Scooter vs Japan

Japanniversary

August 2, 2016
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First off, I wanted to touch on my absence. Aside from getting busy and dealing with some personal matters, I decided to take a step back from blogging. Most notably, I felt that too many of my posts turned into ridiculous gawking; looking at all the wacky stuff in Japan and talking about how wacky it is.

In a nut shell, I hated it. While I’ve had a good time writing, I never wanted this to be about silly gawking at or ranting about Japan. So here’s hoping I can do something different.

Orbital Rotations

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It’s been a year since I came to Kamikawa. Prompted by the anniversary and my a friendly reader, I wanted to look at what has changed for me over the last year.

A lot has happened since I’ve come here, but at the same time I feel like I’ve done very little. I read a lot of comments about “putting you life on hold” this and “losing a year” that when people talk about JET, school, or what not.

I knew coming into this that my views were not the same as a lot of other JETs. I’m in this for the long haul, intending to stay as long as I can. I plan to enjoy the time I have here and use it to try and secure a better future. A year is an incredibly short time, even if you an cover a lot of ground.

Kevin

A while back, I talked about a student I’ve been tutoring. Things haven’t been going so well since he’s been really busy, but we’ve both made some headway.

Gold star on notebook

The small steps are the best ones.

Since I started tutoring Kevin, her grades have gone up by quite a bit. They are still low on a grand scale, but he got 40% on a recent test, even though we haven’t been meeting lately. Considering he was getting something like 10% when I met him, that is a phenomenal improvement. And he’ll speak to me in English once in a while, which I feel shows a lot of growth.

My hopes for Kevin were never that he become a top student. If he does end up loving English, great, but that wasn’t my goal. Instead, I wanted to show him some new ways to study and provide some simplified help that could get him through junior high. And I feel like Ive done that.

However, there has been another major development on this front. I’ve been having teachers slowly reach out to me to help other learning disabled students. My main teacher has even admitted that there are learning disabled students in class, that the problem isn’t just in English, and that we could be doing more to help.

Remember, this is Japan, a country that demands conformity and hasn’t been great in the past on handling special education. While there doesn’t seem to be a detailed enough diagnosis to work with, the fact that the teachers are ready to admit this and seek out my help is a huge step forward.

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I… I have really short legs.

I really hope that I can continue to move forward on this. Although I’ve not an expert in special education, I am learning disabled and a product of a system that promotes inclusive education. Being trusted to help learning disabled students represents moving forward in my job and an increase in trust and responsibility.

Better education

Another tunnel light has been the increased willingness of my teachers as well as some new and very sharp administration. The Japanese business world largely revolves around the same calendar as the education system; the year starts in April, and with that comes some employee movements. Some of the teachers and administration moved around this year, and my new vice-principal is wonderful.

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We can always use more blue in our lives.

While a lot of Japanese people do see problems in their country, it’s less common for them to know what to do about it. Mr. O have been a wonderful shoulder to lean on when things haven’t gone well in the classroom. He not only knows that there are problems with English, immigration, and other matters that deal with foreign residents, but he is also vocal about why these problems exist and how to improve upon them.

Add to this another new teacher who wants to focus more on communication, one of my teachers wanting to learn more about how to prepare better lessons, and a general interest in bringing change into the classroom (even if it isn’t a lot of change), This year is already shaping up to be far better than last.

My troubled marriage

As I’ve noted before, I have a pretty odd outlook when it comes to talking about the Japanese language. I unfortunately have not really progressed very much in this area. So far, all attempts to sit down and study Japanese just haven’t got over well.

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But that isn’t to say it’s all doom and gloom. My Japanese has gotten better by being here. I have to speak Japanese everyday, talk around my weaknesses, and explain complex thoughts that I lack the grammar and vocabulary for. That’s nothing to sneeze at.

Further, I have been paying attention during class and trying to pick up some of the grammar and vocab that the students are dealing with. And I’m making tiny steps forward when it comes to reading, which I feel is the direction I should be moving in. Grinding kanji wasn’t really working, and sitting down with grammar drills isn’t going well without a class structure. But I’m able to (mostly) understand things that are happening around me. If I can get some practice reading for comprehension, that should give a notable boost.

One proof of concept was reading a kids book today. The library had a bunch of books they were getting rid of, and I grabbed a few kids books. I’m planning to give them to my niece and nephew when I go back to Canada for Christmas, but I read through one today at work. Even though I didn’t understand every word or phrase, I was able to read the story with only a few dictionary lookups. I also translated the story later so that the kids can read it later. This took some more work to get the exact meaning, but it was proof that I did understand what I read.

Professional development

Lastly, one of my goals while being here was to come to a decision about my professional future. I’ve been reading up on career requirements and graduate education. While I’m still not sure what I want to do following my time here, I have made some progress.

I’m looking at a Masters degree in TESOL at the moment, specifically an online option. I still have a number of options open, but I’m uncertain as to how viable they are. But following things backwards, it seems like having a Masters degree in TESOL could be a step forward.

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Although a Masters would require more dice. Just a few.

One option this opens up is making it easier to stay in Japan and continue working. Not only would more formal training help make me a more desirable candidate for other ALT jobs, having a Masters degree in TESOL opens up options for temporary post-secondary teaching in Japan. This would make it far easier to keep working in Japan if I wanted to.

If I continue into education as I originally planned, a Masters degree could do two things. First of all, even though the degree would be in English second language acquisition, the skills should be transferable to Japanese. Second, having a Masters degree and a few years teaching experience should make it easier to find work as a teacher in Canada. I’m also told that it can result in a pay bump, which never hurts.

Lastly, if I decide to bypass education and look into special education, it’s possible that a Masters in TESOL and the linguistics coursework that I would complete could help satisfy admissions requirements for programs like speech language pathology. I need to confirm this, but this could make that process much easier.

Best of all, since I can complete the degree online, I can complete the degree now while I’m working in Japan, thus being able to hit the ground running post-JET. This could save me a few years in establishing a career, and if chosen carefully, I can ensure that I am studying at a good school instead of just paying a degree mill.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t aid another option I am looking at; Japanese anthropology. A Masters degree at this point wouldn’t provide many transferable skills nor help set up that career path. This could give me a fall back option while I’m in such a program, being able to teach on the side or continue to find work while doing research.

The future

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Sadly, you can’t even drive 88 KM per hour in Hokkaido.

It’s been quite the year, and I can only hope that future years are as productive.

I hope to make a decision on a Masters degree or other professional path in the next several months so that I can get the ball rolling on. I also hope to make some more progress on helping the learning disabled students I work with, as well as further grow my job here. I have a lot of ideas on how to provide more English learning options for both the students and the adults of Kamikawa. And hopefully, I can find more to write about in the meantime.


Japanese language blog?

November 27, 2015
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As I continue my fight against the fantastic beast known as the Japanese language, I’m always in search of new ways to try and approach the language. In the past, I’ve been studying in a class, so I have a fairly well rounded education. But I’m now on my own, and I can’t seem to make a lot of progress. Worse, I know why.

Can you use that in a sentence?

There are untold numbers of gimmicks and plots that young learners will use to try and learn Japanese. Unfortunately, I’m not convinced that any of these work; if it there was some magic trick or dodge, wouldn’t we have all done it? No, I think it all comes down to rolling up you sleeves and getting to work, and a lot of people seem to agree with me.

More to the point, a lot of the tactics employed by learners of all ages is to grind through lists of things, learning each painful item one flashcard at a time or by writing it out a thousand times. However, I’ve come to learn (through self reflection and from the advice of others) that this doesn’t work well. Learning grammar, vocabulary, and Chinese characters (kanji) one item at a time is simply a waste of time, since you lack the context of how it is used. You can spend weeks learning all of the readings, meaning, and components of just one character, or you can do something else.

You can work smart.

Instead of learning item by item, since that really has never worked, I am trying to learn Japanese as it is found in the wild. I am not going to learning kanji by memorizing characters, I am going to learn words. I’m not going to learn new vocabulary by reciting a flashcard hundreds of times, because that never seems to stick. Instead, I am going to learn words through sentences, using context and cues the reinforce the meaning. And I’m not going to slog my way through a grammar book, but will instead use those same sentences to see examples of grammar and learn by example.

And it really works

I’ve been spending that last few months on different language experiments. For example, I just made some grammar flashcards to review old grammar points that I have long ago forgotten. But instead of writing a single character on a card and then trying to define it, I did something different.

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I’m learning the grammar from the sentence.

And it worked. I was able to go through the almost 40 sentences for the flashcards I made, and understood far more than the majority. Even though I don’t remember the grammar points, even with grammar I’ve been using wrong, and without once reviewing them since I made flashcards the day before, I understood what was written.

When it comes to kanji, I spend several weeks running an experiment on word compounds (words that use multiple characters). Instead of learning a character in isolation, I was learning one word that used it, but was also learning all of the characters in that word as well. This was working to an extent, and I picked up a few words, but one problem prevented it was being a true success; context. Looking at my grammar flashcards, I was able to, more often than not, read an unfamiliar word from the context of the sentence. A great example is my card for “describing how an action is performed.” My example sentence was something like “I can swim like a fish,” but I couldn’t read the character for swim. But I knew “fish” as well as the grammar, so I was able to figure out that the unreadable character meant “swim.”

Hurray for proofs of concept.

Blog! You said blog! What’s this about a blog!?

Since I like to tell stories, that requires another detour before I can come around and explain what I’m thinking. My brain is funny like that.

I’m a kinesthetic/tactile learner. That means I learn by doing things. What that also means is that I don’t learn by seeing or hearing, as proven by my inability to pick up any co-workers’ or students’ names, or my inability to pull new words out of speech. No, I learn by doing, and unfortunately, that kinda means writing (which I’m beyond not good at).

So here’s what I’m thinking. I want to start a second blog, strictly for practicing Japanese. Now, that’s probably a terrible idea, given how backlogged I am here. But hear me out.

Someone on Reddit suggested a language practice thread. I said (in Japanese) that I thought it was a good idea, and that we should do it. And then I was immediately pissed off by it. See, I just want to use Japanese; I don’t necessarily want people correcting it, since correct just means you are wrong and over correction is the death of language learning. I quickly ended up going on to explain why I did X or Y, right or wrong, and was trying to explain that I am shooting for comprehension rather than 100% accuracy. Plus, everyone was using kanji, and Reddit’s system for including the readings for kanji is tedious at best. Thus, it slowed down my production and made it difficult to read theirs, since I was the only one using this system.

No. I want something a little different. While I’m happy to get feedback, I really only want feedback when a mistake causes a breakdown in communication. I do not want every single mistake or alternate particle use to be called into question. I do not want to worry about 100% production. I want to do Japanese, and everyone else can be damned. If I get a correction, I’ll look at it, but I don’t want to have to spend more time correcting and explaining my shitty Japanese than I am trying to produce it, because that will only get me so far.

Another issue with something like Reddit is that I would need to produce sentences with a certain amount of value or content. That’s also kind of not the point. While I want to practice stringing longer sentences and paragraphs together and creating more consistent language use, I am more interested in production than storytelling at this point. That means I am more interested in keyboard babbling about random topics and using unrelated sentences as I work my way through Japanese. If I post, say, six sentences that make no sense, using new grammar and vocab, I don’t want people bothering me about how stupid or confusing they sound because they have nothing to do with anything.

Soo… Why not just use a notebook?

Well, there are two answers. The first is that I am a young folk and like computers. Doing a blog or something on Twitter (another possibility) just fits me like a glove. I’m also a masochist, so I want this to be as complicated as possible.

But more importantly, I do want the ability to have feedback, should anyone care to give it. I just don’t want constant correction. Having something online will allow me to incite some feedback while at the same time creating an example of how I’m learning. If someone asks me how I’m learning, I can link them to the blog instead of trying to explain that I am basically just using Japanese. If I want someone to check my work, I need only send a friend the link instead of having to type out hand written work and then find a way to get it to them.

Ok. I get it. But why another blog?

Good question, dear reader. Ironically, I am a very visual person, despite being terrible at visual learning skills. I have this image in my head of what I want this exercise to look like… And it’s messy. I want this blog here to be a general blog about JET, living in Japan, and about learning Japanese, not to be filled with random and probably incorrect sentences as I learn Japanese. To do everything under one roof, I’m concerned that it’s going to get messy and make this blog inaccessible, forcing English language posts about Japan to be lost among piles of nonsense and experimentation.

I’m also pondering doing something over Twitter, though I’m not sure if that has the effect I want. I likewise don’t want to blast my followers with random bullshit in Japanese several times a day. But maybe they want that, I dunno.

What I’m thinking is that I want this practice to be self contained. I want to keep on with my normal-ish life and be able to interject some Japanese as needed without it overtaking my life. I don’t want to embarrass myself as potential JETs find this place and then laugh at my shitty language skills, nor do I want to make this blog inaccessible to those visitors, causing them to have to sort through tons and tons of posts to find something in English.

Floggings? Twits? YourTubes (probably not)? What do you think?

Now for the audience participation part of the exercise. What do you think? Do you want to see me fumble through Japanese here? Do you want me to send regular derps on Twitter? Does a separate and contained blog sound like a good idea? Do you have a batter idea? Leave a comment. For the love of god, someone leave a comment. It’s lonely here, and I think there are wolves.

howling_at_the_moon_by_shopkins


Oh, My Love, My Darling

September 10, 2015
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Image added for hilarious effect.

First off, apologies for not posting. I’ve been busy as hell, and didn’t have reliable internet access for almost a month. Anyways, on with the show.

It’s been 15 years. Wow. 15 years ago, I met my high school love. 15 years of laughs and tears, arguments and agreements. We’ve been together half of my life, but it hasn’t always been easy… and I’m scared it’s finally going to end.

High School Sweethearts
We met when I was in grade 11. I’d been with someone else for the last year, but when we met, it felt like love at first sight. Like every ridiculous teen drama, coming of age film, or story of youth, it’s like time stopped when we first met.

From that moment, we did everything together. I introduced her to my friends, we watched movies together, dreamed of our lives as adults… even a drunken phone call that went remarkably well. We were together, in love, bad that’s all that mattered.

A Taste of Grown Up Life
Like everything else, our relationship changed after high school. I moved so I could be with her, but things got complicated. Paying rent for the first time, having my first real job, and wanting to hang out with my friends really put a strain on our relationship. We weren’t spending nearly enough time together, though it wasn’t like we didn’t try.

We were in love. If our relationship got more complicated, it was because I was a budding adult and struggling, like every kid that age, with entering that new phase of life. We kept going, even when we didn’t get to spend a lot of time together. We always talked about how we’d be able to spend more time together once I started University, but things took a complicated but beneficial detour.

Dating and College Life


We finally got ahead of our relationship when I went back to school. It took over 2 years, but I was finally doing some upgrading and transfer courses so I could get until University. That first semester was hell and we spent a few months apart, but things got better.

We were finally together again, and I fought hard to keep it that way. No one was going to get in our way this time, and I kept fighting to keep us together. When the time came, I jumped on the chance to transfer to the University, where I could continue school in a more meaningful way and could spend more time with her. Everything was finally where it should be.

Life Problems and First Fight
This was so perfectly timed that you could almost set your watch to this. A little bit into University, our relationship started to run into problems. It started when I met some of her friends. They were cool at first, but I started hating being with them. It was like there was something special between them that I didn’t have; like maybe they were too close. Then came the arguments. Basically, we couldn’t stay as high school sweethearts anymore, and I was struggling with what that new relationship would look like. We started fighting over our relationship, what we wanted, what was best for us, and who everyone else wanted us to be. The while thing pulled me in every direction and was really hard on our relationship.

Meanwhile, I was having some problems in school and I’d just gotten into a bad fight with my mom over dependence, support, and constantly feeling lime I was never being listened to. Everything came up at the same time and it just destroyed me. I had a complete breakdown, nearly left school, and started question my relationship with my love. I was deeply depressed and sought some advice from a Buddhist monk, counsellor, and a teacher of mine from high school.

My counsellor helped me sort out the school problems, the monk help me stabilize emotionally, and my teacher gave me some wonderful but detrimental advice about my relationship. He told me, basically, that we should love each other because we love each other, not because we were together in high school.

We took some time apart while I sorted myself out, which was a blessing and a curse. I was free to look after myself and took a more firm stance when it came to school and my personal relationships. But it also meant that I basically had to break up with the love of my life in order to do so.

But we didn’t break it off completely. We still stayed friends and she stuck around for support when I needed her, but we needed to be apart for a while.

Second Try


As I got better, I longed for my sweetheart. I knew our relationship wasn’t the same anymore and never would be, but I was ready to fight for my love again. And I finally found our opportunity. We applied to study abroad together.

Just me and her, side by side again. I couldn’t wait. We got back together, and started dating all over again so we could get back to where we were. Finally, I felt like my life was back on track and finally had my love by my side once more.

Things in Japan were great. We’d never been so in love. Our relationship really blossomed there, but there was always that haunting feeling in the background that maybe things weren’t as good as we thought. We worked on our relationship, met some great friends, and I really felt like we were in a better place for it.

Then we met again. My first fling, the one I was with before I met my love, turned up in Japan. We reconnected a but and she was really fun to be around. We knew it was over, but we both really wondered what could have been. We flirted a little, but I went back to my love. But I couldn’t get her out of my head. We were so good together. She awoke old and new feelings that I thought had passed. She challenged me in ways that I couldn’t even imagine.

I tried to reflect on all the soul searching I’d done before going to Japan, and it didn’t look good. All if those problems, all if that advice.. it pointed to her. It supported the fling that I felt I was being lured into instead if staying with my true love. Everyone I respected seemed to be telling me to break it off and run away with my first live. It was crazy, and almost 6 years later, I’m still wondering if I made the right choice.

No. I was committed. My love and I flew half way around the world to be together and strengthen our relationship. I still wanted to be friend. I kind of wanted to be tempted. It was actually a little exciting. But that time passed and I was with my new love.

Hard Choices


Things went well in Japan. Like, really well. But it didn’t last. Although we rekindled, we didn’t really sort through anything. Back in Canada, we kind of fell back into our old rut. I had a degree to salvage and a career to try and plan, and we decided to take a little time apart again so I could get through that without the stress of out relationship crumbling again.

We broke up a second time, but it was on good terms this time. We stayed in touch and talked about when we’d be getting back together. We knew we were going to try and make it work once everything was settled. But that’s when things took a bad turn.

Just after coming back to Canada, my health failed. I developed a serious and crippling balance problem that nearly took me out of school and almost left me disabled. Although I got better, I’ve since relapsed a few times, couldn’t work, and nearly lost everything.

Meanwhile, I struggled with life after school. I was depressed, alone, unemployed, and unmotivated. I couldn’t face my love. And got back on my feet and started to turn things around, but when I relapsed again, I was forced to move away and live at home while I got better.

This was the first time my love and I had actually been sort, and it was brutal. I was so sick and depressed that our relationship really took a hit again. I hit rock bottom and felt like I could handle anyone being in my life. I couldn’t look after myself, wasn’t making responsible choices, and knew that in my current state, I risked destroying any relationship I was in. So I kept pushing her away.

Once again, I started to recover, and I called her up again. I felt like shit, but I finally knew what I had to do. I’ve wanted to be a teacher since we met, and the time was finally right to apply for a teaching job in Japan. We weren’t sure about it, but we could finally get back together. She helped me through the application process, her warm and always giving heart being the only think that seemed to keep my spirit up through the long wait and my recovering health.

JETs, Trains, and Automobiles
Hand in hand, we made it through. I was accepted to JET and my love was coming with me, returning to Japan to be together again. School was over, I was healthy again, and I felt like this time we could finally get it right…

I hope.

We’ve been through so much together. Literally so much that I can’t even thing clearly about it. We’ve fallen in and out of love several times over the last 15 years, and it really plays with my head sometimes. What if we can’t make it work? What if we’re holding on too tightly to the past or a life we can’t have? What if this really isn’t what we’re supposed to be doing? Are we destined to be trapped in this cycle of loving abuse and sadness?

Truth

You’re probably wondering what the hell I’ve been going on about. Well, hold onto your butts.

My high school love, the one I keep struggling with, is Japan. Or more specifically, the Japanese language.

Yep. I dated books.

Over the last 15 years, I’ve been through a lot, and I’ve always had Japanese beside me to help. But sometimes that relationship has gotten very complicated and even become the source of some of the problems I’ve had to face.

My relationship with Japan has changed quite a bit over the last several years, and I’m left wondering what I should do. Is my future really with Japanese, my second love, high school sweetheart, and on again off again fling of the last several years? Am I basically in an abusive relationship?

Since Gaidai, I’ve finally been able to find some clarity in the words of my high school Japanese teacher. Through Japanese, I’ve lived on my own, gone through university, developed new hobbies and interests, become Buddhist, and developed professional skills. I’d gotten into event planning and learned about administration. I’ve learned about Japanese culture in a way I’d never understood in high school. If Japanese and I aren’t going to work out, she’s at least shown me some new options.

But does that mean I should walk away? Should I just hang up Japanese and say job well done? Or should I keep trucking? I have every opportunity to improve my language and a pretty good environment. I think if it’s going to work, it’s going to work now. But if it doesn’t work, then what?

Conclusion
This is the crap my brain comes up with and the decisions that continue to haunt me. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve been chasing JET for so long that I don’t know what to do next. That’s how I feel about Japanese too. Where do we go from here? How do we go on after all this time, all this pain? Do I have a fallback plan in case it really doesn’t work?

I dunno.

But hey. At least I can tell a really funny story about it.


About author

Scooter is an ESL teacher and Japanese anthropologist. He hopes to document his thoughts of living in Japan, continued cultural studies, and to provide advice for others looking to hop the pond.

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