Friday, 5 October 2012

Leaving jkura behind

For roughly the last two years, I have had the deep honour and the ever-abiding pleasure of serving as Vice President of my university's Japanese Club. I've loved every minute. I love bringing people together. Helping them enjoy their time in school, or in Canada, as the case may be. Being useful. Moving about campus, organizing, planning, conducting business. The feeling of having done a successful event. Managing people and showing off my skills. Communing with the Presidents and Vice Presidents of other international clubs. All the attention whoring I've been able to do. Addressing a crowd. On-campus media appearances. Signing e-mails with “Japanese Club Vice President.” International orientations. The fact that after the Touhouku Earthquake I was on it day-of, and that largely through my efforts we raised thousands of dollars in disaster relief. The fact that we sometimes call it J-Club, or j-kura, or, internally, “Club.”

I was hoping I'd have one or two last all-members meetings to soak up before I leave, but it turned out I'd be gone before the semester really gets underway. That's fine, but I can't help but be filled with melancholy. I hate that I'm going to miss so much. I've mentioned some of the things that almost (almost) make me second-guess the correctness of my departure, but Japanese Club is by far the strongest.

Now it's experiencing extreme growth, and I'm watching from afar, like a retired President of the United States catching up with his daily security briefings. Numbers have exploded. Management is starting to trickle down. The goddamn Consul came down from Vancouver to talk about forging ties and expanding the organization. It's like everything I worked for is coming to fruition just in time for me not to be a part of it.

In the club's first year, its first President did an amazing job given the resources she had (none), but in the two since then the current President and I have grown it from almost nothing to being by far one of the largest and most active on campus. I couldn't be prouder of what we've accomplished. But as time goes one we've become increasingly cognizant of the fact that we're eventually going to graduate, and if we don't want everything we've built to wither and die in our absence we're going to need to properly groom our successors long before we leave. In particular, just after New Year's 2012 I found out I might be going to Korea for a year, and when that ultimately fell through I almost immediately applied for Japan. So I've been aware of my own situation for some time, and I've been taking steps to train my replacement.

In fall 2011, we added chair positions to our roster. Answering directly to the President and Vice President, they were created, frankly, so that the two of us didn't have to keep doing absolutely everything all the time. The structure has undergone revision, and will probably continue to evolve as we our needs change, but currently we have two. There's a lot of overlap, but one is intended to focus on planning the larger, more involved events, and the other is responsible on helping with smaller get-togethers, morale, and general upkeep of Japanese students. Anytime we can't do something personally or require assistance, we call on them first, so it's natural that the new VP would have formerly been one of them. Funny thing is, the President and I each have one we like a little better, and so it's become a bit of a silent competition as we've each taken one under our wing and attempted to train them up. It's like a wuxia film.

The one I liked was the guy. Basking in the wisdom and experience that comes of being 22, I can't help but view this 19-year-old as a bit young and cocky, but his enthusiasm and sociability are assets that I've been quick to use in the past, and which will continue to be useful now. So I started testing him. I assigned him tasks of progressively greater difficulty, even when it would have been faster and easier to just do them myself, so he could get the practise. I'd point out a situation and ask what he'd do, then tell him whether that was the right or wrong call, and why. I consulted him on all manner of things, just to get him thinking in the right direction. I tried to teach him what I do.

Unfortunately, his enthusiasm dropped into the centre of the earth over the summer, and at the end he transferred to another university without warning anyone. You can imagine how pleased I was. The girl stayed on, and I was able to have a tete-a-tete with her before she left, so although she's going to be getting some brutally difficult on the-job-training, I was able to impart a little knowledge and confirm that she's got the right attitude and the right idea. She'll do fine. But she'll do it in her own way, of course.

The thing is, nobody can do what I do. Certainly not in the same style. Because nobody has the same level of language skills, my light touch, or the micromanagement abilities and sheer sense for these things that I've developed over the years, largely by pretty much growing up in City Hall. The President is the Cuddy to my House, and that's pretty much how Club is run. Without her above me I'd run the place like an autocrat; maybe that would have been worse, maybe not. But she knows how to manage me, and my quirks, and my dumbassery, while at the same time maximizing my usefulness. She knows when to direct me and when to back off and let me just work. We cover each other's weaknesses. We're an amazing team, and I've worked very, very, very hard for this club, to the point that I may now be indispensable.

So I'm not afraid that the club's going to fall apart when in my absence; I'm afraid that everything is going to be just fine. I'm scared that even without me things will carry on without breaking stride, and I'll have to find out that I've never been as important as I want to believe I am.


  1. this almost made me cry... I MISS YOU

    1. Miss you too! Although it's easier on me, I think, since because Japan. On my last exchange me and the other two decided that it's probably harder for the people you leave behind than it is for you yourself...and I have never seen anything to make me believe otherwise.