(Friday) Thoughts from Places: Flashback to a Year in France

Today I was overwhelmed by memories of Strasbourg.

Summer.

Hot sticky sweltering summer nights spent rolling wineglasses on uneven picnic benches under la Guinguette’s magnificent willow tree strung up with fairy lights and dwarfing all the internationalities who sipped wine and chugged beer and discussed French literature and dared each other to dance with the hot stranger over there, all to the strange wails and guitars of live foreign bands, all by the banks of the Loire.

The greying old man with deep laughter wrinkles smiles warmly at you and begins to sing as he whips up your daily crepe, lathering generous spoonfuls of Nutella and sliced banana onto the crisp, lacy crust and handing it to you, hot and fresh and sweet, with a final hum as you slide two new coins across the glass countertop.

In the lofty white stone halls of the castle-school that you liked to pretend was marble, under brassy chandeliers and around the corner from your gold-embossed classroom with creaking wooden floors, you sit playing chess with Bridget, glass pawns fighting and flickering in the sunlight that pours through the French windows with peeling white paint as your classmates on the balcony call out to friends—in English, in French, in Italian—in the courtyard below.

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(Thursday) Weekly Challenge: Incomplete

I didn’t complete my intended challenge this week. I debated whether or not to post this admittance of defeat, but I figured that it would be worse to not write anything at all.

Instead, I will leave you with a quick moment from today that made me so very happy.

This morning, I was printing worksheets for a later lesson when a 3rd year student approached my desk. This particular student is extremely motivated in English, and over the past year and a half, he has improved dramatically. He’s also one of the students I know the best, as he often asks to chat after school (he usually drags his friends along, too). When I first arrived in Japan, our conversations were slow and halting as he would pull out his cell phone again and again to look up new words. Lately, however, as we’ve been practicing for his upcoming EIKEN interview test, I’ve noticed how much easier it is for him to express his thoughts in English.

Anyways, this morning he asked me (in near-perfect English) if we could reschedule one of his EIKEN practices, which was easy to do. I also asked him about his driving lessons (he’s a 3rd grader, so classes ended for him in January and in the interim before graduation, he’s going to driving school like many 3rd graders) and he informed me, with a guilty smile, that driving is very difficult for him.

My supervisor overheard our conversation and she was genuinely shocked. She hasn’t taught this particular student for the past 2 years, so she hasn’t heard him speak English recently. She jumped up and praised the him for speaking English so naturally. He was embarrassed, but she continued to compliment him, because his speaking is so markedly improved. Her voice was loud enough to draw the attention of basically all the teachers  around us, and the student received many proud smiles from everyone for his hard work.

Learning a language is a long, slow process, and acquisition usually happens so gradually that the people around you don’t always notice. Therefore, it made me so happy to witness the recognition of this student’s effort. And although he was definitely embarrassed from all the attention, I think he was proud of himself, too.

(Wednesday) Photo of the Week: Postcards from the Inaka

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Postcards from the Inaka I. Yuki, Ibaraki, Japan.

This picture was taken in my town, far from any of my schools. However, glancing at this photo gives me nostalgia for every single sunset-tinted evening that I leave one of my schools, laughing and waving goodbye to students who scream “SEE YOU!”, and I walk past the basketball club girls biking home, or I drive past the sports fields where the baseball team is wrapping up practice for the day. This type of sunset-tinted evening happens quite often, and although it’s a rather mundane scene, it fills me with a renewed sense of “I love my life here.”

(Tuesday) Extracurriculars: Community Japanese Class

Community Japanese Class was the first extracurricular activity that I became involved in here in Japan, so I wanted to start with it.

Most decent-sized towns and cities here in Japan will have an International Society that holds free or cheap Japanese language classes for foreigners. My town is no exception.

However, I didn’t start attending the class until January of 2016, a full 5 months after I had arrived in the country. This is mostly because I was teaching myself to read and write hiragana and katakana during that five-month interim… I wanted to at least know the two basic alphabet systems before starting the class!

I’ve been attending the class for over a year now, so… how is it?

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(Monday) Office Life: Inside a Japanese Teacher’s Room

One of the first things to know about Japanese schools is that the Teacher’s Room is the hub of activity. Every teacher has a desk in the Teacher’s Room—even the P.E. teachers, the school librarians, and the home economics teachers, although they probably don’t need one. Even the Vice Principal has a desk there. So if a teacher isn’t teaching or managing a club activity, he or she will probably be found in the Teacher’s Room (unless he or she popped out to the bank or the local Italian restaurant for lunch, of course).

This is in contrast to at least my high school in America, which seemed to lack a designated communal office—or perhaps it had one, but I didn’t know where it was and it probably wasn’t put to very much use. Instead, every teacher had their own classroom where they worked and taught and even ate lunch. So all the teachers are a little more isolated, at least to student’s perspective.

In this post, I’ll give you a little tour around the Teacher’s Room in Japanese high schools (aka where I desk-warm during school breaks).

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(Friday) Thoughts from Places: My Predecessor’s Shadow

I knew the name of my JET predecessor months before I was even accepted to the program in April of 2015. I had read intimate details of the little city-town I now call home — even glimpsed into the apartment in which I now reside — long before I found out where, in all of Japan, I would be living.

It wasn’t due to anything paranormal: my predecessor had a blog. And I was one of her readers.

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(Thursday) Weekly Challenge: 5 Days of Homemade Lunches

The challenge: for one full work-week, Monday through Friday, bring in homemade meals to work.

Challenge Level: 2 / 5 stars. Not really so difficult.

The motivation behind this challenge: This is going to be a longer explanation than expected, because I have a lot of thoughts on the subject matter. To start, during my first few months of living in Japan, I received a lot of comments about my lunches.

Coworkers would pass by my desk, notice my pre-packaged salad and my salmon rice ball and say, “Oh, 7 bento?” which literally means, “Oh, you bought your lunch from 7/11 today?” And it’s true…maybe 3 or 4 days out of every week on average (then and still now), I pick up lunch from 7/11 or a grocery store. It’s super convenient, and the choices are always changing!

But after a few months, that comment turned sour for me, and I felt like people were actually saying, “7/11 lunch again? Really? Don’t you know how to cook?”

Oh, how I envy the Jr. High School ALTs who are provided with school lunches for a pittance.

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(Wednesday) Photo of the Week: Alone

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Hiking alone; Nikko, Tochigi (November 2016).

When I lived in France, I did a lot of things alone. I went to restaurants alone, I went to the cinema alone, I traveled alone, I slept in mixed-dorm hostels alone. Perhaps I was a little nervous about doing these things by myself, but I still went outside and did them anyway.

Whereas here in Japan, I’m not as independent as I once was. I have yet to do any of the above alone here in Japan. Part of the reason is because I have a super awesome friend J who shares many, if not all, of my interests and is always down to go on adventures with me (thanks J!). But another reason is that I lack the confidence that I had in France. My French speaking ability is miles ahead of my Japanese speaking ability, and even though English-speaking tourists can glide through Japan pretty easily, I’m wary to rely on it. It’s so much less nerve-wracking (and more fun) to do everything with a friend… especially when said friend can understand 70% more of the Japanese world around you than you yourself can.

I’ve started doing a few little things by myself, though. At the end of last year, I had a few daikyuu days (substitute holidays) that I needed to take before they evaporated.

So for the first, I popped down to Tokyo for the day to explore the Edo-Tokyo Museum and take myself out for lunch (there’s a great burger place near Shinjuku station).

For the second, I went to Nikko, Tochigi to go hiking by myself.  For the first time in my year and a half of living in Japan, I messed up the trains and took the wrong line, then had to backtrack my way to Tochigi station to catch the correct train. Embarrassing. But I made it to Nikko, then found a mountain to hike.

I swear I was the only person there. I was on the mountain for two hours and I never saw another soul. It was absolutely silent. Birdsong and sunlight. Which was peaceful, aside from the nagging fear that I was going to be eaten by a bear…

Luckily I lived to see another day. And the view from the top was worth it, even if I was alone.

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