Chicago Pre-departure Orientation

One of the things I had to do before leaving to go to Japan was a pre-departure orientation. No I don’t think you’re stupid. Yes, I am aware that you can read the title of this post. Anyway, moving on. There was the usual set of speakers. Some of them were a bit doom and gloom. Some of them were funny, and some of them proved that being a good public speaker has nothing to do with how well you know a language.

A particular speaker jumps to mind. One of our travel coordinators, and forgive me his name has escaped me, was in charge of telling us all of the necessary information for our actual departure. Yes the one we were at the orientation to talk about. He was entirely unprepossesing, short, and a bit round in the middle. His accent was right out of a stereotype. There were rs instead of ls everywhere, but to be honest he was one of the most engaging speakers there. He managed to give us information and set us at ease with a laugh. It gave me a strange sort of hope that I’ll be able to get my personality across even though I may not know the right words.

The actual information was pretty basic. Get places on time. Keep your things where they need to be. Get your luggage somewhere so it can go on the truck, those sorts of things. However whenever you get a room full of nervous people certain personality traits begin to present themselves.

For this reason, I dread the part where someone asks if there are any questions. Those words bring out a few specific personalities. There’s always that person who needs to ask that question just to make themselves feel better about what they already knew. There’s always the person who doesn’t pay attention, so they ask a question someone else already asked. And, inevitably, there is always someone who asks a question whose answer is clearly to be found in the packet already passed out and sitting in front of them. Others tend to be annoyed by this, but I understand that it’s merely nerves. Sometimes, when people are nervous, they get a little stupid even though they’re very smart. It sort of makes me want to hug them.

By far my favorite person, who I never actually met or learned their name, was the girl sitting a table ahead of me. She sat very still and very quiet. She seemed to look above it all and to be a bit to cool for the questioning and information. She even managed to convince me of her aloof coolness until she pulled a sandwich out of her purse. Then with a single question, naturally about the sandwich, her face lit up. Suddenly she was a different, albeit still nervous, person. It’s certain proof that you should never immediately judge a book by it’s cover.

Something else I learned from this orientation is that I’m old. OK, before you older people shoot me down, hear me out. Most of the people leaving are four to five years younger than me. Many of them have been many awesome places. Some of them haven’t. I’ve seen a lot of bravado, but I know it’s secretly hiding nerves. Again it just sort of makes me want to hug them. You’ve got to be honest with yourself, or you will get yourself into trouble. I experienced the culture shock thing in Texas. You won’t always realize that’s what happening until it does. I’m not sure how you learn to look closely at your own emotions, but it’s one good way of learning how to do it. Unfortunately, it’s a bit sink or swim. You either get or you don’t. As long as you can start off by being honest with yourself and your feelings, I think you will end up being better off than those trying to play it up.

For this reason, last night I stayed way past the young kids. Yup that’s how I’m going to refer to the young twenty somethings. I’m going to be a bit crotchety. The reason I stayed was to talk to another married couple my own age who were not only taking themselves but also their two children. They both got placed in the program, however, they were placed ten hours apart. I will be keeping them in mind when I get a bit lonely in the next two weeks. I will also be doing my best to keep in touch with them, mostly because they were a bit crunchy and awesome.

By stepping back and watching over the last day or so I’ve sort of come away with a kind of confidence I didn’t realize I was capable of. Everyone I’ve talked to was grateful to talk. When I had a reaction to try to follow, I stood back and watched. I think I’m ready. I didn’t think I’d feel that way, but there it is. See you all on the other side.


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