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Full Circle

Earlier last month, I returned to the school that I started at in Japan over a year ago. It’s been interesting seeing everything that’s the same, who has grown up, the differences between then and now…

And as much as it hits home to be there and know everything I’ve accomplished and that I’ve decided to move on with my life in less than a year, there still manages to be times every day that are just silly.

This school thinks I’m absolutely adorable.

Other schools have made comments, and there had been students here and there who have decided I’m the cutest/dorkiest thing ever, but this school. This school. I cannot get anywhere without a chorus of girls trying to prompt me into saying “good morning” or anything at all so they can squeal, “KAWAII!!!!!” and continue with their mornings. It likely hasn’t helped that I’m always super smiley and bouncy these days.

The best of the bunch, though, is a little first year girl who has a birthday tomorrow.

I was told today by her English teacher that whenever I’m not assisting for their English class, the girl (let’s call her Y) becomes extremely grumpy. It seemed to be a fangirl at first sight moment. This kid cannot seem to handle that I exist. She has trouble speaking to me because it embarrasses her too much, she hides her face in her hands/hides behind a friend/slams her face down on her desk and hides behind her arms if I catch her looking my way. The only thing she ever manages to say to me is, “Very, very, very cute!” and that takes all her willpower before she has to run away and hide again.

Y’s entire class knows about how she is around me. Whenever there’s a chance to speak to me, the normally noisy class will grow quiet and all turn toward Y to see how she will react (usually by turning red and dying).

Her friends think it’s hilarious to drag Y up to me and insist that, “Y loves you!”

I have never had a kid react so strongly. I’m really looking forward to how she does when I stop by her class tomorrow to wish her a happy birthday. It might kill her. ❤

I’m going to really miss stuff like this when I leave. I’ve said multiple times that I don’t really want to be a teacher, but I really love kids. Maybe I wouldn’t mind tutoring on the side or being a volunteer somewhere? We’ll see what I can manage in the future.

Stormy Weather

The past few days the weather has been somewhat unpredictable. It can’t decide if it wants to stay sunny and at five billion degrees, or try to drown us. Either way, walking to school has been a bit of a challenge. I’m counting down the days until cold weather arrives. The cold might suck as well, but at least I can bundle up more and hide behind scarves. It’s considered inappropriate to strip down in public to avoid sweating to death.

At least inside the school it’s bearable lately. I’ve just had to roll with the weather and take a washcloth to school with me. As soon as I arrive, I put my bento in the office fridge, dump my things at my desk, and head off to the bathroom to wash my face and try to look presentable again.

I never look my best in hot weather. My face doesn’t cool down as much as it should? Or as fast as it should? So it gets more and more red until, if I don’t watch out, the blood vessels burst. (When I was a kid and unaware of what was happening, I seemed to permanently have the two bright pink circles on my cheeks like you see on anime characters. The doctor said I needed laser surgery, but I healed on my own! I’M WOLVERINE.)

I was clearly not made to exist outdoors, though.

In student news, I had one 3rd year boy declare loudly that he was free when I said I didn’t have a boyfriend, and I had another serenade me with some pop song I’m unfamiliar with.

In another class, a girl who seems physically incapable of paying attention to the lesson rescued me from a string that was dangling from the back of my collar.

I’ve also gotten to know the three students in my assigned cleaning area. The boy wants to be a doctor, one girl a nurse, and the other girl a flight attendant. I told all three that English could be helpful in those careers and they seem somewhat willing to practice speaking while we clean.

I’m thinking… that I might like this school. The kids remind me of my favorite school. Lots of energy!

The only thing I dislike about the school so far is that the third years seem to know less English than the first and second years. It’s really unsettling. Hopefully when I go to the other third year classes tomorrow I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Start of the Second Term

If it seems like I dropped off the face of the map for a while there, it’s because summer has officially ended in Japan. I started things off beautifully on September 1st by forgetting that my class for adult English learners was starting back up. Luckily, I received a wake-up call to double-check that I would be coming to the lesson that day. If I hadn’t gotten that call, I wouldn’t have made it to the station in time. ^^;

From Monday until now, I’ve been going to my new school! I’ll be here from now until toward the end of October. I marathon-ed the first grade classes yesterday for five periods straight. Today I’ll have two classes with the third graders and two with the second graders. A much easier schedule, I can assure you.

At this point, I like teaching with the second grade teacher the most. He plans the lessons carefully, wants to challenge the students, and has a really cohesive style! It will be interesting to learn from him the next month and a half. I hope I can teach as smoothly as he does from now until next August. Classes like his seem to fly by! I never agonize over how much longer the class has.

With work started back in full, I can keep distracted a little more, but my life is still crazy at the moment. I’m fighting hard to assure people I can still keep my previous commitments. It’s extremely difficult being an adult and learning that no matter what insanity is going on in your life, there will always be people around you who are unwilling to cut you any slack.

At least I’ve been getting a little reading done. And watching Arrow. That show is a lifesaver. But where is the handsome billionaire to sweep me off my feet? Maybe I should get into the arrow-making business…

 

Japanese Conbini

Can I just talk for a moment about how awesome convenience stores are in Japan? They are everywhere. Everywhere.

First, the food. You can get  dozens of different boxed lunches at the Japanese “conbini”. There are hot lunches, cold lunches, ingredients for going home and making your own lunch, a frozen food section, a pastry section, and a small “fast food” sort of section up by the registers.

The hot and ready food at the registers usually consists of some form of fried potato, fried chicken, chicken on a stick, spring rolls, and varied steamed buns. Depending on what store you go to, the selection varies, but generally the quality is about on parr with some fast food places. At least here in the city nothing looks questionable or in danger of health code violations like back in the states.

As if there wasn’t enough reason to go there just from that, it usually doubles as basically a small, well-maintained dollar store. You can usually find everything from pencils and notebooks to work shirts and socks in case of emergency. There’s also a large magazine section and sometimes a manga shelf.

Maybe my favorite part of the Japanese convenience stores, though, is that you can purchase tickets for concerts/theme parks/whatever AND you can pay your bills there! I go by all the time to pay my internet bill. I can also buy things online, take a special code to the store, and pay for my purchases.

Because, you know, who wants to bother with Paypal these days?

Summer Festivals

Narashino Dancing

Narashino Dancing

Lately has been kind of crazy for me, but over the weekend I was able to attend some festivals. Unfortunately, I showed up right as one was ending and I had to leave the other after only glancing around for a minute, but they were still fun to see!

My city’s festival was the one I was most looking forward to. I thought it would be interesting to see the sort of things my city would do during summer. I assumed my city was fairly small, so I thought the festival would be extremely small. Not so!

To start things off, they held a huge parade down the street. Many different clubs and organizations participated and walked through with their banners. You can view some of it here.

After the initial parade, there was another parade of dancers. I could stand at the top of the hill and see a line of dances down the road for as far as I could see.

In a large, open area the usual festival booths were set up. There were games to catch goldfish, a ring toss, prizes (I saw a lot of kids carrying newly won inflatable baseball bats and an inflatable Stitch from the Disney movie), and a lot of similar things to do. They sold a lot of typical festival foods as well. I’m disappointed that I wasn’t able to take more pictures.

Starting today, I’m taking a few days off work to pull myself back together and get everything about my life reorganized. My four day absence from sorting through my e-mail account seems to have already cost me the internship I was really excited about. I suppose I just need to accept what’s happened so far and try to keep going.

 

Disruptive Students

Disruptive students are always interesting to tackle. I’ve read various stories with how other teachers deal with them, but I’m slowly developing my own method to the madness. So far I haven’t dealt with too much, but I will share one of my experiences.

One of my more disruptive students talked during my speech, talked over other students, and generally gave off the vibe of, “Hey! Look at me! Look how cool I am!’ He was a third year JHS student, so he had the added punch of actually being decent enough at English that he thought he could pull trying to embarrass me and further disrupting class. Luckily, my disruptive students have all been very arrogant. They brag to their friends about what they’re going to try to pull later on, and if you listen, you’ll be prepped when the time comes.

After my self-intro speech, I have a question and answer period where the students can ask about anything I didn’t talk about. When I got to the kid, our conversation went something like this:

Kid: 😀 HELLO. My name is ~~~~. Do you have a boyfriend? >:D

Me: Yes, I do! :3 Do you have a girlfriend?

Kid: YES. 😀

Me: Great! BUT. That was a very first year question. You are a third year! You should ask a better question. Please try again.

Kid: >:D Do you like me?

Me: Do I like you? Hmm. I don’t know. You ask very first year questions, so maybe I don’t know yet. You should study harder.

The kid was perplexed and turned to his friends for help with the translation, but it was too late for him to recover. The rest of the class who caught it on the first go were already giggling and his only escape was to go, “Oh! …okay! Thank you.’ and bow out of our verbal battle.

The English teacher had been worried about how I would handle him, but she said that my attitude with him had been very good! I ignored him when he was just trying to get attention, and when I had to deal with him one-on-one for the question and answer period, I turned the situation around so that he didn’t get the upper hand like he planned.

That’s been my plan of attack for any awkward questions I get. I try to answer smoothly, then reflect the intended effect back at the student in a good-natured way. So far it seems to be working out well with the particular JHS I’m at. The trick seems to be rolling with the punches and dealing back as good as I get, but always in a positive way.

…and that’s my long-winded sharing story for the day!

Tomorrow, maybe I’ll talk a little bit about the vet in Japan? Or maybe just about my cat. Perhaps you should ignore me tomorrow.

The Self Introduction

Self introductions are a big part of teaching as an ALT in Japan. Usually (but not always) there’s a Q&A section after your self into, or 自己紹介 (jikoshoukai). Here’s some of the more common questions I get at the JHS level:

  • What sports do you like?
  • What color do you like?
  • Do you like/can you eat Japanese food?
  • Where do you want to go in Japan?
  • Which do you like better: America or Japan?
  • Do you like [insert animal here]?
  • What sports do you play?
  • What is your favorite subject?
  • Do you have a boyfriend? (These kids think they’re a riot… right up until I shoot back, “Do you have a girlfriend?” Parry and riposte, good sirs!)
  • What famous Japanese person do you like?
  • Do you like music/what kind of music do you like?
  • Sensei, why are you so pretty? Like a doll… (What?! I’m totally not. But you, kid, are now on my good side for life. Maybe that was her intention!)

…and many more!

My introduction is generally fairly simple. I talk about my family, what my city is famous for, what I am surprised about in Japan (no A/C in the classrooms, cars on the opposite side of the road, bicycles everywhere, etc.), my hobbies, my dreams, and so on. In my home state, everyone drives a car. We don’t have trains or use buses that often, so I tell the kids about that. I try to be as 元気 (genki/energetic) as possible and speak loudly in a clear, slow voice.

This is my father. His hobby is sailing!

This is my father. His hobby is sailing!

Overall I’m fairly pleased with how my self-introductions go. I use a ton of picture with magnets on the back to slap up on the chalkboard. They usually last between 15-20 minutes and with the Japanese English teacher’s help, I have the more difficult ideas walked through so that the students understand as much as possible. To give them a hand while I’m talking, I scribble out illustrations on the chalkboard as I go and repeat key information in different contexts. I’ve also found it really helpful at the end to ask questions about what I have just talked about, or have the Japanese teacher ask. When asked the questions, a lot of ideas and topics click for the kids.

For anyone following me who’s worked as an ALT, what do you do for your self introduction that works really well? I change mine up depending on the season or mood of the class.

Things I’ve Learned

Things I’ve learned about Japanese Junior High School:

  • In Japan, lunch time in JHS operates on an, “On your mark, get set, inhale!” mentality. I should inform them that eating such a large meal in ten minutes or less is going to makes us all die choking on tofu.
  • School lunches are generally around 800-900 calories
  • Japanese kids pass their classes no matter what. Not because they’re smarter than American kids, but because it’s considered important that they remain with their age-group.
  • Carry your own chopsticks.
  • It’s not uncommon to walk into a room and find the boys all piling up on one unfortunate friend at the bottom.
  • There’s always that one kid that’s secretly in charge of the classroom. Usually the problem child.
  • Direct-hire ALTs do not get summer vacation. Unless you use up your allotted yearly holiday, you must be at school or the BoE every weekday.

Recently I entertained an adult English class with some common misconceptions in America (like shaving affecting hair growth, touching a baby bird putting your smell on it and making the mother abandon it) and they in turn shared with me some interesting beliefs they held or had heard of, such as:

– Punching your pillow the number of times as the hour you want to wake up at in the morning. For 6:30 you punch the pillow 6 times, then punch it once softly for the half hour mark.

– Don’t sleep in the bed with your head facing North. It’s how people are buried, so it’s something to avoid. Alternatively, a Japanese friend who wasn’t in the class was told by her aunt that sleeping with her head to the North would make her smarter.

– Spread salt and put salt on yourself after a funeral as part of purification and to ward off evil.

We also discussed America’s divorce rate and I mentioned that I thought money was one of the biggest causes of stress in new and old marriages. One gentleman shared with me the saying, “Money nothing, connection nothing.”

Thinking Ahead

freedigitalphotos.net

freedigitalphotos.net

Before everyone becomes too accustomed to my Japan-oriented posts, I wanted to take a moment to update with something a little different. Still somewhat related, though, and if you’re considering coming to Japan as an ALT, it’s something you might want to keep in mind.

Since coming to Japan, I’ve received two different pieces of advice that have steered me toward my current life plan.

The first piece of advice was given to me in the form of a question. While in Japan, what is it that I hope to accomplish? What do I eventually want to do with my life?

For the longest time, my ten-year plan led up to an ALT position in Japan. It seemed such a big, faraway dream until suddenly… it happened.

I scrambled for an answer to the question, but I only had vague notions of what I wanted to do next: translation work (a little  ambitious when I still couldn’t read or speak Japanese fluently), writing, something related to writing (publishing?)…

I was told to think about the question and use my time in Japan to plan ahead to make my goals happen — to not wait until the end of my time here to suddenly wonder what happens next.

The next piece of “advice” came from a therapist. In Japan, therapy isn’t covered by the national health insurance program. I paid out of pocket. The man I hoped would help me with a really difficult situation instead took it upon himself to make everything worse. He said a lot of biased, hurtful things to me during my one visit, but the comment that stuck the most was that working as an ALT is like a black hole — it won’t go anywhere.

As awful as he chose to be, there was a little truth to what he said.

ALT work doesn’t lead directly to a new job, but the experience you gain from working abroad can do wonders for your resume. Just so long as you know how to apply it.

I’ve been struggling for months, wrestling with the question of what to do with my life after this. Finally, I’ve decided I want to eventually go into publishing — potentially in the editing side of things. I’ve lined up a potential internship for next year that will give me some experience editing a project. Meanwhile, I’ve applied to a few things online that will give me relevant experience in the field. I have at least two potential jobs in writing lined up. I landed a small job writing travel guides for an app and another job working with a book review website. I’m in a really good position with my job as an ALT supporting me. I can afford to work for free on some things just to gain the experience and resume gloss I’ll need to get my foot in the door when I return to the US.

A plus side to these extracurricular activities is that I’ll be honing my writing skills. Maybe I can tack on finishing and publishing my novel to that ten-year plan.

More on that later, though. Tomorrow returns you to your regularly scheduled Japan updates, but expect the occasional dash of book/writing/publishing talk from time to time.

My Apartment

I got really lucky with such a large place! The only problem is that the AC is located in one room and I have to get creative with spreading the cool air around. The best strategy is a fan in doorways. You can also see my balcony (and my laundry — oops!) in this photo.

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Next up is a better picture of my sitting room. I’ve kept it fairly open, but back in winter I finally broke down and bought a couch (not shown). Sitting on the floor or on my bed got old really, really quickly.

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For the longest time I kept my bed just like this, using the winter comforter even in summer as some extra padding. Japanese beds are firm. Later I bought a futon and threw it on top of my bed. I sleep much better now.

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The nice thing about the closet space in my room is that it is fairly gigantic. I can store any number of things without filling it up. I’ve contemplated another futon in there for a reading nook, but my current bed works just as well.

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My kitchen is super cute and fairly easy to cook in. I miss owning a real oven every day I’m here, but my microwave has a fairly decent oven setting. One thing I’d recommend is buying footies for your chairs if you have this type of floor. They tend to stick in the summer otherwise.

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Take your shoes off in the entryway. Most homes provide slippers for guests, but I haven’t gotten that accommodating yet.

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Here’s my washer. You’ll note the lack of dryer. It’s very, very rare to have a dryer in Japan. Almost everyone does their laundry outside. This can be a real problem when winter hits. Or when it rains. Plan accordingly.

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Your eyes do not deceive! That is indeed a sink built into the toilet. I happen to have a sink in my little laundry area shone previously, but if you lack that, you can wash your hands here. Water automatically comes out whenever you flush, saving you time and energy. 😀

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Last, here’s my washroom. In Japan, it’s proper to clean yourself first, get in the tub second. My water temperature is all operated digitally. There’s even a button on the panel (not shown) that will reheat the water. It’s a godsend in winter!

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