Interview by Angie Hawn
This month I bring you Sophie Rubenking from Hach. Her responses to my questions were amazing and I’m excited to share the different perspective. Thanks, Sophie!
Where are you originally from? What city, town, village do you currently reside in? What year JET are you? And anything else you feel the masses just need to know.
I come from Davis, California, but I was born in San Francisco and went to college in Santa Cruz! California through and through. At the moment I live in Hachinohe, on the east side of Aomori, and I have for about a year and a half now. I may talk a lot and enjoy going out or meeting groups of people occasionally but I’m definitely an extreme introvert so I spend most of my time on drawing, piano and video games, safe and warm in my apartment.
How are you involved with your Japanese community? Did you join a club or class? Do you volunteer, jump into festival season, or teach an eikaiwa?
That’s a tricky way to phrase the question. It would be a lot easier to answer if it was “How involved are you with your Japanese community?” Assuming this means outside of school functions, the answer would be…a little, but not much. When events come along (international festivals, Sansha Taisai, etc.) I like participating. I also occasionally visit a local Pho place where ALTs come to do casual eikaiwa practice/lessons with people who want to come. Above that I can’t say I do very much, or feel like there’s any meaning in the phrase “my Japanese community.” I live in a fairly large city, far away from where I work and am required to take public transportation so I revel in the moment I finally get home and don’t have to go outside for the rest of the night everyday.
Is this a one time gig? Or something you do on a continuous basis? Is it a short or long term commitment? Are you gonna keep it up?
All of my community involvement is done in bursts – our BoE occasionally has us work with elementary school students at community centers on a weekend here and there, and there’s a free (with sign-up) eikaiwa that we do around 3 or 4 times a year as well.
Why did you choose to get involved? What drew you to this activity? Did you want to try something new? Did you read about it when first researching your placement or get wrangled in by your JTE?
The only activity I’ve really gotten into since coming to Japan is drawing I’d say. Realizing that I’m in the land that all the art supplies people gush about online are made in (if you know Copic markers, they’re about half the American price here) inspired me to start doing more (and to burn a hole in my wallet with the volume of “well it’s cheaper here so I have to buy it” items). Haven’t gotten “wrangled” into any more exciting activities.
What have you gained from your time in Japan? Good, bad, indifferent…I want to know it all.
More than anything else, I feel like I’ve learned about myself. I came with nebulous plans to do various things and on occasion got a chance to get my feet wet but I never got the opportunity to dive in head first. Full disclosure: these questions were very difficult to answer for me. I got a bit frustrated at the continuing follow-up questions to my answer of more or less, “I’m not,” to the “How are you involved?” question. I guess that’s the nature of an interview where the questions are all decided ahead of time. I guess that frustration comes from a frustration with myself for essentially not being someone else. I love and hate reading the “I mentioned I like ____________ and my JTE roped me into it!” stories because they sound so cool, but compared to my experience also a bit fairy-tale-like and out of reach. I’ve never said no to any opportunity so if it were there I’d take it, but I’m just not the kind of person who goes out there and finds things on their own.
What advice would you give to those who want to jump in?
I guess this one is for the other JETs out there feeling like they’re inadequate because they’re not having a magical surprising Japan adventure where they do [fun cultural thing] every week. My advice would be: if you haven’t found something you want to participate in regularly then try and take that time to improve yourself in some way. Learn more Japanese, learn a different language, draw some pictures, practice an instrument (oops these are all just my hobbies). Yes part of our job is acting as ambassadors for our countries and promoting cultural exchange, but if all you can do outside of school is participate in the occasional event or lesson then that’s okay. If you require as much recharge time as I do then you should let yourself have it (especially after a day of mostly speaking Japanese). Just when one of those one-off opportunities comes knocking, be sure to open the door or you’ll regret it later.