Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Question of the Day

So the sannensei are currently studying the relative pronouns "who," "which" and "that." The example sentence that T-sensei wrote on the blackboard was: "This is the best book I've ever read." She then asked for a volunteer to read the sentence and to translate it.

No one volunteered, but one student raised her hand to ask a question (in Japanese): "Is "I've" a contraction for "I love" or "I have?"

As soon as she asked the question, she realized how absurd it was, but it was too late: the entire class burst into laughter. =P

On the topic of amusing questions students ask, I was at Towada JHS on Monday and it was my first time teaching the ninensei there, so we had the requisite self-intro "speech" followed by a Q&A time. Of course one of the students came up with "What do you think about him (points to a student named Miura)?" (he asked in Japanese and I translated for him). My answer: "He's probably a nice guy." The funny part was that when I was eating lunch with them, the teacher (not a JTE) asked students (by student number) to stand up and ask me a question. I got a lot of the usual--"Do you like Japanese food? What colour do you like?" etc.--but one of the last guys to go asked: "Do you love Miura?" The students found my answer of "Sorry, I don't know him well enough" extremely amusing; I suspect they only listened to the "Sorry, I don't" part. =P

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Honoured guest

As much as I love being considered "part of the family" at Kirita, sometimes it's nice to get "honoured guest" treatment. This Monday I happened to be teaching at Ofukanai (it's been about a year since my last visit!). I thought it was strange that they would want an ALT after the big JHS bunka sai (culture festival) weekend, but it turned out that they hadn't actually had their culture day yet.

Anyway, one of the activities for the ninensei to practice "if" clauses was to write the ALT (me) a fax to tell me about some news and to solicit a response of some sort (e.g. "Kumi broke her arm. If you are free, please come to the hospital with me."). It was good timing for such an activity since most students were able to tell me about the school festival and invite me to come. Even though they didn't actually give me the faxes (they handed them in to their teacher, of course), since I was duly informed about it, I decided I'd try to go if I could.

I found out from the JTE that the school festival would start at 9am. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of thinking the schedule would be similar to Kirita's (starting at 9am, but nothing really happening until the food things opened at 10am and performances, etc. going on in the afternoon), so I planned to go around 10am. Due to a very slow start to the morning, however, I ended up arriving around 10:45am.

As it turned out, I missed English speech recitations (well, I'd already heard them anyway!), sharing from the sannensei about the homestay in Canada (from when they were ninensei), and a music presentation by the sannensei. ^^;; Luckily I was in time to catch a good portion of the koma odori (horse dance).

At any rate, I got a very warm welcome when I entered the school. They gave me free food tickets (tempura udon and umeboshi onigiri) and when I went into the gym for the performance, they asked me to sit up front next to kocho-sensei! After the performance, kocho-sensei thanked me for coming and told me
(all in impecable English) to please enjoy the festival.

I got quite a number of cheerful "hello's" from students and teachers. While I was looking at the stuff in the ichinensei classroom, I got...I guess you could say "accosted" by several (Horanai) elementary school students whom I'd taught a few times recently. They pretty much took (dragged =P) me around the rest of the day.

One girl, Miki, gave me one of her takoyaki. I shared my udon with the boy, Sho (?) since he didn't have any food tickets on him. Miki's father bought all of us frankfurters (on sticks!).

Apart from having more fun seeing the festival with people, it worked out well that I ended up hanging out with the Horanai students since they really enjoyed playing with my camera. As a result, I ended up actually getting photos of myself at the festival!

Originally I was planning on just dropping by for an hour or so, but I saw on the program that there'd be a choral competition in the afternoon (starting at 2pm) so I ended up staying until the end of the festival.
All in all, I had a good time. If the festival turns out to be a different day from Kirita's again next year (assuming I'm still here), I think I'll try to visit again (making sure to come right from the start, though)!

For more pictures of the festival, see my Facebook album.

I've also updated/added some other photo albums:
Updated: Random Food (1 photo)
Updated: Japanese Kit Kat (1 photo)
New: Just Desserts

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Eventful Weekend

My weekend started off well with dinner with Bryan and Juliet and Julie and Taylor (ALTs living in Noheji). Even though my throat was still pretty bad at that time, it was nice to get out, eat a real meal, and talk with fellow English speakers. =P

The next day I was at Kirita before 8am to help prepare for the school Culture Festival. I helped make a heck load of tissue paper flowers to use for decorating the cafe (in the library). I also made random origami things (cranes, turtles, lilies) for the ninensei classroom.

It was funny watching the ninensei set-up the classroom because a number of students forgot to hand in the assignments that we were displaying: their English "My Summer Vacation" piece (5 sentences and a picture), and their baby photo with comments from themselves, their friends, and parents. For those students, Tomabechi-sensei made a sheet of paper that said "Tadaima shucchou chuu. Shousai wa kochira made (student's name)," basically "Currently away on business. The only details so far are: (student's name)." The students were embarrassed enough thinking their parents would see that sign that they actually handed in their assignments without further prompting. =P

I left school around 6pm and went home, ate dinner and relaxed. A friend had heard from Aaron that I was sick so she messaged me to ask if I was OK. I guess I wasn't convincing in my reply (that I was fine), so she very kindly made me a tofu/carrot/meat dish and brought it over for me. I'd already eaten, but I was able to have it for dinner the next night.

Sunday, of course, was the big day: the Kirita Junior High School Culture Festival. Again I was at school before 8am. We did cleaning and final preparations until about 9am. Then I had some time to walk around and look at all the classrooms before the cafe opened at 10am. Once the cafe opened, it was just work work work for me.

Maybe it's the Chinese/Protestant work ethic instilled in me, but I actually enjoyed working during the culture festival this year more than just walking around the culture festival last year. And it's not like the cafe was particularly hard work: taking drink orders, bringing drinks to people (apple juice or coffee), clearing/wiping tables and bringing dishes to the students washing them.

After all the food places (cafe upstairs, hot foods--udon/soba--downstairs) closed, we had the play (each grade performed one) and song presentations. Maybe it's because they found pre-made skits rather than writing their own, but I thought the plays were a lot better this year than last. The song performances, though...

Their singing was pretty decent, but watching their faces somewhat soured the performance. Most of them looked SO serious, and they were mostly looking up or to the sides--anywhere but the audience. Moreover, among the boys especially there were a couple of students who looked downright sullen! Well, I guess it didn't harm the performance that much for me because I chose to be amused at their expressions, but really, they didn't look like they were having fun at all! I know that when I was in choir, our conductor always insisted that we look at the audience and smile while singing, but maybe Japan doesn't have that culture for performances? Or maybe it has to do with the fact that my school choirs were voluntary (so presumably the people in them actually enjoyed singing) whereas singing for events is compulsary for my students. *shrug*

That was pretty much the end of the Culture Festival. After that, though, was the touyasai (like an after party--literally, "that night's festival"). I missed a bit of the beginning because I was still cleaning up a bit in the library, but it was pretty similar to last year in terms of types of performances--songs, song & dance, skits, quiz game--so I didn't miss much. Somehow, though, last year it seemed like the students enjoyed the touyasai more. Maybe it's just in my mind, but it felt like last year there were more performances, more students involved, and generally more energy from the students. But maybe part of that is because this year we didn't really have that much time to prepare for the festival, so the students were more tired this year than last. Then too, Eiken (the standardized English test) was right before the festival (the Friday before), so it was really stressful for the students taking the test--having to stay late to prepare for the festival but also having to make time to study for Eiken on top of their regular homework load.

But yeah, overall I had a good time at the Kirita School Festival and it was worth all the work/time I put in! Check out my Facebook album for pictures of the Festival: Part 1 & Part 2.

There was another event that occurred after I got home, however. When I pulled into my parking spot, I noticed that a light was on in the apartment next to me. I guess I was pretty brain dead from the festival, since my first thought was: "it's rather late for someone to be doing repairs, isn't it?" To be fair, though, there weren't any cars in the parking spaces next to mine, so I had reason to think that it wasn't a case of someone moving in.

But of course, it was indeed someone moving in. A short time after I came home, while I was sitting at the computer uploading pictures of the festival, my doorbell rang. It was my new neighbour, coming to greet me! He even gave me a small box of cakes!! (Have I mentioned before that this is (more traditional/older) Japanese culture? When you move into a house/apartment, you go to greet your neighbours and, particularly in apartments, bring a small (food) gift for them?)

Anyway, I was far more surprised than I should've been, so I really didn't know what to say. Plus I was really tired, so I couldn't think to do more than nod and say "yoroshiku onegaishimasu." Once he'd left and I'd sat back down, though, I felt like a complete idiot since I realized I hadn't even told him my own name in return!! @_@ I also looked into the box and saw that it wasn't just one piece of cake I'd received, but THREE! (Given that I'd received the giant cream puff and other assorted sweets from the festival, plus I'd bought some cakes for myself, I found myself with an excessive number of desserts! =P)

I was really happy and appreciative that my new neighbour had come to greet me, particularly since none of my previous neighbours had bothered with the courtesy! And I wanted to convey my thanks (not to mention tell my name) to my neighbour somehow. I asked my friend (the one who made me the tofu/carrot/meat dish) what would be appropriate, and she said it'd be fine if I just rang his doorbell and said "Thanks for the cake. My name is ~. I can't speak Japanese very well, but if we meet, I'd be happy if you greeted me (ohayo, konnichiwa, etc.)."

But I felt it'd be weird to ring his doorbell just to say that, so Monday I decided to bake cookies and bring some over. (No worries, I'd pretty much recovered from my sore throat/cold by this time, so I wasn't passing along anything extra with them. =P) Well, he wasn't actually at home when I tried ringing his doorbell that night, but I saw the light on in his apartment when I came home from dance practice on Tuesday night, so I screwed up my courage and rang his doorbell.

Even though I stuttered and left sentences incomplete a lot, I think I managed to convey my neighbourly good will well enough. We chatted a bit--he asked if I was a student; I told him I was an English teacher; he told me he was working at the Univers grocery store--and that was that. The only thing is that I had wanted to ask him his name again (since I was too surprised/tired to catch it when he'd introduced himself on Sunday night), but I was so nervous during my conversation that I completely forgot to ask. ^^;; Oh well, I doubt that we'll meet/see each other very often, so it probably won't be a problem that I don't know his name. If we ever get friendly enough that I feel I really need to know it, I can always use the trick of asking him to write the kanji for me. =P

So that was my eventful weekend!

Friday, October 17, 2008

A little cold

Even though I felt really refreshed after my trip to Hong Kong, it seems like the R&R time came a little too late since I've got the beginnings of a cold. (T_T) I guess I've been pushing my physical limits a little too much recently, so giving my body that chance to relax was probably the trigger for it.

I was totally fine all of Monday and all day Tuesday, but then Tuesday night my throat started to hurt--a LOT. Wednesday morning I woke up and the sore throat was even worse. It was bad enough that the glands along the inner sides of my neck were actually somewhat swollen and tender! Even though my throat hurt and I was hoarse, I was still pretty cheerful.

Thursday, though, was the worst day (physically) I've had in a while. Usually I'm able to be cheerful and energetic even if I've only had 2-3 hours of sleep, but Thursday I felt so bad that other teachers at Kirita actually told me I didn't look too good and should sit down and take a rest. ^^;;

Maybe I'm just dumb, but despite feeling sick Wednesday and Thursday, I still stayed at Kirita to help with their school festival preparations until almost 7pm. Moreover, I went to the office when I finished at Kirita (Wednesday to pick up lesson plans, Thursday to make materials)!

Today I was at an elementary school and I completely killed my throat. I know I should try to get quieter when I teach--if you try to talk over the kids, the noise level will spiral out of control, but if you get quieter, the kids will have to quiet down to hear you--but I naturally get louder when I try to be more genki.

As a result, I'm now VERY hoarse, and I'm coughing a lot more than I was yesterday. ^^;; I felt bad enough when I got home that I actually caved and took some Daytime Tylenol for Colds; I usually don't take medicine for anything less serious than bronchitis.

I've also been drinking a lot of lemon tea to try to soothe my throat.

AH!! I hate being sick! And this weekend is the Kirita school festival, so I really don't have time to relax. *sigh*

Anyway, I'll stop being whiney now.

In happier news, I uploaded more photos to Facebook this afternoon (since I was home early for once--Tomabechi-sensei specifically told me NOT to come to Kirita to help with school festival prep today):

Updated: Hong Kong (Day 2)
New: Kiri Chuu Sai Prep
New: Random Kirita Stuff!
New: Japanese Kit Kat

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Hong Kong! (Day 2 - Sun., Oct. 12)

Sunday morning was dim sum again, but at a Kowloon restaurant this time. This restaurant had really good chicken feet and cheung fan. Along with Auntie Denise and Uncle Ed, there was also their niece, Vinci. Auntie Denise had asked her to take me shopping that day since she figured a young person closer to my age (in her last year of university) would know better the types of places I’d be interested in.

I ended up getting along real
ly well with Vinci, so the day was a lot of fun! For shopping purposes, it was also helpful that Vinci and I seemed to have very similar tastes (except that her favourite colour is pink, which I never wear since I don’t think it suits me). So yeah, first we went to the Ladies’ Market since I had asked about it. It was kind of like Temple Street (very touristy), so I only bought a T-shirt there.

While we were walking around the streets (not the Ladies’ Market, though), I checked out laptop prices. The prices were pretty reasonable, but they were mostly newer models and at the upper limit of my budget, so I decided against getting one.

The mall in Mong Kok, however, was right on target. We started off getting drinks from Happy Lemon there, then dove into the shopping! I bought three shirts, a watch, a stuffed hippo, and a Kenshin cell phone dangly (from a gacha machine). ^____^

After all the shopping, we were a bit hungry, so we grabbed some curry fish balls and some s
ort of Chinese sausage on sticks. (Didn’t think to take pictures, just gobbled it down!) We then moved onto dumplings, soy milk and imitation sharks’ fin soup at another place (with tables and seats). (Again, just ate, no pictures. =P)

We took the MRT to Tsim Sha Tsui for more shopping. First we stopped by a Duty Free Shop to get my omiyage. It was pretty funny. A sales guy came up while we were looking at various products and was “This is Hong Kong’s yume product. It’s very oishii.” Clearly he thought we were Japanese tourists. Well, I guess technically I was one, but Vinci was a local! She told me after we left the place that some of the staff were talking about how strange we were—“Japanese” girls speaking in English! =P

I had about 100 people on my omiyage list (Kirita students & teachers, my office, other ALTs, Japanese friends, my dance instructor, eikaiwa students, etc.), so I ended spending almost half of the money I brought with (admittedly not that much) on omiyage alone! It was a lot of stuff, so they gave me a bag with wheels! It would’ve been too embarrassing to cart it around shopping, though, so we left it with customer service for two hours while we walked around. (Thank goodness for that service!)

After buying the omiyage, we had yet another snack break. This time it was HK style tea and French toast with peanut butter! It was pure artery clogging deliciousness! =P (It also reminded me a bit of home, and Friday nights at Café Hollywood after fellowship!)

Then it was onto another mall to find a Heroic Re
ndezvous store! Heroic Rendezvous is a HK brand designed by Vanessa Chan. I first saw it when I went to Singapore, and I really liked the stuff but it was too expensive for me to buy more than a bag. By HK standards, Heroic Rendezvous is still relatively expensive, but it’s cheaper in HK than in Singapore, and still comparable to (less than, actually), say, Roots prices in Canada.

We went back to collect my omiyage and then went to meet Auntie Denise and Uncle Ed for dinner—stopping off at Uniqlo (graphic tee designs seem to be different in different countries) just long enough for me to buy a ¾ sleeve hooded tee.

We had beef da bin lo for dinner. It was yummy, but I couldn’t really eat that much; I’m not much of a dinner eater now anyway, and I was still a bit full from the French toast! Even though I ate quite a lot, I still had space (I almost always do =P) for dessert! They took me to this place that has awesome mango desserts, so I had sago with mango juice and extra mango. SO yummy!

Then it was back to the hotel room to pack. I had to unwrap almost all the omiyage boxes, and either take out the plastic trays inside and repack them in the boxes (bringing 8 boxes down to 5) or put them into a Ziploc bag.

It was heavy, but I did manage to stuff everything into my one duffel bag (maximum carry-on size) and small bag.

Monday morning I took a shuttle bus (booked and paid for on Saturday evening) to the airport and was on my way home!

See more pictures in my Facebook album!

Hong Kong! (Day 1 - Sat., Oct. 13)

Hong Kong was AWESOME!

I was a bit worried before going that the brevity combined with the distance would make it a tiring trip—and, given my school/work schedule, I need all the R&R I can get on weekends—but thankfully, I was wrong.

Guess it just goes to show the importance of getting away from everything for a while. I think that when I’m just bumming around the house on weekends, even if I’m not doing work, part of my brain is still occupied with it. But being in a different country, I had too many other things to do, see and think about to “worry” overmuch about work.

Plus, my family friends (Uncl
e Ed and Auntie Denise) really took care of everything for me—getting from the airport to the hotel, my daily itinerary, travel, food, etc. Independence is great and all, but sometimes it’s nice to be taken care of.

But anyway, about the trip itself:

Since I was in Aomori for the (A)JET Culture Day on Friday, I took a flight from Aomori Airport to Haneda Airport. Then I went from the Haneda Airport to Hong Kong. I was a bit worried since my flight was delayed twenty minutes, so I “only” had about an hour and forty minutes (instead of two full hours) before my flight. I had to take a shuttle bus from Terminal Two to the International Terminal and it took me a while to find the bus stop. Then it seemed to take the ANA staff a while to get my ticket (the JTB travel agent had booked through some other site/service and not directly with the airline, so I was paranoid something would be wrong with my ticket), so I was worried. There was no problem, though, and the walk from customs to the gates (there are only three!) in the International Terminal (at Haneda, remember) is super short, so I made it with plenty of time to spare. It was funny, though, because we actually got put on a bus from the gate and were driven up to the plane.

The flight was uneventful and I arrived in Hong Kong almost half an hour before scheduled. My family friends met me there and drove me to the hotel they had booked for me—which is actually something of a story itself. When I was planning the trip, my mom was going to book a hotel for me, but whe
n I talked to Auntie Denise about coming, it really sounded like she wanted me to come stay with them. So my mom and I decided I’d accept their offer instead of getting a hotel room. Some days before I left, however, she emailed me to say that they felt bad about letting me sleep on their floor, so they had booked me a room—in the same hotel my mother had been planning on booking! ^^;; I emailed back to ask if they could cancel the reservation, but… It was super nice of them, but… Plus they paid for the hotel room ahead of time, so I didn’t even have a chance to try to pay for the room (or even to see the actual cost).

Anyway, they picked me up at the hotel Saturday morning at 11am and we went for dim sum. I’m not exactly sure where the restaurant was (except that it was on the Hong Kong island side and not on Kowloon, where they live), but it was great. It had the best char siu (Chinese barbecued pork) I’ve ever had, and a unique type of char siu bao (barbecued pork bun): yellow and crunchy on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside—very different from the typical white, steamed buns! Luckily I’m used to eating breakfast (8:30am latest) and a big school lunch (12:30pm), so I was able to eat a lot. =P

Then we went sightseeing. I hadn’t done much research before going to Hong Kong and I didn’t really have (m)any places in particular that I wanted to go, so I was thankful they were there to take me to all the “must-see” tourist spots: Stanley, Repulse Bay, The Peak, Temple Street, and Nathan Road. We didn’t really spend much time in any of the places, apart from The Peak, but at least I got to see them so if people talk/ask about them, I’ll be able to say I’ve been there (and I have the photos to prove it!).

For Stanley and Temple Street (and even the famed Ladies’ Market—though that was on Sunday), I didn’t really spend too long or buy anything there. It seems to be more touristy stuff, and I’m more into quirky/original things. But again, it was good for me to go there and experience Hong Kong markets. And thankfully I was with locals so they were able to bargain a bit for the few things I did buy.

The Peak was pretty cool. We took the tram up, which was a good experience. The beginning of the ride is impressively steep! If you take the tram, I recommend getting a seat by the back, on the right side (next to the window, if possible) for the best view!

We also went to the Madame Tussaud’s Museum, only because the line to buy Tram/Museum combo tickets was a heck of a lot shorter than the line for just the tram. =P I don’t think I’ll ever understand the appeal of life size wax models of people—even if they are celebrities. It’s SO CREEPY!!

Anyway, after Madame Tussaud’s, we had Hagen Daaz (mango passionfruit for me!) and then wandered around for bit. I found some weird key chain things and simply “had to” get two. Well, I planned on buying two, anyway, but Uncle Ed wanted to pay for them for me, so… ^^;; I thought they were cute, but Uncle Ed and Auntie Denise thought they were ugly. (Guess that’s the generation gap, huh? ^_~ )

After that, we had dinner. Unfortunately we couldn’t go the restaurant they wanted to take me to (it was next to my hotel) because it was occupied with a wedding banquet, so we ended up walking to another. The food was pretty good there, but the service was mediocre at best. (Definitely the dim sum place from the morning was a much better place in terms of both food and service!)

Next we went to Temple Street for some shopping. I bought a sporty, small and cute bag, but that was it. We walked up to Nathan Road (most of the stores were close to closing time, so it was just to see it) and then back to my hotel. They headed home and I decided to go back to my room rather than walking around some more. I did decide to venture out to the 7/11 just across the street, but it was mostly Japanese snacks, so I didn’t buy anything.

I stayed up watching TV for a bit though; it was SO nice to be able to watch English programs again! I caught part of a Discovery Channel special on alligators/crocodiles and watched a full episode of Amazing Race Asia before turning in for the night.

You can see all of my Hong Kong photos in my Facebook album.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The little things ^_^

You may have noticed from my re-contracting post that I've been feeling a little less...genki...about the job recently. Well, today was, happily, a day where the little things reminded me exactly why I love the job.

I usually prefer visiting small schools, but the one thing I love about big schools is walking through the halls in the time between classes. There are throngs of students and they almost all greet you as you walk by. That's my favourite thing. Usually they say "konnichiwa" and look shocked when I reply with a cheerful "hello!" but sometimes they actually recognize that I'm an English teacher and they say "hello!" right off the bat. In the latter case, they're usually really cheerful about it--as if it's a new game to be able to recognize the ALT and use the proper English greeting. Regardless of how the class went, or how tired I am after class, walking down the halls (particularly at the school I was at today, Sanbongi JHS) and greeting students never fails to bring a big smile (a grin, actually) to my face. ^_________^

Then too, today I ended off with a super genki (but not unmanageable) ichinensei class. Before class started, the students were talking to me and asking questions. One student asked if I went to Baskin Robbins (she thought she saw me there), and another asked how to say "hentai" in English. =D Of course, I didn't tell him right there, but I admit, I did tell him after class.

I guess it's kind of bad of me, but I really enjoy teaching students the "bad" words, if they ask, for example: "hentai," "geri," "unko," and "ji"--respectively, "pervert," "diarrhea," "poop," and "hemorrhoid."

In the same class, a student came up to the teacher to ask the difference between "a" and "the." (He's writing the Eiken test--a standardized English level placement test--the month, I gather.) I tried to help explain with broken Japanese, and he seemed to kind of get it. (Of course, it's difficult because there are a lot of different reasons why/cases where "the" should or should not be used.) It made me really happy to see a student taking initiative and asking for an explanation about a grammar point! ^_____^

So yeah, it was a good day. Since I recognize that I'm getting a little tired from teaching, I'm definitely going to have to make more of an effort to notice the little things that bring me happiness.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Do I smell bad or something?

On a completely random note, I am now completely neighbourless. The neighbour to my right moved out a while ago, but I don't know when the person(s) on the other side left. So much for my grand plans of saving money by borrowing heat from neighbouring apartments.

Oh well, I've still got much better insulation here than in the old (now Aaron's) house.

Despite being neighbourless, though, there are still always cars in the parking spots next to mine. I wonder how that works?


When the three of us (Towada municipal ALTs) went into the office the week before last, we found re-contracting information in our boxes. The first thing that popped into my head was: "It's so EARLY!" We don't actually have to make our decision until the end of January/beginning of February, but I guess since the deadline for those making requests for transfers (for health reasons, to join a spouse, etc.) is earlier, they had to get the info out sooner rather than later.

I remember last year when I was sitting around at home/at the office with nothing to do in my first few weeks in Japan, I skimmed through the JET General Information Handbook (GIH). One part that I read fairly carefully was the "To Re-contract or Not" section. Here's the section (pretty much the same as last year) from this year's GIH:

To Re-contract or Not...
Re-contracting deserves deep consideration and deliberation. Please double check the questions below in
order to be certain about your decision.
・What expectations of being a JET Programme participant did you hold before coming to Japan?
・How do those expectations compare to your actual life in Japan?
・Are you able to learn new things and challenge yourself in Japan?
・How will you use what you have learned in Japan after you leave?

Chances are when you joined the JET Programme you had expectations, preconceptions, and an idea of what the job was going to entail. In addition, you probably anticipated how you would use that work experience in your future. However, the job may not be what you had anticipated. This is the time to re-evaluate.

Realistic Reasons to Re-contract
・You are content with your position and work.
・You feel that you are making a contribution that has a positive effect on others.

When re-contracting, beware of deceptive rationalisations like, ―I‘ll save money next year‖ or ―I‘ll learn Japanese next year‖. The nature of the beast is to be lazy, and unless there is a radical change in your life (a change which re-contracting does not necessarily bring about), odds are that your life will not change dramatically in your second or third year.

Realistic Reasons Not to Re-contract
・Procrastination. Think long and hard about your life path. Do not re-contract only to delay a more
difficult decision.
・Money. Participating on the JET Programme for the sole purpose of money-making.
・Obligation. You feel pressure from those people in your community to re-contract with the JET Programme. (Your Contracting Organisation may resist your decision not to re-contract, however, the operations of your Contracting Organisation will not come to a stand still as the result of you not recontracting.)
・For no particular reason at all. You may like the foreigner-centred lifestyle, the kindness you receive from those around you, money in your pocket and time on your hands but, even if you do not tire of these things, they probably will not leave you with anything when they are gone. Your presence in Japan gives you many opportunities. If you are going to stay in Japan, stay for a reason. Do not waste the opportunity.

A Word of Caution
While in a foreign country a person undergoes many changes and mood swings. Do not make your decision overnight. Talk with friends, talk with your Supervisor, talk with your family. Think it through and make your decision with confidence.

At the time (as early as it was), I worried that I might decide to re-contract because of "procrastination." I mean, I applied for JET because I didn't know what I was going to do with my life if I wasn't going to be teaching, so it seemed probable that I might be tempted to stay a second year to put off that decision yet again.

As it turned out, however, I ended up (in a very short span of time) falling in love with my job, so it was a pretty easy decision to make. (It was two BIG check marks for both "Realistic Reasons to Re-Contract.")

This year, though, I think it's going to be a bit more difficult. When I re-contracted last year, I thought: "I'll probably stay for 3 years total." (So, another year after this one.) Up to the end of the summer, I'd have to say I was about 90-95% sure I'd be here for a third year (not to mention 50% in favour of staying for a full five!).

One month into nigakki (second term), though, and I feel like my certainty has dropped down to 80-85%. The problem is that I constantly feel tired. I mean, I still love the work, and when I'm actually in school, I get energy from the job and don't really feel fatigued, but once I get home...

Part of it is my own fault, since I stay up late downloading/reading manga, watching DVDs, reading books, surfing the net, etc. But then too, many nights I don't get home until 9pm becase I finish at school late, or I go to the office after school, and then have some sort of community class at night (eikaiwa, dance, etc.). When I finally get home, if I've got jishu gakushu (extra English class) or an elementary school visit that week, I usually spend an hour or two planning/preparing materials. And when faced with a choice between sleep or doing something to relax, I usually end up choosing the latter. ^^;;

So yeah, even though I think I'm as passionate about the job as before (maybe even more so now that I understand the Japanese school system a bit better), I'm worried that I might run out of energy partway through a third year. And I don't want to be here if I'm going to end up coasting.

Plus I'm a little worried about the possibility of "familiarity breeding contempt" at Kirita (with the students, at any rate). I've already had one jishu gakushu class where I felt like the ninensei were goofing off more so than usual because it was just me there. As much as I love the school (and hope that the feeling is reciprocated), I have to seriously consider that it might be better for the students to get a fresh face in.


Then too, I wonder if I made a mistake in going home for such a long time this summer? I didn't feel it when I first came back (to Japan), but recently I've been thinking a lot more about how much I miss everyone back home. I mean, I've made friends here, but the aspect of Christian fellowship is completely missing from my life here. Of course, part of that is my own fault for not making an effort to find (and stick with) a church. But then again, part of it is also my nature: I don't make (good) friends easily. I mean, I think I'm pretty easy to get along with, but I don't really let people in too far, y'know?

As for the possibility of staying for the full five years, well, the thought is still in the back of my mind, but the probability is probably down to 20-30% (from 50%). A big part of the drop is the fatigue which is making me reconsider even my third year, but there's also the fact that my mom has told me she and my dad would like me to come home after three years. (It's not just that they miss me, it's that my being away affects their ability to make their own life decisions...)

So yeah, I guess it's a good thing we got the re-contracting info so early, since it seems like I'll need all the time I can get to make my decision this year.

I just really hope that every ALT reads the GIH reasons "to re-contract or not." To me, the two "realistic reasons to re-contract" are really the only valid reasons to do so. Certainly people will have mixed motivations--I definitely enjoy the lifestyle here, and I would also like to save more money--but I think that if those two reasons aren't the primary reasons, I think there's the danger of turning into an ALT who coasts. And, as I've discussed a lot in previous posts (Attitudes/Goals & Reality; The "Internationalization" crutch), I think that ALTs who aren't focused on improving student learning or who don't pursue excellence in their work do a disservice to themselves, their students, their schools and the JET Programme as a whole.

My apologies for what probably sounds like a lot of "preaching" lately, but I think it's important that we, as Assistant Language Teachers remember that even if we don't have much experience or training, we've been given positions as teachers. And as teachers, part of our responsibility is to look out for the (educational) interests of our students. That's why the re-contracting decision shouldn't just be about "Am I happy with the job? Living in Japan?" etc., but should put a strong emphasis on considerations of "Am I doing a good job?" and "Will I be able to maintain my motivation to continue improving in my teaching for another year?"

One of my personal checks to see if I'm still appropriately engaged in the job is: "Can I answer "I'm happy/good/great" with full honesty when students ask me how I am every day?" Honestly, this term there've been a couple of times when "I'm fine" was as positive as I could get, and once or twice I had to honestly say I was only "so-so." But still, it's my goal to always be able to honestly answer "I'm happy" or "I'm good" or "I'm great" when students ask me how I am. If I can't do that, then I need to figure out why I'm not happy just to be in the class, because it's definitely a problem if I lose my passion for the job.

But yeah, guess I've got some hard thinking ahead of me in terms of re-contracting.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Attitude/Goals & Reality

Re: The "Internationalization" crutch

There are a lot of things we, as ALTs, cannot control. We can't choose where we get placed, what position we're assigned in our cities/towns/villages (elementary, junior high, senior high), how often we teach, whom we teach with, etc. etc.

The one thing we can control, however, is our attitude towards the job. And really, that's the thing that matters most.

I'm not sure where it's from, but a favourite saying of mine is: "If you reach for the moon, you can never fail to reach the stars."

And that saying is largely why I think it's so important to have the attitude/goal that the ALT's job is to help students learn English.

Even if we fall far short of the goal in reality (because circumstances constrain us), if we have learning as our goal, and have the attitude that we want to be teaching, we will make the most of every opportunity presented to us.

For example, if all our JTEs allow us to do is to pronounce words for students to repeat, we can use the opportunity to teach them the proper syllables to emphasize, or how to correctly pronounce certain sounds (like "L" vs "R.") I'm not saying it has to be a full blown, or even explicit lesson--it can accomplished simply by overexaggerating our facial expressions and stresses when pronouncing words (students will catch on!) .

Even if all we are doing is walking around the class and observing while a JTE is explaining English grammar points in Japanese (something I spend probably 70% or more of my time doing at my base school), if we have the attitude/goal of teaching, we can view the observation time as a chance to see where students have difficulty. Also, we can take it as an opportunity to learn the grammar in Japanese so we can better help students later on.

There will most likely be times when the only thing we actually manage to accomplish will be (so-called) "internationalization," but accepting that reality doesn't mean we have to lower our sights from the goal of teaching. (In fact, I think having "internationalization" as a goal would make the aforementioned situation even more aggravating and make an ALT feel even less useful.)

It's fine to be comforted by the fact that, if nothing else, we're helping with "internationalization," but if we are satisfied with only promoting "internationalization," we are doing a disservice to ourselves, our students, and the JET program as a whole. If we give up and believe ourselves limited to "internationalization," that belief will become a reality.

Perhaps I'm being idealistic, but I truly believe that if we work wholeheartedly towards the goal of helping students to learn English, even the most restrictive, constraining teachers will eventually acknowledge our efforts and allow us to do more. More importantly, I think the desire to teach will enable us to turn even mundane duties into teaching opportunities.