Transforming Lives: Learners at AU is a testimonial series written by Athabasca University (AU) learners and alumni who want to share how AU has helped shape their lives.
I was 23, three years into a career as legal assistant, when an old thought bloomed with sudden and surprising vigour in my mind: living in Japan.
I hadn’t thought much of it since I had decided to join the “grown-up” world of dress clothes and email chains about paper clip orders, and I was surprised how persistent it was. It followed me as I drove home that evening, as I lay in bed that night and into the days, weeks, and months after. I thought of my high school Japanese class and how, despite not being the most model student, I used to think of the adventure of moving to Japan. Of jumping far out of my suburban town, out of my comfort zone, and into a world different than my own.
When I finally took the dive into Google idly one night, I was saddened to find out that I couldn’t possibly move; Japanese immigration requires a minimum of bachelor’s degree in order to qualify for a work visa. I had a Legal Assistant Diploma, which was two years short of the requirement. Returning to university full time, losing out on my income and career opportunities, seemed intimidating. Despite this, the thought persisted. Google offered a remedy: Athabasca University (AU).
AU’s generous transfer credit program allowed my previous education to be applied toward a Bachelor of Professional Arts: Communications Major degree. Suddenly, the four years became two years and the degree seemed within my reach. By working on my education part time and through correspondence, on my own schedule no less, I could get the best of both worlds: my career as well as achieving my childhood dream.
Dipped my toes
I dipped my toes in and enrolled in one course. That course became two, then three, until I was working on my education on a full-time basis. I made the decision to reduce my work hours in order to graduate sooner. I didn’t allow myself holidays. It was difficult. I talked so endlessly about my school work that my family and friends were as intimately acquainted with it as I was. On one occasion, after writing three papers over the course of two days (I will fully admit that I was prone to procrastination), I sunk to the floor in my mother’s living room, stared at the ceiling and lamented my decision to return to school. My mother, used to hearing my complaints but fully aware of my goal, reminded me once more that I could very well continue the daily grind, my job, the Excel spreadsheets and TPS reports. This reminder was my fuel. The following weekend I wrote another two essays.
With support from my friends and family, as well as encouragement from my course tutors, I persisted for another eight months. I graduated in May of 2017 with distinction. By March, 2018, I was on the long flight from Edmonton to Hokkaido, the northern most island of Japan, where I have been an English teacher since.
It’s definitely been the adventure I yearned for in my teens and the change I needed in my adulthood. The challenges that seemed so insurmountable when I first arrived have become some of the most fulfilling experiences of my life, I was scared to drive (the other side of the road from Canada), nervous to go grocery shopping (will people judge me for using Google Translate to read this jar of spaghetti sauce?) and terrified of my students (I wanted to impress them!). Now, nearly a year later, as I pack my things to return home, I am full of appreciation for those challenges, those moments of terror and embarrassment. I am even more thankful that in those moments where I lay on my mother’s living room floor, that I didn’t give in. I am so thankful that I tried.