Visiting Student

I spent some time today thinking about a couple of Japanese girls that I got to know when I was teaching ESL the summer before Daddy J and I got married. I was an assistant that summer, and then filled in for the regular ESL teacher for a couple of months that fall. We lived in the dorm that year, so we spent a lot of time around the boarding students, especially.

I LOVED Rie and Shiho.

Daddy J will attest that I had my share of frustrations when I was teaching ESL and, later, tutoring both ESL and English speaking kids. These are kids who, for the most part (and certainly for the ESL kids’ part) are boarding students at a pretty pricey private school. There tends to be… drama.

However, the memory I have of these girls is nothing but sweet. I’m sure that they, like every other human I know, did and said things they regret in high school, but they were just so darn charming and infectiously happy to be around. They were on the other side of the world from their families, and didn’t speak English all that well, but were just so adorable.

Rie was shorter and had this wedge hairdo. She would laugh loudly and raspily, like a middle-aged smoker. Although I can’t imagine that she smoked a cigarette, ever. Shiho was more willowy and delicate, with long, glossy hair. She was the more emotional of the two. Like most of the other kids in their class, who were from various countries, they were like bright, playful puppies. They would unselfconsciously practice their English, over and over, and laugh with each other and at themselves as they learned.

(Oh, Manolo. He was so funny and suave. He would bring in his jambox and moonwalk to Michael Jackson songs. Whatever became of Manolo?)

Like many of the international kids, Rie and Shiho didn’t go home for all of their breaks. They did homestays with families like ours over Christmas and Easter breaks. Rie and Shiho stayed with Daddy J’s grandparents in town after summer school and before the school year started. They came to our wedding.
Shiho drew a picture of me, very anime, and told me effusively what a beautiful bride I was. Rie loudly told me the wedding was SO GOOD. HAW HAW HAW.

I was thinking about how confident they were, considering where they were and what was going on. They were young teenagers in another country, where they weren’t completely fluent in the language. But they seemed, for the most part, pretty cool with the whole thing.

At first, I thought this must be because they came from some serious cash back in Japan. International tuition is nothing to sneeze at. If a family can afford to send a child to this school from Japan, they’re not wanting for the basic necessities. Maybe their insouciance came from the fact that they were rich spoiled girls.

But, no. I don’t buy that. I went to that same school, and I went to a private college with an impressive price tag (I had a scholarship, btw.) At these schools, there were girls aplenty who came from rich families who were stressed and depressed and didn’t feel good enough. Rie and Shiho and the other ESL kids laughed easily and enjoyed themselves immensely.

I want my kids to feel that way. I want to feel that way. I want to try really hard to succeed, but know that, if I don’t, it’s not the end of the world. If I fail, or make a fool of myself, or do something stupid, it’s OKAY. The worst that can happen isn’t that bad. You get sent home.


The spiritual metaphors are just too easy. But I still loved to swim around in them today. I had a really great afternoon driving to and from the grocery store, thinking about Rie and Shiho.

We’re here.
It’s foreign.
It’s not home.
It’s not forever.
The work can be REALLY hard.
But it’s pretty fun, in general.
We tend to do some goofy things.
And sound silly.
And occasionally hurt people, or get hurt.
Sometimes badly.
We know that, no matter what, there is a cheering section at home that only wants the best for us. They want us to have a good time and learn stuff, and if we screw up, they’ll still love us. They’ll send us care packages and encouragement from the rest of the family.
And the best part is, when we’re done, we get to go HOME, into those waiting arms.
No matter what, no matter what asses we make of ourselves, if we flunk out or if we graduate valedictorian, if we cut out early or we go on to multiple graduate degrees,
We all get to go HOME.

%d bloggers like this: