Posted in Japan

Love Nature, Hate Bugs

If you have met me then you know I am not really an “outside” person. It is not that I do not like being in nature, enjoying what God has created, I just don’t like bugs. I hate bugs.

And you know, nature = bugs. Especially in the summer.

And it sounds so stupid, but I have a legitimate fear. I can’t handle them. I have actually almost gotten into an accident because a bug flew into the car I was driving. So sometimes, when people ask if I want to do something outside, I hesitate because of my fear. But this time… I prevailed.

I was invited to climb Mt. Sanage. And, I did it.
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Mt. Sanage is located in the north of Toyota City in Aichi Prefecture.

While trying to find the path we accidently bumped into Sanage Shrine. The Shrine is located at the foot if Mt. Sanage. The major object of worship of the shrine is Prince Ousu, the twin brother of Prince Yamato-Takeru, a mythical figure who is said to have unified Japan.

 

It has been traditionally said that in the case of twins, that one is an adept left-hander. The diety of the shrine (Prince Ousu) was left-handed and had a left-handed sickle to cultivate the region.

In respect, it became a custom to offer a left-handed sickle when praying. After receiving a blessing from the high priest of the temple (a huge honor) we began our path up the mountain.

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Due to stopping and enjoying the sights, we arrived at the top of the mountain around 4:30 (we started around 1:00). Because it was my first hike up a mountain, everything was new and exciting. It was too beautiful.

We ran into a lot of families and individuals walking (in some cases running) up and down the mountain. It was an awesome experience and I hope that I will be able to climb up another mountain—maybe Fuji?  

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Posted in Japan

Mini-Trip: Nagoya

This past week I got a message from my friend saying that she was going to be in the Nagoya area for the weekend (she was going to a concert) and that we should try to meet up. Because I have been craving to be in the company of someone who knows me and because I love hanging around her, I was 100% for it.

We ended up meeting that Saturday for lunch. Because of the time-crunch (she had to catch her bus back to the Tokyo area) and because I have no idea what’s good to eat in Nagoya, we ended up going to Saizeriya. Which has possibly become the bane of my existence. 

For those who don’t know, Saizeriya is a chain-restaurant here in Japan. Its has an Italian influence with a low price point. So, its not that bad. But, I go there a lot (because I am poor and because I haven’t explored my area that much), so I was somewhat disappointed. But, the wonderful company outweighed all of that. 

We talked about a lot of things, mainly related to our ALT positions here. She has been here a little bit longer than me (she started in November 2015 and I started in April 2016) and also went through a different company. It’s funny because we both had the same frustrations and complaints. And I say that lightly. Because we both absolutely love being here. It is just, and I can only speak for myself, it had been hard to find a group of people that I can be 100% with. And although there are other foreigners here, I have not met any black&american&female foreigners. Which shouldn’t be a big deal, but to me it is. We share the same history, have had the same experiences, etc.

Anyway, after a short lunch we ended up saying our goodbyes and I decided that I was going to go up the Nagoya TV Tower. Ya know, since I was there and all. 

The Nagoya TV Tower is Japan’s oldest radio and TV broadcasting tower and is registered as one of the country’s tangible cultural properties. It was completed on June 19, 1954 and is 180 meters tall (about 590 feet).

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For 700 yen, I was able to to the observation deck. It was very relaxing at the top and because it is known as a “Lover’s Sanctuary” there were many couples wandering about. 

All-in-all, it was a good trip. I am thankful I was able to meet a friend and see such cool scenery. 

Posted in Japan

Tanabata

So, I was walking from my car and I noticed there were little pieces of paper tied to a bamboo stick outside of my school. Although I had seen it before, I wasn’t 100% of the meaning behind it. To be honest, I wasn’t  15% (I recognized Tanabata as “Star Festival”) sure. Luckily a volunteer at the school asked me if I knew about it before I even asked. I think she read my mind. 

5912449448_29076acb35_b Tanabata (たなばた or 七夕), also known as the “Star Festival, and takes place on July 7th (7/7).  Tanabata was inspired by the Chinese legend of “The Weaver Girl (Vega) and the Cowherd (Altair)”. 

On Tanabata, both children and adults normally write wishes on small pieces of colors paper (tanzaku) and hang them, along with other ornaments, on a bamboo tree and pray that their wishes com true.

Posted in Japan

Forgetfulness

To be honest, this last month has been rough for me. I have forgotten why I am here. Why I made the decision to leave my job, family, and friends and travel to Japan.

It feels like the second stage of culture shock is setting in (or beginning to). I always thought that I would be immune to it, because I wanted to be here. But here are some of the symptoms(?) of stage two (courtesy of Simon Fraser University) : 

Irritability and Hostility – You start to feel that what is different is actually inferior. The host culture is confusing or the systems are frustrating. It’s a small step from saying that they do things in a different way to saying that they do things in a stupid way. You may blame your frustrations on the new culture (and its shortcomings) rather than on the adaptation process.

To be honest, I have felt some of these things. But, I do not blame the Japanese society and culture (as stated in the definition above), I am more frustrated with myself. Anyway, you don’t really read about it (well I haven’t). I always see posts about those in the honeymoon stage or after they have gotten past the second stage. But, I am glad that I am recognizing that I am becoming distant and frustrated–it means that I can change my behavior and try to do more things. Luckily, my break is about to start! So, I plan on taking a trip throughout Japan. Hopefully the trip will help me get out of my funk! 

 

 

Posted in Japan

English: The Skeleton Key

Hello again! It has been a while since I have posted. It is not because I have been super busy lately. I am just too lazy to take the time and write down my thoughts–especially if I have nothing to say. But today is different! It is about 12:40 in the morning and I am hyped up on coffee. 

Today I went to my first Japanese language class at the local cultural center in my city. The class was filled with people from all over the world–Brazil, France, Thailand, and Taiwan. Surprisingly, I was the only American in the classroom. Lucky for me (and the rest of the students) the class is mainly taught in Japanese. So not only grammar and vocabulary, but instructions were given to us in Japanese as well (which helps with our comprehension).

But, if a student had trouble understanding a word/sentence structure, the instructor would default to English; additionally, the worksheets that were provided were in English and Japanese. Which I found super interesting. It was strange the instructor assumed that the other students could speak English.

Although I have heard multiple times that English is the language of opportunity, this is the first time where I personally experienced it. It was easy for me to understand the instructions on the worksheet because, if I didn’t understand the Japanese, I could read the English translation. But, what about those students who can’t read Japanese or English? 

Just some random thoughts after a random day. 

では、また。

Posted in ALT, Japan

A Typical School Day

 

So, it has been two months since I have been in Japan! Time flies by so fast. I wanted to take the time and let yall know what a typical school day is like as an Elementary ALT. I currently have 5 schools (with 10 to 31 students per grade). My schedule changes every week so one school I might see twice a month, while I might see another school 10 times in one month. So, let’s begin:

5:30 to 6:00 – My alarm goes off. It takes me a while to get out of bed in the morning and get ready to be honest. Also, by waking up this early I have time to prepare for school if I didn’t finish it the night before (which is bad I know!). I am also packing up everything I need for the day (balls, flashcards, worksheets, etc.).

7:45 to 8:00 – I am out of the door! How late I leave depends on which school I am going to that day (one school is a 5 min. car ride, while another is 20 min.).

8:20 – I am at my desk at school. During this time I usually make copies of worksheets (its 10 yen per copy at 7-11) or prepare for class. I don’t really chat to other teachers at time as they are all running around trying to get ready for the day as well. Today I am booked—with 6 classes— which is rare for me.

8:50—It is one of my small schools today so the first two periods are with my 5th graders. For a warm-up I ask my students to introduce themselves—a review of our previous classes. Next we begin our next topic: feelings and being able to recognize and respond to “How are you?”. I reinforce the new vocab and target language through games, songs (MUST!), and practicing the dialogue with each other. My Homeroom Teacher (HRT) is very active in this class, trying to motivate the students—which is super helpful. These kids reflect the attitude of their HRT.

9:45— The beginning of my second period with the 5th graders. We review the vocabulary again and do activities within their textbook. This lesson I focus more of the dialogue more than the vocabulary itself. This lesson ends with a 5 minute self-reflection by the students (written in Japanese).

10:30—Most (if not all) schools have a 20 minute recess in between 2nd and 3rd period. And these kids are everywhere! It’s different from the States where (from what I can remember) you have recess outside and you have to stay with your class. In Japan, the kids can go outside, stay in their classroom, or hang out in the hallways. I usually take this time to talk to the students or prepare for my 3rd and 4th periods.

10:50— During break I learn that my third period is cancelled. This happens more often than not. Schools will change schedules on you (remove a class, add a class, and/or combine two classes) and let you know the day-of. It’s important to not let it bother me. But, sometimes it can be difficult if two classes are combined as some lesson plans work for a certain amount of students. So if you go from 30 kids to 60 it can be a little tricky. In any case, I will take this time to either decompress by walking around the school or working on my English board, or I will take this time to create lesson plans for my next upcoming schools.

11:45—The fourth period is with my very rowdy 3rd graders. This class is larger and louder than the 5th grade. Both the HRT and I are trying to calm the kids down, telling the students to quiet down multiple times. Which takes time away from the lesson itself. For classes this rowdy, I will stop the lesson until the quiet down—which they don’t like. They want to do the activities and play the games. More often than not the kids are interested in English! So, it’s important that I try my best as an ALT. We finish all the activities but, I am a little drained by now.

12:35—LUNCH TIME! Students do not eat in a large cafeteria; rather, they eat in their classrooms (with their HRTs). The kids deliver and serve the food themselves. Each week a different set of students are chosen to prepare, serve, and clean up the lunches. Which I think is awesome—it builds a sense of community within their classrooms. Also, during lunchtime announcements are made (by students) regarding what we are having for lunch that day as well as how and where it was produced. Nine times out of ten consists of rice, milk, soup/veggies, and meat/fish. Today is my lucky day! No natto. I tried it once (it comes with seaweed and cheese) and I just can’t do it. I can’t. I am usually assigned a classroom to eat lunch with and today I am assigned to the 4th graders. This can be awkward for me sometimes. Because their English is limited and my Japanese is limited—I am unsure what to do sometimes. So, I have had times where I barely speak and some times where I speak a lot. It just depends.

1:10—After finishing lunch, the students brush their teeth (sometimes they are timed) and clean up the bowls, trays, chopsticks, etc. Next, is cleaning time—where the kids go to their cleaning area. In these areas (hallways, English room, bathroom, etc.) they pick up (sweep and mop the floors, clean blackboards, clean bathroom floors, sweep the steps, etc.). I rarely join in and help with their cleaning—I am usually cleaning up my desk in the teacher’s room or cleaning up my desk in my English room.

1:30—The kids have another recess. I usually stay inside but, I know that some ALTs go outside and play with the students.

1:55—During the fifth period I am with my 6th grade students. They are learning about the alphabet this week, “How many?” and “Do you have~”. The first thing I do is review last week with a “quiz”. Nothing too difficult. With the 6th graders it’s also important to use activities/games, songs, etc.

2:50—Last class of the day! Another class with my 6th grade students.

4:00—The kids are gone by this time. Around 4:30 there is usually a teacher meeting which can last from 10 minutes to an hour—and, sometimes I am asked to leave while they are having the meeting and come back later. Either way, I usually work on lesson plans for my next schools during this time as well. I do this as I don’t want to work on anything when I get home. If the meeting is short, I sometimes chat with my teachers but, more times than not, they are busy or having individual meetings. By 4:45 I pack up and go home, but most of the teachers are still there. Sometimes the teacher stay at school until 6:00!

Whelp, that’s a glimpse into one of my days. But, due to changes in schedule and differences in schools it varies. For example, today I only had two classes. The rest of the time I was either preparing lesson plans, watching 運動会 practice, or assisting with the set-up for the 運動会 (which is tomorrow). 

What’s difficult for me is my inexperience in being an ALT, I worry that I am not doing enough or I am not doing the right thing. There is so much that I worry about to be honest. But, I will still try to do my best and there are things that I need to work on (like spending time outside during recess with the kids, for example). But I can’t be doing that bad, there are kids that try to speak to me in English or tell me they enjoy class. It makes me really happy. Hopefully English will become fun for them, not just some boring foreign language class.

では、また。

Posted in Japan

Now What?

When I was in high school I would tell others that one day I would live in Japan. And 6+ years later, here I am living in Toyota City, Japan. I made it. But, now what? What happens after you reach a life goal? 

There is a group that I study Japanese with here in Toyota and they give me writing prompts every week. This week is “What is the thing that you want to do most and why?”. And, for some reason I can’t think of anything. For the longest time I knew my answer: “I want to live in Japan”. There are some obvious immediate things that I want to do (like travel around Japan and visit Korea), but I wanted to answer this prompt with a long-term goal. 

What happens after you reach a long-term goal? What do you do?

 

では、また。

Posted in Japan

Thoughts…

Wow! It has been such a long time since I updated my blog… and for good reason too. I am in Japan! Aichi if you want to be specific.

I moved into my apartment about a week and a half ago, so I am still trying to figure everything out; additionally, my first week of teaching began this week. So, I have been pretty busy. It was a long, tough, brutal road to get here.

Not really.

But it was full of some frustrations. To be honest I feel like I have skipped the honeymoon stage/phase of culture shock. I am already, it seems, at that anxious/upset phase. And, it’s not like Japan and America is completely different; but there are subtle differences that make me frustrated. But, not frustrated enough to quit. I write it out in my journal, breathe, pray, and move on.

Another thing that I have to get used to is bringing work home. For the past two years, I was done with work at 5. I didn’t even begin to think about it until the next morning. But, now I have to think about creating and preparing lesson plans for the next day. It’s difficult for me. I end up relaxing and before I realize it, it’s 10:30 PM. I need to learn to lesson plan either at school (stay until it is done) or do it as soon as I get to my apartment.

Ah, well. Let’s think about some positive things shall we?

The ALT community in my city is very supportive and kind. They actually put together a barbeque for the new ALTs in the area. Although I want to learn to be more independent, there are just some things, I think, that I will need help with.  So it’s awesome that there is a group (besides my employer) that I can turn to when I have problems, issues, or questions.

Positive number TWO: the kids. They are adorable. I don’t think I was as cute as they are when I was an elementary school student. Although they are very shy, they are very curious. Very curious. Which is ok with me. I just feel bad that my Japanese isn’t good enough to carry a conversation with them. I know I should be talking only in English with them, but I don’t want to isolate them as well. If that makes sense? Speaking and thinking in a different language is hard. So, I want them to be comfortable coming to me and talking to me, and then slowly speak more English.

では、また。

Posted in Japan

My Love-Hate-Hate Relationship with Shots

If you know me, you know that I absolutely HATE HATE HATE shots. If you don’t know me, know you know. 

It is recommended that you get not only your routine vaccinations (flu shots) before you travel to Japan, but you also get travelers vaccinations. Of course vaccines cannot protect you 100% of the time, so it is important that you use your common sense when you travel. You can either get these vaccinations with your PCP or at a Travel Clinic (if there is one near you). I contacted my PCP and they suggested that I go to a Travel Clinic since it is their speciality.

Now before I list recommended vaccinations to have before traveling to Japan, I am not a doctor (obviously). I definitely recommend talking to your doctor and asking what vaccines and medicines you need based on where you are going, how long you are staying, what you will be doing in Japan. 

For my personal situation, they recommended that I be vaccinated against hepatitis A (contracted through food and water), hepatitis B (contracted through sexual contact, contaminated needles, blood products, bodily fluids), and Japanese encephalitis. Personally, I feel the most important vaccination is the one for Japanese encephalitis.

Japanese encephalitis is a very serious disease (may cause death) that spreads through mosquito bites and there is a risk to contract the disease throughout the cursory — especially in rural and agricultural areas. According to the CDC “Symptoms usually take 5-15 days to develop and include fever, headache, vomiting, confusion, and difficulty moving. Symptoms that develop later include swelling around the brain and coma”.

It’s serious business. In order to further protect yourself, you should wear long-sleeves, long pants, hats, etc. and wear an insect repellent that contains DEET such as Off!, Cutter, Sawyer, and Ultrathon. The last time I went to Japan, I bought Off! and it worked very well. When I had one or two mosquito bites, my fellow exchange students had like 10 plus. 

Again, I definitely recommend talking to your doctor and asking what vaccines and medicines you need. 

では、また。

Posted in Japan

March 26, 2016

So, it has been determined that I need to be in Nagoya by March 26, 2016. Which means that I need to leave the States either on March 24th or March 25th (depending on the length of the flight). Now, Nagoya is not my placement [update: my placement is Toyota City, Japan] , it is where the training will be held. Unfortunately, I do not know where I will be placed yet. Which is, to be honest, a little frustrating because I have about a month left and I would feel better knowing where I am living next year. In the meantime, there are things that I should be doing. Like… 

  • Notifying my banks that I am moving abroad
  • Getting some cash and yen (AAA or bank) [Got it from my bank]
  • Scheduling check-ups with doctors 
  • Packing (shoes, office wardrobe, etc.)
  • Getting my VISA
  • Purchasing a medical ID tag for allergy (allergy listed in Japanese and English)
  • Getting international drivers permit (just in case)
  • Taking my COE to Japanese Embassy and get Entry Permit
  • Figuring out what to do with my hair
  • Getting ticket to Nagoya
  • Making copies of all important documents (passport, contract, COE, etc.) to keep with me and to leave at home
  • Canceling gym membership
  • Taking photos of home and family to bring with me (for students and myself)
  • Enrolling in STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program)
  • Getting all vaccinations

The list isn’t all-inclusive obviously and I am more than open to suggestions… but I think it is a good start. 

では、また。