Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Dear Students,

I know it's surprising to see me anytime, and it's especially surprising to see me outside of school.  You're correct, I'm not Japanese.  I guess that means you would call me a "foreigner," but don't worry, I'm not offended. Yes, I'm real.  And yes, I can hear you.  And I know that you can hear me.  

When you see me outside in the evening, near my home, don't be afraid.  It is just as much of my natural habitat as the school is.  I know that you don't always enjoy English class, but all of you are high school students, and therefore have studied English - whether you wanted to or not - for at least four years. 

You may be surprised to hear and have to use English outside of school, but please try a little.  Humor me.  What is the point of learning English if you never use it outside of school?  When it is 7:30 at night, the sun is setting, and I say "good evening" as I walk by you, you do not say "good morning."  It is not the morning.  Having such poor English isn't something to be proud of and laugh about with your friends.  It makes you look foolish. 

I just wanted to let you know that it hurts a little.  Haven't I taught you well?  Didn't your junior high school ALTs teach you the difference between morning and evening?  You are old enough to know better.  All it would take is a little thought and that's all I'm asking for - some thought

Your ALT

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Do you have a boyfriend?

I have been in Japan for almost a full year.  I have visited seven different high schools and within those high schools, I have taught dozens and dozens of classes, seeing thousands of students at least once in the past eleven months.  Breaking that down into more manageable numbers, I have given 76 self-introductions of some form.  Sometimes I have the entire class period and a computer and can give a PowerPoint, other times I have only 10 minutes and a worksheet, and other times the teachers plan my self-introduction for me (no, I don't understand it either). 

I have gotten so good at introducing myself, that I can do it anywhere, anytime, to any level of English.  I can do it in five minutes or fifty.  With ten students or forty students, awake or asleep, as a game or as a lecture. I can size up a class in the first two minutes of entering the classroom and alter my introduction accordingly.  I know exactly what words are difficult for students and how to use those words so that students understand.  I know when I can speak slowly and when to speak faster.  I can pick out the potential troublemaker in the first thirty seconds of class and use preventative techniques to keep him (because it's almost always a him) in line. I know how the weather can affect student's attention spans and what to expect from a class if it's right after lunch or right before.  In short, I am the master at a self-introduction lesson. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

He's a Smooth Criminal

Being that I teach high school, not junior high school or elementary school, I tend to have fewer "cute kid" stories.  However, my students can at least speak selective English.  What I mean by that is that I may ask them "how is the weather today?" or "what is your name?" and they often (not always of course, but usually) become bashful, proclaim they don't know English, or give a horrendously off-base answer after five minutes of consulting with friends.  When it comes to the day-to-day useful English questions and phrases, students tend to have a difficult time answering.  

Most kids, however, speak what I call "Selective Broken English," or SBE.  SBE consists of words or phrases that come from English music, movies, popular English words or phrases adopted into Japanese, and supporting vocabulary.  This leads to some very interesting things that come out of my student's mouths. 

Friday, June 3, 2011

America's Next Top Model!

Almost two months ago I was contacted by an acquaintance who asked if I'd be interested in doing some hair modeling for the salon she goes to.  I gave it about 30 seconds worth of thought before deciding that of course I'd love to help them out! 

The people at World Love Salon were wonderful, super nice, and helped me feel comfortable.  I only hope that they had as much fun as I did!  They washed my hair, dried it, did my make-up, and styled my hair.  In all it took a little more than three hours from start to finish. 

The final product only came out a few days ago, so not many people have said anything or noticed yet - if it gets any notice at all.  However, I did come home from work today to find four Kitami Bis magazines sticking out of my mailbox.  No message or note - just the magazines with my picture in them...but don't worry, I don't get a creepy vibe or anything from it. 

Enjoy a few pictures from the photo shoot and at the bottom I share the final result!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Creative Cooking

Being in Japan, it's sometimes difficult to find the comfort foods of home.  Things that I once took for granted, like my favorite cereals, breakfast foods, cheese, specialty health foods, and Mexican ingredients, suddenly became luxuries.  It's an odd feeling to be the one scouring the "Foreign Foods" section of the department store hoping that they have tortilla chips this month.  Added to the fact that I often can't find my favorite foods, I typically cannot read what foods are at the grocery store if I cannot tell what something is just by looking at it.  

On top of this dilemma, I'm still a relatively picky eater- I don't like fried food, mayo, ketchup, mustard, most BBQ sauces or BBQ flavors, pickled anything, anything that looks regurgitated (such as the popular Japanese dish Okonomiyaki or natto, feel free to Google them) or textures that invoke the gag reflex (like mochi).  Unfortunately, mayo is very popular here, used on everything from rice dishes, to salads, to pizzas and is a lot harder to avoid than I expected. 

It's been both good and bad for my diet.  On the one hand, fresh fruits and vegetables are safe for me to get because I don't need a sign or directions telling me what they are or how to eat them.  On the other hand, I am not very adventurous with trying new foods here.  I've looked into trying some Japanese dishes, but they use ingredients that I don't know how to use, and usually can't identify in the grocery store.  Thus, I've tried getting creative with the foods that I do know to get healthy, nutritious, and easy meals.  

Here are some of my favorite.  For most of them, I adapted the recipes from things I've made in the past.  Feel free to try them yourself!

Spinach Taco Rolls

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Into the Wild…

…kind of.  This past weekend I went to Shiretoko, Rausu, and Nakashibetsu – all Eastern Hokkaido small towns – to hang out with some fellow JETs and finally get out in the good weather.  

The ALT in Rausu put together an organized outing through a local Japanese tour group.  It included a 2-hour leisurely hike, a barbeque, and a 3 hour whale watching boat tour.  We followed that up with a trip to a hotel onsen, dinner at an izakaya, and socializing at the Safeway bar in Nakashibetsu. Yes, Safeway is a grocery store in the States, but the bar owner here seems to know that and embrace it – even the store logo is the Safeway logo.  U.S. Copyrights don’t really matter in this case. 

Our morning began at 5:30am, after only getting five or so hours of sleep, my predecessor and I went to pick up another local English teacher on our way out to Rausu.  It ended up being about a three hour drive because we stopped along the way for some photos and generally took our time.  It didn’t matter anyway because when we got to the mountain pass, we found that it was closed until 9:00am anyway so we had to wait a while regardless.
Megan, Me, and Ben at a waterfall on our way to Rausu

Operation Tomodachi!

I just found out through one of my Japanese friends that the rescue and relief operations by the U.S. Military after the 3/11 earthquake were named "Operation Tomodachi" which essentially means Operation Friendship.  I'm proud of how our military and government responded to the disasters and are continuing to provide assistance where necessary.  According to my friend, it was the U.S. Navy who cleared Sendai's airport so that the Japanese Self-Defense force could begin their operations.  It's examples like this that make me especially proud of our forces.  I like hearing about the military doing good and providing relief to those who need it in the world instead of just waging war. 

Here's just a quick article talking about Operation Tomodachi, if you're interested: