Split Lives

I remember back in the Summer of 2011, when I started a new part-time job at UPenn. I was working as a mail clerk in various dorms on the campus. That first day, I recognized the importance of coworker communication. Communication beyond work-related matters.

On that day, my coworker did more than just train me; she damn near gave me her whole life story too. At first it felt a bit uncomfortable. I had just met this woman and here she was having a heart-to-heart with me. But I began to think about how much time one spends at work. When she gets home, she may not have someone available to sit down and talk.

With various jobs I took on since then, there was some level of personal rapport between my peers. I never really initiated it. But in my final year at Temple when I was juggling multiple part-time jobs, working 6-7 days/week, never really home; I realized the importance of having someone to talk to at work. Even if ones time at a position is brief, the time someone shares with their coworkers daily is a big chunk of their everyday lives. As I touched on in Small Beginnings, coworkers become your second family. Now I wouldn’t go and say work life and non-work life are completely transparent in American culture. There are many factors (e.g. hierarchy, environment, nature of job, etc.) which affect how personal people are on the job. Yet the line which divides the two can definitely be ambiguous when compared to Japanese work culture.

On the way back home from the bonenkai (a year-end drinking party) on Friday, I was talking to one of my fellow sensei about the conversations I had that evening. Traditionally, bonenkais are a very intoxicated romp. For one night, the strict rules of hierarchy and respect are abolished. A teacher could very well curse out the principal if he felt the need to. A toast to getting things off your chest and growing closer to your peers. By sunrise all would be forgotten. A perfect way to end the year? Well, it didn’t turn out exactly like that. Although my area isn’t that remote, it’s rural enough that the public transportation network is nowhere near as expansive as a major city. For this reason, over a third of the teachers drove to the restaurant and did not drink.

I was hoping to be seated with the Japanese English teachers that night. I felt that this would be a really good time to actually get to know more about them. The seating arrangement turned out to be random this time. My wish, unfulfilled. Fortunately, the teachers I was assigned to sit with were fairly talkative, even though they didn’t drink. I got to learn a little bit of their general background, but nothing much beyond the predictable realm of small talk.

“I wish I had the time to talk to more people,” I told the JTE in the car ride home. That statement was really directed to her, I wanted to talk to her. Some days I can just see the stress running through her face. She’s so busy it seems like she never has the down time to just not think about work. Even in the classroom her demeanor has been changing. She’s definitely fed up with some of the classes. I just wanted to do what I believe any good coworker would do: make sure everything is alright. But my time was limited. Another sensei riding in the backseat with me was drunkenly persistent in taking the conversation in his own direction. After we dropped him off, I started a conversation about work culture with the JTE.

“Yeah, in Japan it’s uhh…divided”

The “it” she was referring to was work and non-work life. It’s true. That drunk sensei we just dropped off has never shared a laugh or conversation with me at school. Yet at the nomikai in October, and the bonenkai on Friday, he’s treated me like an old friend. Blame it on the alcohol? Idk.

Before I could take the conversation any further we arrived at my apartment. Well, at least she has some understanding of where I’m coming from. If when school starts in January and she still has that stressed look on her face, I might have to cast these Japanese customs aside and ask her what’s up. Well until next time, thank you to Everyone that’s been tuning in over the last few months. It’s been an interesting ride, and I’m glad to have you all to share it with. How has your Journey through Life been going? Please tell me in the comments section, email, or Facebook. I truly do want to hear about it.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

P.S. to those who requested postcards, only I’ve only gotten through a third of my long list. I’m sorry but I’m working my way through it!

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