Sunday, May 31, 2009

Embrace the inaka

I recently learned that the first person who was chosen to come to Towada declined, and so now we're waiting on a reply from an alternate. If this person accepts, s/he'll be in Group C and won't get to Towada until around the 20th of August. If s/he also declines, the next alternate probably won't make it until September. @_@

I seriously hope this person decides to come to Towada! We already have probably at least 50% more school visits/classes than the average ALT with three of us in the office, so it'll be a problem if there's only two of us available.

Now I can understand that most people want to work down south and/or in the big cities when they apply for JET, but if they don't have family/relationship or other concrete reasons to request a specific place, I really wish they wouldn't write off JET just because they've been placed in Northern
inaka (rural) Japan.

Particularly when they've been placed in TOWADA!

Yes, we have a lot more work than many other ALTs, but in my mind, Towada is one of, if not
the best places to teach as an elementary/junior high one-shot (or semi-regular) ALT.

I mean, most schools/students have a fairly high level of English (even first graders can usually be taught question and answer patterns and not just words) and behavioural issues are generally the exception rather than the rule. Also, thanks to the hard work of previous ALTs, the schools/teachers have a pretty high level of trust in ALTs and, for the most part, do their best to make good use of us in classes. In elementary schools in particular, apart from some fifth and sixth grade classes (where they're following the new
Eigo Note textbook very closely), most teachers are more than happy to accept suggestions for changes to the lesson plan. (Actually, many want the ALT to take complete control of the class.)

As a teacher, it's a pretty sweet team-teaching set-up.

In terms of working in the
inaka in general, the best argument in its favour I've heard is that you can get an experience of Japan that couldn't be had any other way. Big cities are pretty much big cities anywhere in the world. Sure visiting is different from living/working there, but you can get a pretty good feel for a big city even if all you do is travel there as a tourist. It's easy to remain an anonymous outsider in a big city--particularly if you're a one-shot and don't get as much of a chance to develop close relationships with your schools/students.

On the other hand, when you work in the
inaka, you often become an important part of the community itself. Kids are thrilled when they recognize you on the streets/in the stores. You get invited to participate in various community events. Sure, sometimes it's a lot of extra work/expectations, and there are times when it probably feels like you're being observed all the time, but for me, the community aspect is the second best part (the first being teaching, of course) of being here in Towada.

Being in Northern Japan in particular has many inconveniences, I know: travel is expensive and time-consuming; winters are a pain; people's exposure to English is generally on a lower level than in the south. But, then again, how many people (even among native Japanese) can say that they've been to, for example, the Tohoku region? That they've participated in the Aomori Nebuta (I still haven't, actually), visited Lake Towada, seen cherry blossoms in Hirosaki, or watched fireworks at Omagari? (Incidentally, both Lake Towada and Hirosaki are mentioned, respectively, in the first and third grade New Horizon English textbooks used across the country.)

I definitely would never have been able to say I'd...

...seen the Hotokegaura and gone off-roading in Sai

...or that I'd eaten "Arandoran curry" (cheese in a ball of meat on rice with curry) and seen
Osorezan ("one of the three holiest sites of Japan" according to the pamphlet) in Mutsu...

...if I hadn't been placed in Aomori Prefecture!

(By the way, you can see more pictures of my weekend excursion to visit Carly in my Facebook album: Sai Mura and Shimokita Peninsula)

Admittedly my rosy perspective on the inaka is heavily based on the fact that I landed a placement in Towada--if I could go back and choose my placement, I wouldn't give up Towada for anything, not even to be able to live in Hiroshima and eat okonomiyaki at Sankanou on a regular basis!--but I think many fellow Aomori and other inaka ALTs would agree that there as many benefits to living in the inaka in Northern Japan as there are to living in a big city in Southern/Central Japan. They are different benefits, to be sure, but I think that if people gave it a chance, they'd come to think that they didn't really need the big city benefits as much as they thought they did.