Thrown to the (Little) Lions

So, several months later and about to start my second term, I’m finally getting round to telling you about the start of my first term at school.

With so many schools I had three days of ‘first days’ in one week (with two of my mountain schools on the second). For these days my trainer (C-san) co-attended to help me settle in.

The relationship between my schools and the last ALT wasn’t brilliant and she’d had to leave in the middle of term, so it helped to have C-san there to smooth over any issues. From then on it would be up to me to repair and strengthen the relationship with the schools. It’s lucky that years of experience in the service industry plus patriarchal expectations of women has me set on default smile.

Having C-san co-attending was a great way to get me used to things through example (as I’m a visual learner), despite being slightly intimidating as he is a very good teacher. However, it’s important when first starting…anything, really…to remember that there are always going to be people better and worse at it than you, which I tried to keep in mind for those few days.

It’s a very different dynamic teaching as a duo, but it definitely helped to get me used to the classroom environment! It was also great fun, and not something you get to do most of the time as an ALT (at least, not with another ALT).
C-san uses a comedy style to teach, so the kids have fun and relax enough that they feel comfortable trying to use the language. He uses the Manzai comedy style, which generally has two performers – a tsukkomi (the serious one) and the boke (the funny one) which has a long history in Japan but is now largely associated with the Kansai region and Kansai-ben – the Kansai dialect.
Sometimes C-san leads the kids to say something in the style of the boke so he can react as the tsukkomi, but more often he plays the boke (this also happens a lot unintentionally because he is quite accident prone) and the kids are generally on point about laying into him as the tsukkomi. I enjoyed working together with him using Manzai because I got to play the tsukkomi!

It’s interesting to find out just how many factors influence teaching style: your own personality, the way the society views you, your perceived gender, the way you look…it goes on. My trainer is male and an American Asian, he has a great understanding of Japanese culture and comedy, and is able to use it very effectively in the classroom. For him this works brilliantly, but for me it’s not always an option. As a foreign woman, they expect me to act cute (*throws up in mouth*). In the time I’ve had teaching so far, I have found I can be silly with them, partly because I am a massive klutz and therefore often accidentally comedic (I managed to get my trousers hooked on the chalk drawer once and got loose chalk all over my bum) – but it still has to have that element of cuteness to go across well.

Luckily I am British and have perfected the ability to smother my self-loathing in layers of sarcasm.


Meeting the Rabble

I was back in the office the day after the move (Saturday), leaving my apartment in the barely-moved-in shambles you might expect (or just expect anyway if you know me).

All the Seto ALTs had been called in for a refresher training day, as we were mid-way through term, which gave me the perfect chance to get to know a few people in my area right off the bat.

The training was focused on getting an experience of each other’s teaching styles and bouncing around ideas for activities. The main focus was geared towards helping us experience how it feels to be the student in an immersive language context, and to learn to put aside awkwardness in front of the students: learning to ‘stay in character’.

Seeing the others in character was excellent – especially the way Macky (Jamaica) switched between her very blunt (and wonderful) natural delivery, to the hyper-enthusiastic fun-generator needed for class. It was magical, not to mention funny, to watch.

A lot of the others were pretty annoyed at having to go into the office on a weekend, especially as many of them live way out in the Seto ward, so it’s a bit of a trek (it takes me 2 trains and just over 30 mins and I live mid-way!). Once we were finished, spirits were much improved by the decision to go for sushi afterwards.

There are some really good kaitenzushi (conveyor-belt sushi) places here, good quality and much more reasonably priced than the sushi-ya (sushi restaurants).

This one was unfortunately not one of the better ones.

The staff, no doubt mightily alarmed by the huge group of gaijins that traipsed in, decided it was for the best that we were seated in two groups on opposite sides of the restaurant…can’t blame them all that much to be honest.

Despite the so-so sushi and the division of the group, it was nice to get to know the others, and to be surrounded by such a variety of people: American, Egyptian-Canadian, Australian, Jamaican, Filipino, Irish – quite the mix!

After sushi we split up, and I headed into Sakae accompanied by Nelson (America) and Mai (Canada/Egypt). Phone was once more spectacularly not sorted. But we did do some wandering in Osu and found a fantastic okonomiyaki place!

IMG_0812The road we generally take into Osu from Sakae.

IMG_0821Okonomiyaki arrives!

IMG_0826After six years of okonomiyaki deprivation, this was the perfect reunion!

IMG_0828The staff here were incredibly nice and gave us little booklets about the area (weirdly narrated by the local idol group). 

I can’t remember the name of the restaurant but I will find out and update here when I do!

Choosing my Home for a Year(ish)

Having not had much info about apartments, it turned out the process was a simple one. I sat down with one of the Interac OL’s (office ladies) who showed me several options to choose from on a map.

One of my options was a shared accommodation arrangement in a Freebell apartment. I went to check it out and met the girl I would potentially be sharing with, but in the end I decided I would much rather have my own space.

This was before the 110th change to my placement, after which the Freebell option wouldn’t have worked anyway. *sigh*

I ended up going with a well-known company for individual apartments across Japan: Leo Palace. From my experience and what I’ve heard from others, the Leo Palace is 100% worth the little bit extra you pay to be living alone. Judging by the other place I saw, the quality is definitely better than the Freebell apartments.

Rather than get a place close to my schools but far from the city, or vice versa, I chose an in-between area. Though I didn’t realise it at the time, it was a good choice regarding the trains, as it’s the last stop for the express train into Sakae (the main entertainment district).

The express/semi-express (or rapid in some cities) stations, as well as the distance from your apartment to the station, are big things to bear in mind when choosing your apartment. It takes me around 10 mins to walk to the station, which would normally be fine, but in the summer heat it has been killer – especially when I’ve had to rush to catch the train (often).

The upside of living a little bit further from the station is that I’m surrounded by allotments and rice paddies (and the frog chorus!), with a balcony to enjoy it from.


Make the Next One Happy

I’ve been told by my friend and fellow ALT, Nelson, that my titles are too depressing and I should ‘make the next one happy’. Well, there you go.

So, my placement. The whole painful process went something like this:

A couple of weeks before the flight – Placement: Tokai, Nagoya;
A week before the flight – Tokai contract fell through, possibly Osaka (over-excitement because Osaka);
A few days before the flight – Not Osaka. Told “Don’t worry” (?????);
First two days of training – Placement: Ogaki, junior high school and elementary school;
Third day of training…

When we came in for the third day we were taken individually to speak with the manager. At this point we were told that the area Tom was assigned to had decided that they wanted a female teacher.

Change number gazillion: Placed in Seto Ward, teaching elementary school.

So yeah, all pretty stressful, but being a very cool, calm and collected Brit I definitely didn’t get completely fed-up and try to quit so I could go and work at an eikaiwa (language school) instead… Definitely not… The big changes I posted about a while ago were in relation to this. (I was very pissed off, but it was all sorted out in the end!)

I’m working in five elementary schools, and start at a sixth (special needs) school come September. I can’t name the schools for confidentiality reasons, but will nickname them (with a mixture of numbers and letters because I want to watch the world burn):

School A
School B
These two are the biggest schools I work at and the ones I am at most frequently.

Mountain School 1
Mountain School 2
I have these two on the same day and have to get a taxi from the station, between them, and back to the station. (this was originally a driving position, but as I don’t have a license… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Mountain School 3
I have to get a taxi to this one too, but I only have it once a fortnight.

So now you all know what I’m teaching/where I’m teaching! And it took me less than two months! Not bad.

Turning Back the Time

Going back, I’m going to work from my post about moving to purin heaven! (Goodness I miss being so close to the purin!)

I didn’t meet the other trainee until the next morning (Monday 6th June). He only arrived late that night, after a horrendous travel experience. His first flight had been delayed, meaning a 6 hour stopover in China turned into a 5 minute sprint to the gate to catch his connecting flight to Tokyo.
Can you guess what couldn’t run as fast as he could to the connecting flight? You got it: his luggage.
This human being has possibly the worst luck I have ever heard of (sorry Tom if you’re reading, but at least it means your ability to sarcasm is now on point!)

Future Interac-er’s (and all travellers really), take from this these two important lessons:
1) Always arrive earlier than needed (e.g. for training/a job) in a country when you’re going to be jetlagged af!
2) Always bring the essentials in a carry on!

As he wasn’t around in the evening, I popped a note under his door (it wasn’t creepy guys, okay!) to let him know what time I’d be leaving in the morning so we could head to the office together – and it worked! A victory for pens and paper.

I had assumed that there would be other trainees staying at a different hotel, but as it turned out it was just the two of us. This made for a very intensive and overwhelming four days of training, mixed with a drug screening (at the office) and a chest X-ray (to make sure we didn’t have TB – we were taken to a clinic by an Interac staff member).

Little did we know what a stress rollercoaster that week would turn out to be…!

[Aside: Apologies if I go into seemingly unnecessary detail about some things, generally they will be about the company/work, targeting any future Interac employees wondering about this process. I struggled to get info from Interac about what the situation would be once I got here, so I’m hoping to fill some of the gaps!]


So I’m back from my unplanned hiatus, where I sort of (definitely) promised several times I would update then didn’t…apologies! I realise that my posts so far give no indication of what my life is currently like (unless you follow my Instagram, and then basically what you know is: there is food). I shall now commence to remedy the situation. There is a high probability that this may also turn out to be an overly-optimistic promise. If so…sorry again!

So the next bits I will be posting will be backdated, and I’ll try not to be too disorganised in what I’m writing, but there’s that over-optimism again.

For now, a current update is that the cicadas have hatched here, and its lovely and awful at the same time. Lovely because its a sound I feel nostalgic about, although not what the nostalgia is for. Awful because it is also a sound on the extreme end of irritating in large doses.
I am profoundly glad I don’t live in the house I pass on my walk to work, with the tree in the garden emitting this sound…

The Move: Part 1

The journey began on Weds 25th May, when I made all my last minute preparations and caught the train to fly from Gatwick to Amsterdam.
Mum and I started the morning picking up the final few things: yen, an adapter (which has since gone missing) and work shoes (which I now find I won’t need – to be explained).

Everyone seemed to have decided that today was the day to move slowly in front of me, or be an infuriatingly indecisive driver – a theme that continued at the airport. I am always unpleasantly surprised by the number of people blithely unaware of their surroundings in airports (their surroundings being me + two super heavy bags – cue tuts, eye rolls and the great British ‘thinning of the lips’).

So, after going to the wrong terminal, everything else went smoothly. I powered through customs and had cause to glare at a number of people.
With two hours to wait I was forced to settle in to have a cup of piss coffee at Starbucks, and as I found my seat in the window, was met with the sight of a dead bird on the opposite roof. An ill omen if ever I saw one. Luckily nothing could put me off my coffee even more than the coffee itself.

I made it to the gate with plenty of time to turn around and go back to Starbucks to get my coat, and get back again with plenty of time.
I was wholly unsurprised by the 25 minute wait on the runway, but pleasantly surprised by the nice Canadian-studying-in-the-UK couple that were sat next to me. I imagine they were surprised by my inability to stop talking about all the food in Amsterdam the entire flight.