This is the second story in the three-part series of the multicultural Powley family, including my mother from Japan, Noriko, my father from the U.S. Bruce, and my Third Culture Kid (TCK) brother, Brendon. In part one, we viewed the story from my mother’s perspective. In this part, we will be looking at the same story from my father’s point of view.
Bruce Powley is a citizen of the United States, born and raised in Sheridan, Wyo. He rarely traveled as a child, and spent most of his life playing baseball in hopes of making it to the major leagues. It wasn’t until his junior year of college, when he was cut from his university’s baseball team, that he decided he needed to experience the world. At the age of 21, Bruce finds the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program. He applies to travel across the world to teach English, even though he knows nothing about Japan or how to speak the language. After being accepted, Bruce drops out of college in his final year and says goodbye to his friends in family.
Bruce Making it in Japan
After making the move to Kyoto, Japan in 1982, Bruce finds joy in teaching young students the English language. He also finds a new self confidence while living in Japan. Bruce says “I am a very tall, blue eyed, white guy. I stand out a lot when I go to Japan. People were so interested in talking to me and learning about America, I felt like a superstar everywhere I went. I didn’t know any Japanese when I first got there, so whenever I tried, people praised me for my efforts. At first, it really gives you a huge boost of confidence.”
But as the years go on, Bruce finds that he is not learning the language as fast as he needs. He is also coming to realize that the money he’s making isn’t enough to fully support him. After this realization, he decides to start teaching smaller classes for adults. He puts ads in the newspaper and hangs flyers around his neighborhood. He does this in efforts to make extra cash and also meet people who may be able to help him learn Japanese as well. Only a few sign up in two separate groups. But unknowingly to Bruce, his future wife would attend.
Bruce, now a Third Culture Adult, continues teaching children in school during the day and teaching adult classes at night. He becomes good friends with all of his adult students. They go out for dinner and drinks on a regular basis now. One student in particular, a young woman named Noriko, helps Bruce learn Japanese. They grow to be very close friends and soon realize there is a romantic interest. Bruce says “I was hanging out with her, her friends and her family a lot. For months, really. Then I realize I want to be with her all the time. And it wasn’t until I had that thought that I knew I liked her as more than a friend. But she really is my best friend, too.”
They begin dating, but about a year later Bruce decides that he needs to return to the U.S. to finish his degree. Before leaving, he asks Noriko’s father for his permission to marry her after he returns from the U.S., and Noriko’s father gives his blessing. Noriko’s father says “I told Bruce it was okay if they get married. But I also told him I had conditions. I said he had to graduate from school first and then they had to come back and live in Japan. Noriko hadn’t lived anywhere else before and I didn’t want to lose her. Bruce promised me he’d do that for me.”
Bruce kept that promise. After returning to the U.S., he found a new motivation to graduate from the University of Wyoming. After graduation, Bruce and Noriko get married in Wyoming and soon move back to Japan. Bruce gets a job teaching elementary school children again and lives with is wife in housing provided through the JET Program. But again, they soon realize that the money wasn’t enough to provide for the two of them, let alone the family they want to start.
So he finds a job in the city of Kyoto as a translator, which is a much higher paying job. Everything is going great, but doubts about living in Japan permanently soon creep into Bruce’s mind. Bruce says “I love Japan, but it is so different. Could I really raise my kids in the city, when I grew up on a farm? Plus, people stared at me everywhere I went and it was becoming overwhelming. I thought ‘if we have kids, and they don’t look Japanese, are people going to stare at them the same way they stare at me all the time?’ And when my mom fell into a coma, it was the sign that I needed to make the decision to move back to America.”
Bruce Returning to America
After returning to America, this time for good, Bruce struggled to find a high paying job. He eventually finds a job in Denver, Colo. as a salesman for a manufacturing company. Bruce says “It was a great paying job. It’s the type of job that is the stereotypical idea of American success. I travel, I get paid well, I can support my family, all that. But, as you can assume, I also have very little time to spend with my family while I’m doing that job. And that was okay when [my son] was born, but I knew I had to find something else when I almost missed the birth of my daughter.”
Bruce then quits his job, and decides to work at the Consulate General of Japan’s office. He translates and produces important articles and business letters, as well as helping conduct the JET Program. He is still at this job to this day, and has no plans of retiring soon. When asked to reflect on his journey, Bruce says “I will always love Japan. My wife, the mother of my children, still has family. Because of this, we send [our children] back to Japan as much as possible. I encourage both of them to apply to the JET Program as well. I heavily believe that traveling and living in other countries is the best way to cure cultural ignorance. Therefore, if anyone is interested in living in other countries I always tell them to do it.”