The JET Program Interview: What Helped Me the Most

The JET interview was something I practiced and prepared for basically every day since I found out I’d gotten one. A lot of blogs and websites have dedicated posts to nailing the interview, and they’ve got some great advice! One in particular that I’d recommend is this guide from Tofugu:

https://www.tofugu.com/japan/jet-interview/

 

Through all your preparation and research, though, be careful not to overwhelm yourself. There’s SO much information you can find, and it can all start to run together after a while. So, to try and streamline things just a little bit, I’m going to dedicate this post to the top three pieces of advice that helped me the most during my interview.

 

 

  1. Be prepared to improvise a lesson

 

The three people who interviewed me asked me on the spot to pretend that they were my students, and teach a short lesson to them like I might if I went to Japan. According to other JETs I’ve met in Shimane, they were asked to do the same thing. To be safe, you should be prepared to improvise a lesson, too. To be clear, when I say be prepared to improvise a lesson, I don’t mean you need to prepare materials that you might use in a class. The things the interviewers are looking for with this request are:

 

-Your ability to think on your feet and jump into new situations

 

-How clearly you speak

 

-How you might handle a classroom

 

Think of it this way, your application has convinced them you might make a good teacher. Now, they want to see you in action.

When I was asked to improvise, I immediately stood up out of my chair. I asked the interviewers if there was anything specific they wanted to see me teach, or if I could just do anything. One of the interviewers said, “Act like you’re introducing yourself to a class.” So I did.

I said hello and my name. The interviewers said hello back as my “students.” I asked them to call me Ms. Laura or Ms. Payne. Then I said something brief about how I was from Oregon, and you can ski in Oregon. At this point, a couple of the interviewers pretended to be having a side conversation. Since I had been talking about sports, I pointed at these two interviewers and asked, “Do you like sports?” They replied, and then told me we could move on to the next interview question.

You may do something similar or different than I did. Whatever you end up doing, here are some important things to keep in mind:

 

-When you’re asked to improvised a lesson, stand up. Jump right into it

 

-Speak slowly, clearly, and with simple English. Use hand gestures while you’re                 talking

 

-Engage your “students” wherever you can. For example, saying, “Hello,” or           “Good afternoon,” and having them reply, or asking simple questions. And if it looks like your “students” are starting to space out, bring them back to the conversation

 

No one’s expecting you to teach a long, complex lesson. They just want to get an idea of what you might be like in a classroom. Show off your communication skills!

 

  1. Prepare, but don’t over prepare

 

There are plenty of blogs and websites that give examples of questions the interviewers might ask. This is nice, because it helps you to think about the questions beforehand, and prepare an answer. However, be careful not to be completely rigid in how you answer. I once read a blog post by a JET interviewer that explained when this can be a problem.

In this post, the interviewer explained that he had asked a question like, “How would you represent your home country in Japan?” The prospective JET being interviewed answered something like, “The three things I would bring to represent my country would be…”

The question, “What three things would you bring to Japan to represent your country?” is a question that has been asked in interviews before and might be asked to you. However, it might not be asked. The interviewer in this case hadn’t asked what three things this interviewee would bring. The question was more general than that. The interviewee didn’t notice this before they answered, though, and gave the answer to a slightly different question.

When I was preparing for my interview, I took note of questions I would most likely be asked. I came up with answers, but I didn’t strictly memorize my answers. For example, I thought it was likely that the interviewers might ask me how I would handle someone in Japan asking me something like, “Are all Americans fat?” I came up with a plan to answer that question in a way that was calm and informative.

When I did the interview, I was asked, “What would you do if a coworker asked you, ‘Do all Americans have guns?'” I changed my answer so that the details were different from what I’d prepared, but the overall tone was the same. What the interviewers really wanted to know with this question was how I would handle myself around awkward questions or situations. The important thing wasn’t to have a perfectly crafted answer, but to give an answer that would show the interviewers that I could stay collected.

This said, when you do the interview, the best thing to do is not to memorize all the potential questions interviewers might ask and memorize an answer for each one. The best thing to do is be prepared for the most likely questions, listen carefully when the questions are asked, figure out what the interviewers want to know about you with each question, and then tell them what you think they should know about you.

 

 

  1. You don’t have to answer right away, and be prepared for a Japanese test

 

Before you answer any question, it’s okay to take a few seconds to think about your answer. This might work to your advantage, actually, because it shows the interviewers that you’re thoughtful and deliberate. Taking your time can also help with your nerves. If you’re like me, you may have a tendency to stumble over words. When I did my interview, though, I made a point to think for a second after each question so I could put my thoughts in order before I spoke. This helped my answers to be much more eloquent. Make sure not to take too much time before answering each question, though!

Also, during the interview, you will probably be asked some simple questions in Japanese to gauge your language skill. When this happens, don’t worry if you don’t understand a question. Testing your Japanese is just a way for you to gain a few extra points with the interviewers, and they don’t expect you to be perfect. They just want to get an idea of how much you can communicate in Japanese if you’ve said you’ve studied it.

In my interview, the interviewers started my Japanese test by asking me what time I woke up in the morning. They asked me a couple more questions after that. The questions gradually became more difficult. I barely understood the last question, so I asked them (in Japanese) to repeat it. I still didn’t understand, but I tried answering anyway with what little I had understood. Honestly, I don’t think I answered correctly at all.

It’s okay to ask interviewers to repeat a question. It’s okay to answer if you only think you know what they asked. It’s also okay to tell them you’re sorry, but you don’t understand. Once I finished my interview, I wished I had just said I didn’t understand the last question. I thought pretending I knew the answer when I didn’t understand would work against me, but it turned out okay. The point of this is, just try your best and the interviewers will see it.

 

 

To close, good luck with your interview! You’re definitely going to be nervous, but if it helps, remember that your interviewers are human. They’re expecting you to be nervous and expecting that maybe you’ll make a few mistakes. But as long as they can tell you’re doing your best, you’ll be okay. Some interviewers are former ALTs themselves, and so they understand the position you’re in. Just be genuine, be prepared, and be excited for everything you’ll get to do if you pass this interview.

 

がんばって!

 

 

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How to Boost Your JET Application

The time for hearing the first stage results for the JET Program have come and gone. To everyone who will have an interview, heartfelt congratulations! You’ve made it so far, and are one step away from the possibility of living and teaching in Japan! To everyone who will not have an interview this year, sincerest condolences. You worked so hard on your application, letters of recommendation, and statement of purpose. On top of that, the next application period is so far away! But please remember, that that next application period is still open to you, and until then, there are things you can do to boost your application for next time.

All of that said, I want to dedicate the next two posts to JET advice! Today’s post will cover what you can do if you didn’t get accepted this year, and my next post will cover the advice that helped me the most when I did my interview. Before I go on, though, just note that there are plenty of JETs who have written about both of these subjects, and it’s a good idea to look over their advice as well as mine. Other posts may offer something I didn’t cover, or say what I said much better than I did, haha. All that said, here’s my advice on what to do to boost your JET application next time!

 

 

  1. GET “TEACHING” EXPERIENCE

 

Before she wrote a letter of recommendation for me, my Japanese professor had written letters for two other prospective ALTs. One was accepted, the other wasn’t. The one who was accepted had been a nanny for the same family for several years and therefore, had plenty of experience working with kids. The other applicant didn’t have any experience with kids.

I cannot stress enough how important experience working with kids is to the JET Program application if you want to be an ALT. The reason why is obvious; your job as an ALT means you’ll be working with kids every day. A common mistake I’ve seen a few different people make when applying to be an ALT, is that they emphasize their experience with Japanese language or international travel. Either of those things can help to support your application, but as an ALT, you’re first and foremost an ENGLISH TEACHER. I’ve met ALTs who could barely speak Japanese when they first arrived, and one person I’ve talked to had a degree in physics and had never been to Japan. The thing that made them good applicants, though, was their experience with kids.

I put “teaching” in quotes in the title of this section because the best part about this area of the application is that your experience with kids doesn’t have to be formal classroom experience. If you do happen to have experience working in a classroom, fantastic! Put that on your application! If you don’t, though, that’s okay. You still have a chance.

Before JET hired me, I had never really worked in a classroom. What I had done, though, was private English tutoring for six months, summer camp counseling for two different summers, helping exchange students at my college with practicing English on occasion, volunteering in the English Salon when I studied abroad for half a year, and babysitting. Except for the babysitting, all of these experiences were for short periods of time over a few years. Collectively, though, they added up. This is what I recommend you do until the next application period. Find a job or some volunteer work that will allow you to work with kids, and do that for as long and as often as you can. If you can work with kids of a variety of ages, that might be even better. JET hires people to work anywhere from the elementary school to high school level. I’ve even heard of a few teachers visiting preschools for, “English Time.”

In short, gaining experience working with kids should be at the top of your list. I think this, more than anything else, will show JET that you’ll be able to do what they ask you to. Again, I’ll stress that you don’t have to get experience in a classroom. Help out in a ballet class, babysit, volunteer at a preschool, tutor after school. Anything helps, and the more of it, the better.

 

  1. Check Your Letters

 

Good letters of recommendation can add a lot to whatever you put into your application. From what I’ve seen and heard, the best letters come from professors, managers, heads of volunteer programs, etc. Basically, from anyone who can speak to abilities or experiences you have that would make you a good teacher. Finding good letters can be easier said than done. However, remember, you still have a stretch of time before the next application period, and you can use that time to find better letters.

If you start doing something to get experience with kids, you’ll undoubtedly find some good people who can write you letters. If you volunteer to teach a class on something you’re good at, ditto. The point is connections, connections, connections. A little creativity in who you ask can help, too.

For example, I followed the YouTube channel of an ALT called kawaiijustu for a while. She once posted a video about the JET Program application process, and talked about the two letters of recommendation she asked for. One was from her Japanese professor, and the other was from another of her professors who ran his own school. She asked this professor of hers to write about qualities she had that would convince him to hire her as a teacher. To be clear, kawaiijustu had never worked in this professor’s school, but she had taken a university class with this professor. Because of the connection through that university class, she knew this professor would know her and her work ethic well enough to write a letter. If you can’t get a letter from someone who has seen you teach something, getting creative like this can still put in a good word for you.

 

  1. Study Japanese and Try New Things

 

While Japanese language skill isn’t the most important part of your application, it can still score you some bonus points. It’s common for ALTs to be placed in rural areas, so Japanese skills will go a long way in helping you get around. Also, it can help with teaching. Often when I work in a class, I explain certain grammar points to students in Japanese because they have trouble understanding when I explain in English. The fact that they know I can speak Japanese also encourages them to talk to me more outside of class.

If you have some kind of skill in Japanese and can say that you’ll continue to study it on JET, that’s one more thing that speaks in your favor. However, on your application, DO NOT FOCUS SOLELY ON JAPANESE. I’ll repeat, experience working with kids or teaching something is one of the most important things you can put on your application. Japanese skill just serves to score you bonus points and put you ahead of someone who might not have any Japanese skill. On that note, any kind of Japanese skill is worth mentioning. Whether you’ve taken class for years or just started studying on your own time, mention it. Just try to learn as much as you can by the next application period. If you get an interview next time, you’ll be asked a few questions in Japanese to gauge your skill level (more on that in the next post).

Another good support for your application is something that can vouch for your adaptability. The JET Program wants to hire people who can grow accustomed to new and different situations. If they hire someone, send them to rural Japan, and then find out that that person is having significant challenges adjusting to life in Japan, that’s a problem. Showing JET that you’re adaptable and can deal with new situations will boost your chances of being hired. Many people use experiences of studying abroad or international travel to speak to their adaptability. If you don’t have international travel under your belt, though, you can provide other examples.

Have you ever had to move to a town you were unfamiliar with? Have you ever had to live with a particularly difficult person? Have you ever had to work with particularly difficult people? Have you ever had something major happen to you that forced you to change something about how you live? Have you ever worked a job where you had to learn new skills on the spot and succeeded? Have you ever had to deal with homesickness? How did you deal with any of this, and how does it show your adaptability?

Any experience you’ve had that put you in a difficult, unfamiliar situation could be a good thing to talk about. JET wants to know that you can handle living in a foreign country, and possibly living in an area you’ve never heard of. Depending on where you get placed, you may have to drive, work with special needs classes, work with teachers who want you to make activities for every class, or work with teachers who only use you like a human CD player. This isn’t even mentioning other everyday things like visiting the dentist, setting up your internet, or clothes shopping. All that said, the important thing for you to do, is give an example as to why you would be okay at adjusting to all of these things.

On a side note, if you do get accepted to JET, you won’t have to deal with settling in alone. Every ALT has a supervisor at their board of education who can help with things like setting up appointments or utilities. Also, JET has resources available for supporting an ALT’s mental health.

 

  1. Edit, Edit, Edit Your Statement of Purpose

 

Your statement of purpose is what brings all of your experiences together and tells a story about why you want to join JET, what good you think you can do while in Japan, and what good you think you can do after you come back from Japan. I’ve heard some people say that your statement of purpose can be what gets you to the interview stage. This said, take the statement of purpose seriously. Polish it, polish it, and polish it again if you need to. Ask yourself, “Is there a better way I can say this?” Get a few different people to read your statement of purpose and give you feedback. Look up other statements of purpose as examples and check around for writing advice (because SO many JETs have written advice for the statement of purpose). Don’t stress yourself with making it perfect, just tell a good story that shows it makes sense for JET to hire you.

Here’s a way to think about it, anyone can say they want to go to Japan or that they want to work in Japan. But what about your specific desire to live and work in Japan makes you a better pick in the long run?

If you want to be a teacher after the JET Program, how will you use your experiences abroad to continue to promote international exchange? If you want to go into business, will your experiences on JET help you work with foreign companies better? If you want to be an artist, how will your experiences help to educate people on Japanese culture? JET doesn’t just want you to come to Japan and then leave. They want you to be a cultural ambassador for your home country while in Japan, and then an international exchange ambassador when you get home.

A while ago, I met someone who had been an ALT in Izumo twenty years ago. He’s working in buying and selling materials now, and he works closely with companies in Japan.

When I wrote my statement of purpose, I talked about how I planned on becoming a high school English teacher in Oregon. I said that teaching on JET would help me to become a better teacher, help me to support or start a sister city program at whatever school I ended up working at, and help me find ideas on how to teach a global perspective in my future classes.

Whatever you think you want to do with your life, how will JET help you to accomplish it? Moreover, is there something you can do once you come home that helps with education or globalization? There are many things you can and should talk about in your statement of purpose, but this, I think, is one of the most important things to talk about. Make sure you say it all well!

 

To sum it all up, if you want to apply to JET again in the future, make the most of the time between application periods! By getting better experience, better letters of recommendation, and a solid statement of purpose, you could make next year the year you get into JET. According to a few other ALTs I’ve met, the JET Program accepts about fifty percent of the people who apply, and the upcoming Tokyo Olympics are causing more places to want to add to their English curriculum. The next few years may be one of the best times to apply.

Additional Resources:

kawaiijustu: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rx3P5-bXqY4

Tofugu JET Program blog: https://www.tofugu.com/series/jet-program/

 

 

 

On Destiny: Kamakura monogatari

Featured Image Source: http://kamakura-movie.jp/

This week, I’m going to do something a little bit different and write about a movie that I saw recently; Destiny: Kamakura monogatari (or Destiny: The Tale of Kamakura in English). This movie came out in December and is directed by Takashi Yamazaki, an award winning director who has also worked on titles such as Space Battleship Yamato (2010), Stand by Me Doraemon (2014), and Always: Sunset on Third Street (2005). He was also born in Matsumoto, the same city I just got back from visiting!

 

『DESTINY 鎌倉ものがたり』 ©2017「DESTINY 鎌倉ものがたり」製作委員会

Source: https://www.cinra.net/news/gallery/137741/3

Based on the 1980’s manga series, Kamakura MonogatariDestiny follows mystery writer, Masakazu Isshiki and his wife, Akiko. The two live in Kamakura, a city where sighting ghosts, spirits, and other mythical beings is a daily occurrence. Masakazu is closer to this side of Kamakura than most, as he helps to solve mysteries related to the supernatural in addition to his writing (by the way, one of the detectives he solves mysteries with is actually a fox). The plot of the movie thickens when Akiko’s spirit is separated from her body and her body disappears. This prevents her from being able to come back to life, and forces her to go to Yomi-no-kuni, the spirit world. To save Akiko, Masakazu has to find her body, and then travel to the spirit world himself to bring her back.

 

I went to see this movie not really sure what to expect, and ended up loving it! I grew up watching movies like The Princess Bride and Spirited Away, and Destiny reminded me of both of those movies! It has equal parts adventure, comedy, magic, suspense, and cute romance moments. On that note, my favorite part of this movie hands down was how it handled all the characters! Aside from Akiko and Masakazu, there were several supporting characters present throughout the movie, and all of them were unique and memorable. The subplots these supporting characters brought to the story made the world of the movie feel really expansive, and gave way to a couple of unexpected twists. Best of all, the side characters didn’t cause the overall story to feel crowded or confusing. Each character had some kind of purpose in the movie’s world that added to the overall experience in the best way possible. Plus, the characters’ personalities were interesting and didn’t follow a lot of the tropes you might normally expect.

The best example of a character who doesn’t follow expected tropes is Shinigami, or the Grim Reaper.

Source: https://hlo.tohotheater.jp/net/movie/TNPI3060J01.do?sakuhin_cd=014912

Shinigami (on the right with lighter hair, played by Sakura Ando) is responsible for escorting souls to Yomi-no-kuni. The thing that immediately drew me to Ando’s character was her appearance. She’s a Grim Reaper, but she’s in a trench coat and bowler hat and looks super friendly (despite being able to take off her face, showing a more skull-like face underneath). None of the cloak, scythe, or creepiness that I’m used to seeing in portrayals of a Grim Reaper. This extends to Shinigami’s personality, too. The audience’s first encounter with this character is Masakazu running into Shinigami escorting the husband of someone he knew to Yomi-no-kuni. Once Shinigami realizes that Masakazu is able to see her, she excitedly introduces herself. You run into Shinigami throughout the movie and each time, she’s meant to be likable. Yes, whenever she shows up, it means someone has died, but she’s also totally willing to help Masakazu bring Akiko back to the world of the living because Akiko’s soul was forcibly separated from her body. In short, I’m used to seeing Grim Reapers as antagonists, or at the very least, creepy. Destiny‘s Shinigami is none of these things. She does her job, but she’s also totally willing to cut you some kind of slack if she can.

Another quick example of a character who doesn’t turn out like you expect is Bimbogami, the god of poverty. He isn’t in the movie for very long, but ends up becoming a pretty endearing character. As I say his character is endearing, remember, this is a god of poverty I’m talking about. Bad luck constantly follows this guy and the people he’s close to. By the time he leaves the main narrative of the story, though, you’ve been able to watch a couple of sweet scenes with him at the center, and by the time the movie ends, you’ll probably like him even more because of this one little thing I won’t talk about because it’s a spoiler.

The best characterization in my opinion, though, is Akiko and Masakazu’s relationship. These two characters are married with basically zero drama. Conflict happens, sure, but it’s almost always from something outside of the two of them. Disagreements happen, sure, but it’s minor disagreement. There is one scene where they actually do have a conflict between the two of them, but they make a point to smooth it over a couple of scenes later. They know immediately after this conflict happens that whatever started the fight isn’t worth lingering over if it puts a rift between them. And how do they fix this rift? By talking to each other and opening up to each other. I cannot count the number of movies and TV shows that use a lack of communication as a means to move plot forward and it drives me up the wall every time because seriously? The problem these characters are having could be solved by a few good lines of conversation, but the characters refuse to have that conversation because plot reasons. That’s not how relationships should work, and it’s definitely not how a relationship worth admiring should work.

However, Akiko and Masakazu’s relationship is, in my opinion, something worth admiring. Not only do they actually talk to each other and have great chemistry as characters, but you can tell in every scene how deeply they care about each other. Especially once the major conflict of the story begins. When the stakes start getting high, both Akiko and Masakazu are willing to sacrifice literally anything to save each other.

While watching Destiny, I imagined that if I were watching this movie back in America, there would be more than a few people who said they didn’t like it because the plot centers around Akiko being saved. However, I don’t think that’s a fair point to dislike this movie on, because Akiko is a very active protagonist who participates in the final fight in her own way. Firstly, Akiko goes to Yomi-no-kuni of her own accord. Secondly, she later puts her life on the line in order to try and save Masakazu. Finally, the whole reason the movie has a happy ending is because of something Akiko does in the movie (not saying what that is because spoilers, but the ending couldn’t have happened without her making it that way). Director, Hayao Miyazaki, was once quoted saying that he favors portraying a relationship between a male and female protagonist that isn’t necessarily romantic, but a relationship in which the two protagonists mutually inspire each other to live. Miyazaki says that if he can do this, he may become “closer to portraying a true expression of love.” Akiko and Masakazu’s relationship is one where each inspires the other to live, and it’s also romantic.

To conclude, I have no idea if this movie will ever be released outside of Japan or if it will ever be available with subtitles. If, however, it does become available (and I really hope it does), I can’t recommend this movie enough. If you want to feel nostalgic with a fantastical adventure and explore the work of a director you might not be familiar with, this is a great movie to check out.

 

On Osechi and New Year’s Food

New Year’s in Japan is something that should be on more than a few bucket lists. It’s a fantastic, fun, colorful celebration, and if you have friends to spend it with in Japan, even better!

Growing up in America, New Year’s celebrations have always been small compared to everything I did this year in Japan. Back home, New Year’s celebrations mainly take place on New Year’s Eve. I either go to a party at a friend’s house, or my family hosts a party with friends at our house. We stay up to watch the New Year’s countdown in Times Square, eat a lot of food, drink a lot of drinks ( I don’t drink, though), and eventually go to sleep after midnight. New Year’s Day is basically reserved for sleeping late, and that’s it for New Year’s in America.

New Year’s in Japan, however, is a completely different affair. This year, I stayed with a friend of mine and her family in Matsumoto City, Nagano Prefecture (I’ll write more on Matsumoto some other time, because it’s an amazing city). I arrived on December 29th, and basically from the moment I arrived, we were working on preparing for New Year’s. The most preparation by far went into making osechi, a boxed spread of food eaten on New Year’s Eve. Osechi are holiday meals that only come once a year. Most interestingly, though osechi vary slightly from family to family, every bit of food in these boxes has a meaning attached to it. Often, the meaning comes from the food’s name, and its homophones in Japanese.

 

Image may contain: food

Just three examples: kuro mamekonbu, and taiKuro mame, or black beans, share a homophone with mame, the Japanese word for “health.” Konbu, seaweed, sounds similar to yorokobu, which means “joy.” Finally, tai, red sea bream, shares ties to the word, medetai or omedetai, a congratulatory event.

One of my favorite osechi foods, which I got to help make, was kuri kinton; mashed sweet potatoes with sweet chestnuts. The kin in this food’s name sounds like the Japanese word for “gold.” On top of that, the gold yellow of the potatoes and the sweet chestnuts suggest gold. Therefore, eating this represents luck with money or business in the coming year.

I could go on and on with the meanings of all these foods but basically, each of them represents a wish for health and good fortune in the new year.

By the way, osechi are huge, and they’re not the only food your supposed to eat on New Year’s. Basically, if you spend New Year’s in Japan, prepare to eat until you feel like your stomach is going to burst. After osechi, you eat toshi koshi soba; soba noodles meant to represent long life. The key to eating these noodles is to not bite them in half while you’re slurping them up. Slurp them whole, and then chew. The noodles themselves represent the long length of life that you want, so you don’t want to bite them any shorter.

The special food doesn’t stop after New Year’s Eve is over. From January first to the third, we gave ourselves a few extra wishes for good fortune by eating peanuts, chestnuts, persimmons, and wagashi, traditional Japanese sweets. We ate each of these things before we ate anything else on the mornings of the first, second, and third. My friend told me that peanuts are called mame, so there you have the homophone again; the wrinkled skin of dried persimmons represents a wish for long life; and the wagashi are usually molded into different shapes that each have a kind of symbolic or festive meaning. In the case of this year, some of the wagashi were shaped like dogs to celebrate 2018 as the Year of the Dog.

On top of all of that, we ate soup with the mochi that we prepared a few days before (See my post, “Mochi Day”: https://mspayneinshimane.wordpress.com/2017/12/29/mochi-day/   ), monaka, which are wafer-type sweets filled with red bean paste, and all the food still leftover in the osechi.

While New Year’s in America is a holiday you can share with either friends or family, the New Year in Japan is all about spending time with family. Together, you hang out under a kotatsu (heated coffee table with a blanket. They’re awesome!), watch New Year’s TV specials, play card games like hanafuda, and eat good food nonstop. It’s all about time together as the new year comes around.

In conclusion, New Year’s in Japan is a fantastic experience, and I’m so happy that if I couldn’t be back home with my own family, that I could still spend the holiday with people I love.