Category: Daily Life


Returning and Finding a Job

As I sit here this Thanksgiving Eve in America, I have a lot to be thankful for. Earlier this year I decided to not renew my contract on the JET Program and come home in July. I had 3 great years in Japan teaching English, and while staying there permanently might be for some people, I knew after a couple years that it wasn’t for me.

Before moving to Japan I spent 6 years studying Japanese and Japanese culture. I even got my B.A. in East Asian Languages and Cultures. From the moment I fell in love with the language I knew I had to live in Japan someday. I couldn’t afford to study abroad, but after the long application process I was lucky enough to be one of the people at Tokyo Orientation in 2011.

During my three years in Japan I spent most of my time teaching, thinking about teaching, or making teaching materials. I had to overcome a lot of challenges at first just to do my job, then do my job well, and then finally I was able to enjoy it. I also spent a lot of time studying Japanese, sacrificing my Saturday mornings to study with a tutor. After a couple years of study I was able to pass the JLPT N2 level. I wouldn’t say I’m great at Japanese, but I can definitely hold a conversation and read a document, more than I could have done right out of college.

The JET Program was a great experience, but coming back to the U.S. I was pretty worried about my job prospects. The economy hasn’t been that great, and even before the recession it was difficult to find a job with a B.A. in Japanese. I really wished I had paired my language skills with something practical, like business or computer science. So I was really surprised to find out that I was employable in the U.S. after coming back. People who can speak Japanese and are willing to learn some new skills are in demand, at least here in the Chicago area. I had three interviews with Japanese companies, and one job offer, which I happily accepted. I had been told so many times how difficult it was to get a good job with just a language degree, that I had psyched myself into thinking it would never happen. Now every day I get to use Japanese and English. I even help my Japanese coworkers adjust to living in a foreign country, something that I am extremely familiar with!

My current job is probably just one of many as I create my career, but for now I am very thankful for it and my coworkers.

Playing a game in elementary school.

Playing a game in elementary school.

English Boards!

Well it’s been a crazy year since I came to Japan. Thanks to all my friends here and abroad and my family who helped me through the heartbreak that came in December. I want to start posting pictures and stories about my travels since my last post, but today I thought I would put up a light post about my English boards at school. I didn’t have a way to print anything on a computer until March, so hopefully you can see the quality improvement as time goes on.

August: My first board about Summer!

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September:

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October:

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November/December:

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February:

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March:

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Right now I’m trying a new approach of tying my English board into the class material for each grade, so maybe in a few more weeks I can post a picture of my final product.

Hope you enjoyed! Thanks for reading.

Kristen

School Life

Well, school started on August 29th and since then I’ve inevitably fallen into the work, eat, sleep, repeat pattern that many of you are familiar with. There’s not a lot of time to do fun exciting things like climb Mt. Fuji anymore. But, I guess my school life is exciting enough by itself. Here’s a typical day for me:

After the usual morning stuff, I run out the door and jump on my bike. It’s about 10-20 minutes to my school depending where I’m going on a particular day. After I get to school, I get ready for my classes by printing worksheets, cutting/drawing materials, and finalizing lesson plans at the last minute. At my junior high, I mostly go to class, read from the textbook, and help with the communication activites by bringing a game/worksheet that involves that day’s grammar point. At the elementary schools, I’m responsible for the entire lesson. I usually have 4 classes a day, sometimes 5, which always leaves my throat dry from yelling things like “please listen!” “sit down!” and “stand up!”

And then there’s lunch time! Lunch is always interesting. Instead of the students going to a cafeteria, the students bring the food to each classroom and the kids turn their classroom into a mini cafeteria. Eight to ten people serve the food to the classmates, all of the desks are moved, and then we eat! Usually there is a pickled salad, rice, soup, and something to go with it, like meat, or bread, or both. I never look at the menu so I’m always surprised! I have to eat with chopsticks, which is easy with certain things and difficult with others. Also, the kids are encouraged to communicate with me the entire time. Sometimes I don’t get to eat much because I’m answering questions the whole lunch time. Other times (esp. at the junior high) the kids pretend I don’t exist so they don’t have to talk to me in English.

When the kids get done eating something amazing happens. Everyone in the school works together to clean! The floors are swept and scrubbed, chalkboards erased and washed, and the kids are doing it! I don’t think American schools realize they have an army of cleaning machines inside the classrooms. Unfortunately they’re not very thorough, and there are parts of the school that probably never get cleaned. Oh well.

After lunch I usually have 1 more class and then I’m finished. In my free time I either make lesson plans, or make more materials, or study Japanese, or sometimes I write letters. On my elementary days I stay after school to talk to the teachers about next week’s lesson plan so they know what is going on.

The best parts of my days are when I get to talk to the students or play with them or see them acting silly. The elementary kids are absolutely adorable and some of the junior high kids still have a little spunk in them leftover from elementary.

Then I go home. Thanks for reading!

-Kristen

Gunma Orientation

Sorry for the late post. This one is way overdue!

So about two weeks ago all of the new ALTs in Gunma Prefecture converged on the Kencho Building for two days to learn all they could about what it was to be an Assistant Language Teacher.

Day One, we heard presentations about our contract, insurance, and other important things. But most interestingly, we were vistited by Gunma-chan, the mascot of Gunma!

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Gunma-chan is a pony by the way. He was so cute! Lol.

Then day two we heard some more presentations, like what working in a Junior High School will be like, communicating with our Japanese Teacher of English, and we even practiced games that we can play with the kids! Then we split up into groups to practice Japanese. I went to the Intermediate group and we learned about different strategies to study. Then the whole room played rock, paper, scissors (janken) until I was the supreme ultimate winner! I got a huge manga called “Nana” that probably some of you have heard of, read, or even seen the movie of. I can’t wait to read it! Good Japanese practice.

Then we had culture workshops. I chose to go to Koto, Karate, and Shodo. This was probably the best part of the orientation!

Koto was so amazing. The front part of the room filled up with koto players and they played 3 songs for us. So beautiful!

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Then, the players taught us how to play a simple song, and the ALTs put on a concert!

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I played in the concert. It was fun, and I wouldn’t mind trying it again.

Next, I went to the karate section. Let me tell you, the karate sensei was amazing.

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Then, I went to Shodo, which is calligraphy. I got to draw my name in katakana with a brush and ink. Fun!

Finally, the orientation had to end. But I met lots of great people, went to karaoke, and learned a lot about teaching and living in Japan. A good two days!

Next: Sunrise on Mt. Fuji

Thanks for reading!

New Travel Blog

Welcome to my new travel blog!

I arrived in Japan on July 24th, 2011.

Here’s a picture of the view from my hotel room during Tokyo Orientation:

It was cloudy that day, but sometimes you could see Mt. Fuji from the hotel room!

After 3 nights and 2.5 days in the hotel, learning amazing stuffs about being an ALT and living in Japan, we were bussed off again, this time to the capital city of our new prefecture, Maebashi, Gunma!

In Maebashi we met our new supervisor at our contracting organization (i.e. the BOSS). Luckily, my boss is super cool and nice, and speaks English! Then we had to say goodbye to all our new friends as they were swept away to their new homes all over Gunma. My home just happens to be in the capital city, Maebashi, so no more traveling for me.

That same day, I signed up for my Alien Registration Card, got a bank account, and met my predecessor. She was very nice and accommodating the first week I was there when we shared the apartment.

Time just sort of flew by for a while, as I was meeting new people, exploring Maebashi, eating Japanese food, and getting new things for the apartment.

Just last week I had my first day of work, after I was formally introduced to my schools. I have three schools: One junior high and two elementary schools. My base school is the junior high. It’s only a 15 minute bike ride from my house, depending on traffic.

Right now, school isn’t in session for kids at my junior high, but that doesn’t mean that the school is deserted! Every day kids come to school to practice soccer, band, soft tennis, basketball, and volleyball. It also doesn’t hurt that school is right by the city pool, so when practice is over the kids can cool off.

This time of year the weather is very hot with a lot of humidity… hey that sounds like Illinois! It’s pretty much the same. I’ve even heard that Gunma might by the hottest prefecture in the country.

For now, I’m off to ride my bike all over Maebashi. I’ll write more later about my adventures using the train, going to a summer festival, and anything else that happened over the weekend. Please leave me some feedback!

-Kristen