Welcome, 2009

While I find the whole "New Year's Resolution" thing a bit trite, I think there's something nice and symbolic about trying to kick off another temporally eurocentric orbit of the earth with some idea of what I want to get done in the next 365 days. Actually, at this point I'm mostly looking at the next eight months or so; I'll deal with life in the states when I come to it.

What I've done well this year:

-Made it to Japan with money (working all summer, and saving almost all of it), a grasp of the language (3 years intense studying, 2 years light studying and making friends with Japanese people), and a healthy body (biking all over San Francisco).

-Seized a whole lot more opportunity than I usually do in the states. I've said "yes" to everything I can possibly fit (and sometimes more) into my schedule and budget, and it's been great. I've been clubbing, networking, meeting new friends, seeing beautiful places, and learning. My host family deserves a lot of credit here, too- they've taken me with them and let me participate in many aspects of Japanese culture I would never get to see on my own.

-Asserted a solid identity here. I see a lot of people fall into either the "I want to become Japanese" or the "I'll just speak English and do what I always do, and the people around me will adapt." I've tried hard to assimilate what makes my life easier and more harmonious, and stick fast to the parts of life that are important to me, even if it means some cultural clashing now and then. Studying abroad is about exchange, not one-way transmission.

-Kept my school stuff pretty together. I think I'll pull a solid 3-something.

-Japanese speaking. I've been conversational for awhile, but there are more and more instances where I realize that I've been communicating pretty complex stuff to someone who speaks absolutely no English, or understanding TV shows that completely went over my head when I got here.

-Photos: I've been taking them to the point of ridiculousness, but when I cull the less-than-stellar ones from my batches, I've been getting stuff I'm pretty proud of.

What needs improvement:

-ADD: The amount of events, projects, and opportunities here is so great that it's easy to find a month taken up by eight gatherings of completely different groups of people. While that's fun now and again, and have yet to make it to a less-than-pleasant party, I haven't done as well as I'd like in deepening friendships with the people important to me. This also goes for projects; I'm involved in a bunch, at the expense of getting any of them done as well as I'd like.

-Health: All the train riding, delicious food, and beer is taking a toll. I'm up a little weight and down a little muscle. Nothing huge, but not a good habit to continue.

-Japanese: It's time to step it up. I need to take Kanji seriously and do them every day if I want to really get fluent. It's also one thing to be able to communicate an idea, and another to be able to communicate it with the appropriate tone, nuance, and politeness. Since I'm a student, I think people are pretty understanding, but it won't cut it when I try to find work here later.

-Computer skillz: My javascript, movable type, and perl need lots and lots of work. I want to be able to take ideas in my head and turn them into web sites and services.

General To-Do's for the coming semester:

-Reduce the number of commitments I make, and follow through more. The only two things I want to add to my platter are joining a student club outside of the international school, and doing a little English tutoring. Besides that, just say no to projects, clubs, and other long-running time-eaters. Yes, I want to work with and help people, but better to honestly say no to a commitment than to say yes and not deliver.

-Deal with "cringe issues." I think this is pretty universal, but there are always things sitting on my to-do list that make me cringe when I think about them, and I tend to put them off as long as possible or do them in the most half-assed or evasive way possible. I've found that if I just scan my to-do list for things I don't want to do, and think about why I don't want to do them, I suddenly have the ability to get them done. The actual reason for the cringe usually works out to something not too terrible, like a 20-minute email to write, paying a little money, or spending an afternoon doing something I don't really feel like doing. Once I figure out the cringe catalyst, it's easy to reduce the problem to "do this little thing you don't want to do, and you won't have to think about it anymore." When I'm able to do this, it works great, and helps my procrastination a ton.

-Get healthy. I bought a shiny pink bike, and I'm going to start riding it the 15km to school a few times a week. I also need to get some weight training in- probably isometric stuff as much as I can, and a weekly trip to the gym. Also, less drinking, more sleep, more veggies. When I put my mind to it, there are really a lot of fruits and vegetables to eat here, but unfortunately, it's all too easy to reach for the rice (a horribly tasty, fattening simple carbohydrate).

-Set some goals and meet them at Six Apart. My internship is great in that I'm getting a feel for a Japanese work environment, helping with some basic internal support, and smoothing out communication with the US IT team, but I think there's the potential to get some more quantifiable accomplishments under my belt, and it's up to me to figure out what I want to do, how to do it, and then execute.

-Make money. English tutoring can potentially yield $20-$30 an hour in cash, it's just a matter of finding the right people and negotiating. It would be stupid to pass up what works out to double the wage I'll make next year; a ten-hour week here would make me as much as a twenty-hour week in San Francisco.

-Travel. I'm hoping to go to Thailand over spring break, and then Kyoto, Nara, Hiroshima, and maybe Osaka with my parents when they visit. Mt. Fuji and/or Okinawa would be cool bonuses, but I may need to wait for next time for those.

-Get some web stuff done. Redesign the Waseda Business Association webpage and my own site, and possibly launch a community blog / blog portal for exchange students in Japan.

-School/Japanese: Do schoolwork before other stuff. Study Kanji every day. Take some keigo or oral expression courses to work on a natural, context-aware feel for the language. Read a Japanese novel cover-to-cover.