今週の漢字: 会(う)

Last weekend, I attended the optional pre-departure orientation that was held at The Nippon Club hosted by the JET Alumni Association NY chapter in conjunction with the Consulate General of Japan in New York. It went very well, and my energy was drained by the end of the day. I found most of the orientation to be very helpful. However, I went more to meet my fellow JET peers leaving from NYC. The most frequently used phrase in the workshops was “Every Situation Is Different,” or ESID. There was too much narrow information, which only really helped those who were going to the locations described by the workshop leaders. Plus, for me, I already got a lot of information that I was searching earlier from my predecessor.

I met a lot of fascinating people. There were some who recently graduated from college, but there were also a good number of people who are not fresh out of college. Everyone I met seemed rather lively and energetic, which really comforted me. I tend to have lots of child-like energy hence my continued love for playgrounds and the like. I don’t think this is really child-like energy, but that’s what people tell me. So what if I love Winnie the Pooh, video games (although I’ve been lacking a bit lately), and playgrounds?? I didn’t meet anyone else who liked good ol’ Pooh bear, but I did meet a handful of gamers. It’s funny because a lot of them didn’t mention games until they were drinking alcohol… Interesting, I thought. Anyway, the organizers arranged the seating chart so that those who are placed in the same region of Japan sat together. It’s interesting to note the variety of careers. There were many who majored in Asian studies, but I found that there were some concentrations that I just wouldn’t have expected like computer programming and engineering. If I was asked multiple times in my interview how my passion of theatre arts would complement the JET Program, I can only imagine the interviewers asking some of these people that question every minute. If I were an interviewer, I would be interested as to why a computer programmer wants to assist in teaching English. Now, if the JET program was to teach students to speak in a bizarre abstract language using only numbers specifically 0’s and 1’s, then 011100000011000000…

There were a few workshops, which were more like lectures, held throughout the day. For the first time slot, each attendee went to their designated “JET job skills” workshop, which was CIR, Senior High, or Elementary and Junior High. Of course I attended the one for teaching senior high school. The second time slot was titled “Life as a JET” workshop. Similar to the first time slot, we were split up: suburban, rural, or urban JETs. When I found out my placement, I thought Mito-cho was rural, but apparently it’s suburban as that was the workshop I was assigned to attend.

After the workshops, there was a cross-cultural activity, which I found mildly entertaining but very informative. The format of the activity was a discussion with our table moderated by a JET alum related to a series of role-playing scenarios. I will respond specifically to each in the coming weeks, but for this week, I want to present thoughts on bullying, or いじめ.

The particular scenario presented was supposedly taken from a real incident. There are a few students bullying a classmate, and a JET witnesses the event later requesting that the supervisor does something about it. After a few weeks, the student that was bullied no longer goes to school. I was a bit surprised it could go that far, but having learned about the differences between individualistic cultures like America and collectivistic cultures like Japan, I can see why it resulted in that manner.

An interesting point presented by a man who grew up in Japan was that the homeroom teacher is very important and highly respected. The importance is so great that if a student got in trouble with the law oftentimes it is the homeroom teacher who is contacted first. Therefore, he suggested that if anyone witnessed bullying amongst students, the person should report it to the homeroom teacher. However, I was thinking if that really is the best action. If it was a severe case of bullying, then I think it would be best to bring the situation up with the homeroom teacher. How about if it has not gotten out of hand yet?? I think it would be best to try to create a diversion. An idea that was suggested by the JET alum is to befriend the one being bullied since foreigners in Japan tend to be regarded with star status. Then maybe the bullies would turn around and really focus on the good and/or common aspects of the bullied student. An idea I presented to the table was the tactic of going up to the students and asking questions about their day or something about pop culture. Basically, I am thinking about starting a conversation with them to divert their attention and maybe also draw upon what they have in common. What do you think?? Any ideas??

Stay tuned next week for a look into the common pre-departure stresses for new JETs and thoughts on the cultural differences of a vertical versus horizontal society!

今週の写真: Here are two pictures of the “JET job skills” workshop from the optional orientation. The first picture is a shot from the back of the room showing the workshop leaders in the front, while the second picture is a shot of the attendees from the front of the room. Isn’t it so easy to spot me??

Source: JET Alumni Association, NY Chapter's "New JET Orientation 2007" flickr page

今週の漢字: 海岸

I got my placement, and I’m placed in the town of Mito. I was very shocked when I saw a message from my predecessor. I contacted her back and we’ve been sending many e-mails to each other. She gave me a great deal of information on the town and the school. I hope she’s not too annoyed with my flood of questions, although I don't think I asked too many. Do you think 20 questions is a lot?? I imagine there are people who ask lots more. I have been interested in the more practical and living information.

So, Mito is a suburban town. I did a comparison between my town in New Jersey and Mito. Here’s what I discovered:

My town
Area: 13.5 km2
Population: 13,806 (as of 2000)
Density: 1,156.3 per km2

Area: 18.73 km2
Population: 13,504 (as of 2003)
Density: 720.98 per km2

Mito isn’t the most rural location, but it is relatively the most rural for me. There are rice paddies and as you might be able to tell from last week’s picture, there is also a mountain. The town is right by the coast, hence the kanji of the week. It seems like a very beautiful place filled with a rich cultural history. It is very exciting to finally know exactly where I’m placed. There is no public transportation to travel within the town, but there is a train station. The town is a stop on the rails that connect Osaka and Tokyo. I am about an hour and ten minutes from Nagoya by train at a price of about $15 (USD) round-trip. Traveling to Tokyo is another story… I’ll just say the fastest way: Under 2 hours by bullet train at a one-way price of a little over $80 (USD). I’m sure I’ll travel a few times to Tokyo each year, but many times to Nagoya.

As for my commute to school from my apartment, my predecessor says it’s about 15 minutes by bike and about an hour on foot. For those of you that know me, the problem is that I can’t ride a bike… yet. I figure this is a great time for me to learn. I’ve tried several times in the past, but my coordination was extremely poor at those times. I had a knack for somehow falling off the bike usually I fell right as the bike fell left. Some people ask me how I fall… I don’t know how to answer that as I don’t know myself. It just seemed very natural. I can see myself riding to the school and falling a lot. All my colleagues will stop to ask me if I’m okay, and they will pass me after I reassure them of my safety (at least for that moment). Of course nothing will really hurt me except my natural talent of clumsiness like riding into any obstacle even though I can see it from a kilometer away.

Anyway, enough of my embarrassing abilities (or lack of), I’ll be teaching the high school. There are roughly 500 students in three grade levels, as that is the high school system. Each grade is broken down into four classes. I was informed that I’ll be teaching almost every student at least once a week. First years focus on oral communication. Second years focus on listening comprehension. Logically, third years focus on writing. There shouldn’t be any discipline in this school, but many students are really shy and are plagued with boredom. I can understand this as I can relate, which is why sometimes people are surprised with my passion for theatre arts. After some time, I was cured of the plague and came out of my shell more. I hope that I would be able to find the activities and teaching styles that work best. I understand that learning a language can be daunting, exhilarating, or a bit of both. I hope I can make my students comfortable with learning and speaking English. Conversely, I really want to continue to learn Japanese so that I can have a deeper connection with my students, colleagues, and the town. Of course this is in no way influenced by hoping to understand anime, manga, Jpop, and Jrock more. Okay, I lied, but I truly want to make this an enriching experience for everyone. Just six weeks away… =)

Stay tuned next week for a look into the optional orientation I attended for New York based JETs and thoughts on the cultural differences of bullying!

今週の写真: Here’s a picture of our adorable Siamese cat, Cookie.


今週の漢字: 言語

It is amazing that there are so many different cultures in the world. Communication is such an important part of society especially vocal communication that there is no wonder as to why each culture has its own distinct language. I find it fascinating to look at the evolution of languages. For example, there is the evolution from Latin to the romance languages. A friend once pointed out similarities between English and Chinese whereas Japanese and Korean are sort of reversed. Of course for someone who learned Japanese and/or Korean first, it would be English and Chinese that seems to be reversed. Maybe my friend was wrong or maybe my memory is wrong, but oftentimes it’s all about perspective, right?? I mean how one views something comes from past experiences.

I hope I am able to help with the English teaching and really find ways for the students to learn effectively. I am very excited, but I also have some anxiety as I don’t want to be a bad teacher. I want to be able to build a mentor relationship with my students and have a good rapport with the teaching staff.

I recently heard from my predecessor and found out where I’ll be going. I’m cutting my blog short, for next week I’ll post an extra long post.

Stay tuned next week for a continuation of my preliminary thoughts on teaching and specific placement information!

今週の写真: In light of this new information this week, here’s a picture of the town.

Source: http://town.mito.aichi.jp/sight/page/mnt_mito/mount_03.htm


今週の漢字: 電子

I have read about the superior technology in Japan. It’s amazing how many electronics have been improved or invented by Japanese companies—cars, cell phones, TVs, computer products, and so much more. One market that Japanese companies dominate is video games. Sony and Nintendo have consistently pushed video gaming to new levels.

I love video games especially RPGs like Final Fantasy, hence FF663. I find the differences between the Japanese and American video gaming markets amusing. I noticed that there are more video gaming titles in Japan than in America. I can understand why American companies don’t license adult sexually oriented games, but I find it interesting that they also don’t bring over dating games. With The Sims having been a hit, I thought American companies might want to expand Americans’ horizons.

With the rise of anime and awareness of Japanese culture in America, it only makes sense for more video games distributed in the U.S. that were originally released in Japan; within the past few years, there have been a significant increase in video games based on anime series as well as popular games in Japan that haven’t been brought over. Dragon Quest, I’m looking at you! All this talk of video games reminds me to get back to Final Fantasy XII. I hope I can get the Nintendo Wii soon so that I can play the newest Legend of Zelda and all the highly anticipated games due out in the next few months.

After my acceptance into the JET program, I had other errands to run. Along with my acceptance letter, I received many other slips of paper. I needed to send back a reply form with my contact information and two passport photos. I also needed to get my fingerprints done and submit it to the FBI so they can process my Criminal History Record. Let’s hope my sleepwalking doesn’t come back to haunt me! Well, don’t worry, I don’t sleepwalk. I was fully aware of all my bad actions… Anyway, I also needed to get a health form filled out by a doctor noting for any of the usual bad things like tuberculosis, diseases, lack of a soul…

At first everything was going well. I made an appointment for three days past my receiving the form with a doctor in Miami who takes Oxford (as United Healthcare), and easily got my health form filled out. He was an interesting doctor. As he was filling out the form, he said, “You don’t need an x-ray. This form looks like it’s just for technical b.s.” The following day, I went to a police station to get my fingerprinting done. It was fast, good, and cheap. Too bad services usually aren’t so excellent. Immediately, I drove to an UPS Store to get my two passport photos, a form notarized, and mail my documents through certified mail. At the end of the day, I happily went back to my apartment with confirmation numbers in hand so I can check the status of my deliveries.

Fast forward to two weeks later and I notice that my envelope to the Consulate General of Japan in New York had not yet arrived whereas the delivery to the FBI was confirmed. I called the UPS Store, and they had no idea where it could be. I e-mailed the consulate, and I was told to fax the form. Also, I informed them that if they didn’t receive it by the deadline, I would send another copy express. So to quickly finish this story, another day of passport photos and shipping out another copy with FedEx priority overnight ended up giving the consulate two copies because the day when my FedEx envelope arrived, my original one also arrived. This isn’t exactly UPS’ fault, but I wish there was a better confirmation system with certified mail. I guess that’s the trick. One would have to pay more money for that. Ah, the beauty of Capitalism.

Stay tuned next week for thoughts on languages and preliminary thoughts on teaching as a JET!

今週の写真: Here’s a test with my camera. It’s a picture of what I received in the mail included with my placement notification from the consulate: The JET Programme: General Information Handbook and Japanese for JETs.