Make It Easy for Myself?

Over the Christmas holidays, the place I usually hold the Cambridge Japanese Circle, a weekly conversation club for Japanese and English speakers, with a 130-member strong group, was closed. Instead I held it at our family home, sitting beside a roaring fire and a real Christmas tree.

My Japanese friends had brought me gifts, which was unexpected. It’s been a while since I lived in Japan and I couldn’t remember what the etiquette was for receiving gifts…something about refusing three times?

I decided to thank them for the gifts, but put them under the tree for later. After everyone left, I unwrapped some lovely biscuits and a bottle of lovely drink.

Since they had left, I wrote them a quick email in Japanese “Thank you for coming today, and for the gifts! They’re really lovely!”

A few hours later, I got a reply from my friend “I was so surprised to see an email from you in Japanese! I thought it was from a Japanese person!!”

Japanese people’s standards for foreigners (mainly Westerners) are very low. No matter how fluently you speak with them, they’ll be shocked when you also read and write Japanese too. At restaurants, they’ll look over your Western face speaking fluent Japanese, to an Asian face, waiting expectantly (even if that person doesn’t speak Japanese).

When you get your food, they’ll be amazed at you using chopsticks, even if you’ve lived in Japan for years and years. Towards the end of my stay in Japan I would retaliate by going crazy in shock at their ability to use spoons. They’d look back at me in confusion.

I know a lot of people who move out to Japan for adventure, but then stay there for the comfort of low expections. You don’t have to do very much to be awesome in Japan. Coupled with being mistaken for celebrities like Tom Cruise all the time (sadly I only got Bridget Jones comparrisons), it’s hard to drag yourself away from that kind of return on investment. You give a little effort, get treated like a superstar in return.

I’m currently reading Grit by Angela Duckworth. We’ve been having grit training at work this year and to make sense of it all, I bought the book.

Each chapter of the book focuses on a different element to enable a child to have grit. It’s really detailed, with great research backing each statement, so it’s been a much slower read than I had expected. I do want to read it again at some point, to take in even more information from it.

The chapter I’m currently on describes the best practices of raising a gritty child as a parent. I won’t go into too much detail as I don’t want to spoil it for people who want to read it, but one of the main things you can do is have high expectations of your child/student.

They did a study with young students, giving feedback on essays. On one set of students, the feedback said “I’m giving you these comments so you’ll have feedback on your paper” and on the other set, it said “I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations of you and I know that you can reach them”. The second set of students tried harder following this exercice, and then ultimately achieved more as well.

I’m going to make a conscious effort to express high expectations of students this year. I already do this to a certain extent I guess; when students from my schools attend multi-school events I tell them that they are in Team Charlotte and that I expect them to be well behaved and to contribute wholeheartedly in what’s asked of them. Students in Team Charlotte are all awesome anyway so I have never needed to pull them up.

But in this job where I’m often asking students to consider paths and routes alien to them, that are going to be challenging, that are going to ask more of them than the paths they can currently see, I’d like to start expressing expectations better. This doesn’t mean that I am going to push medical school applications on everyone – not every student needs to go to a red brick university…or university at all. But having clear goals is key to social mobility.

Sometimes we may believe we’re showing kindness for celebrating someone for doing something they should be able to do already, but it seems that a mixture of support, celebration – but also high expectations is what’s needed to help our young people excel.

I am really lucky to have such wonderful Japanese friends, who want to express to me how they admire my skills. But I expect a lot of myself, and so I power through the low level celebrations to make sure I’m exceeding and pushing myself further to the next level.


  1. Ashley Bissonnette says

    It’s nice to see someone talk about how ‘spoiled’ we can get living abroad. In Japan I often felt like my city’s pretty pretty princess and I miss all my dance students who seemed to think nothing was too good for me.
    It wasn’t something I had thought about lately until in June when a line came up in a reading for a Gothic Horror literature class. The concept was ‘growing sideways’, it was about the theme of children in horror stories, but it started a series of associations and it struck me as apropos to my time abroad. Rather than growing ‘up’, getting stronger, developing and challenging myself I was just sprawling and lolling around, growing sideways, as it were. When I got tired of a situation at school, I moved to a similar position, laterally, in just another environment, not unlike a creeping vine, and when you aren’t doing anything with your harvest so to speak, you rot and spoil instead.

    I won’t say my time abroad was completely wasted, far from it. It gave me the direction of becoming a teacher, and maybe one day a curriculum designer. I saw a lot of the world, challenged myself physically and learned languages and made connections with amazing people. Could I have done all that in fewer years? Maybe. A lot of people put my age a 5-7 years younger than I am, and part of me is that they look at what I’ve achieved and think that it’s not much for someone in their mid 30’s.

    I miss those lazy days of low expectations but I know it wouldn’t be good to go back to them. I’m having a miserable time in my university right now for various reasons, sometimes it’s tempting to just do a table flip and grab a job off of Dave’s ESL Cafe and go. Gotta remember to have some grit I guess.

    • I feel exactly the same. I wouldn’t say I’m miserable here but life certainly is harder and almost every day I think back to how easy life was abroad. Go to work, sing the Hello Song a dozen times, play games, go home with enough money to pay the rent and go out to karaoke and buy a few beers. That’s it – the simple life.

      You’re an amazing person and there are so many things I know you can achieve. We have to stick to the hard path to do all the things we were destined to do – and us having lived abroad helps us see what things could be like (for better and for worse). I’ll pop you a FB message because it’s been far too long xx

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