I lived in Japan for two years teaching English at a Japanese High School. No, I wasn't in the JET program. I was a teacher, just like foreign language teachers here in the US. I kept a blog during my time there and reflected on experiences big and small, Japanese and non-Japanese, positive and negative. It was a wonderful adventure.
But that was five years ago. Now that time has passed and the wheel of change has rolled on to include moving across the country, getting married, having a baby, and taking a new job, I've realized despite the many memories I cherish from my time in Japan, there are two big lessons I learned from the Japanese.
"Let's all be quiet"
When you move to a foreign country without knowing the language, however, you learn to listen. (Side note: I recommend learning the language prior to moving. I guess that's another lesson learned!) I lived in a rural part of Japan where English speakers were scarce, so no matter how much I wanted to say, it didn't matter because no one could understand me anyway. It was kind of a trial by fire; never had I been so frustrated by the inability to get my point across. So I stopped. Until I could speak Japanese, I didn't bother. Then, as I learned the language, I had to choose my words carefully. I didn't know many words yet and it was an arduous task to string together a sentence, so I had to narrow my input to only the most important ideas. I suppose it's not that I learned to be quiet, but rather that I learned to listen more carefully than ever before and to be economical in my speech. This has served me in the classroom in a couple of ways. I don't fear the silence it takes for people to think. I am amazing at wait time now. And, my directions are clear and precise. I use few words to explain procedures and expectations, which I think goes a long way, especially with the adult learners I work with now who sometimes seem to have even more trouble listening than I did in Mrs. Brown's class.