The Hectic Days

I’m getting to that point in the year when I want to just come home and pass out after work. For the next two weeks, I’m looking at no days off and a whole lot of overtime. Interactive Forum requires that I train students until 5 or 5:30 p.m. Also, I went ahead and agreed to be an Iris Princess (Ayame Musume あやめ娘) to make this the third year I represent my Japan hometown. And lastly, I signed up for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) level N3 (a.k.a Conversational Level).

For Interactive Forum, I’m trying to increase the level of my students’ English abilities, but it can be difficult to do that and keep the training times fun. If the students aren’t having fun, the entire hour can become this awkward affair where no one wants to talk, and the whole point of it is to make students converse in English. As you can well imagine, it’s frustrating as all get out when they get into this strange funk.

Usually I can bring them out with what I like to call “Crazy English,” where I introduce myself as someone famous and pretend to be that person instead of myself. For example, “Hi! My name is Sailor Moon. I fight evil in my free time. I like sweets very much. Nice to meet you!” The students get a kick out of that. However, I’ve got to be careful to balance having fun and keeping them focused on the task at hand.

My third years, who are fourteen or fifteen years old, can really help me out with doing the harder parts. At both of my schools, I’ve designated a third year student as the sempai of the Interactive Forum group. If I’m not there for some reason then they’re in charge until I show up, and if I need a translation they will be the ones who do so to the other students. It’s actually very important, I think, for ALTs to utilize the sempai system set up in the Japanese classrooms. It can be a great tool to utilize when you want to get things done in class or clubs.

It is really rewarding to watch my students’ progress from simplistic sentences to having actual full conversations. To have a student go from answering “Do you like AKB48?” with just “Yes, I do.” to him/ her responding “Yes, I do! I like them very much. My favorite member is ______. Do you know her?” That’s just one of the most awesome experiences to have as an ALT, to know that you’ve been able to guide your students to that point where they can take what they’ve learned in class and actually use it.

Still, as rewarding as it is, I feel a little bit worn out from coaching sometimes. Last week turned out fine, but I can recall a few moments last year when I showed up and I knew from the get go the session was going to be a fight to speak. I’m anticipating that next week, when the Sports Day (undōkai 運動会) practices get rolling, the whole group will show up exhausted and not wanting to do anything. And it’s my job to make them, hooray!

That’s going to be a problem for me since I’ll probably be extremely tired as well. Last year, I worked for the Itako Iris Festival (Itako Ayame Matsuri 潮来市あやめ祭) on Saturdays and Sundays. I went with the wiser choice this year to work only on Sundays, since I know I’ll need one day devoted to planning on moving to Tokyo/ Chiba, depending upon where I’m placed for my new job. However, this weekend requires that I work both days since it’s the opening weekend. I’m glad to be doing it one last time, don’t get me wrong, but I’m not looking forward to not one single day that I can recharge my batteries.

This year the city wasn’t able to find another foreigner to be an Iris Princess, so I’m the only foreign woman working this year. As such, I’m probably going to be featured a little more for campaigns than in the previous two years. I feel torn about this possibility, because on the one hand I’ll be kind of given special treatment, but on the other hand the expectations for me are higher than previous years. I’m not sure how it’s all going to work out. I’m nervous about it.

I’m not so nervous about the JLPT, though. Honestly, I meant to take the test back in December, but I missed the deadline for registration. This time I was on the ball and got my application in on time. I’ve already been studying for it since before December, so I’m confident that I’ll at least pass. I’ve bought all the books and test materials for it.

But on top of everything else, I wonder if perhaps I jumped the gun a little bit.Two years ago I tried for the N4 (Upper Basic Level) but I didn’t pass. I did the same kind of schedule I’m going to do soon, wherein I work six or seven days a week along with studying for a test everyday. Back then I actually hurt myself from the stress. I couldn’t study kanji for a good month afterwards. My brain actually flat out refused to process any new Japanese, so I took a break. I feel like this time will be different, since I started studying way back months ago and because I know I will get Saturdays off, eventually.

With the 31st being Sports Day, it looks like the rest of the month of May is just one big block of WORK. And then in “free time” it’s actually “study time.” Next month looks like work unless it’s Saturday, but even then I’d imagine the Saturdays will be devoted to the very long list of “Things Jessica Must Do Before She Moves.” I’m praying that when all is said and done my students will have better English speaking abilities than before we started practice, I get through the Iris Festival in one piece, and I pass the JLPT with flying colors.

Welcome to Japan!

Ibaraki Prefecture: Group A

Ibaraki Prefecture: Group A

I’ve heard it so many times and it never gets old. I’m still so excited to be here! Everyone in my city is so nice and helpful. I’m glad I ended up in a place that’s more rural than urban. I’m not a fan of big cities. I like looking out onto the rice fields and just feeling so relaxed. I couldn’t have ended up at a better place for me.

From left to right: Ikeda-san (my supervisor), me, and Lauren Parker

From left to right: Ikeda-san (my supervisor), me, and Lauren Parker

And I couldn’t have lucked out with a better predecessor. Lauren Parker lived in Itako for three years before I came along, and she got the apartment all prepared for me. She even put up pictures and things so the walls didn’t seem so bare. Since she and the Board of Education furnished the apartment, I didn’t have to buy anything when I arrived. Many of the other ALTs did, poor things, but I didn’t!

I also met my Japanese teacher, Yamada-sensei! She's between Lauren and me.

I also met my Japanese teacher, Yamada-sensei! She’s between Lauren and me.

The teachers I’ll be working with at Hinode and Itako 2nd Junior High School seem pretty cool. They’ve asked me to help out with activities during the summer, and I’m glad. I don’t know what I would do with myself if I didn’t help out. I find that I spend my free time just kind of being lonesome in my apartment, and that can’t be healthy. I’ve tried to be more outgoing after school, but it’s hard. I don’t know who to call, when it’s okay to call, or what the proper etiquette is over here. I don’t know. Maybe I’m making a mountain out of a molehill.

Settling in has been pretty easy, all things considered. My shipped box came in earlier than I thought it would with everything intact. The apartment’s really starting to feel more like home. I want to add more things, like more bookshelves, but I have to wait and get a car first. I need a car for where I live. It’s just too spread out for me to bike everywhere. I enjoy biking, but the convenience of a car is nice, not to mention safer than biking on these broken roads.

The area specifically where I live in Hinode got hit hard by the earthquake. Hinode Junior High School, one of the two junior high schools where I will work for Monday through Friday, actually had the ground around it drop a few feet. The roads used to be smooth and flat, but now they’re bumpy and out of alignment. When I bike I have to be careful of the cracks and crevices, and also spiders. There are lots of spiders here and they are not afraid of putting their webs right a human face distance from the ground, unfortunately.

I’ve had communication issues. I came over with only the basic Japanese skills, enough to basically be an annoying tourist. When it comes to reading and writing, I know Hiragana and Katakana. It’s useful, but Kanji exists. Kanji and I are not friends. I want to learn all the characters so bad, but I can’t seem to keep anything in my head since I came over. I think I might just be out of practice, but it’s also probably got something to do with stress. I’m hoping that when I get more of a routine down things will start to stick.

Still, I think the language barrier is aptly named. Sometimes, not very often but often enough to make me feel dumb, this invisible wall comes up between me and other people. Nothing is getting through and I really need to say something important, but I can’t get the message sent out and then received. It sucks! I hate feeling helpless, and a language barrier can definitely make me feel very much so. It only lasts maybe about two minutes in a conversation, but it leaves a bad kind of aftertaste in my mouth, like the words I couldn’t say are bitter. I really hope that as my language skills increase, the barriers will decrease.

I don’t think the small town celebrity status will ever change. It’s odd to walk around and feel trapped in my own skin. I mean, I don’t want to change or anything, it’s just I’m really aware of the fact now that I’m Caucasian. When I get on the train, I hear the whispers of, “Gaijin!” and I see people pointing and staring at me as if I really am an alien. Also, I’ve never been winked at by so many guys until I came over here. I swear! I’m not that attractive, but apparently that doesn’t matter. It’s kind of nice, I mean, I’m flattered. But I don’t want to give the wrong impression. I’m here to work, not date.

Although, I’ve got to admit I love the Japanese business men. Not the shady ones, but you know the black suit with the black tie. I think it’s hot. I don’t know why, I just kind of do. Speaking of hot Japanese men, I’m apparently a fan of Jun Matsumoto. I really liked Shin Sawada in the drama Gokusen. For some reason, it never occurred to me that Matsumoto Jun is Matsu Jun from Arashi. I’ll go ahead and admit I’m not a huge Arashi fan or JPOP fan in general. Arashi is okay, but I really don’t love the music. I’ll listen to them, but they’re not my favorite. Still, I’ve got to admit I can see why girls just lose themselves over Jun-kun. He’s quite attractive (and a pretty good actor, in my opinion). So, yeah, something I discovered about myself I didn’t know. I’m apparently Team Jun.

Anyway, I think I’ve run out of steam. It’s my first blog post in a really long time. This time I hope I keep it up. I’m not very good at keeping blogs updated, so we’ll see how it goes. Hope you all enjoyed my ramblings!

TTYL!