English Lesson: Have To, Don’t Have To & Will

Lesson planning is not my forte, but every once and a while I come up with an activity that’s a little different. In my first year as an ALT, I decided to tackle the grammar points “have to,” “don’t have to,” and “will”in the 2nd Year New Horizon textbook for Junior High School with something different than what was given to me by my predecessor and what’s on Englipedia.

I usually break this lesson over the course of two days in two parts.

Part 1: Have To/Don’t Have To

For the “Have to/ Don’t Have To” part of the lesson I hand out two worksheets after the JTE explains the grammar point in Japanese. Lesson Game Have to and Lesson Game Don’t Have To are usually printed on the front and back of one page. It’s a racing game that’s done with a partner and it will take about 15-20 minutes of class time.

Rules of the Game:

1) Students play janken (rock, paper, scissors) to see who goes first.

2) The winner gets to ask, “What do you have to do?”

3) The loser answers one of the options on the worksheets, such as, “I have to study.” The winner circles the answer.

4) Students janken again to see who can ask the question next.

5) Winner once again gets to ask the question and circle the answer. The first one to the WIN box is the winner.

Usually, I wait for everyone to get done with the “Have To” part before moving on to the “Don’t Have To” side of the worksheet. For the “Don’t Have To” race I ask students to switch partners. Winners get stickers for winning or some other kind of small prize.

Part 2: Will

For the next part of the lesson, I decided to make it into a review game that incorporates all three grammar points instead of just “Will.” The Lesson Game Have to Don’t Have to and Will worksheet and You have to practice writing are put front to back just like the previous lesson. Since there are three different grammar points to race for, this lesson can take 20-30 minutes depending on the level of English ability.

The race is done in three rounds, each time students switching to a different partner. The rules are the same as “Have To/ Don’t Have To” racing game. For the last round I let students find a friend from anywhere in the classroom to race against instead of someone around them.

For the writing portion will take up about 10 minutes. Usually, the JTE wants students to say some of their sentences aloud. Basically, the second part takes up an entire class period to do.

And that’s a wrap for this lesson. Tell me what you think and if this was helpful in any way. I’m thinking about adding other lesson plans, but we’ll see. I was just rather proud of this one since I made it all on my own.

Happy Teaching!

 

Translating My JTE’s English

I’ve worked in Japan for awhile, so I’ve come to realize that my Japanese Teachers of English speak a certain kind of English that has all the right vocabulary and grammar for English, but all too often also uses Japanese politeness, indirectness, and “feeling the air” kind of sentences.

It goes something like so:

JTE– “Maybe we won’t have time to do it. Maybe next class we will have more time for your activity. Is that alright?”

Translation– “We don’t have any time for your shenanigans. Next time, ok?”

JTE – “Can you help me?”

Translation– “Help me, woman! Why are you just standing there?”

JTE– “Can you come with me to class?”

Translation-“Class is about to start. You are not in class. Go there now!”

JTE-“Maybe that’s too difficult.”

Translation-“That’s too difficult for me to understand. Explain it better or scrap the whole thing. Jeez, this is your second year, Jessica, get on it!”

JTE– “I want you to (do something). Do you have time? I know you are so busy.”

Translation– “We need this (thing) done by (this time). Please and thanks.”

JTE-“I’m sorry. I think that maybe you might have to help me (with something). I think maybe it’s (sometime). Can you come?”

Translation-“Hey, I need your help (with something). Come to (this place) at (this time).”

JTE– “I want students to do some more (practice work of some sort). Hmm, what do you think?”

Translation– “Agree with whatever I am saying. I don’t actually want your opinion.”

JTE– “I think that maybe your (thing) needs a little more work. I don’t know how students will like it. So….”

Translation– “I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but this idea is super dumb. NO!”

JTE– “Jessica, do you have a moment?”

Translation– “This is my only window of opportunity to talk to you. If you can’t talk to me now you won’t get to talk to me the whole rest of the day.”

JTE– “I was thinking about class tomorrow. Maybe a game would be best. I’m not sure. So…”

Translation-“Think of something to take up the whole class time. I don’t want to do a lesson! I’m sick of lessons! Give me a game, for the love of GOD!”

JTE– “Tomorrow the classes might be a little different.”

Translation– “Everything will be absolutely confusing tomorrow. Come in ready to deal with not knowing what’s going on. No, we won’t post the changes until tomorrow morning, and even then, those might change as the day goes on. Enjoy!”

If you notice a pattern, usually questions aren’t questions. They are orders masquerading as questions. It actually took me a good couple of months at the beginning to get the hang of it. At first I would take it to mean I had the option of not doing whatever it is my JTE was talking about, but that is simply not true. Whatever they’re “asking” for me to do, odds are I’m supposed to do (or supposed to have already done it, oops).

Sometimes I have more of a challenge, with teachers speaking a lot at once and I have to try and understand what exactly they want from me. It can get a little mind bending trying to figure out what’s important and what’s not.

For example:

JTE– “When we do class tomorrow, I want students to (do something). Maybe the lesson is kind of difficult. I think that they will be very, how do you say? [Take a moment to figure out the right word] Challenging! Yes. Maybe it’s a little bit challenging for them. So I think we must make it easier to understand. I’m not sure how to make it easier, but I want them to have fun and understand, too. I think a game is good, but we also need to do the lesson plan. My lesson plan is a little complicated, so it will take some time. So…How do you feel about it?”

Translation-“This lesson plan is going to be a pain to teach. I want you to help me make it fun. Game, song, anything is cool, but they’ve got to learn the grammar point at the same time. Give me ideas. Ready? Go!”

It can take a long time to figure things out, but I should say that it’s worth taking the time to do it. Communication with JTEs is integral to making a good lesson plan so students can actually learn. Forming a working relationship with JTEs makes teaching much easier. Even if it’s sometimes confusing, I know that I’m really lucky to have JTEs that not only speak English but are more than willing to talk to me in English. I’m quite blessed.

For example:

JTE- “Jessica, I think that you are doing a good job teaching. Thank you for your hard work! I hope we can teach English again after the summer break.”

Translation– “Yes, I was trying to make you cry. Love you!”

An Interactive Forum How-To Guide

Interactive Forum is an educational program designed to help Junior High School students in Japan gain confidence in conversational English. The usual Interactive Forum I’ve encountered has two rounds, the first round using easy topics such as school, family, friends, and etc. The second round involves a little more challenging topics such as TV programs, music, and etc. I will be coaching my group of students until August, trying to prep them for the stage.

All too often, I’ve been asked how exactly Interactive Forum practices should be done, and honestly I don’t think there’s one set way. I’ve done it for two years now and I still have trouble every once and a while with my students suddenly going silent and forgetting to speak. I have picked up some tricks and tips along the way, so I hope that these will help others trying to coach as well.

How to Set Up a Practice

Before you even start talking, I recommend setting up the students in a half circle. Let them get used to sitting like this and talking to each other comfortably. It will make it easier to transition onto a stage if they’ve already got some experience talking in that formation.

Also, make sure you’re in a room where you can write on a board. You’ll most likely need to stop and give some grammar points throughout the practice session. If you don’t have a board it takes up much more time to explain a grammar point (especially if you’re coaching alone like I am).

Make sure you have all your materials before you start practice:

-stop watch

-notebook

-dictionary

-pens/penicils

-dry erase markers/ chalk

-(Optional) Interactive Forum Pamphlet

I’ve made a pamphlet for my students that has all the previous years’ topics with English questions and answers. I’ve left some places blank for them to fill in with their own experiences. It’s not absolutely necessary to use one, but I think it makes things easier for students to prep. Also, I like that they can look over the pamphlet to review for practices.

How to Do an Interactive Forum Practice

First, choose a topic. It can be anything from previous topics to something you made up yourself. Then, have every student go around and introduce themselves quickly.

The introduction should go like so:

Hello! My name is (full name).

Please call me (first name or nickname).

I go to (school’s full name in English).

I am ____ years old.

Topic sentence: (Ex. I have four members in my family).

Thank you!

Use the stopwatch and have to students talk for a set amount of time (between 3-5 minutes is best). At a competition, students have to talk about a topic for five full minutes. However, at first it’s best to just get the students talking, so if they’re a little nervous start at 3 and work your way up to 5.

When it’s the first few practices, be involved in the discussions and help keep the flow of conversation going, but don’t be the one dominating the conversation. Try to make sure everybody talks. It’s really important for everyone to not only get a chance to speak but also that the students take the chance they’re given.

It’s a good idea to take notes on things the students have issues with during the conversation. It also helps if your JTE(s) or English Department Head want a report after the practice. If you’ve already got a JTE there, it’s still a good idea to take notes to compare with the JTE after practice.

When you’re finished with one topic, give feedback. If your students need help with a certain grammar point, go over it on the board and have them write it out in their notes. If you need to look up what a word is in English, go ahead and have the students look it up in the dictionary. It’s also important during this time to give praise for what the students did well. I know I’ve made the mistake often of going all American and pointing out everything that’s wrong so they can fix it and we can move on. Don’t do this. It makes students feel like they’re doing nothing right.

After that, move onto a different topic and start the whole process over. Usually, I practice for about an hour each day after school, so I do a topic for five minutes followed by about five minutes for feedback and then a new topic.

Use Different Tactics for Different Types of Students

Students chosen for the Interactive Forum competition are sometimes really confident at speaking. If you’re lucky enough to have a confident communicator, then make that student a kind of co-leader of the practices. Give the student a responsibility to help out the other students. In the Japanese education system, sempai (older students or more experienced students) are often expected in most sport teams and club activities.  Using this cultural element in your Interactive Forum can make your coaching experience smoother than if you try to lead all on your own, since the sempai can help the students later when you’re not able to be there.

Most likely, the majority of students chosen for Interactive Forum will have some trouble speaking up at first. It’s very important that you DON’T FORCE THEM TO SPEAK. They will shut down if you push too hard. Even when you wouldn’t consider yourself being forceful, remember that in Japan forceful and aggressive behavior is scaled in a whole other way than almost anywhere else in the world. Try to make a relaxed atmosphere. When you talk to a shy student, take time to get them to come out of their shell by bringing up things they like.

For shy students, it’s also important to not overly correct them at first. If you spend so much time telling them what they’re doing wrong, they will think they’re failing. Don’t let them think that. Correct small things at first. With more practice sessions will come a better understanding and relationship with your students, and then you can correct whenever you please.

The Non-Verbal Portion

Notice that the competition is about communication. Communication is 63-90% non-verbal communication and students will be scored on it in competitions. Gestures, smiling, eye contact, all of these are important to keep in mind when students are practicing. Make sure you use gestures when you talk with your students. Students will pick up on them if you use them.

I made a sheet of Hand Gestures for my students and we’ve been practicing using them. It’s awkward for Japanese students since they’ve been taught since they were very young not to do hand gestures. I’m not entirely sure why, but hand gestures are generally discouraged in Japanese culture. Getting them into the habit of using them can be a little challenging, but if you are consistent in how you use them then the students will be too.

Make it Fun

The last thing you want to do is make English feel like work. Even though you have so much to teach in a short amount of time and it’s for a competition, be sure students enjoy practicing. Make them laugh with a corny joke, get them to open up about something silly they did with their friends, trade “scandals” about various TV dramas, talk about “who is your type” of guy/girl, and so on. Remember, even though it’s a competition, the best thing you can do as a coach and an English teacher is try to make the lessons you teach stick, both in and outside the classroom. Make it an enjoyable memory that they can associate with English in the future.

A New Year Reflection: 3/11 and 9/11

It’s a test week, so I’ve been grading papers more than going to class.My students make the normal mistakes for kids their age, and I’ve got to admit I made the same kind of mistakes every so often back in the day.  When one of my Japanese English Teachers came over and gave me a stack of winter break assignments, I just assumed they’d be like all the rest. He told me, “Look for mistakes and correct. If they are right, circle. You know, yes?”

I smiled and nodded my head, “Hai. I know.” I took the papers from his hands. When I plopped them on the desk, they made a nice thunk! I got out my red pen and got comfortable on my rolling chair. As we would say back home, “This is gonna take awhile.”

I opened the stack and started reading. I paused when I realized these weren’t the normal variety of papers. They were essays, and the students were given different things to discuss over the year 2011. Of course, the Great East Japan Earthquake was a topic. Some students wrote about it. They said pretty much the same thing over and over again.

“The East Japan earthquake was on March 11th. I remember that day. I was in school when the earthquake happened. I was very fearful. Many people passed away and died. I will not forget that earthquake.”

I felt my heart break each time a student wrote about it. Some of them had family up near Fukushima and worried about them being so close to the radioactivity. More than one student mentioned the radiation levels getting high, and also about the earthquake damage in Itako. I wanted to find each and every one of them and hug them. Instead, I slash out grammar and spelling mistakes with a red pen. Beside an essay, I put a “Good job! :)” and possibly a comment.

Every time I saw the numbers 3/11, I couldn’t help but get flashbacks to 9/11. I remember that day very well. I could point out exactly where I was when the Twin Towers were attacked. I can remember how the hallways in middle school were full of people panicking. Teachers were talking to each other in hurried voices, trying to decide what to do I guess. I remember a friend running up to tell me, “Something really, really bad just happened. I don’t know what, but parents are coming to pick up their kids.” I remember turning to the science room and the TV was on. I saw something smoking and a tall building. At the time I had no idea, but it was the first tower struck by the airplane.

That memory remains like a deep scar. For the next week, kids at my school talked at the lunch table. Some were even talking about going away on vacation for a bit. We lived next to a uranium enrichment plant, and it was on the hit list of possible targets for terrorism. I remember wondering how long it would take to go up. The answer? I probably wouldn’t even had time to scream. I still have nightmares about that plant blowing up one day.

I remember where I was on 3/11, too. I woke up that night for some reason. I couldn’t go back to sleep, so I got on YouTube to watch some movies and relax. I saw the earthquake news an hour after it had happened. I was in denial about it, hoping against hope that the earthquake just did some damage and that was all. I found out at lunch about the tsunami. I cried when I saw the death toll numbers rising every ten minutes. I got on Facebook to message my friends and emailed my host families in Japan. When I left to go on Spring Break, I kept up with the news and watched the nuclear plant problems. When I got the news that everyone I knew was fine, I felt relieved, but the nuclear plant issues put a knot in my stomach. Thankfully, some very brave people saved Japan from yet another disaster.

The radiation remains an ongoing problem, but the recovery efforts will continue as well. Still, many people here won’t btuy foods or products if they have the Fukushima kanji on them. There’s a huge nuclear power distrust among my students. They say, “Abunai desu!” It’s dangerous. I don’t know what to tell them. I do understand how it feels to suddenly realize the danger of the world, that it can change so violently, and the paranoia that it could happen again. I wish I could find the right words to say, but I can’t.

At that moment when I sit at my desk I feel like I should do something. I don’t know what, but something. I feel like a failure, like I haven’t done enough to make thing better.

But then I remember how after 9/11 my teachers did their best to keep things normal. We talked about what happened from time to time, but usually we just tried to move on. I can see my students and teachers are trying to move on, too. I can still see the fear students have when a bigger earthquake happens. One student held my hand tightly when a earthquake hit a few months or so ago. I squeezed her hand and said, “Daijoubu desu.” It’s alright. I want to keep doing that. I want to help make everything alright again.

My students are definitely strong and moving forward. They didn’t just reflect on the earthquake. They also talked about the Tokyo Motor Show, the Japan Women’s Soccer Team winning the World Cup, and Arashi winning its various awards (MatsuJun, I love you!). Because of the Japan Women’s Soccer Team, many of my students felt inspired and so proud. They all talked about how the win brought them such joy. Thanks to them, I’ve got quite a few girls talking about being soccer stars when they grow up. I gave them smiley faces on their papers and told them to keep their dreams.

They’re already talking about spring vacation even though that’s quite a ways away. Valentines Day is also just around the corner. A few of my students have asked me if I’m giving away chocolates to a boy. Maybe someday, but not this time.

I hope this next year brings a whole lot of good things. I’m no hero and I know I can’t take the memory of 3/11 away, but I can be here to support my kids. I can’t get it back to the way it was. That’s impossible. Still, I can try to make them feel secure again. The ground can shake all it wants.

I’m not going anywhere.

My Schools, Student Stories, and ALT Issues

In Itako, I work at two junior high schools, Itako 2nd Junior High School and Hinode Junior High School. Right now I’m at Hinode JU, and next month I’ll rotate over to Itako 2nd. I love both my schools. Itako 2nd wasn’t damaged very much by the earthquake, so by the time I got there everything was fixed.

Hinode JU has construction going on right now. Basically, Hinode is rice fields all around. When the earthquake happened on March 11th, the ground actually collapsed downward. Poles are still drooping left and right all over the place. Some sidewalks are nearly vertical. The roads are a mess, with pot holes and gravel all over the place. I have to be careful when I drive, too, because sometimes the roads suddenly have huge bumps that could be mistaken for hills. I can go air born if I’m not paying attention.

Even my school is still undergoing reconstruction. When I first arrived here, the entrance had a space from the floor level to the ground. That’s been covered up with asphalt. There’s luckily no structural damage done to the building. The gymnasium was unusable for a little bit. The gym had a massive crack up the side, like it was torn in half (and I suppose it kind of was). That’s all fixed up now. Slowly but surely, Hinode is recovering.

My kids are great. At Hinode JU I’ve got the more shy crowd than with Itako 2nd. Hinode students will take to me more often when I’m at the mall and at 7/11 than at school. I’ve started eating lunch with them so that they will speak more English.

Lunch at my school goes like so: Students don’t go to a cafeteria like in America. Instead, they eat in their classrooms. Some students in each class are selected to dish out the food. These students dress up in white uniforms that include hats, gloves, and face masks. They dish out the food onto other students’ trays. When that’s all done, the class says a big, “Itadakimasu!” (I humbly accept this meal!) And they eat. When they’re done, they say, “Gochisosama deshita!” (Thank you for the food!)

If you read manga or seen a single episode of a anime series set in high school, it will come as no surprise to you that Japanese students have to clean their schools. At Itako 2nd, students usually clean the school after lunch. At Hinode, students usually clean the school after all six periods are done.

It’s fun to watch them do it. Teachers supervise the students, making sure that they actually clean instead of play. Students wipe down windows, sweep, mop, and so on. When they have to sweep the gym, they’ll race each other to finish. They also like to janken (play rock, paper, scissors) for the tasks they hate. Loser, of course, has to do it.

I walk around when they’re cleaning sometimes and talk to them in English. I’m encouraged to talk to them in as much English as possible at my schools. From these conversations, I’ve gotten some pretty interesting questions. For example, one student asked me for my bust size in perfect English. I rewarded her with the correct answer and giggled for the rest of the day. I have boys asking me if I like them, which is adorable. Other students want to know if I’m eating KFC for Christmas (insert raging expletives here). And so and so forth.

I try out my Japanese on them sometimes, which makes them all kinds of surprised. I don’t use it that much with them because I want them to talk in English, but sometimes I can’t help myself. One time, I used an expression my friend, Nobuko, taught me on a boy. He was not looking at my eyes, so I said, “Anata sukebe ne?” Which basically means, “Oh, you’re a perv, huh?” And he shook his head and said “No! No! No! I am good! I am good!” I rewarded him with a sticker for the English and for suffering the shock of a lifetime.

Right now, we’ve got testing going on, so my schedule’s a little erratic. I can have anywhere from one class a day to five. The five class days are killer. I don’t know why, but it’s so draining. Just one class right after the other and talking to students at lunch, there’s barely anytime to go to the bathroom. When I have just one class, I try to use the time wisely by studying Japanese, but I might meander onto Cracked.com or Facebook when I get bored.

I’ve started staying after school to play some sports. I played volleyball yesterday, and tomorrow I’m going to play basketball. The students are happy to see me, and the coaches help to encourage them to do English when I’m there. I love sports, I really do, but I’m bad at them. My volleyball girls would giggle whenever I completely failed at a maneuver (which was often). One girl, Kanna, helped me out with the footwork by trying to tell me things in English. In the end, she would say the Japanese, and I would say the English, and then she would repeat the English. Close enough, right?

At one point yesterday, I had a ball just fly left and keep going. I said, “Sumimasen. Sorry.” And one girl smiled at me and said, “It’s ok! Ball likes to go!” I wish I could’ve given here like a thousand stickers in that moment, because that was awesome.

When I leave Itako 2nd, I go home by taxi service. No, it’s not because I’m that important, but instead because of this safety clause in my contract that states I can’t drive myself during school hours. When I’m at Hinode, I walk to school because I live so close. When I went to the elementary school, I would walk there, too.

I’ve only been to the elementary school once, but I want to go again really bad. They’re so adorable! Oh my god, I want a Japanese child! They kept asking me questions in Japanese, so I had the greatest test of my Japanese skills with them. I managed to make it through pretty well. Luckily, elementary Japanese is around my level of equivalency.

I got a lot of, “Are you married?” and “Boyfriendo?” questions that made me sigh. That question will never die. Unlike my junior high school kids, my elementary school kids really couldn’t believe it. They were so confused. I tried my best to explain, but I think I failed that part of the interview. Instead, I moved onto talking about MatsuJun and Arashi.

Most of my students and I get along pretty well. I have a couple of disruptions every once and awhile, but I’ve been figuring out ways to solve them as I go. In class, one of the best ways is for me to just move and stand close to a students that’s misbehaving. Out of class, I yell out in Japanese and startle my kids to cut it out. It’s the power of being a foreigner. People pay attention when you do anything. It’s a little unnerving at first, but I’ve started using it to my advantage at school.

I love my job. I love getting up and working everyday. However, there are a few issues. People who are interested in the JET program and teaching in Japan in general should know the job can be challenging. After all, even the best schools and best students won’t be perfect 100% of the time, so sometimes you’ll find yourself feeling like maybe you’re all alone with these problems, exacerbating the already kind of isolation you get by living abroad.

Some of the issues I’ve faced as an ALT in my schools include getting time to discuss future lessons with Japanese Teachers of English (JTEs).  I’m lucky with my placement. I can usually get time before class to discuss a lesson with the English teacher in charge. However, that’s not always the case, and many ALTs are not so lucky. It’s not unheard of for an ALT to get no information on a class at all before having to walk in and start teaching. Sometimes I’ve just had to wing it because the teacher’s been too busy with his or her other responsibilities to tell me the plan. After all, the teachers have to do so much. They have to plan out lessons, grade everything, keep the grades straight in the grade book, and so on. Also, most teachers aren’t just teachers. They’re also coaches, supervisors over school projects, members the Parent Teachers Association, and so on.

For times when you can’t grab a teacher to find out the plan, just give it your best guess and plan accordingly. Make two lessons, one which is grammar point oriented and another that’s much less difficult to do, just in case the JTE says, “Oh no, that’s too hard!” and you’re not left in stunned silence with nothing to do for that class.

One of the things that will be a little frustrating at first is trying to figure out the students English level. Students will know some words but not those words, and they will know this basic bit of grammar but something very similar is too difficult, oh and this cannot be said the way you usually say it because students get confused…You get the idea. It’ll be frustrating, but it’ll be alright. If you get a textbook and flip through it, you’ll get an idea of what the students know and don’t know. If all else fails, ask the JTE. They will probably tell you a lot at first, “Can you make it easier?” and you will probably think, “But it is easy…” but what they mean by “easier” is actually like shorter words and shorter sentences. Think less complex and more elementary school English.

Also, you will speak English too fast when you first get there. It’s just a fact. You will speak English too fast at first for students to understand. Your JTE will inform you that you have to slow down over and over again at the beginning, and you will think, “But I am talking slow.” Sorry, still too fast. Don’t worry though because after about a month you’ll develop Shatner-esque style of talking that will become your default mode for students. It’ll take a while before you can get it to feel a little less robotic, but you’ll make it work somehow.

In JET, there’s this saying that they use at orientation called E.S.I.D. (Every Situation is Different). Meaning every class is different and every student is different and every teacher is different. When it comes to conversing with Japanese Teachers of English and other Japanese co-workers, the task is daunting at first. At Hinode my teachers are a little more shy and nervous around me at first, but after while they’ve gotten used to me and ask me about my day. Itako 2nd embraced me wholeheartedly and it feels like they never stop talking to me. Since I’m shy around people at first and a natural introvert, I had to force myself to speak and interact, with can be terribly difficult with the language barriers.

Miscommunications can and will happen. That’s just part of it, but they can be hard to work through. For me, the miscommunications I have the most pertain to class and how to teach during class. There are some fundamental cultural differences between the Japanese style and the Western style of teaching. In Japan, it’s usually lecture style, with the teacher at the front telling students what to learn and no interruptions allowed. I tried when I first got here to ask questions when I was at the front to get a more discussion style class going, but that quickly died. Japanese students are really not trained like Western students to be active in class. It’s actually considered rude to interrupt or ask questions because that means the teacher didn’t do a “good enough” job teaching. My JTE at Itako 2nd actually sat me down to talk with me about it, and said even though the Japanese schools want a more Western classroom for English classes, it’s a going to be a while before it actually happens.

At the end of the day, I do my best to say goodbye to as many students as I can before I go home. I love my job, but I will say it’s draining some days. I try to remember my trump card: “I’m tired, but I’m tired IN JAPAN!” It still manages to perk me up. Also, when my students are shouting, “Goodbye!” and “I love you!” I feel a little proud that I’ve got such great kids.

And now, I’m going to go dive under my kotatsu.

TTYL!

 

The Reason Why

I get asked this question so many times! “Why did you come to Japan? Did you know about the earthquake and the radiation? Weren’t you afraid?”

Here are the answers to such questions and more!

To answer the first question, I’ve wanted to go to Japan since I was eleven years old. Initially, my interest started by reading manga. My school’s social studies textbook really only discussed Japan when it came to World War II and that’s it. And so, I started reading about Japan’s history and culture on my own at the public library.  I became fascinated by a world that seemed so different from mine. It became my dream to go and learn about Japan first hand.

In 2010, I studied abroad in Japan because a friend told me about the JET Program. She recommended that I study abroad first to see if I would like Japan as it really was and not as I imagined it to be. She warned me that I would be disillusioned and most likely would find that the country’s differences would be irreconcilable with my own Western ideology.

When I studied abroad, I fell in love with Japan all over again. I try to explain why, but it’s so difficult for me. I had a hard time speaking in Japanese (and still do) but I liked the sound of it. I also discovered things about my own language and culture that unless I studied Japanese I would’ve never even thought about.

For example, I realized that English is a fast paced language. I never really noticed it’s made for quick conversation until I spoke in Japanese. For Japanese, the conversations are meant to take their time. Words are, usually, really crisp and clear and people take their time to get the message across with the best clarity possible. I hated it sometimes because I just wanted to know where the damn restroom was and the person I asked would take forever to tell me where to go! But when I was at home with my host family, I loved it.

I also just got to see the religious aspects of Japan first hand. I took a Buddhism class before I went over there. I liked the ideas of Buddhism and Shinto. I really liked how Japan simply takes in both religions and makes them into one. When I performed a prayer in front of a Shinto shrine, I felt so peaceful. The open sky made me feel more connected with God than any church ever did. Hearing the wind blow amongst the trees, I could sigh and just release all of my burdens. It was a wonderful experience for me.

Spirituality

At the Inari Shrine in Kyoto

I also liked the circular idea of time. Honestly, I never liked linear time. It made little sense to me when I knew that time worked in cycles. Eastern philosophy speaks to me. It basically just tells me things I believed in already but my Western world didn’t like. It was comforting. People would tell me that I was odd for thinking that way. I was glad to find a place that understood me in some small way.

I visited schools, too. An elementary school filled with adorable children made me really want to teach. I felt that just by being there I was influencing the students. Whether for good or ill, I can’t say, but I’m hoping for good! I talked with teachers who already worked in Japan, and they were adamant about really thinking it through. They warned me that although the one class seemed wonderful, that the challenges of living abroad and working abroad can be too much for some people.

I did feel some doubts, I won’t lie. I wondered if I was cut out for completely leaving America and everything familiar to come back. By this point, I was aware that Japan had some, in my eyes, negative aspects. For example, Japanese people are friendly, even when they hated your freaking guts. I grew up in the South, so I’m used to people talking behind my back. However, if you make someone mad, you might never know. Imagine an invisible bomb getting passed around and you can’t even guess when and where it will blow up. It’s that kind of fear and frustration. I was told that “someone” (my teacher wouldn’t say who) didn’t like how I was holding my chopsticks at a meal and thought I was being rude on purpose.

I will never know who that person was, and I will never know what I did in the first place to offend. Never. That’s just one example. There are other cultural differences that I couldn’t quite reconcile with the way I knew the world to work, so I was worried.

But then I visited Hiroshima. If you ever get the chance to visit the memorial, I highly recommend it. They’ve got English translations for everything. If you’re studying Japanese, like most of my study abroad group was, it’s a great opportunity to practice reading and listening skills. My heart broke from reading all the stories. I felt awful being an American at the sight of where my forefathers killed so many people. I’m well aware that Japan bombed Japan first, but that doesn’t change the fact that Hiroshima and Nagasaki are tragedies that must be prevented from happening again.

Hiroshima Memorial

Hiroshima Memorial

After that visit, I decided for sure that I wanted to come back and teach English. I wanted to be a part of an international community, a community I was already a part of but never bothered to participate. I wanted to actively engage in helping my country and Japan understand each other. It’s my hope that through understanding we lose fear of the unknown, and with that we can move one step closer to acceptance. Not tolerance, but full on acceptance of others different from us.

In the end, we’re all human.

Answering the second question, when the March 11th earthquake happened I wanted to go back. I felt that Japan was like a friend that had been hurt. I don’t abandon my friends when they need my help. I go and see what I can do to make them feel better. And so, I wanted to come back to Japan and help in any way I could. It was torture waiting to hear from JET. I was trying to think of ways to go back. I had applications for Fulbright and Red Cross at the ready if I didn’t get the job.

Luckily, I did get the ALT position. I felt so relieved that I was going back. My mom wasn’t worried. She saw where my city was on the map and basically said, “Oh, yeah, you’re fine.” My family’s been pretty supportive of the whole thing. I noticed that the radiation levels around my city were minimal, and even then, I would’ve gone had the nuclear incident spawned a massive Godzilla outbreak.

I wanted to help, no matter what I didn’t, and still don’t, want to be an ally in just name only. I want to be there for the country that stole my heart so long ago in good times and bad. I don’t want to just show up when it’s convenient. I want to be there for all of it. I want to be here when the earthquakes happen (and they do, almost every day or every other day, it’s no big deal). I want to be here when the typhoons hit (although the recent combination of typhoon and earthquake was terrifying, I wont lie). I want to be there when its boring, interesting, exciting, awful, miserable, great, amazing, just okay, and all the rest. I want to be there for Japan.

Now, I am living the dream! I want to continue to be a friend to Japan and to the people of Japan. I want to help those who want to understand my culture, and I want to learn about Japanese culture very much. Although I am a teacher, I still want to learn. I take any opportunity I can to have a cultural exchange, even though the language issues still pop up.

I am afraid sometimes, but not of radiation or earthquakes. I’m afraid that I’ll mess up and get sent back home. I’m afraid that one day I’ll wake up and it had all just been some weird dream. Losing this job would be my worst nightmare. I was homesick for a moment, but I don’t want to go back. Not really, not when there’s still so much to do. I try not to let the fear control me, because I want to be strong.

TTYL!