Archive for ‘hirosaki’

October 3, 2013

JET-ting Off: The Epic Conclusion to My 2 Years in Japan

Note 1: Maybe it’s not actually epic, but it was pretty momentous to me.

Note 2: I have been meaning to write this post for months, so I am aware it is very very very late! Sorry about that!

In February 2013 I made the choice NOT to re-new my contract (which ended in July). I was loved at my job and in my little circle of friends, but I also felt homesick. The long winters and short summers of Aomori had worn on me. I missed family and friends back home in Texas. I also felt the need to get back on some sort of a career path, because teaching English/ESL was never my true career goal. Two years on the JET Program felt right. I signed the paperwork with my intent not to re-contract and that was that. Another chapter of my life had been signed and closed. All I had to do was enjoy the last five months in Japan.

The actual leaving preparations and goodbyes took about a month. Slow at first, and then fast & furious at the end. It’s enough to make your head spin and I don’t think I will be doing another international move for a very long time.

I thought I’d write about some of the things I did before leaving Japan.

 

I started teaching an English conversation class in the evenings. Three elementary school teachers came up to me and asked if we could have "English Conversation Time" together at a local coffeeshop. Of course I said yes. I liked all of the ladies a lot. We met three or four times and had a lot of fun together, talking about different subjects. One teacher bought me my first soy latte, which tasted pretty disgusting. I couldn’t even finish the whole thing, although I tried to drink as much as possible to be polite. :P They gave me a really nice send-off when I left.

 

Nishimeya Sports Festival [Sunday, May 26]

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I attended my first and last Sports Festival at my favorite junior high school. This is significant because of my position as a one-shot ALT with 12 different schools. When you have so many schools, you don’t have a "home base" and often don’t receive invitations to special school events like culture and sports festivals. I’d never been to one of my schools’ sports festivals in the two years I’d been there. I rode with a Japanese teacher (JTE) and watched my kids run relay races, do tug-o-war, and other events. I loved that day’s weather. I still remember it clearly because the weather was amazing. It was almost warm enough to wear a short-sleeved shirt (for me).

 

Lecture at the Office [Monday, June 27]
For an entire year and a half my co-workers have been saying that they want me to give them a lecture on something/teach them something. They were just so busy or something that it never got scheduled… It’s true, everyone was so busy and stretched so thin with school visits that it was rare that everyone was in the office at the same time. Well, finally… at the 11th hour… they scheduled me to teach them… something. I decided to make 45 minutes of the 1-hour lecture about conversational English. The last 15 minutes would be a slideshow of my 2 years in Hirosaki, the highlights. I figured they would be pretty interested about how foreigners live in their little city. The turnout for my lecture was pretty awesome. Almost everyone squeezed into the director’s office to hear me speak and I held their interest for an entire hour.

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May 19, 2013

My Life Lately: Spring Edition!

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View from the bus on the way to work…

Another edition of things that have happened lately but haven’t had time to write about yet! This might be quite long.

– I was talking to my supervisor about my successor (the person who will replace me in July) and saying to him, “I hope they aren’t vegetarian…” I say this because I always feel like a burden when they order a special vegetarian meal for me whenever we have work parties. I don’t mean to be a bother. But my supervisor totally surprised me by saying, “It’d be find if they were vegetarian. We know what to do now. We’re used to it.” I was really taken aback, but really happy too.

Here is the veggie spread I got at a recent work party:

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– I was at one of my junior high schools and my one (and only) glass that I had to teach got pushed back to the last period of the day, 6th period. The reason? Well, one of the 8th grade boys had confessed his love to a girl classmate. The girl turned him down, because the other boys/girls in the class had pressured her to say no. Well, naturally the boy got pissed and there was a huge rift in the entire 8th grade. My class was pushed back to make time for a meeting with all the students to resolve this issue. And there is where I roll my eyes and say, “… Teenagers.”

– The other Sunday I went to a local café/coffee shop with Tori and Kimberly. I ordered their grilled vegetable sandwich with french fries, no substitutions. It was vegan as-is. I was shocked. And it was absolutely delicious. I had a great time.

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– My supervisor is really on the ball with things. He’s already reserved my flights home and arranged to be my tax representative (so that I can receive my pension refund after I return home. This is a large chunk of change.) By the way, I am leaving Aomori in the morning on Monday, July 1st. Then I will stay in Tokyo for a few days and leave for the U.S. on July 4th. Going home on July 4th had a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

AMERICAAAAAAA!
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– I went to watch Tori and Kyle at a snowboarding event last month on Mt. Hakkoda. Although I only lasted out there until lunch, it was fun to watch them (and other people) do awesome tricks. Plus, Tori was wearing her awesome Link (from Legend of Zelda) costume.

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Driving there~

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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.

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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 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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February 6, 2013

January Gone

– Where did January go? I’m actually not too sad to see it go, because I am still waiting on graduate school admission results. Those will come at the end of February or beginning of March, so I hope February is a short month. I mean, February is already short because of the number of days, but I hope it feels short as well.

– It was hard to get back in the "swing of things" after coming back from Italy. I do seem to have a hard time with transitions. It was cold, there was snow everywhere, my house was messy, and I had a weird lingering jet lag that caused me to not get sleepy until after midnight and then struggle to wake up in the morning. I usually *always* wake up before my alarm.

– I was back to normal after a couple weeks and started back up with yoga with my mom on Wednesday and Friday mornings at 6am. It’s been really good for me emotionally and physically. She has been teaching me via Skype and it has been wonderful. I finally feel like I am making some progress and getting pretty good at a few things. I hope I can make this a regular thing for me. I just have to remember to go to bed early the night before.

– I went skiing in Owani with my co-workers again this year for our annual “ski school” that my office puts on for district teachers.

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It is for teachers to learn how to ski, the techniques of skiing, and how to teach skiing to kids (I think). It wasn’t as fun as last year because I was miserably cold and skied alone for a bunch of the time.

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The “Holizon”

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December 17, 2012

Working, working, working…

It’s been far too long between updates… I keep meaning to write, but things just kept piling up. Two months, though? I am ashamed!

This post is mostly about my job lately and daily things that have happened.

Me in Pictures:

Here is a picture that my student drew of me. Don’t ask me why I am blonde…

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A Weird Conversation

The principal of one of my schools asked me why Americans were so against eating whale meat. That was an interesting conversation. I told him it was because they are endangered and we want to protect the whales we have right now on our planet so that they do not go extinct. He told me that Japanese people don’t eat a lot of whale, just a bit. I countered with: if everyone ate a little bit, wouldn’t that amount to a lot in the end?

Angels and Demons

It really surprises me how some 3rd graders can be sweet little cherubs who hang on my every word and look up at me in awe… and then some 4th graders can be screaming monkeys who don’t give a rat’s you-know-what about what I say. It’s crazy. Needless to say, I prefer the younger ones.

Commuting

The snow came early this December and I had to put up my bike in my storage shed. My only methods of transportation were buses, trains, and my own two feet. Last Thursday I walked 4.6 miles to work and back in the ice and snow. By the time I got home, it was very dark and I honestly cannot say I have ever been as happy to see my couch. But this week the snow has melted a bit and it has been raining… I have been able to use my bike a few times. Carefully, mind you! It only takes me 10 minutes by bike to get to work from my house.

Coloring

I have recently learned that coloring is a godsend. A simple coloring and listening exercise can get even the worse-behaved boys to be quiet and concentrate. The teacher came up to me after class and basically said, “Thank goodness you brought that coloring activity… It would have been bad if we didn’t have that.”

This came to mind… Here, have a meme:

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Mistakes, Attitude, and Discipline

A few weeks ago I was at an elementary school, teaching those little 5th graders. I was telling them how the Japanese language even has some loan words from Spanish (or words that sound like Spanish). I thought I wrote “Spanish Language” on the board in Japanese, but instead I had written “Spine Language.” The kids cracked up and started laughing and kind of mocking my Japanese mistake. Last year I probably wouldn’t have said anything, but I have a bit more of a backbone this year. I spoke up and said, “Hey. Everyone makes mistakes. I’m still learning Japanese and I’m not perfect, so it’s okay to make a mistake. You’re learning English too, aren’t you? It’s better to try and make a mistake than to not try at all.”

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October 17, 2012

Random Observations as of Late #6

Aaaaaaaaaaaand it’s time for another catch-up post. I haven’t posted a “daily life”/random observations blog in a while, so here we go! Warning: This is long.

※ I was wondering…Why is everything I do so interesting? To everyone? For example, every time I come to this one school, the office lady asks me, “Did you bike here again today?” She asks me this and she is amazed when I answer “Yes”. The weather is nice and it only takes 30 minutes. Why is that so interesting? Also, people are amazed when I mention that I like exercise. And that I like to go to the gym after work. You’d think I qualified for the Olympics from the reactions I get. This stuff is normal, but since I am a foreigner in Japan… I guess everything I do is just interesting?

※ At one of my schools, there is a transfer student from another country. His father has already been here for a while, working, so he just recently came to join him. The rest of their family is still in their home country. I think it is interesting, because this kid speaks little Japanese and little English. Man, that must be hard. Plus, his name when put into Japanese katakana means “Ant.” I talked to the teachers about him recently and they said that the kid is being teased a bit and has few friends. The situation kind of makes me sad.

※ For the month of October, Kyle and Tori’s tradition is to watch one Halloween movie per night. So far I have joined them for Nightmare Before Christmas, Slither, Idle Hands, The Witches, and The Ring. The Ring (American version) is one of the scariest movies I have seen. I had horrible nightmares the night after I watched it the first time. I even slept-walked in Sam’s house and woke up on the floor in her bedroom’s entryway with a huge bruise on my foot. Still have no idea what happened there. Since then I’ve gotten a little desensitized by it and was okay to go to bed by myself. After we watched it last week, I went home and got in bed. I reached up to turn my overhead light off, but then froze. My lamp that hangs above my bed is a circle-shaped light, resembling a ring. The line from the movie played in my head: “Before you die, you see the ring.” So I bravely turned off the light, knowing what I would see. The room was completely dark aside from the ring of light, which faded into the dark seconds later. Pretty scary.

※ I’ve been cooking a little more lately. I’ve made a new curry recipe and this one is rocking my taste buds right now: click here for the recipe! And also, I rediscovered some of my Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-free baking flour that Tori and Kyle gave me for Christmas last year. I still had some left! So I decided that I was going to try and make carrot cake. I even bought nutmeg and everything. I used this recipe from Chocolate Covered Katie and while the results were not as visually “pretty” as a normal carrot cake… The taste was incredible. I hadn’t tasted carrot cake in probably over a year, so it was pure heaven for this carrot cake lover. Plus, it takes 5 minutes and you can make it in the microwave. I don’t have an oven here in Japan, but… This carrot cake can be made anywhere in the world with a microwave! I need to order more gluten-free flour. :)

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Another thing I made was… CHILI. Oh my gosh. I have not had chili in… two years? I can’t remember the last time I ate real chili. I am so looking forward to eating this with a nice ripe avocado on top. I used this recipe from Oh She Glows.

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May 22, 2012

Random Observations as of Late #4

– Being a foreigner in northern Japan, I am stared at every day. But on this day, I was stared at even more so than usual. And it was more obvious than usual.
One morning I got on my bike and started to go to work. I passed the trash collection area and realized that the day was plastic bottle day. I had my plastic bottles all bagged up in my storage area, so it would be no problem to double back and grab them. I also noticed an old man standing there pretty much in the middle of the road, having just put his own trash down or something. I think he lived in the house across from apartment building B. He watched me ride up and continued to watch me, just standing there. It was awkward.
Anyway, I doubled back with my bike to my shed, picked up my bags of plastic bottles, and went back to the trash area.
The old man was still there, staring at me from the middle of the road. He watched me put down my trash and continue to ride along to work. It completely weirded me out that he had stayed there to watch what I was doing. What the heck.
At least I got those bottles disposed of properly.

– Spring is officially here. I can bike to work without wearing a jacket and it is glorious. Golden Week in Hirosaki was rainy, but we are seeing sun a lot more now and it is much warmer. I am beginning to feel alive again!

– Speaking of feeling alive—On May 20th (Sunday), we went to a music festival called Mountain Rock (Yama Rock) up on Mt. Iwaki. Kyle and his band were playing, along with a particular artist I’ve wanted to see: Tatetakako. Tori drove us up in the morning (11ish) and we didn’t leave till around 5pm. The sky was clear and basically cloudless. I was in heaven. We all parked ourselves on the huge tarp at the small event and hung out, listening to music. The sun made me feel warm and fuzzy. I even took a nap on the tarp at around 3 when I got tired. The music was really good and I always love seeing Kyle and the College Try play. And Tatetakako was unreal… Her voice is amazing.

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– I watched The Avengers movie and I have to say that I have not liked a movie this much in a very long time. Not since Inception or Avatar. Avengers doesn’t come out here in Japan until August 17th (which is a crime against humanity… how can anyone wait that long?), so… I got my hands on a copy online. I’ve watched it 3 times already. If you are looking for a good movie (and it is out in your country!), go see it.

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– Kimberly taught me how to do something really neat the other week. She taught me how to put my hair up into a sock bun! You take a sock, cut off the toe, and roll it up so that it resembles a donut. Then you put your hair into a high ponytail with a regular hair tie. You take your ponytail (works best with long ponytails like mine) and roll it around (into?) the sock until the shape resembles a bun on the top of your head. I love this new hairstyle and it is so popular in Japan.

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– I can’t believe I will be in Austin, Texas in less than 2 months. I’m going HOME! I will take the nightbus from Hirosaki to Tokyo on the evening of July 10th and fly out the next day on the 11th. 19 consecutive days of NO work! I am using up a bunch of my paid vacation on this trip (I get 20 days per year). And I can’t hardly wait! It will have been just about one year since my mom and I put Austin in my rearview mirror…

– My supervisor put together my schedule for the next year. All the schools have applied for my school visits from now until next March. I’ll be going to 12 different schools over the course of the year, 4 junior high schools and 8 elementary. I have 118 school visits this year… I am going to be pretty busy!

The Day of the Vegetable: This week I don’t have any school visits, so I’m in the office all week. Reminds me of those long March weeks when I did not teach… But anyway, I was sitting at my desk, ready to chew my arm off because I was so hungry. I had gone through all of my snacks and was seriously considering going downstairs to the co-op to buy some rice crackers. But just then, the director walked in and presented the girls in the office with a present. He gave each of us three farmer-grown carrots from the town he had just come from. ^^ I promptly ate two of them, which kept me satiated until it was time to go. …But wait, there’s more! When I was about to leave, my co-worker came in with a huge box of fresh asparagus that his farmer friend had grown! All the office members received a bag of beautiful asparagus from this box… It is making an appearance in my lunch today.

– Speaking of veggies… I would just like to say that I am extremely happy that I can now eat a salad without freezing my butt off. I am one of those people who gets extremely cold after eating (all my energy is going to digesting, I guess), so eating fresh veggies normally makes me feel quite cold. But now that it is warmer, I can eat all the salads I want! I missed salad season.

– Lastly… About life in general… I was feeling pretty low and lonely after my aunt left on the 9th. I felt homesick (among other things) and really just wanted to go back to the US. I even started questioning whether my decision to stay another year was the best one. HOWEVER, I am happy to report that this week I am doing much better and starting to get back on track. Life goes on! As much as I miss Texas, I have to remember that my life here is pretty great too. I’m young, I’m supposed to be having adventures.

December 25, 2011

(My Second) Christmas in Japan!

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Me with my baby stocking that Tori got/made for me!

My first Christmas away from home was in 2007 when I was studying abroad in Tokyo at Waseda University. Here is a snippet from my journal entry dated December 24th, 2007:

Here in Japan it’s Christmas Eve. December 24th. This day used to fill me with such joy and happiness, but now I don’t feel anything. It just feels like any ordinary day. I realize now that Christmas as a holiday is nothing without the people to celebrate it with.

But this 2011 blog Christmas post is not sad.. it is happy! Because this year in Japan, I had people to celebrate it with! Awesome, lovely, amazing friends. And that made all the difference in the world.

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