Friday, August 24, 2012

Life After JET: Paul (Part 2)

Yesterday I wrote about what was going on in my life around the time I decided to return home from JET and leading up to my repatriation. Now I'm going to pick up and talk about what's been going on for the past year or so. First I'll say that a lot of the observations I'm going to make are probably going to sound kind of negative. Admittedly I'm not too thrilled with the way things have gone since I came back. I've been dealing with reverse culture shock, a crappy economy, a painful breakup, and a basically non-existent social life. But I should also acknowledge that I know thing are going better for me than for a lot of people right now. It's a tough time for entering (or returning to) the workforce. So even though it's a struggle sometimes, I am trying to be positive and recognize the fact that things aren't so grim. Anyway, here we go.

Work: I saved up a little vacation time to come home a few days before my contract ended so that I could attend my good friend Nate's wedding as a groomsman. I remember feeling kind of bad for myself because the typical practice is to stay in Japan for a couple extra weeks after JET and travel or hang out with friends. I would really have liked to spend some more time with Yoshie. But I'm glad I didn't miss my friend's wedding.

I should probably mention that before returning home, I hadn't really been looking for work, and so I didn't have any kind of job secured. But as luck would have it, not too long after the wedding I got an email from Nate that his aunt, the owner of a publishing company, was looking for someone to do some freelance work for her. It seems she was in some kind of a bind to meet a tight deadline and the team she had working on the project was shorthanded. I responded that I would be interested. Turns out she remembered me from the wedding; had a quick couple interviews over the phone and I had a job.

I can't go too deeply into what my work involved (nondisclosure agreement), but I can say that my title was Rights Reuse Analyst, which basically means I was part of a team that helped a client manage rights (as in copyright) data and determine what could be used in their titles and what would be questionable or unusable without legal liability. Originally I was signed on for one month, but when the work kept going I was asked to stay on another month. When we finally finished, I was told that I was welcome to stay on as long as there was work coming in.

I was really grateful to have had that job, but it was really a mixed bag. Everyone working on the project was working from home from different parts of the country (and one from France), which meant we communicated mostly via email and phone, though we also used Skype on occasion. The people I worked with were all really nice, but it was sometimes a high-pressure job, with somewhat unpredictable hours and tight deadlines. A couple times I wound up working from morning until the next morning (with some small breaks, granted), so there were a few 11 or 12 hour days. I remember being stressed out a lot because we were often waiting to receive material from our client. My first couple months the work was pretty consistent and I was logging around 40 hours per week, but then after that I would sometimes have 10 or 15 hour weeks (or less) depending on when we would receive new work/instructions. Waiting around for work and not making money is no fun.

I was making a pretty good per-hour wage, but as a freelancer I counted as "self employed." I didn't have any kind of benefits, and taxes work a little differently when you're your own employer. As my hours started to become erratic and then dwindle, I decided that I needed to find something more constant and stable.

One day I got a JETAA DC (JET Alumni Associate of Washington DC) newsletter mentioning an admin job opening at a Japanese telecommunications research office in the city. I wound up applying and somehow was offered the job (not to demean myself; I know I interview well, but I've since met one of the other guys who applied for the job and he is a nice guy and smart, and his Japanese is better than mine). Fortunately the job came with pretty good insurance. Unfortunately the salary and vacation days offered were...disappointing. I said upfront that I could be flexible but was asking for 40k a year. I think they offered me something like 29k. I declined their offer, and to my surprise they came back with a counteroffer. It wasn't a whole lot better, but I figured I needed to do I accepted, and that's where I am at the moment.

I've been here for about 5 months, and I am looking for another job. The other day I interviewed for a position as associate producer with TV Asahi in DC, but unfortunately I didn't make it past the first interview. The guys I work with here are nice, but it's a small office (4 J guys and me), so I don't really get to meet many people. As I said, my pay and vacation days are not so great. And I know this sounds snooty, but the work is just too menial. I do help with some telecom research, which wasn't included in the original job description, and that is interesting. But aside from that I am basically a secretary. That's a fine job, but I think more suited to a secondary income-earner, and not something that requires a bachelor's degree.

But the job market is a wreck right now. I am applying to federal jobs all the time and the automated rejection emails have just become background noise. I apply to private companies too, and usually don't even get a response. It's a discouraging time to be looking for work. Still, at least I am employed at the moment.

Bottom line here is that the main driver of my decision to return home hasn't panned out. I thought that it was time to come home and try to find a real career with advancement opportunities and a bigger salary. Well, not yet. Let's see what's behind door #2.

Finances: Oh, this is door #2? Not a whole lot different to say here. At my freelance job I was making less than on JET, if you take into account taxes and lack of insurance. Now I am making even less than that. The regression isn't very encouraging. On top of that, in order to take this job I had to buy a car, which at least I had wanted to do anyway. Basically I took a chunk of money I had saved from my freelancing and the tax refund I had from working in Japan (which if I remember correctly was around $5k or $6 originally, but kind of got whittled down over the months) plus a $2k loan from my mom (half paid back) and a 5-year $10k loan through a car dealership, and bought a new 2012 Toyota Yaris. Not a high-end car, but I paid what I could afford so that hopefully this thing will last me a good number of years. The extra car loan and insurance payments aren't helping my situation, but it's another step towards reachieving independence. And it has gets good mileage, too.

Domestic Life: Well, for starters I had to move back in with my mom and sister here in Maryland. It definitely has its perks, like, lodging and utilities. I love my family, so it's not that I don't want to see them, but it can be hard to go from living independently to being back home again. My mom is probably one of the coolest around, so I can't complain about her. My sister and I get into a lot of scuffles, though. Especially because one of my biggest stressors has been her dog.

Towards the end of my time in Japan, I heard that my sister wanted a dog. She asked me for my input and I believe I said "Fine. But dogs are a lot of work, so don't ask me to take care of it." Well, that turned out how you might expect. My first half year back while I was working from home, it was my job to walk him (usually a couple times), feed him once, and let him be out of his cage for a while if my schedule permitted. One of the main problems is that he is a Shiba-Inu, which is a very energetic and stubborn breed. So he would be banging on his cage, wanting to come out. I would walk him and he would want to run around and grab sticks and leaves and wouldn't go to the bathroom. And when he was out inside the house he would bite at whatever he could reach (pillows, napkins, papers) at random and try to eat them.

When I took this job and also got pissed at her for always going out and dumping her dog on me or my mom, I stopped taking care of him most of the time. Recently, though, my sister has been doing all kinds of crap (coaching a soccer team, taking Japanese classes, seeing her new boyfriend) and my mom has been having problems with her knee and has a hard time handling the dog. So the thankless job once again falls to me.

Well, at least I have a car these days, so I can go out now and then if I want to. But...

Social Life: Stunted. Frustrating. In Japan and in college I had a lot of opportunities to go out with friends and meet new people. Unfortunately, though, I don't really know anyone here. I grew up in New York and my mom moved to Maryland less than a year before I went to Japan on JET. So I came home and was without a car for over half a year. My nearest friend lives in Pennsylvania (though he's moving to Maryland soon), and I was doing the long distance relationship thing. So most of my socializing was done online.

These days I've been trying to branch out and get more involved in meeting people, but it's slow going. I have been going to some JETAA DC networking events but haven't really connected with anyone enough to warrant anything beyond chatting at said event. I've also become a member of the Japan America Society of Washington DC and have attended a few of their events, and am taking a Japanese history class with them. But the events aren't regular enough for me to really make any friends, and the class I'm taking is small and mostly made up of folks older than myself. There is one former JET member in that class who is around my age and a pretty cool dude, though. So there's that at least.

Writing all this I know it sounds like I am just feeling sorry for myself, and sometimes I do. But I'm trying to improve my situation. It's just...very slow. For people who return to a home where they have a lot of friends and familiarity, repatriation might be easier, I suspect.

Romance: Crap, this one again...

Well, I've already written posts about what happened with Yoshie and me. I've also already written some mopey ramblings (mostly in Japanese though, maybe). But I'll give a brief recap.

I returned home and we did our best to keep things going over even longer distance than they had been. We missed each other a lot, and sometimes I thought things were harder for her than me because I had done the international thing before. She visited me for a couple weeks near the end of last year. It wasn't a perfect trip, but was a lot better than her first trip to America, I think. And it was awesome to see her after months of just Skype and Gchat.

After that, things started to decline. She started becoming busier with her music life (setting up shows and meeting new bands and artists to play with; tons of rehearsals and practices). In the past she had told me that she was considering moving to America. Maybe we wouldn't be together at first, but it would be a big step towards our future together. But now she started talking a little about how she was considering moving to Fukuoka (the big city near Saga where the majority of the music community lives). I knew that if she moved to Fukuoka, she wouldn't be making plans to leave Japan anytime soon.

Things started getting rough for me. Texts and Skype sessions became fewer as she got busier. I guess being busy also helped take her mind off of us not being together. I started feeling really stressed at work because sometimes days would go by with merely one or two messages between us, whereas in the past we had been back and forth throughout the day. I missed her a lot and I worried that she didn't care as much about the relationship as she used to.

I visited her at the end of April of this year. It was...not a good trip. I'm glad I went and got to see her in person one last time. But while I was there, she had a lot of practices and a couple of shows. I resented that she wasn't spending more time with me; after all, I had spent a lot of money and taken time off from work to visit, and who knows when we would see each other again? She was irritable sometimes, I think because she was feeling so conflicted. Our trip to Nagasaki to meet up with Joe and Lieko was uncomfortable.

One day I kind of broke down emotionally and poured out that I had been thinking about how I wanted to marry her and build a family together, but that these days it seemed more and more like that wouldn't happen. She listened but I don't remember what she told me. Nothing really to resolve anything.

Then about an hour before I was going to leave for the airport, she broke down and told me that she was going to move to Fukuoka. That she was going to remove her relationship status from Facebook and not make posts about it because it was unprofessional. She loved me but she decided that her music had to come first. I told her I understood, and that in light of that we probably wouldn't be able to make things work. When I was on the bus to the airport, she called me crying and asked if I would give her some more time to think. I said I would.

A week or two later I finally got a chance to talk to her on Skype again and I told her that if this was how things were going to be (we had barely talked since I returned to the States), that we had to break up. I could do long distance, but not indefinitely, and not knowing that I would barely get to talk to her because she would be too busy. God, breakups suck.

Since then we've exchanged one or two emails and we're still friends on Facebook, but I don't know how long all of that will last. I'm trying to get past her, but I'm not doing a good job. Maybe I won't be able to until I meet someone else who I can love.

At any rate, I know that you meet people when you least expect it, but I have a hard time picturing myself with anyone in the near future. Not just because of how I feel, but because of my dismal social life. =P

Conclusion: I'd like to just say that if you are abroad and considering coming home, think carefully and try not to make an emotional choice. But consider your emotions. My main reason for coming back was to get a better job. I thought with my experience and education it wouldn't be too much of a problem, even with the economy the way it is. But it seems having a bachelor's degree and living abroad aren't as strong on a resume as they used to be.

As the JET mantra goes, ESID. In my case, it's very possible things will pick up at some unexpected juncture and I will be better off for having decided to come home. But the sad truth for now is that I often regret my decision. I wish this post had a happier ending, so,'s a puppy:

1 comment:

  1. This post is very motivating. Thank you for your raw honesty.