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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.


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.

Thinking Ahead

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.


“Jessica!” I’ve said to myself on many occasions. “Which platform do you prefer for blogging? What works best for you?”

Usually I reply to myself with a hearty shrug and then update whichever blog is most convenient (i.e. has the easiest password to remember that day), but lately I thought I might consolidate everything into this blog. So for the next few updates (that might all happen tonight), I’ll be transferring over the updates that this blog has missed out on!

I’d say after that I should do some real work, but blogging is supposed to be part of my job!

My life is fantastic.