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Goodbye JET, Hello Peace Boat!

Shantel with her students in Japan. Shantel Dickerson

The worst part of starting a new adventure is saying goodbye. 

There were five minutes left on the clock as I made my way to the front of the classroom near the blackboard. My Japanese students sat as still as the Beppu Sea on a calm day, but I could sense the undertow of emotions wishing and washing behind their somber eyes as I told them: "I have an announcement to make."

I took a step down from behind the wooden podium to stand on the ground beside it instead; it felt too formal standing behind it. I started off strong. My voice was sure and unwavering. It was the voice we use when we try to downplay our own emotions in the interest of preserving the strength we hope to portray to the world.

Though I didn’t hear myself say it, I told them I was to leave Japan in the coming months. I felt my words leaving my mouth but I couldn’t see where they were landing. I felt myself desperately search deep inside for a reason or an excuse that would pardon me from the disappointment in their eyes for leaving them in the middle of their senior year.

Then, my sure and unwavering voice began to crack. My lips began to quiver, and the 10 seconds I took to pull myself back together felt like 10 minutes. As I raised my head to complete my speech, I noticed we were all crying—even Ms. Mori, in the back corner of the classroom with her hands, as always, folded elegantly in front of her.

The hardest part about uprooting your life and starting over again, no matter where it may be, is saying goodbye to the people you love and who have loved you.

The hardest part about uprooting your life and starting over again, no matter where it may be, is saying goodbye to the people you love and who have loved you. Even if you know in your heart you will see a lot of those people again, it is the subtle recognition that it will never be quite the same that induces the tears and eats away at your insides. Sometimes, we even begin to question the decisions that have lead us to this point of saying goodbye. Am I leaving for the right reasons? Am I making a mistake? Should I just stay instead?

Though it may not be easy to say goodbye to the people who have enriched our lives, it offers a unique opportunity to reflect on the time spent with them and show gratitude. When prompted by a deadline such as a departure date or an expiring work contract, part of you stops looking forward and instead looks back on the fond memories made. With life moving so quickly these days and our every sense being distracted by the sudden buzz of a cell phone, we forget to stop and think about how our non-cyber life is unfolding all around us. It is in these final moments, as one chapter comes to a close and a new one begins, that we can measure just how far we have come and gain a better understanding of where we are going.

But where will I be going?

I will be joining a Japan-based NGO called Peace Boat, as a volunteer English Teacher, where I will be at sea for four months as our ship travels around the world to 23 countries. Though my core responsibility will be that of an English Teacher, I look forward to joining the various cultural exchanges and educational opportunities that take place both on the ship and in port.

Peace Boat invites respected experts and leaders to join the voyage and give lectures, workshops, and presentations on the work they are doing to promote peace, sustainability, and human rights around the world. Many of these events help to prepare Peace Boat participants for their engagement within the local communities of each port city.

Peace Boat will depart from Yokohama in September and return to Yokohama in December, at which point I hope to return to Beppu to spend Christmas with my loved ones.

So, as I say "see you again" to my friends and co-workers in Beppu, my heart is comforted by my inevitable return to Japan. That’s the thing about building your new community somewhere out in the world—you always have a home to return to.

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Published in Volunteer Abroad Blogs
Shantel Dickerson

Shantel Dickerson is a Japanese Exchange and Teaching Programme (JET) participant who is teaching English to high school students in Beppu, Japan. Shantel will join Peace Boat for four months as a volunteer English teacher and travel to 23 countries.

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