Unexpected Decisions

I like to think of myself as an adventurous, confident person who knows her limits. I'm always willing to try new things, even if I'm not completely sure what I'm doing, but I also know when to say no. But sometimes I underestimate myself, as we all tend to do, and every time I'm wrong and end up doing something that I had previously ruled out, it ends up being a great decision.

Take college, for example. One of my criteria when choosing which universities to apply to was whether or not they guaranteed housing for all four years. As a (pretty sheltered) Senior in high school, I thought no way was I going to move into non-university-sponsored housing where I would have to worry about things like rent and bills and maintenance, especially since I already knew that I would be somewhere thousands of miles away from home and family. And yet, less than one year later I found myself looking for apartments and talking to potential roommates. Though I wasn't living on my own exactly (I had four roommates), I learned a lot while living in that apartment -- everything from how to deal with mice living in the walls to the fact that I really love cooking. It wasn't all pleasant, and we had several infrastructural problems pop up during the year (blocked drains, sooty radiators, heaters refusing to turn on -- you name it, it happened), but nothing was impossibly difficult to deal with, and I came out with the knowledge that I really could "adult."

When looking into studying abroad I originally focused only on the quarter-long programs run by the university. I wanted to ensure that I would have enough time to finish all of my credits and that all of my classes taken abroad would count toward my degree. In the end, I wound up doing an entire year abroad in Japan via a program run by Columbia University, which was exactly the opposite of what I thought I wanted to do. Unsurprisngly, this ended up being one of the best decisions that I made during my university career. It was incredibly fun, my Japanese improved exponentially, and all of the credits worked out!

During my time studying abroad, I decided to take a solo trip to Okinawa. The only solo travel I had done up to that point was airplane rides to and from places, which really counts more as transit rather than travel. It was never something that I had given much thought to doing, and whenever I would read those inspriational "I traveled around the world solo for six months" stories that would pop up on my feed, I'd think it was cool but immediately move on without second thought. But when I found myself with a few days to spare at the end of my program, taking a trip to Okinawa was a no-brainer, and it was something that I wanted to do alone. Although my family has been in Hawaii for four generations now, my dad's side was originally from Okinawa. I hadn't been there before, and I wanted to see the area my family was from and experience the local culture at my own pace, so it was necessarily a really personal trip. And again, it was an enlightening experience (notice a trend here?). I was only there for three days, but I feel like I came back more confident in my ability to be alone (and with a burning desire to one day write an inspriring extended solo travel article of my own!).  

Recently, I found myself once again with the choice to make a decision contrary to what I thought I wanted. I came into the JET Program with the clear intention of only staying for a year, and I remained relatively unwavered until December rolled around and I was handed the forms to sign saying whether or not I would extend my contract. Having the actual, physical papers in my hands made me pause and think about why I was so sure I wanted to leave. I wasn't unhappy - not by any standards. In fact, I was really enjoying life. Sure, the cold was getting to me, but I'm the kind of person who's perpetually cold in temperatures below 70┬░F anyways. One of the teachers I work with irritates the living daylights out of me, but literally everyone else has been nothing but kind and welcoming. And country life gets kind of boring sometimes, but I find myself in Osaka nearly every other weekend, which allows for a perfect balance of fun and relaxation.

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Rather than basing my opinion on my actual situation, I think the problem was that all the people I had talked to before I came here who had done JET in the past fell pretty neatly into two groups: those who were miserable and were on the first plane out of the country once their one-year contract was over and those who absolutely loved it and stayed for their maximum allowed time (3-5 years), and while I didn't hate it, I was also not in love with it either. I guess I had subconsciously boxed myself into thinking that if I didn't want to stay for the maximum time, I might as well stay only for the minimum time. Which, looking back, seems pretty dumb. Here I am, living comfortably in a foreign country, making a decent amount of (untaxed!) money, just a short plane ride away from anywhere in East/Southeast Asia. Why not stay?

And so, two weeks ago, I turned in my forms and will now be here until (at least!) August 2018. I have absolutely zero doubts that like all of the 'surprise' decisions I've made in the past, this one will turn out to be one of the best things I could have done for myself.