Sunday, October 01, 2006

October Rain Makes No Demands

Saturday's event was, by all accounts, a success. As it was the first thing I've organized for the consulate -- and actually more in keeping with the PD role I'll supposedly be filling later on in my career -- I'm grateful. Though perhaps more grateful to have woken up this morning, remained lazily in bed listening to the crows chattering on the roof, and thought 'I don't have a single blessed thing to do today.'*

The event was for the Japan Exchange & Teaching (JET) Program participants living in one of the prefectures covered by our consulate; JET was how I first entered Japan back in 2000, and fully half of the American officers working in the Osaka consulate are JET alumni. Given that it's such a common FS background, and given the panic I know most JETs feel toward the end of their tenure in Japan when they look around and think, 'Ack! I've got a BA in Philosophy and Anthropology! What does a person with no appreciable skills do in the real world?!'**, it only seemed right to have them over for a little pizza and soothing discussion. After the FS officers went around the room and made their AA-esque introductions ("Hi, my name is Katie, and I was a JET in Okayama-ken from 2000 to 2002."), we put in the requisite plugs for registering with the consulate, encouraging their students to study in the States, and signing up for the FS exam. But what I had really wanted to talk to them about was the importance of being grass-root diplomats in their own right. The JET program has people in it from English speaking countries all over the world, the majority of whom -- despite having no direct experience with America -- tend to dislike the United States on principle. The opportunity there to make a real difference in salvaging perceptions of the US is an amazingly rare one, and something I didn't fully appreciate myself until some time into my JET experience. I have a great story about a New Zealand friend who worked in the same town with me that highlights this: We had known each other for a while, and once I'd even taken time off of work to translate for her at the hospital when she was ill (resulting in a rather comic episode where the doctor who was palpating her stomach asked, "Does it hurt here?," and waited patiently for me to translate my friend's strangled response of "AAAAA!! OUCH OUCH OUCH!!"). But I guess the subject of nationality never really came up. When I made some comment about going back to Florida after JET, this look of pure astonishment came over her. "You," she said, "are AMERICAN?" She turned to her boyfriend, another New Zealander, who confirmed this. After a few moments of speechlessness, she explained, "But Katie, you are much too nice to be an American. I always thought you were from Canada."

So my challenge to the JETs was going to be: 'Be too nice to be an American'. That's pretty good, don't you think? Sort of memorable.

But instead, of course, I get up in front of 40, perfectly friendly, perfectly congenial people, and begin immediately to feel flush. I have no idea why this happens, but it is extremely irritating. I'm not a stupid person, I occasionally have worthwhile things to say, and I think could even be a somewhat engaging speaker if I could just get past the need to push all the words out of my mouth as quickly as humanly possible in order to speed my escape from the spotlight. Usually towards the end of moments like that, I'm not even aware of what I'm saying. This even sporadically occurs during smaller social interactions. So maybe I told the JETs my story, but I really couldn't say for sure. Most frustrating.

I could speculate as to the reasons for this quasi- social anxiety, but those sorts of musings too easily become navel gaze-y and ridiculous.

At least the Japanese talk went well. There, when I started to go all 'deer-in-the-headlights', the FSN who was with me leaped to the podium, pulled me down into a chair, explained the next powerpoint slide while I collected myself, then handed the reins back over when it was clear that I wasn't going to pass out or throw up. God bless her.

It's starting to rain now, but only on one side of the house. I can't believe it's already October.

*Not actually true. But I am a master of maintaining sanity-saving delusions, when necessary.
**Not that I speak from experience or anything.


Mrs. Wrye said...

you are cuter than should be possible. ;p

Now where ARE you????

Jason said...

This is Jason Marsh. I just found your blog! How's it going, former Okayama Jet'er! ;-)