My name is Jun Senesac, and I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. My mother is Japanese and my father is American and I was told I spoke better English going into Kindergarten. My parents decided to put me through Japanese education first. I attended a full time private Japanese school, Kokusai-gakuen, until I was in 4th grade. At this point, my fluency in English was very limited. The language, way of thinking, attitude and even my appearance was Japanese. It was then, my parents decided to enroll me in a public American school, and Asahi Gakuen on Saturdays to keep up my Japanese education.
I remember having a difficult time adjusting to the American school life. Despite being an American, my relationship with teachers and friends, school rituals, or the classroom activities felt very foreign to me. For that reason, I looked forward to going to Asahi Gakuen every Saturday.
However, I started to become more accustomed to the American school life, and I even joined a local basketball team. As I entered middle school, I began to enjoy American school more, and attending Asahi Gakuen every Saturday became a burden. I had to do twice the work of the regular American students, and even was forced to miss basketball games on Saturdays just to attend the Japanese School. At the time it just did not make sense. On top of that, Asahi Gakuen had very strict rules compared to American schools.
I can't remember how many times I thought to myself "I'm going to quit." My parents and the teachers around me were always reminding me how important it will be for me in the future, and the value of being able to speak two languages. But at the time I obviously couldn't understand the true meaning behind it. I was too caught up in playing basketball and having fun with my friends. However, one Saturday I remember a teacher talking about "Finish what you start." It made me think about all the years I've studied Japanese so far and how I would feel if I decided to quit when I was only a few years away from graduating. Just like any sports, you don't quit or give up on a game simply because you are losing. One has to stick through tough times to feel a real sense of accomplishment. I thought about this and I decided to finish up my middle school years as I planned. On graduation day, as I received my certificate of graduation, I felt like I really accomplished something special.
After I graduated from high school, I went on to study business economics with accounting emphasis at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). UCSB is a laid back university surround by the mountain and the ocean. I had the opportunity to study abroad for a year at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo, Japan. Experiencing the Japanese college life and living alone in a foreign country is something I'll never forget. Riding on a train that is beyond crowded, cultural festivals, and the cherry blossom seasons are just few of the great memories studying abroad.
During this year I also realized how fortunate I was learning the language as a child. Many exchange students studied numerous hours of Japanese everyday. Many of the exchange students started Japanese either in high school or college and seeing each one of them struggle to communicate really made me appreciate the days I spent at Asahi Gakuen.
Since this August, I was hired as a Coordinator for International Relations in Uchinada town, Ishikawa Prefecture through the JET program. The JET program mainly hires a group of teachers from around the globe as Assistant Language Teachers (ALT) to help educate K-12 schools with English. As a CIR though, our main responsibilities deal with translation, interpretation, school visits and event planning.
Since I live in a small town with a population of less than 30,000, my main responsibilities are to promote cultural awareness either by school visits or event planning. There are many mistaken stereotypical thoughts towards foreigners and it is my job to make sure they get a better understanding.
I usually hold an international event once a month. So far I've started the international salon, cultural/English classes, Halloween/Christmas parties, and international schools. The goal is to give the opportunity for the foreigners and residents to get to know each other and learn about one another's culture.
Since I've started working here in Japan, I finally realized why my parents and teachers were pushing me to continue Japanese education. There have been countless amounts of times when people ask me with a confused look, "Wow your Japanese is so good, why?" Until this year, I really took the ability to know both languages for granted. I never realized some people study for years and years and on top of that invest large amounts of money to learn a foreign language. Many still have a difficult time communicating. I'm in a position now where kids and adults, students and bosses will depend on me for bilingual assistance. I cannot thank my parents and teachers enough for pushing me through times I felt like giving up.
To the students,
I can't deny the fact that I regret not studying more while I was in Asahi. If I can go back in time knowing what I know now, I still wouldn't change a anything about my middle school days at Asahi though. However, because I did continue to pursue my Japanese education, I feel like I can see and understand both cultures now. Especially being part Japanese, part American, I feel like I'm able to live the best of both worlds. That's an incredible gift. All of you have this opportunity now to experience both cultures and whatever path you choose, I'm sure it will benefit you in one way or another. "Never give up, Never quit," and in the end, you'll find yourself with fullfilling results.