Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Culture Shock or more accurately Reverse Culture Shock

Culture Shock:

noun; a state of bewilderment and distress experienced by an individual who is suddenly exposed to a new, strange, or foreign social and cultural environment.

This feeling of bewilderment has haunted me a bit this year. What catches me more off guard is this particular feeling of bewilderment in what is supposed to be my home country. There are many studies on culture shock and the adjustments one will experience in a new place. Just type it in google and you will find websites, articles and blogs written upon the subject. What you dont see as much is articles on reverse culture shock.

I am now entering the longest period I have been back in the States for one length of time since taking that fateful(fateful because I didnt realize how long I would be in Japan) flight on May 18 to Japan in 2011. Granted the circumstances for this time back in the States are a bit different then the usual person's experience considering I came out hospitals and a pretty crazy time with health issues. However, the adjustment to being back in the States has been a more interesting experience then I anticipated.

Growing up in the south you typically chat with your neighbor, the grocery check out person, your waiter/waitress, the list goes on. So one would think that way of life would be ingrained in me. However, adjusting to another culture and the language apparently ingrained another way of life. For an example, the first time I walked into Trader Joe's by myself and was checking out with a couple of grocery items. The cashier just starting chatting away about his day to me and asking me about what I was up too. I was so astonished that he was sharing so much about his personal life with me a complete stranger I just stood there staring at him blankly. When he stopped talking and looked at me expectedly for an answer I fumbled for an answer. Somewhere in the back of my mind I realized "this is supposed to be normal Virginia! come on! just answer the poor guy and stop staring at him like he has grown two heads!" I somehow managed to mumble back a simple answer and inquire how much longer he had on his shift, wished him a good day, paid and got out the door.

As I drove away, this feeling of absolute bewilderment came over me. How come I didnt know how to respond right away? How come that didn't it seem like a normal day to day experience like it seemed it should be? Why did it jolt me so much? Am I not American?? This is just one of many experiences that have happen in the last couple of months that has left me feeling socially out of touch. Through it I am learning to have lower expectations of myself in regards to knowing how life should automatically work here.

Ultimately, I have realized is that it comes down to expectations... In Japan, my expectation going into the country is "I dont know the culture and land so sit back observe be a learner." In America, it is easier to assume I already know how it is supposed to go or how it should go instead of learning to sit back, watch and learn from those around me. This lesson is the neat thing that is coming from the experience of living in a different country. The uncomfortableness is continually teaching me that even if I seemingly "know" a place, culture or person there is still so much more to learn and I need to sit back and learn. As my grandfather Simons often stated " a key to life is to be willing to continue to learn each and every day."(paraphrased a bit)

Friday, August 8, 2014

basketball camp

This past week, Ishinomaki Christian Center (ICC) supported the New Life Center in hosting a basketball camp "Shoot the Rock" (this is a pun off Ishinomaki, which means rolling rock) for elementary age children at a local school. As basketball is my favorite sport, I ended up being the main staff member from ICC that was at the camp the most. There also became apparent a need for a girl staff as there were a good number of girls there and the rest of the staff were all guys.

Throughout the whole experience, I was not too sure of my role, but I learned to let go and pray that I would be open to seeing where I was needed. There were 40 kids that attended the camp over a period of 3 days. I wrote some experiences from each day below. It was joy to work with the long term staff at the New Life Center and get to know them better throughout the course of the camp. 

First day meeting coaches

Day 1

Today was an interesting time as I ended up being the only girl staff for the basketball portion of the camp. As I introduced myself, they all gathered around and exclaimed excitedly over me and the basketball that was happening. But then as they started to ask me questions, I stumbled to reply in broken Japanese. They giggled to themselves and ran off leaving me wondering how the rest of the day would proceed. It was a struggle from there on, especially as the American staff kept asking me to translate and my brain would/could not function and explain how to do anything beyond single words here and there. Despite this regression in communication, one girl came up to me during our first break and ask me how teach her how to dribble better. From that point on, she was my constant companion and talked to me constantly.

The kids running drills

Day 2

This day went much better with the other girls that I worked with. Their respect for me went up when they realized that I was there again and was pushing them to be better players. It was fun to see how the those who had practiced were progressing in their skill level. The initial shyness had worn off as well and the kids made the day their own. This was the last day for my particular friend A-chan as she wasn't going to come the last day. So she spent as much time with me as she could. It was enjoyable to listen to her chatter and when I didn't understand, I would ask and she did her best to figure out how to explain it. It was humbling and amazing to be able to get to know her and see her desire to communicate with me.

A-chan and I
Day 3

This day was great camp wise. The girls had been scrimmaging every day before camp started and today they immediately included me on a team. So we had a good 20 min scrimmage game before the camp started. It was a great closing game.
When A-chan's sister arrived, she ran straight to me and handed me a note from A-chan. She had drawn various scenes from the last two days and written that she hoped to see me sometime somewhere and thanked me for helping her to learn more a sport that so many in her family loved. She was excited that would be able to play better with her siblings in particular. 
There still is a struggle in wondering how effective I really was in either helping the girls improve their skills or communicating various aspects of the game. But I know at least for A-chan it was an encouraging time and she enjoyed it.
An awesome sunset here in Ishinomaki

Monday, December 2, 2013

"You, do YOU"

Cultures pervade our thought system so much. The more I am in another culture and meet folks from a wide spectrum of cultures the more I see how it shapes our thinking and actions. Being back in the States for the past 4 months has been more of a shock to me then I was expecting. What has been the hardest to come back in see is on particular pervading thought for my generation. It is summed up in a popular phrase "you, do you". Meaning don't let others tell you what to do and dictate your actions; you do what you want to do and are feeling. This is always said in the context of the search for contentment, joy and love; an affirmation in going after what you want to do more then anything.

At first I was like "ok. sure.. yeah seems alright" without much thought to it. But after a recent conversation with a new friend of mine I couldn't shake this phrase and how much it was starting to bother me.

Learning to live and work in another country can be life changing in itself; to do this in a disaster zone I am realizing is another story altogether. The experiences that I have lived through the past 2 and half years have reshaped my understanding of the world, God and changed my philosophy of life. It has made me realize how much a lie really the phrase "you, do you" is in our culture today.

Living in a pup tent for 5 months, clearing away debris, mudding out houses, figuring out meals for hundreds of people day after day, learning to shop and cook with the local items, make schedules for groups week after week, working on finances late into the night trying to figure out the kanji on receipts and what happen to the missing 20,000 yen($200 worth approx), learning to live with others and having different house mates in and out almost weekly, working with co-workers whose main language is not your own, leading teams from cultures from all over the world,  learning to share love across language boundaries, planning events, learning to live in a cold place, emailing, skyping with potential volunteers, teams and interns, taking the drivers' license test over and over again, learning to forgive daily and to love unconditionally.

These are few things that have taken that philosophy "you, do you" eaten it right up and spat it out. If I had done "me" I would have never stepped on that plane for Japan on May 18, 2011. If I had done "me" I would have never again gone up to Ishinomaki after my first trip up there a week after arriving in Japan. If I had done "me" I would have packed up and left after that initial first 2 weeks in Tokyo/Ishinomaki. The list goes on.

The ironic thing is that the more I learn to follow God and "do" His way the more contentment and deep joy I find. There is nothing special about what I did per say what is special about the whole thing is that My awesome God chose to have me experience those things so I could slowly start to see how much I need Him each and every moment. What is special is that He drew me into this incredible work that is happening and in this place that is called Ishinomaki, Japan. This work continues to humble me and show me how much really "you, do you" is a philosophy that will not satisfy my deepest longings.

Here are some verses that are shaping my life view. Jesus loved His father enough to die for us. That is a radical life changing philisophy:

Philippians 2:5-11

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death
        even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Some Hard facts about Japan's 3.11 disaster

So as I am going about America sharing about the work in the disaster zone of Japan's 3.11 disaster I have to realize people have forgotten the massiveness of this disaster. So as a baseline I am going to use America's biggest disaster to date; Katrina. By using Katrina as a baseline one can read the hard facts about 3.11 and understand why I am still there and working to help with recovery and development.

10 facts on Katrina:

1. The storm surge from Katrina was 20 ft (6 meters) high.

2.  In New Orleans, the levees were designed for Category 3, but Katrina peaked at a Category 5 hurricane, with winds up to 175 miles per hour(282 kilometers per hour).

3. Katrina had 90,000 square miles (233,000 sq. kilometers) land damage.

4. 300,00 homes were destroyed or made unlivable.

5. Total cost of property damage $81 billion with the impact of economic lost around $150 billion.

6.. The final estimate death toll along with missing people was 1,833

7. Oil spills caused by Katrina 142 resulting in 8 million gallons of oil spilled (30.3 million liters).

These last three facts do not correlate well with the 3.11 disaster but however are important to know.

8. An estimated 80 % of New Orleans was under water, up 20 ft (6 m) deep in places.

9. However, 4 years and 9 months after Hurricane Katrina 20,000 people were still living in temporary dwellings.

10. Hurricane Katrina was the largest and third strongest hurricane ever recorded to make landfall in the U.S.

10 facts on 3.11 tsunami and earthquake

1.The waves from the tsunami of 3.11 went as high as 128 ft (39 meters).

2. The tsunami raced outward from the epicenter at speeds that approached about 500 miles per hour(800 kilometers per hour).

3. The impact of the tsunami was approximately 217 square miles (561 square kilometers) in Japan.

4.  1,098,628 homes were destroyed or made unlivable.

5. Total cost of the disaster was $309 billion dollars making it the worlds most expensive natural disaster.

6. The final estimate death toll along with missing people was 20,000.

7. 3 nuclear power plants had to shut down due to nuclear radiation causing a 12.5 mile (20 kilometers) radius evacuation of cities.

These last three facts do not correlate well with the Katrina disaster but however are important to know.

8.  About 250 miles (400 km) of Japan's northern Honshu coastline dropped by 2 ft(0.6 meters).

9. 300,000 people are still currently in temporary housing. The government is saying it will take another 5 to 10 years before everyone is out of temporary housing.

10. The 3.11 disaster was a 3 way disaster with an 9.0 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown all attributing to the overall destruction.


Sunday, June 2, 2013

Little pieces of grace sprinkled throughout the day

So officially the summer "rush" has started for us here in Ishinomaki. Interns have flooded in and teams are coming(and have already came). As much as I have tried to work at preparing for the summer and everyone coming it doesnt ever seem like I am prepared enough. Yesterday, I was fighting all day the weariness that I quickly had discovered last summer that comes with the awesome craziness. It was amazing though how much God showed His grace throughout the day. Two particular stories I would like to share:

1) If anyone knows me semi-well you will find out quickly I am very adamant about not shoving the story about Gods grace into peoples faces. Yes I believe in Jesus and the Bible but I also believe God works through relationships and through the Holy Spirit. It is not up to me to make sure I have shared about this awesome story to every person I meet without first having some basis to our relationship.

While this is the case I do long to share with people I come in contact my reason for being and living.

God gave me this opportunity on Saturday at our weekly community cook-out event. One lady K-san who attends my weekly afternoon English class came up to me and wanted to practice our weekly memory verse. In attempt to try and connect better with her I had been learning the verse in Japanese. Well we proceeded to practice for each other the verse in both English & Japanese:
John 15:13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
愛は何によって測ることができるでしょう。 友のためにいのちを投げ出すこと、これ

There was a pause and K-san looks at me and asked me why did you choose this verse?(Amazing!! I understood her question!!) So in broken Japanese I explained how I read the bible every day and through that my relationship in Christ grows. That gives me peace to face each day. Her face just lit up with understanding and she was excited to hear that. We then got interrupted by her grand daughter so the conversation ended. But the whole experience was amazing. We grew closer together through it and I believe she grew in her understanding of God.

2) The second experience of Grace amongst a wearying day was going on a spur of the moment hike with our summer interns and some co-workers here. It was a gorgeous day and we had a couple of spare hours at the end of the afternoon so we met up and explored the mountain overlooking Ishinomaki. The mountain is covered with shrines to various gods. This saddens me every time I go up there. Why worship some statue that we make instead of worshiping the Creator of the mountain??

Anyways one of my co-workers suggested we stop and have a small study of a bible verse, then we sang and prayed. It was amazing! At one point I was looking around at all who were there and I saw how amazing God's grace was at that moment. That He would take us all from where we lived around the world and brought us together at this time to sing to Him praises on a mountain covered with false idols. 
Pretty amazing dont you think? :) 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

First week of Liberty Music Project

Below are summaries of our first week of Liberty Music Project. Please be praying with us as we seek to meet the different needs at each school. All Glory for this project goes to God! A huge shout out to Ryo and Mami who work tirelessly on this project. It is such a honor to work with such gifted co-workers.

April 25, 2013 Thursday Excursion classes:
John Lucas teaching "Praise the Lord"
Minato Middle School:
Peformers: Jonathan Straker, Ken Matsuda & John Lucas
MCs: Ryo Amano & Virginia Lavallee
300+ students and teachers

The class went really well. John Lucas shared about what Gospel music is about and taught, “Praise the Lord” to all students. Teachers and students alike loved the class.
Ryo and I teaching a little fun English

Singing "Praise the Lord" for the kids @ Minato.
This group was an "instant choir".
(we sang together  for the first time that day.)

Watanoha Middle School
Peformers: Jonathan Straker & Ken Matsuda
MCs: Ryo Amano & Virginia Lavallee
40+ students and teachers

Was a big hit with the students. Jonathan Straker shared about Gospel music and taught, “Praise the Lord” to the students. All enjoyed the class.
Singing "Praise the Lord" to the kids @ Watanoha

Teaching the kids "Praise the Lord"'s motions!

Friday 26, 2013 Friday
Held first weekly class at Minato Middle school. We had 5 students and 1 teacher. It went

really well. We hope to continue to build these relationships and develop individual interests in various musical instruments. We had a great conversation with the teacher who shared his story about the tsunami. He lost both his mother and daughter to the tsunami. He also shared about the months after 3.11 how hard they were and the relief and recovery work went for him and his wife. It was a good time of listening and sharing. We will be going out with the principal and this teacher this week after class for dinner. Please in in prayer for this time with them.

Saturday 27, 2013 Saturday

Morning: Held first weekly class at Kamizoku Base for Watanoha Middle school. Despite having 1 registration forms and several saying they would come after Thursdays class we had only 1 student show up. Went through class session with student. We will be doing two outreaches this week with students from Watanoha. Please be in prayer as we seek to see how we can best meet these needs.

Afternoon: Held first weekly class at Amazing Grace Center for Yamoto Middle school. No students showed up. Held a praise and prayer session with Amazing Grace Center staff instead. Yamoto middle school, the music teacher there is very overwhelmed so it looks’ like that beyond helping us advertise she can’t help with this program. The principal is new and not interested in promoting this program. We will be talking with Amazing Grace Center staff to see about opening this class to elementary students as there had been interest from that age group for this class. Please be praying as this school is the hardest for us to reach.

 All praise to God for how this continues to reach people we dont expect and touch hearts through music.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Concerts & Easter

We have had a great artist Tomoko Murabayashi( Fourleafministry ) up from Osaka with us for the past 3 weeks. She is a christian artist living in Osaka teaching students voice and recording music.
She has been working with us in the continuing of building relationships in Temporary housing, other christian groups and planning for the Liberty Music Project. It was refreshing for both the Liberty Music Team and Tomoko to work together and encourage each other in our respective ministries. Please pray for this amazing Japanese Christian woman who is reaching young people through her amazing talent!

Thank you Tomoko for all the awesome opportunities you provided for us through your amazing singing and playing piano!
Tomoko leading worship.

Playing with Tomoko

Easter was a great time of sharing with local people. Many folks who have been attending the Saturday cookout came to Watanoha Christ Church service for the first time for Easter! It was great to be there apart of that sharing of Christs hope with these folks that we have been building relationships with over the past 2 years!
Suzuki Sensai preaching
Rimpei and Akemi leading a song during worship

Saturday Event Folks!

Tomoki and I enjoying Easter!