to attend university. Though her Japanese suburban upbringing gave her a relatively pleasant, shy-girl demeanor, she became acclimated to the hustle and bustle of city life with relative ease. An anthropology major, Rie’s student life was mostly carefree as she formed a solid circle of friends in Tokyo - mostly through the university tennis club - while still being able to visit home on school breaks.
Curious to experience life outside Japan and improve her English, Rie spent her junior year living in Christchurch, New Zealand, on a study abroad program (She had also considered San Francisco, Portland and Vancouver until her guidance counselor suggested other places due to the difficulty of the visa application process as well as the high cost of living). Cute, polite and easy to talk to, Rie was well received by her dormitory mates – both male and female – and received frequent invitations to parties, social gatherings and even the occasional dinner date, which she usually accepted.
Rie partied her ass off in New Zealand. The manageable workload and ease of social interaction provided countless opportunities to make new friends, learn English, and sleep with guys she didn’t have as many chances to sleep with in Japan. One Friday night she even did a little experimenting with her roommate, an English girl from Brighton, after the two of them had decided to stay in and ended up killing an entire bottle of cheap Polish vodka. While this would be a first and last time for Rie, it is an experience she remembers fondly – and keeps to herself.
Still, she knew in her heart of hearts she was and always would be a Japanese girl, and while some of her fellow classmates entertained ideas of living, working and possibly marrying abroad, she knew all along that she would eventually return to Tokyo, finish up school and get a job. So after a year of fun and a few last hoorahs, she bid farewell to her friends and classmates in Christchurch and made a half-hearted promise that someday they’d meet again.
Rie, now 26, works for an advertising firm and has her own apartment in Tokyo. While she occasionally dated and/or hooked up with a few foreign guys after graduating university, it was never her intention to settle down with one. At present she is dating a Japanese salaryman who was introduced to her by a colleague. Though not as charming or fun to talk to as her previous boyfriend, he takes good care of her and promises a stable and secure family life in Japan. Their engagement will remain a secret to everyone except immediate family members and close relations, until their wedding day is made public on Facebook. At this point I will realize why she stopped answering my texts.
Linda, my least favorite of the bunch, was born and raised in Connecticut, which is known both as the “Constitution State” as well as the “Land of Steady Habits”, whatever the fuck that means. She has more or less lived her entire life on the straight and narrow, and is a firm believer in the American dream, which states that anyone can achieve success and prosperity regardless of social class or circumstances, provided they are also white and from Connecticut.
She matured physically much earlier than her peers, and as you might imagine, enjoyed a great deal of popularity and attention in her middle and high school years. Still, she was smart enough to recognize that her status existed only in this small bubble of suburban Connecticut, and so when college application season came around, she only applied to schools in Boston (with UConn as her safety). Boston was big enough to provide opportunity for growth, yet close enough to home to still feel familiar.
Linda wasted no time after enrolling at BU. While she certainly enjoyed her fair share of partying freshman year (particularly at frat parties – she even briefly dated a brother in Pi Kappa Alpha), her beauty had reached is physical peak in her sophomore year, and she was aware of this. She started dating Steve, a business major (focus in marketing) and fellow Connecticuter, during the second semester of their sophomore year. Though a bit of a goof, Steve was what you would call a “safe bet”; he was kind, albeit a bit of a pushover, and he came from a well-to-do family. Before the school year’s end Linda was already concocting plans to marry Steve, though he was oblivious to this fact.
Five years later, Linda and Steve are married and living in a midsize family home in Hartford, CT. They are both 26 years old. Steve is an auditor for the same bank his father worked at for over 40 years, and Linda is a project manager for an online retailer. No kids yet, but they have a dog (his) and two cats (hers). Linda is the first homeowner among her group of friends. She drinks seven glasses of white wine a night.
Because of her unique family history, Kylie has a broader perspective on life than most of her peers. Her father, whose family emigrated from Senegal to the US when he was in his early teens, was the first and only member of his family to attend college, which he paid for entirely on his own by tending bar. After completing his gen-eds at a local community college, he transferred to Penn State, where he graduated with a degree in computer engineering. During his first year of work as an entry-level engineer, he met Sarah, a schoolteacher and Pennsylvania native, at a company barbecue. The two would go on to be wed a few years down the road, and not long after they made a down payment on their first house. Two years later, Kylie was born.
Knowing where he came from and what he could go back to, Kylie’s father was adamant to instill the same work ethic and family values in his daughter that had served him well in his own life. As a result, she grew up fully bilingual and with a strong connection to both her Senegalese heritage as well as the American way. Her relatives visited from Senegal when they could, and her father took her there for the first time when she was 16, full aware that she would see things that would both shock and frighten any young American girl. He was not mistaken.
Kylie knows she is a product of the American dream but at the same time knows it doesn’t exist for most people – including those who were born and raised in the US. Currently a sophomore at Princeton studying political science, she is quick to make new friends but still keeps in close contact with her family, visiting home during summer and winter vacations. In her free time she enjoys shopping and the occasional night out with her friends, though she never lets either of these activities get too out of hand. She would never, ever, ever go out with me.
High school parking lot weed dealer.