It was four years ago, in 2008, when I first set foot in Asia. I was 24 years old and a participant in the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme, a Japanese government-initiative that recruits native-English language speakers from all over the world. With little knowledge of the Asian region, I set forth on an adventure that led me to where I am today. In this article, I will share these experiences with you.
Based in Miyazaki, one of the most southern prefectures in Japan, a rural area twice the size of Trinidad and Tobago but with the same population, I began teaching English in a senior high school. The school was business-oriented, with most of its graduates pursuing careers as air hostesses, hotel concierge and bank tellers. I taught at this school for three years, managing to remember the names of 360 students each year. And each year the experience got better, as I connected more with my students, co-workers and friends—both Japanese and foreign—alike, having an opportunity to travel across Asia, adopt its culture and learn Japanese.
Asian culture, is vastly different from Western culture. While Westerners think individualistically, Asians place more emphasis on the community, even sharing dishes placed at the centre of the table, rather than ordering single servings. It is because of this need to safeguard the harmony of the group that crime in Japan and other parts of East Asia is so low. This was one of the more attractive points of Japan that led me to love here. Conversely, being a teacher led me to realise how open and friendly Japanese students are with their teachers. In Trinidad, I remember students' unwillingness to approach teachers and other figures of authority. It took me one year to adjust to this major difference as an educator in Japan.
But, despite these great moments of learning, I yearned to go back to school, and never forgot the real reason why I came to Asia—to discover more about its history, development and politics. I decided I would leave Japan in 2011, as I had helped my students embark on their dreams, I too will pursue mine. I choose to study in Singapore, with a great interest in people and social welfare I decided pursuing a Masters degree in Public Policy would help me to contribute even more to society. Singapore's similar colonial history to Trinidad and Tobago and its cosmopolitan ethnic background provided a bonus. Why was it a country, five times smaller and facing the same challenges as Trinidad and Tobago able to modernize in 30 years? I wanted to learn the secrets of this modern marvel and bring its policies to our shores. I was excited to embark on this new adventure.
Next week: Asha makes a decision that will change the rest of her life