A Day in the Life of…Me!

Wake-up Time

~6:30 a.m.

For anyone who knows me well, you know that this is nearly torture!  I’m so NOT a morning person, and I so AM a night-owl.  Thankfully, the whole jetlag thing helps me a bit after I visit home, but it’s an ongoing battle as I struggle to get myself to sleep early enough to be able to drag myself out of bed early enough.


Departure/Morning Commute

7:30 a.m.

Higashihara
view from my new apartment in Higashihara

It takes about forty-five minutes for me to get to school now, which is a vast improvement over my old apartment!  These days, I walk about 10 minutes to the Astram Line and ride from Nishihara to Hondori, where I switch to a bus and ride it to a stop about 3 minutes’ walk from my school.  But until February 2017, this was my daily trek:  First, I walked about 22 minutes from my apartment to Hiroden Miyajimaguchi Station.  Then it was about 40 minutes to Nishikanonmachi Station.  After that, it took about 17 minutes to walk to my base school, Hiroshima Kannon High School.  At least I got a lot of exercise in, right?  Woot, 2.8 km walked on the way to school!

Purple Fukumen
view from my old apartment in Hatsukaichi #nofilter

Arrival/A Note on Greetings

8:15 a.m.

「おはようございます」s all around:  everyone greets everyone else, loudly and cheerfully.  It’s kind of a thing here in general, but it’s particularly a part of Kannon HS’s culture.  The school’s motto includes notes on dress, greetings, and timeliness (which is actually pretty common among Japanese high schools).  When I first started, I decided that I’d try to sort out greeting the teachers in Japanese and the students in English.  Usually it works, but every once in a while I’m fooled by the similarity of the boy’s uniforms and many of the male teacher’s suits, or my brain just can’t keep up with keeping the greetings separated.  And a few teachers greet me in English, so I usually respond in kind (though if I beat them to the punch, I usually do it in Japanese).  Greetings are a throughout-the-day thing, too.  It’s not just a “good morning” and then that’s it:  when you see someone in the hallway or around campus, you greet them, particularly teachers and older club members.  So it’s a resounding volley of “Ohayō gozaimasu” in the morning (literally, “it’s early”) and “konnichiwa” for late morning and afternoon.  I can also mix it up with the teachers and throw in an “otsukare sama desu”:  basically, good work, but literally “You must be tired [from working so hard].”

One of the cutest things yet at school is the poor soccer club first-years at the beginning of the school year.  It’s particularly important for the club members to greet the older members of their clubs, and our soccer team is very large (and very good!), so of course it’s difficult for the newbies to recognize everyone that they have to greet.  Occasionally they get told off by people they didn’t recognize…

For the first year+, when I made it to school early enough and didn’t get distracted by work that needed to be done, I tried to show my face at the morning teacher meeting.  All the teachers come together for about 5 minutes every morning to make sure everyone’s on the same page.  I usually can’t catch much of what’s going on, but it seems like it’s generally taking care of business:  what’s on the schedule (class-wise and extra-curricular), if a student’s injured and needs to use the elevator, club updates (like when the girls’ basketball team won the Chūgoku Area tournament and got to go to Tokyo to play in the national championships!), etc.  I’m not technically required to go (it’s before my contract-day starts), and I usually can’t get a whole lot out of it, but it was one time when I was in the same place as all the other teachers, so it was something I tried to do…and then lack of sleep caught up, and then it was easy to just skip it because it became a habit.


Contract Day

8:30 a.m.-4:15 p.m.

Classes last 50 minutes and there are 6 or 7 in a day, depending on the day.  I’ve been averaging about 3 classes per day.  But since that’s an average, that means sometimes I have none, or one, or (infrequently) six.  Technically I’m not allowed to teach more than 6 classes in one day, nor more than 21 classes in a week.  For the first school year, I taught first-year English Expressions, second-year English Communication, and a few periods of second-year General English and a third-year elective class.  In my second year, I taught first-year English Expressions, second-year English Communication, third-year English Expressions, and a third-year reading class (they read O. Henry and I provided background information and some supplementary writing/speaking activities).  In my third year, I taught first-year English Expressions, second-year English Communication, third-year English Expressions, and a third-year elective class that turned into an expressions and listening course, and I occasionally popped into a second-year elective course to do various things.

I have about 720 students at Kannon HS.  For the most part, I find out what the head-teachers want to focus on for each grade-level’s team-teaching lesson, then plan a class around that.  Sometimes I can be creative and get the students engaged; sometimes I’m given 20 minutes to teach writing a 5-sentence paragraph using ordinal sequential transitional phrases and unfortunately my creative juices dry up.  Finalized lessons are subject to the approval of the grade-level head-teacher(s), and I have been told anything from, “It looks perfect!” to “No, that’s not it.”

ItsuKou's view
part of the view from Itsukaichi HS

On Tuesdays when classes are in session, I go to Itsukaichi High School and teach three classes of first-year English Expressions.  In total, I taught 120 students there last year, alternating between two sets of three classes each with 20 students.

Teijisei
teaching a class at the part-time school

 

 

Occasionally, the English teacher at the Kannon Part-Time School (Teijisei or so-called “Night School,” though this one actually only meets in the morning) asks me to come for a class.  It always feels a little odd because he does all of the planning and prep, so I just kind of show up and hope I can follow along with what’s going on…  But it’s fun.  It’s a very different environment from my “day schools”:  out of a class of 30, it’s apparently not unusual for only 15 or so to show up on any given day.  Some students blatantly sleep or use their phones during the class.  At my other schools, students aren’t allowed to bring their phones (though of course some sneak them anyway), and they generally at least pretend to be awake.  But it’s fun to see another side of education here, and the students generally seem less inhibited, so while their English level is generally lower, some of them are more willing to actually try using it in normal conversations.

Lunch Break!  Lunch Break!

My lunch break is from 12:40-1:25, though I’m often finishing my class at the beginning (sorry, kiddoes!) and setting up for the next class at the end.  Usually I pack my own lunch (*sigh* I’ll never get good at packing real bento lunches…), though when I first arrived I bought something from the convenience store almost every day and when I’m super busy I revert to that.  Starting with my second school year, I tried to eat lunch in the school cafeteria at least once a week in an attempt to get students to talk with me outside of class.  Unfortunately, not much deep interaction has happened, but I’ve gotten lots of hearty hellos and slopped quite a bit of ramen broth down my front (the cafeteria’s food is surprisingly tasty!!).  One time a couple of my boys tried to ask me for directions (to a place they definitely know how to get to), but I didn’t know where the chemistry room is, so that kind of flopped…oops.  But I invited my English Club 2nd-year girls to come eat with me a few times, and that was much nicer!  And I had a few third-year girls partway through my second year who would come almost every week.  And one of my co-teachers told me that some of her students remarked on how brave I was to eat alone in the cafeteria, so hopefully some of them will be brave, too!  As my last trimester here starts, I’m hoping to implement some changes to help the ALT and students interact more (hopefully it’ll help my replacement when s/he comes, plus it’ll be a nice way to get some closure), and I’m hoping to do an official “English lunch.”


Heading Home

???

What time I go home depends on the day and on other people’s schedules, as well as my own.  Mondays are usually English Club, while Fridays are often worship practice, so I can’t stick around school too late.  The earliest I can get home now is about 5:15 p.m.  The latest I’ve gotten home when coming from work was around 9:30 p.m.  I’ve probably averaged about 5:30 these days, though it was about 7:00 in my first and second years.  However, when classes aren’t in session (test weeks, vacations), I generally leave school much earlier!

Some of my favorite times have been when I’ve had random conversations with students as I was heading out the door.  Students often study at tables in the hallway outside the teachers’ office, where I had to go to sign in/out my first two years, so it became a habit.  A couple of times I’ve stopped to say hi to someone, or even more rarely, a student will actually stop me.  While this means returning later (particularly as we usually don’t talk on days when I’m leaving early, but those when I’m leaving late…), it’s totally worth it to have one-on-one conversations or small-group discussions with my kiddoes!


Monday Evenings:  English Club

bananagrams
this game was actually with a co-teacher, not my ESS girls

From around 4 p.m. until about 6:30 on Mondays, the English Speaking Society (ESS) meets.  Last year I started with 4 3rd-year girls, 3 2nd-year girls, and 12 1st-year girls.  After the School Festival (Culture Festival) in mid-June, the third-years “retire” from their club and focus on studying.  And this past year most of the girls were also in another club, so I’m not 100% sure how many kiddoes were still in the club at the end of the year…I guess I’ll see when the new year starts?  Overall, they really seem to like watching movies in English with Japanese subtitles.  But while I understand that’s fun, I’d like to get them more actively engaging in using English with each other and with me.  Sometimes we’ll play an English language version of “The Game of Life” or a modified team Scrabble using Bananagrams tiles, which they seem to enjoy, but the Bananagrams game is definitely a challenge for them!


When I’m Home

Bianca and pb
pb bananas and pb & Oreos with Bianca, an ALT  who lived in my first apartment building

By the time I finally get home, I usually make a quick dinner, run some laundry if I’m home early enough and it’s not pouring or typhoon-ing, and sit down in front of a Korean drama to relax while I eat.  Then I do dishes…or not…and fall into bed and get ready to start it all over.  Since moving, I’ve been enjoying hanging out with my roommate, which has resulted in going home earlier and going to bed later.  I’ve also cut back my drama-watching, in part bc I don’t usually watch and eat anymore, since I have a real-life dinner partner.  I’ve also been trying to make more time to hang out with friends I’ve made in Hiroshima, so I’ve gone out or “partied” in (yep…baking time!) with ALT friends, friends from church, a few co-teachers, host families, and a couple of students who’ve graduated.

 

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365!

Today’s the day:  I’ve been a “resident alien” in Japan for one year!  Funny how it took moving to another country for it to be recognized that I’m not of this world.  I’ve learned and experienced a lot over that time, but it all comes back to basics; among them are these:  God is my rock and can always be trusted, even when he’s moving in unexpected and inscrutable ways.  People want to be accepted and valued, and we all have uncertainties.  Fake it ‘til you make it:  when I let fear rule me, I miss out; when I’m brave (or pretend to be), I may still be uncomfortable, but at least I’ll experience more!  Smiles, like music, are an international language.  Kids will be kids, from sleeping in class to repeatedly bashing their buddies over the head with their megaphones during the baseball club’s tournament.

I’m excited for my second year to begin.  Though the new school-year started back in April and the bulk of the school changes happened then (new students, teacher transfers, new schedule), there are new ALTs arriving soon and I look forward to meeting them.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting to know my co-teachers better during the first few days of summer vacation when we have no classes but still come to school full-day.  And I’m looking forward to hopefully becoming more involved with the sports clubs during this time, too.  Most students also come to school at least a few times for club activities, and the sports teams have daily practices, while the third-year students are doing their entrance exam studying in earnest.  There are also optional summer classes in session at various times, but I’m not on the schedule to teach any of those.

Lots of things haven’t turned out how I expected, but that’s not all bad.  I haven’t studied ikebana (flower-arranging) or koto (a traditional Japanese zither) as I was kind of hoping to.  But I have become a part of the worship team at my bilingual church.  And I am part of the English Speaking Society (ESS Club) at my high school, and I meet semi-regularly with the current club president to practice reading, pronunciation, and vocabulary.  Also, I learned the basics of the Korean alphabet (Hangeul), and hope to work some more with it and with basic vocab and grammar during vacation.  In the realm of my third language, I feel like I have worlds to go to get even basic Japanese, but maybe the fact that I realize how little I know means that I’m learning more…  And even though I can see how deficient I still am, at least I know I’ve improved, too.  And I still have at least one more year to keep plugging away!

Besides bringing new ALTs and a modest and much-appreciated raise (sigh, student loans!!), the new contract-year also brought me some unexpected household items!  Though I’m sad to see the only fellow Midwesterner in my prefecture from my JET-year go, I’m happy that she has a snazzy-sounding job, and I am so grateful to be able to use her convection microwave, food processor, blender, iron, and mixer!  Can you believe that I survived for a year without those things?  I did have a somewhat functional microwave for about 10 months, but since the turntable didn’t work, stuff came out with hot spots and cold spots, and it conked out about a month ago.  But I’m so psyched to have an oven!!  To be baking again, fully baking again!  (Yep, Beauty and the Beast, I went there!)  But in the meantime, I occasionally used a simple yet tasty rice cooker cake recipe!

While I miss my friends and family, at times terribly so, I am making amazing friends, occasionally hanging out with my Japanese families, and creating wonderful memories from awesome experiences.  But I’m also looking forward to seeing people stateside around December 20-January 1.

Year two, here I come!  二年目も、頑張りましょう!

I know it’s late, but I’m finally taking the leap…

Ages ago I informed people that I’d be setting up a blog to keep people in the loop about my time in Japan.  And I was quite prompt in creating the blog:  I got it all ready before I left the states…and then never actually used it!  So I apologize to those of you who have been waiting, and I promise I’ll try to do better in filling you in on what I’ve done so far and on what I’m currently doing.

Aboard the ferry to Okunoshima

Aboard the ferry to Okunoshima

So…about as current as it gets is yesterday’s trip to Okunoshima  (大久野島), affectionately referred to as “Rabbit Island.”  I was able to meet up with a new Hiroshima ALT and travel from Hiroshima Station to the island with her.  It was great to meet her, and a nice daytrip, though we were both exhausted by the time we made it back to the city.

Tadanoumi Station, Gateway to Rabbit Island
Tadanoumi Station, Gateway to Rabbit Island

 

Though Okunoshima’s main selling point seems to be its many partially-tame feral rabbits, it also has a darker history.  From 1929 until the end of World War II, Okunoshima was home to the  Secondary Tokyo Military Arsenal’s Tadanoumi production facility for poison gases.  The island’s poison gas museum gives a pictorial and verbal account of the poisons produced and some of the effects they had–and still have–on the workers.  (Though the bulk of the details were written only in Japanese, so I wasn’t able to understand most of the labels.)

 

Holding facility for poison gas with a lot of names carved into the walls
Holding facility for poison gas with a lot of names carved into the walls

Differing stories account for the presence of the rabbits on the island:  some sources say they were used for experiments at the production facility and were set free when the U.S. military closed it in 1945; others claim that school children visiting the island set them loose or accidentally lost them.

This was the first bunny I saw upon alighting from the ferry.  :)
This was the first bunny I saw upon alighting from the ferry.

 

Regardless, they provide a refreshing break from the dilapidated reminders of the harsh realities of the cruelties humans sometimes inflict on one another.

If you want to see more photos from the trip, check out my album on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jessbcuzrose/media_set?set=a.10206872283269044.1073741844.1335941223&type=3

The JET ALT adventures of a small-town Midwest girl.