Archive for March, 2013

March 28, 2013

Thank You Always

March 8th was a special day for me because I was invited to my favorite junior high school’s graduation ceremony. I went last year, but at that time I had only known the graduating class for a little over 7 months. This year was a little more special because I have been with these kids for two years (since they were 2nd-year students). There were only 9 students in the graduating class (5 girls and 4 boys). One of them I was especially close with because I coached her for the English Speech contest in 2011 and 2012. But really, I have grown quite close to all of them. It was awesome to see them graduate. I almost cried.

graduation

I arrived at the school at 12pm (my supervisor let me spend the morning at home, thank goodness). I ate lunch with the 1st and 2nd-year students and then waited for the 3rd-years to arrive. The ceremony began at 2pm. There were a lot of speeches, as usual, and I could understand a lot more of their speeches this year. I especially loved the 2nd-year kid’s speech and the graduating class representative’s speech. By the end of her speech, many were in tears. And then they had to sing their farewell song. Half the girls couldn’t sing because they were crying.

My favorite part is always at the end where all the teachers stand in a line at the front of the gym and the students all come up and say their thank-you’s with a bow. It was a loud, heartfelt, teary “Thank you.” Then they turned, wiping their tears, and marched out of the gym to end the ceremony.

 

「ありがとうございます」

 

The words “Thank you” are especially meaningful in Japan, I feel. For graduating 3rd-year students, that “Thank you” encapsulates the students’ feelings of gratitude toward their teachers for helping them through three years of junior high school. For helping them learn, have fun, and prepare for the dreaded high school entrance exams. Teachers hold a position of respect and honor in Japan, so graduation is a time to recognize the students’ accomplishments and also the teachers who helped them through it all.

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March 27, 2013

Concrete Plans

Many apologies for the lack of update lately! I can’t really blame it on work, because I haven’t taught any classes since February 28th. I guess it was mostly because of a lack of things to report on? Winter was winter-y. There was snow. Lots of snow.

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But I am happy to report that the weather is now heading towards spring-like! It is now in the 40s (F) and quite sunny today! I am now able to ride my bike to work safely. It is still cold, but I can combat that with my jacket and scarf. And the days are much longer now, so I am able to see the sun more. Lastly, with the return of warmer temperatures… my chilblains foot condition has gotten better. My poor toes are no longer swollen and itchy, but they still retain their odd red/purple color. It’s quite strange. I wonder how long they will stay that color.

And now… I have a bit of unfortunate news (having to do with this blog post’s title).

I was not accepted to my first-choice graduate school. I received the news on March 3rd and was quite devastated. I really was praying hard for that one. I had already been accepted to my second choice in December, but when my FAFSA report came back… It just did not look like a financially feasible or smart decision. And in addition to that, my heart longed for Texas and to be closer to friends and family.

So I did a lot of thinking. A LOT.

I decided that I am going to postpone graduate school, move back to Austin, find work, and reapply to more graduate schools in Texas next fall. When I left for JET, I told myself that “Austin will always be there when I get back.” And it is. So that’s where I’m going. It’s a little scary going into uncertainty and being without a job, but you know… I’ve done it before. I moved to Texas in 2009, found work, worked hard, had fun… Did all that. I can do it again.

I will be back in the US by July 4th so I can spend the holiday with my parents and brother who will be in Chicago. My contract states that my return airfare will be paid by Aomori Prefecture, so they are going to arrange my travel for me. Nice, huh?

I also have a few exciting travel plans coming up…

First, I am going to Tokyo for a week! From April 6th to April 13th! I am going to be staying with my host mom at her house in Koenji again. I haven’t seen her in a year and a half, so it will be good to visit. I am also going to meet my host sister and her 1 year old son that I haven’t met yet. I am also planning to meet up with several old friends so I can see them one last time before I leave Japan. Looks like it is going to be a fun week. I am also looking forward to having free time to just walk around Tokyo and explore again, like I used to back when I was 20 and living there. Most of my friends will be working during the day, so I suspect I will have free time to just relax and walk around. I’m not scheduled to teach again until April 17th, so it certainly beats sitting in the office! Plus, it is already pretty warm in Tokyo (compared to Aomori), so that is another great bonus.

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Second, my mom and I are going to New York City! 2013 is turning out to be a big year for me! Rome, Tokyo, New York City… I am going to spend the 4th of July weekend at home with my parents, and then we are leaving on Monday, July 8th to spend a week in NYC. A week! A whole week! Words cannot describe how excited I am to see this great city I have heard so much about. The crazy thing is that a mere two weeks ago I was contemplating going to NYC alone for a few days… And then my mom said she would love to join me… The rest is history. The plane tickets are bought. The tickets to see The Lion King on Broadway are bought. Sightseeing and restaurant plans are being made.

So that is what’s happening with me.

I plan to enjoy my last three months here in Japan and prepare for the next stage in my life. I will probably be moving to Texas at the end of July and we will see how things will go from there.

Until next time!

March 3, 2013

March is here

I’m done teaching for the school year. The next school year begins in April. I won’t see my junior high school 3rd-years anymore, but I will see the others again.

Next week I will be heading to my favorite junior high school to watch my students graduate. The entire graduating class is only 8 students. I’ll put on a suit and participate in pictures like a real teacher. I went last year and it really was a lot of fun. There were a lot of tears, but the kids are also really good at singing so there was good music as well. The whole school is only 29 students, but they always do a good job at putting on a ceremony.

The weather these past few weeks has been absolutely horrible. People right and left have been telling me how this is the worst winter they have seen in their entire life. Actually, my supervisor told me that we have received TWICE the amount of snowfall than usual. Last week I had two school visits where it was nearly impossible to get to school. One time I needed to ride the train into the next town, but the trains were stopped and the buses were late. I waited an hour outside in a blizzard for a bus that never came. I ended up taking the train-substitute-bus (sponsored by the railway company) and missed my first class. And then the second time I waited an hour outside… It wasn’t snowing, but the snow clearing crews just couldn’t keep up with the snowfall. The roads were too narrow for the buses. Finally my supervisor came to rescue me in his car.

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This definitely did not happen last winter… This winter is a doozy. Gee, how did I get to be so lucky? I am proud of myself, however, for getting through February without any major depressive episodes. Last year I would get home from work and glue myself to my couch most of the time, but this year I have been able to get myself to the gym regularly. Four or five times a week, actually. Plus, I have been doing yoga with my mom twice a week and that helps a great deal as well. Like the title says: March is here! Wednesday and Thursday were sunny and it did not snow. I hope we can have more weather like that.

Okay, so just to show you that I am not kidding with the whole winter and snow thing… Go to this page on BBC and watch this video about Aomori:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-21625702

And a few random thoughts:

1. I’ve been wondering lately… Why do Japanese people talk to themselves so much? Or is it that Americans talk to themselves just as much and I’ve never noticed? Japanese people seem to have an entire repertoire of sounds and things that they mumble to themselves. Sometimes my co-workers mumble to themselves during work. Most of the time, it is in the gym that I hear the most self-talk. They walk into the locker room and make these “Shhhhhh”, “Oooshhhh” sounds… or mumble to themselves. It’s quite curious.

2. If you ever want to shock or surprise a Japanese person, pull out a raw carrot (peeled or unpeeled) and start eating it like Bugs Bunny. Carrot sticks, the ubiquitous American snack, also work too. Many Japanese people I’ve met (my students and co-workers) can’t fathom the idea of just eating a raw carrot. I get reactions and exclamations of, “I’ve never eaten a raw carrot before!” and “…Is it good?” My students will stare at me with googly eyes when they see me eating my carrot sticks with my lunch. It’s really amusing.

Biting into a whole, raw, unpeeled apple will also produce the same effect. When I first arrived, my co-workers were quite surprised by my apple-eating. Tori told me that her co-workers call her “wild” for eating apples like that. Here in Japan, they peel all of their fruit. I got a free calendar from the school lunch company last year featuring important Aomori food products. One of the months was the apple and there was a little blurb written about how apples are good for you. The blurb talked about how you should just rinse off apples well and eat the entire thing, peels too! What a novel idea!

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