Life In Japan 日本での生活: 6 Months Down The Road

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Foreword: I don’t mean this to be a long rant, but rather an insight into my experiences and the difficulties I have faced thus far on one of the most amazing adventures one can embark on in life, JET.

So I’ve been on this crazy roller-coaster know as the JET Program for 6 months to the day and needless to say its been a journey of epic proportions!
Honestly reflecting on my development from a personal perspective, I’ve grown more in the past 6 months than I have in the past 6 years, the person I was the day I stepped off that plane half a year ago is dead and buried. This however in no way is a bad thing, if moving to the other side of the world to a country where you scarcely speak the language on your lonesome will teach you anything it’s self-reliance. My cooking skills have sky-rocketed for feeding myself is a necessity, furthermore I’m in better shape than I have been in my entire life. Back home life was all but convenience, here if I want something I must do it myself which has made me more or less self-reliant, a perk of being a city JET is I need to ride a bike everywhere I go as opposed to relying on driving, a task I despise.

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Anyhow I’m now on the path I have been searching for all my life. I’ve discussed this in past posts but I had many issues when I arrived, being an early arrival JET I had more or less no support network as I came at a difficult period when many old ALTs were leaving, most had no time for me, nor the KEC (the Kobe board of education) the resources to properly orientate me.

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Don’t get me wrong the first 2 months in Japan I had the time of my life, it’s a period i can now nostalgically reflect upon as being a magical twilight, I was high on life, the JET handbooks tell us this is called the honeymoon phase….. It was all that and so much more, gazing out through the at window at the chilly landscape from my desk I wonder if it was even real.

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But the day came when it all came crashing down around me, as with any high, nothing lasts forever in the cold November rain.

Between my 3rd and 4th months here I fell into a deep state of depression, I took a good hard look at myself, the person I was becoming and decided a change was in order. Suddenly all I could think about was the life and people I had left behind, constantly overwhelmed by a sense of longing to return home. Almost overnight I started to notice things that I had previously found endearing about Japan to be little more than annoying and foolish.

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This sudden bout of depression hit me like a ton of bricks and couldn’t have come at a worse time….. the arrival of the new 2012 JETs! All around me were dozens of new faces still in their honeymoon phase loving life, meanwhile I was miserable for no reason I could discern. I loved my life, my job, my friends, YET I constantly found myself having to drag myself out of bed in the morning to face the day. Being around people was enough to bring me to tears, the worst part was I had no reason to be depressed yet I felt broken inside.
This was all compound by the fact that during natsuyasumi 夏休 (summer holidays) the Kobe board of education sends its 120 or so ALTs off for mandatory summer school, skill development conferences and language school! Because of this I couldn’t simply lay low for a couple weeks whilst I felt my world crumpling around me, but rather I had to put on a brave face day after day whilst I was forced to associate with the rest of the Kobe JET community. Now I won’t lie this place is pretty much highschool, with there being so few foreigners in Kobe it’s almost like living in a small town, everyone knows everyone and gossip is the commodity that’s most revered.

Regardless somehow I pulled through, I took a good hard look at myself, the person I was becoming and decided a detox was in order, overnight I stopped drinking, started exercising (even more than I already did) and radically changed my diet. I’d love to admit that this is the secret for conquering cultural shock but I would be lying….. As nice as the though may be there is no quick fix, there’s only one cure for this kind of affliction….. Time.

Anyhow on a more positive note there certainly was a light at the end of the tunnel, when did I emerge for this state….. Well I’m not entirely sure, it was around the beginning of my fifth month, but I thank god I had the support of my friends here. This certainly won’t be the case for the vast majority of JET participants but I have around 60 other ALT’s living within a 5 minute walk of my apartment, a good 10 in the building itself!!

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It wasn’t until the hecticness of the summer died down that I truly found my friendship circle and the people who would be there to help me pull through. This was when things started to shape up, after a long hibernation I emerged from my apartment a new man, keen to resume exploring all this country has to offer. I am now well on track to becoming a prominent outspoken member of the JET community here in Kobe, am enjoying my job more and more by the day and have not let the onset of winter keep me down.

At the end of the day I have landed on my feel and am really in a great place and am more or less content with life, when my recontracting forms arrived on my desk I sent them back signing up for another 20 months or so here in Kobe without a second thought, I really hope that the decision is that easy when they come around again next year.

Studying Japanese

Anyhow on to a question I am very frequently asked, ‘so how is your Japanese coming along?’ well although its certainly far from amazing every day is getting easier and easier. Now I never really bothered formally studying as I really lacked the motivation for a really long time, that said I know what am amazing opportunity it is to be living here and have the chance to learn Japanese with the plethora of resources available. Its not only that though, Japan is really a country that isn’t exactly very accommodating to those who don’t speak Japanese, seriously even in a relatively large city like Kobe you either learn or will find life very very VERY difficult! Now I naturally have a certain interest in Kanji so when i learn new words I typically look up how to write them and continue to revise until they stick in my head. And so through my natural curiosity my vocabulay has grown to the point where i know perhaps 1000 words, a couple hundred kanji…….BUT NO GRAMMAR!

受け入れ挑戦 (Challenge Accepted)

受け入れ挑戦 (Challenge Accepted)

Grammar was never my strong point in English so I have put of learning the Japanese equivalent like the plague, unfortunately with a less than basic knowledge of how to put together all the words I know I come off sounding retarded when I try to speak the language. In my mind I imagine that speaking Japanese is like building a house, although I have gathered many bricks I have no cement to bind them together and simply blurting out the (usually) appropriate words will only get you so far in conversation…….

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That all said I speak 10 times more Japanese than when I first arrived here, one thing I noticed about this years new Kobe JET’s is that I was one of 6 out of around 40 that didn’t have at least intermediary level Japanese. This often leaves me feeling very inadequate when compared to my peers, many who are Japanese majors, if anything though I have taken it as a source of motivation to step up my studying whilst I am here. In the least my goal by the end of my first year is to be able to have 80-90% fluent conversation with my shougakkou 小学校 (elementary) students, being children they can only put together more or less simple sentences so really make great conversation partners, more than that though, I have really formed a bond with many of my ES students and I hate myself when they ask me questions I cant quite grasp, since I really hate to surrender and tell them ごめんちょっとわからない ‘sorry I don’t understand’.

Work Life

Look I’m no teacher,I never was and I may very well never be. That said, I am expected to be one, as I have discussed in the past my predecessor was a woman who spoke fluent Japanese and in fact taught and developed the curriculum for the 2年生 (8th grade) JHS class without the Japanese teacher last year. What I’m getting at is I had ENORMOUS boots to fill, replacing this superstar ALT isn’t something I will be capable of any time in the near future……. but I’m getting there.

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In terms of preparing lessons they really threw me in the deep end with this one, for the first couple months I was all over the place and have no idea what I was doing, because of this my plans tended to be hit or miss. Unfortunately my chief OTE (Japanese teacher) is a first year sensei who speaks less than amazing English to the point where I’m often hesitant to speak to her without the other English teacher within earshot who can chip in to translate, as she misunderstands what I’m attempting to say most of the time which creates issues I would much rather avoid.

Generally though the English level of the teachers at the JHS level is not so bad, as I have been picking up Japanese here and there I can now even usually get my point across to the teachers who speak but a few words of it. One thing I try my best to do is help the English teachers improve on their English ability by actively trying my best to introduce new words to them on a daily basis, a favour I like them to return to me with my Japanese studies.

Now I teach at a JHS 3 days a week and 2 nearby ES on the remaining 2 days, luckily all 3 of them are within a half an hour bike ride from my house so if the weather is nice I often ride to school to get some bonus exercise in.

The only difficulties I have encountered at the elementary level would have to be in regard to the consumption of kyuushoku 給食 (school lunch) with I eat with the kids. See these meals are firstly usually disgusting (anyone who disagrees is admitting they enjoy consuming slops) but they also tend to contain 600-700 calories! That’s good and all for Japanese children with lightning fast metabolisms but 700 calories is almost as much as I eat in an entire day! Needless to say I quickly came up with techniques to subtly ‘avoid’ eating much of the food without the kids noticing but that’s a story for another post.

Otherwise I really love ES, the kids are usually still young enough to have an endless supply of energy and enthusiasm, they listen attentively, rarely refuse to participate. Basically when I’m there I feel like I am a kid again, its fun, the kids playing with me and I with them (as long as they keep their fingers out of me), shougakko will always be where my heart is at!

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My thoughts on teaching English to the Japanese, one that most ALTs tend to share is that the system really prohibits 99% of them from ever achieving real fluent conversational English, this is why the fluency level in Japan is by far the worst in all of Asia. The textbooks tackle teaching a language completely wrong, the focus is solely on exam results rather than on learning the language, often I find the textbook using unnatural clunky English that although grammatically correct hardly makes sense. However the opinion of the ALT hardly holds any swing, in fact in one brutal conversation I once had with an OTE I pointed out an error in the book, rather than accepting my correction he opened the book to the last page with the publishers details and told me to write them a letter…….. Despite the foolishness of the approach to teaching foreign language in this country, otherwise I really am quite happy at school now, its been a bumpy road much like the rest of my experiences here thus far.

If you got this far i’ll applaud you for your perseverance anyhow in the past 6 months I truly felt happy for the first time in longer than I can remember and content with the path I am taking in life, taking in to consideration the work and social aspects as well as my personal development, never forget all you need is Kobe.

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If you would like to read about my thoughts 28 days into the program you will find them here, I wrote another on experiences after 100 days located here.

Aspiring JET Program Applicants

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I recently found this in my notes folder on my iPhone, it was a list of aspirations I wrote exactly on this day 12 months ago.
This perfectly sums up the kind of ambition one must have when applying for the JET Program as it certainly is no easy road and one by one I ticked all those things off my ‘to do’ list!
Having now been working as an ALT in Kobe for over 4 months I can certainly say, although getting in was by far the hardest thing I have worked for in my entire life, it by far was worth every moment!

Moving to Japan and participating in JET has been the best decision I have ever made. Sure moving to a whole new country is never going be an easy transition and my experience thus far has certainly had its up’s and downs, however at the end of the day I am much happier here than I ever was living in Australia.

Did I get my placement? Yes absolutely, I don’t want to imply that your chances of reviving your placement request is huge. But at the end if the day I asked for Kobe and 12 months down the road here I am, loving life.

Also I urge you to tick that little box that says your willing to leave early, if I hadn’t I would never be here.
If you would like any advice or have any questions, leave me a comment.

So please if your just putting together your application for 2013-14 now let this inspire you, as nothing is impossible if you have the ambition and put in the hard yards!

-Daniel

Here To Stay (^∇^)

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Well until August 5th 2013 (^∇^)
Today I received, signed and promptly sent off my JET Program re-contracting documents. As I was an early arrival I was offered a short 3 month contract to bridge the gap and bring me in line with Group A arrivals contracts next year!

Now that I think about it, the idea of not re-contracting hadn’t even entered my mind. I certainly miss my friends and family, however honestly the only things I long for at the moment are a properly furnished apartment and a best friend here, the kind who’s thoughts run into mine!

Anyhow in short life in Kobe is awesome and it looks like I won’t be headed home anytime soon \(^o^)/

Back to School 学校に戻る(−_−;)

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So it’s becoming quite apparent that the seasons are changing and natsuyasumi 夏休 (summer holidays) is nothing more than a fleeting memory.
I intend to write a post about the onset of Aki 秋 (Autumn) in the near future, as Japan is a country that is overly enthusiastic about embracing the seasons, alas it’s not just the temperature that is subtly changing.

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This week I was thrust back into the routine of the daily grind quite rudely I might add as classes began to pick up again. Twas only a week or two ago thar I was ‘enjoying the summer’, knocking back beers and exploring Kansai on the daily. This week however I am teaching 5 days straight of 4 classes a day at both my shougakko’s and chuugakko, shit hasn’t been this hectic since I arrived in Japan!

To make matters worse all my schools are currently training for their taiikusai 体育祭 (sports festival) so what little free time I manage to muster is spent outside yelling 頑張って at the kids!

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The icing on the cake is I have been reunited with my arch nemesis…….. Kyuushoku 給食 (primary school lunch). I swear it will be the death of me!!

I know I complained about the perpetual 34degree days and the boredom of being the only staff alongside kyoto-sensei at the time, but what I would do to go back to having a chill stress-free schedule now.

To be honest its not as if the temperature has plummeted all that much in the last month, the most notable difference is that I can now sleep without and aircon on all night and just a fan instead. Furthermore I get the feeling that although the midday heat feel is all to similar to that of the summer, rather than the temperature wavering 3-4degrees at night it is actually quite cool in the mornings and evenings.

But hey at least I can ride my bike to school now without arriving looking like I just stepped out of a sauna, a look I wore well throughout the warmer months Σ( ̄。 ̄ノ)ノ

A Productive Morning at Shougakko

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Upon arriving at my shougakko today my OTE proceeded to dump a heap of texters on my desk and said Daniel today you must draw!

I think I did alrite…….

I am Shortlisted!!!

I can’t even describe what im feeling at the moment!!!!!

I just rushed home early from work, ran to post box and there was my letter from the Japanese consulate, I vigorously ripped it open and tears swelled to my eyes as I read that I had been shortlisted for the 2012 JET Program! I’d go into more detail regarding the animalistic screaming and involuntary flash-dancing that ensured, however I shall abstain from elaborating and retain some dignity.

Its been an enduring period of anticipation leading up to the results (62 days in fact), I’m not exaggerating when I say that waiting is by the most difficult part of the JET Program application process.

For the past 2 months I have kept my mind off my ambiguous future by studying Japanese as much as humanly possible and occupying my evenings marathoning TV series. I became exceedingly engrossed in Zombie fiction after watching The Walking Dead and as a result find myself constantly criticality assessing buildings I pass on their potential of defending against the Zombie apocalypse………. yes applying for the JET Program probably definitely will make you this kind of crazy.

The wide range of emotions I have gone through during this period have been testing at times, everything from brash overconfidence to weeks of sleepless nights plagued by rejection (often zombie themed) nightmares.

However I always fell back on the thought that if I were to start the whole application process over from the beginning, would I do it any differently? Well no.

I worked harder putting together my Statement of Purpose and studying for my interview than I have for anything else in my entire life! God if I was this dedicated at university I would have graduated with honours. =P

One of the hardest contributing factors is not having anyone to talk about the frustrations one goes through waiting with (bar the forums) as the JET talk got old with my friends and family long ago. It would have been amazing to have a friend applying alongside me if only for the moral support.

I have read through the JET Program General Information Handbook (GIH) and found it incredibly informative, in fact I wish I had come across it prior to my interview as much of the information contained within it regarding conflict resolution and living in Japan is interview gold (note: the current years GIH is released in February each year)!!!

Now how to kill the time for the next month or so before placements are released…….

Jet Program Interview Notification!!!!

やった!!!!!!!!!

wewwwwwwww!!!! I just received a letter in the post from the Japanese consulate stating that I passed the first stage of the screening process for the 2012 JET Program and have been offered an interview in February!!!!! As it is my birthday tomorrow I consider this the best birthday present I could ever wish for (that said the Canon EOS 600D I got is pretty flippin sweet!!).

I’v been having nightmares for weeks now that I would receive a rejection letter so it certainly comes as a relief now I can focus solely on preparing for the interview, in fact I feel as though I am almost ready for it since I have spent the last 3 weeks revising past interview questions, crafting and memorizing ideal responses and pretty much intensely researching as much about Japan as possible in preparation.

Participating in the JET program has been a dream I have aspired to for many years now so it all feels quite surreal to finally be facing the interview, I worked harder than I have on anything else in my entire life on that application and to be honest I never thought for a moment that I wouldn’t be offered an interview, which is why I jumped straight into preparing for it after the new year!!

Anyway one hurdle down, now back to studying ^____^

I leave you with the saddest pug in the world