So, like, I told you guys already that I had to leave Georgetown pretty much at the drop of a hat and come to Tokyo, but I didn't really tell you why.
This is because, quite frankly, when I wrote that last blog post, the situation was still occurring and in flux, and since it all really really angered me, I felt like I should wait to blog about it until I could do so more objectively.
Well, basically, back when we were in China some things SUCKED, but one thing went well, and that was Zachary's school. He LOVED his school there.
Then he came to Tokyo.
Now, before coming to Tokyo, we researched schools online. Just like everyone. And we chose one. Just like most people. Because you have to have this stuff in place before you arrive at post in October (way after school has started) because you want your 9th grade son to not miss a single day more of the school year than he already was going to be missing.
It didn't take us long to choose. We chose what I will refer to as "Sexy Website School" (SWS) because, well, their website was sexy. That and, in our defense, it really did look to be the best fit. Most of us end up having to blindly make a school choice before we get to post armed with only the website and a bit of other knowledge. Y'all know how it is.
So Zachary started at SWS and, from the first day, he hated it. Actually, that word deserves caps: he HATED it. There were problems all over the place and really, there's not much point in my getting into any of the specifics as to why. Just trust me: SWS wasn't a good fit. Now, Zachary LOVES school and LOVES learning and LOVES having friends at school, etc. So we just didn't see this coming, Zachary hating a school. But there it was. With James here in Tokyo (with no wife) and me back in DC.
As the school days went by, Zachary's school misery continued (and increased). Only... only... only the RSO shop here is super wicked crazy insane busy - far, far, FAR busier than anything that ever went down in Chengdu - and SWS is super far away from our home (and we don't have a car here), and James was finding that he didn't have the time to do everything: work a super busy and very demanding job, mess with the school issues, look for other schools in the meantime, go food shopping, cook meals, clean, do laundry, help with homework, etc. (It's Japan so household help wasn't happening.)
So one day it became obvious that SWS wasn't going to be able to be our school of choice. That Zachary was going to have to be withdrawn from school and that other schools were going to have to be looked at, etc. And so I left Georgetown, got on a plane, and came to Tokyo.
I met with the SWS administration and teachers when I got here. There was little that could be done to make the situation any better, but I knew that I had to try. Again, I'm not going to bandy specific complaints about the school around all over my blog, because that's tacky and no one cares anyway. Suffice it will to say that even with my meeting with SWS, the whole thing didn't work out and a few days after my arrival in Tokyo, I pulled Zachary out of school for good.
Which is when it all super mega hit the fan.
Now, back a few weeks ago - pretty much the day that Zachary had started at SWS - the school had sent the Embassy a bill for Zachary's tuition (for the full year) and the fees related to his enrollment. This is standard, I'm sure - sending the Embassy a bill for everything pretty much the very first day. But it's noteworthy to point out that the total for the full year tuition and all of the one-time fees was somewhere between $30,000 and $40,000. Just keep that big ol' number in the back of your mind.
Since Zachary had hated the school from the very first day, James had seen that huge bill for the whole year of tuition and proceeded to ask The Management/Money People at post to hold on to that bill and not immediately pay it. This is because my husband is brilliant and savvy. The Management/Money People sat on the bill as requested because they are awesome here.
A few school days later (Zachary actually attended SWS for fifteen school days total) and our family pulls Zachary out of school. So what happens next, ye bureaucratically-knowledgeable people who read my blog?
The money wars.
Almost exactly like a divorce, and I'm not kidding, except that there have been divorces far more amicable than this.
Upon receipt of our polite email withdrawing Zachary, SWS calls James. Calls James and tells him over the phone that they're confident that the huge $30,000-40,000 bill for the whole school year (that they previously mailed to the Embassy) has most likely already been paid. That the Embassy has most likely already cut the check. That the check is most likely already in the mail. And that, if the check is indeed already in the mail, that the school will cash the check and keep every penny. Which, SWS (correctly) points out, will keep Zachary from having any funding left over with which to switch schools this school year.
James is silent, though he already knows that that particular bill has not been paid. Since he had ASKED for it not to be paid.
Cue the Management People Being My Heroes Thing here. Because, quite frankly, a State kid at any post only has a certain pot of money with which to fund his or her education per school year, and if SWS got their hands on the whole pot of money (as they wanted), our family would be screwed.
The Management People call and email SWS. Because no one (other than SWS) could possibly think that SWS deserves to keep THE ENTIRE YEAR OF TUITION AND $8,000 IN FEES (again, between $30,000 and $40,000 total) for a child who only attended school for 15 school days.
The Management People sent SWS a fantastic email. Oh Sexy Website School, they began, we all are such good friends. Let us all be friendly friends who help each other in peace and harmony and friendship. Can we not see to it that you receive enough funding that you feel that you have been treated well whilst also ensuring that this child would have enough money left over with which he could switch schools?
And lo, it came to pass. It came to pass that SWS settled for less than the full year of tuition (I think they got about $10,000. For fifteen days of school).
It came to pass that Zachary and I have been able to find another school for him. He starts at this new school at a new semester mark in January.
It came to pass that I have been homeschooling Zachary during this whole back-and-forth with SWS, and I will continue to homeschool him until he starts at his new school in January.
And it came to pass that I have been exceedingly impressed with The Money People here, who have ensured that all is well that ends well and that Zachary could switch schools.
And it also came to pass that I had to snicker at SWS totally underestimating my husband.
O people. When will ye stop underestimating my husband? For though he is soft spoken, and is always laid back, and seems to be a harmless little fuzzball, he is super wicked brilliant, and when you try to match wits with him you will always lose. This goes about triple for you if you're trying to screw over his family.
If James hadn't interceded and made sure that the bill wasn't immediately paid, then Zachary wouldn't be able to switch schools this year and SWS would be permanently in possession of $30,000 - $40,000 dollars. If the Management People hadn't stepped in and interceded on our behalf regarding the charges, ditto. The whole thing, even now, still isn't completely resolved, and when I say that yanking a State kid out of one school and stuffing them into another mid year is much like a divorce, I'm not kidding. I pulled Zachary out almost three weeks ago and we are STILL negotiating back and forth with SWS and with the new school about this and that and money. Always money. Hopefully it will all be resolved before Zachary starts at his new school in January.
So that's the story. Tune in next time, when I talk about goodness only knows what. You never know with me. In the meantime, if you would like to read something insanely awesome, please go read my dear friend Donna's touching blog post (when she refers to Tokyo in it? Yeah, she's talking about me) discussing this incredible article that hit me so hard it has taken me more than a week to talk about it. Gripping. Painful. Astonishing. Breathtaking. Yes, James and I have our own story, much like the poor woman in the article (and Donna's poor Marine), though time has softened the edges... a bit.
A while back, one of my closest friends Ana sent me an essay she wanted me to take a look at before submitting it as part of her grad school application. She was applying at the SIT Graduate Institute for a Masters in Global Management in Oman. Ana is finishing up her last bit of time in the Peace Corps in Honduras right now. When I looked at her essay responses, I was blown away. The only corrections I could make were minor grammatical details – aside form that, it was flawless. I would post all of her responses to all of the questions, but that may be like one of those annoying parents who shows 50 different poses of their child in the same pose, at a slightly different angle. At any rate, here’s her response to question number one.
What knowledge and experience (academic, personal, professional, intercultural, etc.) have prepared or motivated you to pursue this degree program?
When I was a child, I was surprisingly realistic about my future. When asked by adults what they wanted to be when they grew up, other children would say they were going to be doctors, lawyers, and astronauts. To which I would think, surprisingly cynically for a child: “Realistically, how many of you will make it?” My family emigrated from South America. By the time my mother made the journey to the United States of America with her six children she was thirty, single and unsure of how to feed her overwhelming number of progeny should she have stayed in her native Uruguay. Arriving in California, she met my Colombian father. Already with nine children of his own, my father and mother married and I was born, the first American citizen of the family, one year and six days to my mother’s arrival in the United States.
As a child of immigrants, and with many siblings, I approached the situation of my future realistically. There was little money and many children, and college was something no one discussed. It was assumed that after high school we would find jobs and help the family financially until we had our own families to provide for. When considering a potential career it seemed to me that being a police officer would be a solid, respectable choice. “My family would be proud of me…” I thought, “Although, maybe that would be aiming too high?” At the age of nine, I decided I would be a security guard.
I never thought about going to college. The reason was simple: I did not think I could. I thought my family’s economic situation could not put so many children through college, and logically never thought it was a possibility. Then someone asked me if I was interested in attaining a college degree. I was told that there was state and federal money available for children from low-income homes. I responded, “Yes, I wanted to go to college.”
Afraid still, to aim too high, I cautiously moved forward thinking my associate’s degree would be first. “I do not want to get ahead of myself by aiming for a four-year degree,” I thought. Near the completion of my associate’s degree I applied to several universities in the California State University system. When I received my first acceptance letter, I cried. I became the first person in my family to attend college.
The power of my past is that it has instilled a passion of possibilities in my life. As I continue to move forward, it seems that “I-can-be-anything” attitude that causes young children to believe they can become doctors and astronauts, has finally reached me. With each path I pursue, the world continues to open up to me. My Peace Corps service has been no exception.
Serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Honduras has continued to open the world to me. I have longed to find work which contributes to the world I live in. As a child, when I believed I could not aspire to greatness, I often felt a struggle within me; it was a deep desire to do work that held purpose, to pursue work beyond merely a title and a career. I felt a passion to contribute and was not sure how to satisfy this feeling. In Peace Corps it became more apparent, often in small ways, and that struggle within felt its release when I realized I could work in the service of contributing to the world we live in. It was the satisfying thought of the human race as connected, national boundaries aside.
My service as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) has consisted of working at two levels; one exists at a higher level with the leaders of my community, and the other is work at a very basic human level working directly with Hondurans. This is work that I have found to be personally rewarding. It is from this work that I experienced a defining moment not only in my service but also in terms of my future.
When I first arrived in my community as a PCV I began teaching a basic computer course. The majority of my students came from some of the local villages in which they had no electricity and most had to make a special trip each day we had class. Two of my best students, a brother and sister around 15 and 18 years of age, walked two hours both ways in order to receive these classes. When I was first asked to give these classes I was nervous because I had never taught and doubted myself, questioning, “What can I teach them?”
My answer came on the first day of class. In Spanish, I asked them to open the folder on their desktop titled “Computer Class.” No one moved. Something occurred to me. I said, “Stop! How many of you have ‘touched’ a computer before?” One girl slowly, shyly raised her hand and said, “Well, I have touched one before.”
This is a moment that will continue to define my reasons to pursue work at the international level. I experienced a realization that the skills that I thought simple and not worthy of sharing were what my students, having never “touched” a computer, needed. Bigger than that, it was the realization that sometimes as development workers we question what it is that we are leaving behind. What can we offer a community? What can we offer the developing world? The answer is a lot, even in the less obvious ways.
What has drawn me to the Master of Global Management program has been a combination of all these life experiences. My privilege is not only to have been born in a country that holds a multitude of opportunities not afforded in many other regions of the world, but also to have a personal understanding of the reasons that drive a mother’s decision to forever leave behind her native country with her children. Having been raised between cultures, I have an awareness that only first generation children of immigrants can fully appreciate. I will forever be aware of the life my family left behind and the life I was born into. I have found a path to create opportunity and change in the lives of others so that they might be able to live under better conditions without the need to emigrate from their own country. Now I look to the training that I will receive from the faculty and my peers at the Global Management program which can help me to become a socially responsible and effective leader, one who can create positive change, regardless of what country you live in. I am motivated by a desire to create change in both small and large ways.