Borderlink ALTs, Always Learning and Teaching

December 7th, 2011By Category: Teaching in Japan

The corner kick sailed in. Another goal. It was around ten to nothing when the drubbing finally ended. The kids shambled back to the chairs awaiting them on the sideline.

All I could do was stand a few meters away in indecision and the softly-falling rain.

It had only been a few months since I had arrived in Japan to work as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT). I was living my dream. However, there had already been some challenges, like not speaking Japanese. Of course that made ordering out and paying bills a bit more difficult. That did not bother me. It was times like this that frustrated me. I had come out to support my junior high school’s soccer team – full of energetic kids who battled to speak English and befriend the new ALT – and now I was at a complete loss as to what to say to console them.

Tatsuya, the victimized goal keeper, staggered past the sideline and collapsed alone onto a bench, burying his head in his hands. Had they won, they could have advanced in the tournament. This would be their final game and, for the third graders, the last time they would ever play together for their school.

I stared at the goalie.

ガンバッタネ. No, that rang of defeat. ガンバッテネ. No, that rang hollow. ダイジョウブ!ファイト!ドンマイ! No. No. No.

Tatsuya was a good kid, and I wanted to let him know it would be alright. In his world, everything was ending. He blamed himself for the loss and all that entailed: letting down his teammates, disappointing his coach. I wanted to tell him that he should be proud of playing out there and doing his best. I wanted to tell him that we have all been there. I wanted to tell him that it was not his fault. What was the word for “fault” again? If only I knew more words…

As I stood there stammering away in my mind, another soccer club member jogged over to me.

“Hi Damian.”

“Hi Hayato.”

Silence. Hayato managed an awkward smile. I gestured toward Tatsuya. The rain washed the smile from Hayato’s face.

“I want to help, but I can’t speak Japanese. I don’t know what to say.” The broken Japanese stumbled across my lips.

Hayato looked lack back at me.

“Me neither,” he said with that same awkward smile.

I often say we forget more than we learn. Children remember many important things that we adults lose along the way. I had come to Japan to teach, but I learned – or was I just reminded of? – something very important that day. It is fittingly difficult to put that something into words. That rainy afternoon so long ago now, I searched for words of comfort while ensconced in my lofty tower of academia. Somewhere in my textbooks there had to be some magic phrase that I simply had yet to study.

But there was no magic phrase.

If there was some linguistic mithridate, Hayato would have known it. But his reply and wry grin said more than any textbook. There we stood in the rain: a Japanese native and a foreigner with a phrasebook, no different. We were both at a loss to console a friend. We were both struggling to find a word that did not exist.

ALT is the greatest job in the world. I may be biased because I had students like Hayato, but I truly believe that. It offers a wonderful opportunity to simultaneously learn and teach in myriad ways: academically, culturally, socially, personally, spiritually, professionally… just to name a few. With the right attitude, an ALT becomes the very embodiment of education. Before moving to the corporate side of this field, I was blessed to have taught English to thousands of students. Though I taught everything from food names to the future perfect progressive, I feel most fortunate for having had the chance to bridge cultures, to inspire people to see things anew – and in turn to be inspired by amazing people like Hayato. As a human resources manager at Borderlink, I am ecstatic that I can work every day to provide others that same extraordinary opportunity.

In the end, I did pat Tatsuya on the shoulder and Hayato mustered up some words of encouragement. Tatsuya may not have heard a single one, but he knew that he had friends who cared about him.

Damian Mougakos is the Human Resources Manager at Borderlink, Inc.  Borderlink is currently recruiting for positions in the Kanto region of Japan.  Find out more details and apply at GaijinPot Jobs.

Image credit: alegri

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