Changed and unchanged
By Kazuya Muto
It was a nail-biting wait outside the classroom, wondering whether my English had been good enough to impress my teacher. Mr. Fukuda can be a very strict man.
Since I had nothing else to do, I decided to go to the room where we were going to have the party.
One of the three other teachers who worked with Mr. Fukuda was already there. He looked a great deal thinner than when I'd left. I told him so, and he said that he'd been on a diet. His voice reassured me a little. He may have looked very different, but he had the same, soothing voice that he had always had.
"Welcome back," he said. "How was it?"
"It was tough," I said, "but I learned a lot of things." Could I have thought up a more boring reply? But it didn't matter because I was so glad to see him. I felt at ease with him in a way that I never felt with people in Sydney. Again, I was aware how good it felt to be back in Japan, how much I'd missed it.
Mr. Fukuda and another teacher entered the room. The party got underway.
Before I went to Australia, I used to teach here as well, and it wasn't unusual for us to chat in this room until around two in the morning. The older teachers here taught me so much about life.
The night of the party was no exception. This time, though, I was the one doing the talking and they were the ones asking the questions. I told them about what I'd experienced in Sydney. I also complained about some aspects of my life over there. I said I didn't think I could have got through it without the e-mails they had sent me when I was feeling down.
I was so excited to be back and I wanted so much to tell them everything that I forgot to ask them what they had been doing these past 10 months. For example, one of the teachers said he was now learning French and that he would go to France by himself in a couple of weeks. He'd also taken up pottery.
This surprised me a little. I thought I'd changed more in those 10 months, but it might have been the other way round. How many people can change for the better in 10 months? How many people can get a new perspective on life in 10 months? Even though everyone wants to change, it's difficult to actually do so — especially without some outside impetus, like moving abroad. But these teachers were different. They were putting their thoughts into action.
Immediately my thoughts turned to myself. Had I changed? What had I learned in Sydney?
Then Mr. Fukuda gave me a grin and said, "I'm going to start speaking French to you because now your English is better than mine, even though it's got a bit of an Aussie accent."
I was over the moon.
"You know, I think you should learn something other than English," he said, "something like French or maybe another language. Think of each language like a passport. It's the first step into another world, but it's just a means. The rest depends on you."
Shukan ST: Feb. 23, 2007
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