School choice is one of the most stressful decisions of the move. When we learned of our potential move and made plans to visit Japan for our “look see” I immediately Googled schools. My choices were limited to English speaking, therefore private, within a certain geography, and close to spouse’s office. Based on this, I narrowed the list to 5 schools. After looking at the web sites, reviewing the matriculation stats, class sizes, teacher tenures, and the available data on standardized test scores I decided to visit three schools.
Although we did not know if our move would materialize for 6-8 weeks, it was already the first of June. I knew we had missed the admissions process so I did not wait for the finalization of the job to start the admissions process.The worst that could happen would be acceptance of enrollment that I could then turn down.I stayed up late to call my target schools.
I called my first school. The admissions director’s voice mail picked up. I will call her “number 4” because in Japan the number 4 is associated with all things bad. So bad in fact, I won’t outline exactly what it means in this blog.I’m actually afraid that bad things might rain down on me for assigning this nickname to another person, however, as you will see, the street runs both ways, and she must own her behavior, therefore her nickname stays. Initially I thought Dragon lady would be a nice nickname for her, however, it is a positive nickname in Japan -not in keeping with my current attitude of cultural assimilation.
I called the other schools. I made appointments for Monday afternoon.
Tuesday came and I had not heard back from Number 4. 24 hours was enough time – I was leaving for Japan in 2 days and I needed to finalize my agenda. I called number 4. The conversation went like this:
Me: Hi- Number 4? This is ambler angel- My husband and I …..I’m interupted by #4
4: I KNOW WHO YOU ARE YOU CALLED ME YESTERDAY!!!!!!!!!I WAS SICK- YOU DIDN’T GIVE ME ENOUGH TIME TO CALL YOU BACK
Me: I’m sorry- I wasn’t sure you got my message… interrupted by #4
4: OF COURSE I GOT YOUR MESSAGE!!!!!!!!!
Me: UUHHH, Ok, then … well… would it be ok to get together next week to talk… interrupted by #4
4: HOW OLD ARE YOUR KIDS? ABC SCHOOL IS NOT RIGHT FOR EVERYONE- MIGHT NOT BE RIGHT FOR YOUR KIDS!!
( How could she know that?)
Me: They are in F grade and H grade in the fall…
4: WHAT!!!!!!!! F GRADE WILL HAVE TO CHANGE SCHOOLS IN 2 YEARS AND WE ARE A JAPANESE IMMERSION SCHOOL- THIS IS NOT FOR EVERYONE. ARE YOU COMMITTED TO JAPANESE AND JAPAN!!!!!!
Me: Yes- both should take Japanese and we are planning to stay for a while…. another interruption
4: HOW ABOUT SPORTS
Now I can just about feel the spray of her spittle coming through the phone. Sheesh. I wish I’d waited for her to call me back.
Me: Both kids play sports. Listen- are you available on Monday? I have an appt scheduled for Monday at 1:00- I could come in the morning?
4: YOU DON’T HAVE ENOUGH TIME TO VISIT TWO SCHOOLS IN ONE DAY! ARE YOU SERIOUS!!!!!
Most of you are wondering why I even bothered at this point. 1) This school came highly recommended and is one of the top schools in Tokyo 2) I needed at least 2 viable options for my kids in August- I couldn’t afford to make #4 angry (angrier)
Me: Unfortunately, we are only in town for the weekend and that Monday- we can only visit schools on Monday. I don’t have a choice.
4: WHAT?????? POOR PLANNING !YOU CAN’T EVEN LOOK AT APARTMENTS ON THE WEEKEND. REAL ESTATE AGENTS DON’T WORK ON WEEKENDS. YOU’VE MADE A TREMENDOUS MISTAKE
Now I feel bile rising up in my throat. I have to do something fast or I’m not getting in to this school. I’m afraid she’s going to hang up on me. I’m desperate. I switch tactics.
Me: 4- That’s what happens when the husbands make the plans without the wife’s input. They just don’t know how to execute the tactics.
Silence. Excrutiating, long, dead silence.
#4 starts to laugh.
#4- AHH- you are so right. Can you come early? Maybe by 8:00- then we can try to get you out by 12:00 so you can make your 1:00″
My kids didn’t go to this school. It was a wonderful school. The only reason we didn’t choose it was because offspring #1 would have had to change schools within 2 years of starting- too unsettling so soon after a life changing event.
Follow your gut. When one picks a school- you feel which one is right. You know. Pick that one. I’ve done it several times now. I haven’t been wrong yet. One always rises to the top as the choice.
Culture Lesson #3– What actually happened here? Why was I greeted with such hostility? I made a critical mistake in Japanese culture. One that I will not repeat. Culture Lesson #3 is about the value of “Face.” The Japanese are always “Giving you Face”. We might view it as ” making you look good”, giving compliments, or praising someone on something that was done. In general, the Japanese do not express negative thought to your face ever. It would cause you to “lose face” or look bad in front of others.
I allowed the admissions director to “lose face.” By not allowing her to call back within a reasonable amount of time, it made her look bad. She had been out sick and had only been in her office for a couple of hours when I called. She was “feeling bad” that I “caught her” before she called back and not only did she lose face but in the Japanese culture it made the school look bad as well. Ultimately, it could hurt the school’s chances of admissions. In addition, it made me look like the typical, pushy,insensitive American/westerner- overanxious, must get it done yesterday, lack of respect for Japanese culture type of American with which the Japanese are all to familiar.
One would think the Japanese would be used to this obsessive behavior from the Americans transferring in to Japan. We are a nation of helicopter parents intent on getting our kids in to Ivy League schools. One of my friends who recently moved to Connecticut described families who have their children take lessons for two instruments, participate in at least two sports per season and repeat the 8th grade in order to increase the chances of admission to an Ivy league school by bumping up their GPAs and improving their SAT scores. Interestingly, these are no t the families that are moving out of the country. The risk/benefit ratio of having an international experience on the college app must be outweighed by the possibility of Jr.’s parents being unable to appropriately micromanage Jr in an international setting.
In fact I found out later that relocation companies usually manage the school interviews process. Yet another process I bumbled my way through. No wonder she was cranky.
So, based on this, I’ll rename her Grand PooBa since no one gets in without her approval and it was I who made the mistakes. She was very pleasant after I groveled my way through the interviews.