My work life and personal life don't just run in parallel; they are the same. It is as though my tree of personal life once swayed in a wind that carried with it a seed. That seed became a vine that began to wrap and envelope my tree, not in a parasitic way but in a mutually symbiotic relationship. The vine became one with my tree; they grew together and now cannot be separated without killing both. The wind was Semester at Sea.
The seed was a love of travel.
The vine is now a career path stemming from travel (pun intended).
Oddly enough, when I focus on one of those elements, I forget about the other, either because they seem to be one or I have kid myself into thinking they are two. These two ponderings might seem mutually exclusive, and to be honest, I'm not sure I'm really wrangling my thoughts accurately at the moment. But this past weekend afforded me another time travel opportunity, one that kept surprising me when my professional side supplemented my personal side, and vice versa. These two elements made a stronger organism that managed to have a fulfilling journey through Japan.
The success of my past weekend was entirely depending on assumptions being true, and while I normally associate India with this kind of magic, Japan also proved it's capable of aligning stars and turning assumptions into reality...of course, for a "slightly" larger fee.
My goodness, Shinkansen! You 'spensive!
I assume I can get there.
This past Saturday, there was an educational technology conference outside of Tokyo that I wanted to attend, even though I was not registered and not necessarily encouraged to go by all parties. I had no pre-booked trains or hotels. I had no assurance that my trip would be counted as worthwhile. Weekends are precious here, as completely free ones are few and far between.
I told my students I wasn't going on their ski trip because I was heading home from school Friday to see if I could will a whole string of events to occur that would enrich me professionally. "I'm going on an adventchah'!" was my phrase of choice.
I might get stranded somewhere without a train ticket. I might not have a place to spend the night. I might not even leave the Hiroshima station at all!
Some colleagues (and one of the voices in my head) told me it wasn't worth it, that potentially wasting a weekend in transit only to achieve nothing would be more pain than it's worth. My old lady back agreed. I was also frustrated that it got to this point, that I had a conference weekend I'd known about for months for which I didn't have confirmation.
Regardless, I listened to some encouraging impulse and put two sets of clothes and my computer in my Semester at Sea hiking backpack, stomping over to the Hiroshima train station in hopes of communicating that I wanted a ticket to Tokyo right now. No problem. Minutes later, I was shooting like a bullet through the spine of Japan.
I assume I can find a place to sleep.
Aboard the shinkansen to Tokyo, I was reminded that this wasn't my first time on a train in Japan with little to no plan. Alexis and I had tackled five days in Japan with this same approach. We had ideas of how it would pan out, and equipped with our JR passes, we assumed we could get everywhere we needed to be without getting stranded in the process. We habitually fed ourselves from 7-Eleven and, at one point, slept in a manga cafe for 5 bucks.
How did I forget that I'm already equipped to handle this kind of non-plan plan, especially in Japan? Do I really have that poor of a memory that I question what I know to the point of forgetting the experience that should empower me in this case?
Not only did I have that experience to evoke confidence, but I had something (many things) to help me that I didn't have before: money, data, and Laura Gardner. I assumed I could find a place other than a manga cafe to sleep in before this conference I wasn't signed up for. No problem. Laura – a TGS employee – had me booked before I got off the train.
I assume I can get into this conference.
I really over-think things; I'm having a constant growth of realization as this blog post unfolds under my fingertips. This is not new to me but always surprisingly self-evident in every context. In my emails with the conference coordinator, she said un-registered participants wouldn't be turned away, and yet I still doubted my acceptance into Paperless 2014. Call it my hesitance to be completely inconsiderate in a culture foreign to me; I was worried I was really going to step on toes in such an efficient and proper country.
Walking up 20 minutes prior to first registration, I was entering those doors assuming I would be admitted with a smile rather than disguised shame. Of course, no problem. They really meant, "the more, the merrier," which wasn't the case for the paper present at the conference.
I assume the conference will be worth it.
It was. Rather than being blown away by the individual presentations I heard, I was reminded of and inspired by the crucial act of sharing. I admired the Kanda University for putting on this conference and calling educators anywhere to share their approaches to teaching and learning that utilized education technology.
Chatting with a Kanda professor upon closing time, we agreed that it seems near impossible to achieve any sense of certainty about ed tech and one's use of it. Everyone seems to be trying different things and feeling various degrees of satisfaction with it, and the options aren't going to sit still long enough for anyone to feel totally confident with how they are using it. What's important though is that those attempts are shared with others to be learned from and to cultivate a different culture amongst colleagues and academic institutions.
This was my takeaway, and I'm happy with it.
I assume I can sort myself out for a stopover in Kobe.
The student volunteers at the conference sighed with relief as I came to pick up the only remaining item in the cloakroom - my weathered, patch-covered backpack - and, from there, departed directly for the train station. I looked like a somewhat classy hobo. Again, my assumption, that the train would have space, was correct, and I retraced my path back west, bento box in tow.
Instead of heading all the way back to Hiroshima that night, I took advantage of a delightful, geographical coincidence: the MV Explorer was docked in Kobe. I think my heart stopped when I had this realization a week prior. While being within an arm's throw from the ship is motivation enough for me to take a detour, I had even more motivation to stop in Kobe. Fellow former STA World Traveler Intern and current communications dude of a traveling school program Casey Hudetz was on that voyage. How often are two people who have both done two very similar, unique, global, and obscure things for work in the same location?
Again, Laura hooked me up near the port overnight, and I ran myself to the ground with frantic writing about the conference.
I assume Casey has the time and interest to meet.
The next morning, I arose early and set myself up for magic, this time a little skeptical of my assumption becoming reality. I had connected with Casey via Facebook previously, and we had a very loose plan of meeting up in the morning before his "weXplore" began. On a free shuttle to the bus station from my hotel, I saw her: the MV Explorer. I smiled like a weirdo, pinned my cheek to the window, and snapped horrible iPhone images of her between bridge supports and streaking car lights. How could I have forgotten she always docks at the Kobe Port Terminal?
Arriving at the bus terminal, I turned right back around and got on the Portliner train to try and get as close to the ship as possible. Having not traveled with my passport, and knowing the insanely tight restrictions on boarding, I knew there was no chance of talking my way on as a nostalgic alumna. As I rolled closer, I snapped pic after pic of increasingly higher quality until I found myself face-to-bow with my former nautical home.
There are many reasons why SASers develop a lifelong love of the program and the vessel. For me, Semester at Sea changed the whole course of my life. I don't know who I would have become without my round-the-world voyage seven years ago, almost to the day. I certainly wouldn't have met Garrett and Alexis, wouldn't have felt strong enough to take my Big Journey, wouldn't have aspired for the STA internship, and wouldn't have landed in Japan today with my job at THINK Global School.
A couple of the crew members swabbing the decks noticed the lunatic taking pictures of the ship and wiping tears unattractively from mascara-coated eyes.
I descended further into the Port Terminal, hoping to get close enough to smell the inner ship air from the gangway. The escalator facilitated my smooth landing onto a floor lined with chairs, one of which was filled by a contemplative, iPad-wielding Casey Hudetz. I couldn't believe my luck. He was just attempting to get online to Facebook me, and I surprised him by materializing in real life. We chatted about communications, media, and our traveling academic institutions, and I captured it all on my iPhone for my sweet lil' students.
I assumed Casey would be around and interested to chat, but I chock it up to Japanese magic that we seized the small window he had available to catch up with each other.
I assume this was a learning experience I should remember for the future.
Casey and I are two lucky people who get to merge our impulse to document, passion for travel, and pursuit of self-learning into our jobs, and the unification of all these strands seems to have resulted for both of us in great success, defined as personal fulfillment and (hopefully) benefit for others. What we've been doing on our own for a decade happens to be what we get paid to do, and that is something to be grateful for.
I don't know why my perspective can slip so often to forget this, to forget that I keep accumulating world experiences that should empower me and secure my professional self in the knowledge that I can achieve what I want and need to, that I can do what makes me happy because I already am doing it. I am innately a risk-taker, except - oddly - when it comes to downhill skiing or walking on slippery rocks. I should have a more constant, salient understanding of this unification of passion and duty and its context of a world that inspires me.
Casey and I both have projections of futures that forever incorporate travel (remember the inseparable vine?), because we know that element is essential to us feeling fulfilled and whole. I imagine Casey doesn't fall victim to his own self-doubts or a poor memory like me and forget that what he loves and what he does continue to enable the other.
While the grandmotherly word dissection of assume into "making an ass of you and me" was echoing in my internal monologue throughout the writing process, I ignored it and embraced what the hopeful interpretation of the word offers: hope. I hope you continue to be hopeful, too. The world has a knack for turning hopes into realities.