Wednesday 30 March 2011

Day in the life of a JET participant on the JET Programme

So here I am in the morning, drinking Sencha (a type of green tea) after just getting into the office. Recently it has been pretty quiet due to haruyasumi 春休み (spring holiday/break), so I have time to kill. Hopefully I can share a bit about the life of a jet. While I said "day in the life" of a JET, it is hard to explain what an average day is like because there is so much variety. I'll try go over a bit of everything. Plus, it doesn't just stop with school, there are many other things you'll likely be involved in.

Ok, firstly, the kinda daily run down and happenings during school season:

I generally get start by catching my bus around 8am. I need to be at school, at my desk, and ready for the morning meeting by 8.25am. Sometime you'll probably find yourself wanting a stop by the konbini (convenience store) for a Salmon Onigiri (riceball), really sugary pan (bread), and coffee.

The morning meeting: At my 2 High schools this starts at 8.25am (though not during school holidays). At this time the Principal (Kouchou-sensei) and the Head-teacher (Kyotou-sensei) will be in the Shokuin-shitsu (staff room) to kick off the daily meeting. It'll start with a group "Ohayou Gozaimasu" (Good morning) and bow, and then later the meeting will end with a group "Yoroshiku Onegai-itashimasu/Onegai-shimasu" (Lets do our best kind-of feeling) and bow. They will go over all the important daily events in this meeting (as well as special schedules etc). I usually get a weekly print out of important events (as does all the staff, of course in Japanese). Pay attention, even if you don't understand. Ask your supervisor if you need to do anything, but usually it'll be ok, you'll get the hang of sensing weird schedules after a while.
Anyways, after this 5-10min meeting the home room teachers will go and see their classes for a short time. I usually use the remaining time before 9am to prepare if I have any 1st period classes.
After this there will be the classes. My school has 6 50minute classes. Last class ends about 3.25pm. Followed by cleaning. The time I can leave is 4.10pm, although, sometimes I will be at English club.

Classes: Classes start at 9am and they last for 50mins each (with a 10 min break between). So generally at my High school I have about 10-13 classes a week (or less, or more). This is only when we have "normal" teaching days. Other days I will have significantly less (which feels like a lot of the time sometimes). This can be due to: the last year students graduating, testing periods, holidays, sports days, etc etc. Because JET is working in a school environment, it all depends on the school year. So, at the minimum, I have no classes. At the maximum I have had about 4 classes in a day (rare). Again, this depends on your school, how many schools you have, type of school, etc etc. I know quite a few that are in my position, but I do know of some that have many classes.

While you're not in classes: You will probably be working on preparing for the weeks classes, catching up with your English teachers, perhaps helping students with English (always been fun), studying Japanese, planning out your week/next week, making games, talking with other teachers, etc etc. Again depends on what is happening in the school.

Other things apart from in the classroom: I help out everyday with supervising the end of day cleaning (of 1 bathroom); many have after school clubs (I personally try and help at the English club); In the summer you will likely be involved in the annual sports day; my school will sometimes go and clean the neighborhood for a good 2 hours; marathon days; etc, etc
Generally just want to give you the idea that you won't be stuck in the classroom your whole JET life.

Ok, so far it has been about things at the school, but another event that seems frequent (esp right now as some teachers leave around end of March each year)....Enkai! (Casual or formal party). So these Enkai things... you will probably have one for your arrival (perhaps some time after), when teachers leave, when new teachers come, for the younger teachers, for the English teachers, for graduation, end of the year, start of the year, お疲れ様 otsukaresama (thanks for the hard work) parties, season parties, for the sake of having one (get it haha... sake... sake - the alcoholic beverage). Anyways, lots of parties. Many you really should attend (because they are more official), but then some feel more optional. It is great to go and get to know who you work with. You don't have to drink much (as I carefully watch how much I drink), but be careful, in Japan it is almost always all-you-can-drink. Also, if it is official, there will almost always be people that ask you to come to a ni-ji-kai (second party)... and then maybe a san-ji-kai (third party). So do be careful about how much you drink because usually it will be all-you-can-drink and 2 or more parties.

Anyways, that is a lot and yet I feel I have gotten no where. Let me know questions and i'll answer them below ;)

Tuesday 22 March 2011

My thoughts about buying your first cellphone in Japan

So, I came to Japan some time ago, and have had a while to think about what I should have done when first buying my cellphone.
At one point in this blog I said it may be a good idea to buy a Nintendo 3DS and get the Japanese dictionary software instead of buying a Japanese Electronic dictionary. However, it would be far better to buy a decent cellphone right from the get-go. So, for starters, there is 3 main cellphone providers in Japan: Docomo, Au, and Softbank. Asking around, I can't really find many differences in quality/service (this may be different if you live far from the cities in the mountains next to a rice field). However, Softbank in particular seems to focus on smartphones (IPhones, etc)

To cut this short my advice is... think about what you will need during your time in Japan. You are paid well, think about what new things you want to acquire in the next year or two. So, if you wrap all this up in to what you cellphone could potentially do, what do you get? For myself, I found after a while I wanted/needed a Electronic Japanese dictionary (with Kanji input of course), and a way to check up Japanese sentences/travel info. Thinking about this, perhaps it would have been best to get an Android (hint hint, bias here) or Iphone which has dictionary apps for free or cheap, and good internet capabilities. That way you can input kanji by the touchscreen, etc etc.

Also more advice, forget the gimmicks that Japanese phones offer. There is so much packed into some of these phones, but in reality you may never use it. For example, water-proof phones. How often do you plan to submerge your phone in water? If your prone to dropping things in the toilet, this may be actually useful. Many other games/apps/tools loaded by the provider end up never being used. Built in camera? Surely useful, but don't go overkill. A handheld will always be better, and a good one isn't hard to come across in Japan. Solar phone? Good from trampers (hikers), but if you don't do that regularly you can always charge it every night. Ok, get the idea. Don't buy the phone for a gimmick. Check out that it has what you want, you are likely to get a 1-2 year contract. So make sure, if you want a alpha keyboard, that it has a software/hardware one. Does it have access to those apps you want, etc etc.

Also, for those that have signed up and want to change your contract, I have heard (needs confirming) that some providers (Softbank) will pay-off your current contract (on another network) and sell you a phone cheap. Check it out at the nearest store or something if you really want to change.

Omiyage (お土産)- about bringing gifts(souvenirs) for your fellow teachers - First months with JET programme

So you've probably heard about people brining souvenirs from their home country to give to their fellow teachers. This is a part of the culture in some ways, and is a good idea.
In Japan the word souvenirs can be translated as "Omiyage" お土産.
I knew about this a bit before I came, thanks to my embassies introduction. In Japan, buying Omiyage while your away on holiday & business trips to give to your co-workers is a normal thing. Generally the Omiyage are not that expensive in Japan (1000円ー2000円) When I go on holiday around Japan I usually grab some Omiyage for my co-workers just before I leave the city.
I say all this just to give you an idea of the culture you'll be coming into. The teachers aren't expecting you to give them anything, it is just a nice gesture and shows you understand the culture. As in Japan, you don't need to bring a expensive Omiyage from your home country. Usually Omiyage here are boxes (20-30 pieces) of small food items local to places in Japan. If you have some peculiar food in your country it might be a good idea to try and find a small box of them.
I went to a local souvenir store and brought many small cheap items (not tacky, but cheap). I brought a nice Paua shell letter opener for the Kouchou-Sensei (principal), and a small plate with a scene on it for Kyoto-Sensei (head teacher). For the teachers I worked with I brought small key chains (accessory culture here is big ;) of New Zealand animals/famous things. I brought some local soaps (Kiwi fruit soap, Manuka honey) for my supervisor (some Japanese will regularly use their bath).
So pretty much, I brought some small interesting items for the key people i'll be working with. You can't buy something for every teacher, so if you can bring something to share (like I said, 20-30 piece pack deal) then that'll be good. Also, some people may have many schools, if that is the case then maybe just buy small things for a few key people or just a pack of home country food to share around each school. Also, check about how many staff members you have in your staff room (職員室 Shokuin shitsu). I usually need about 2 packs of Omiyage to go around my main school. Yet, my previous school 1 pack would easily suffice.

Also, if you want to try some Japanese, this phrase might come in use as you hand someone a small gift: これはつまらない物ですが、どうぞ。 Said like: Kore wa tsumaranai mono desu ga, douzo. Literal: "This is a uninteresting thing, but please take it." Translation: "This is only a small thing, but please take it"

Anyways, nothings to hard about this. Just understand that it is nice to include people in where you have been by buying them small Omiyage (also you might be involved in good conversations as you hand out your first Omiyage to staff).

Let me know if you have any other tips.

A few things I wish I brought

  • Weird food that rivals the Japanese Natto (fermented soybean). If they try an inflict Natto on you then whip out some of your own countries terrible food to let them try.
  • Some crazy as tea flavors. They love tea here, so if you have some crazy as tea flavors, it might be good to take out on a rainy day.
  • Chocolate. The chocolate portions you can buy are pretty small here, it might be nice to surprise someone with how generous the chocolate portions are in other countries (bear in mind that it may be frying hot summer when you arrive).
  • As I said above, small local foods that all the teachers can try.
  • Bring a few local recipes with you. Cook them up one day and bring them along to a party or share it at work.
  • Energy drinks are a lot different here. I was surprised to find they were nothing like "Red Bull", V Energy drink, etc, etc (I have actually been able to find Red Bull in a few convenience stores). Still, I miss my Guarana hit.   

Monday 7 March 2011

Preparing your self introduction - JET programme

So before you even leave Japan you will surely be told that you have to do a self introduction to each of your classes. Hearing this I was pretty nervous... how do you do an introduction for 50minutes to High school students! Ahhh.
But, honestly, this will be even easier than your actual classes you face later on (not that they are hard either). It really is up to you.
So, I did all my introductions with Powerpoint (check with your supervisor if this is available to you) in a Audio/Visual classroom. You'll have a long time to prepare because of the Summer break, so here are a few pointers I thought the students found interesting (beer in mind....hahaha... that I was presenting this to high schoolers).
  • The students love looking at picture of your countries strange food. I come from NZ so it is nothing extraordinary, but they loved it. I made a slide full of interesting foods. Ice cream flavors not available here, pies, etc etc.
  • A slide of all the things my country is famous for (I made them guess for points). Gives a good overview of the country.
  • I used my countries tourism video. It was about 5 minutes with a great overview of culture and scenery. 
  • Pop-culture from my country. Comedians, movies, songs, etc. I included a video from Flight of the Conchords (very funny), a tralier from Lord of the Rings (while pointing out that it was all in NZ).
  • Things in your country that are slightly different from Japanese things. Saying there was Onsen in NZ, wow! Hotpools, boiling mud, etc, was very interesting to them. Point out some similar things between Japan and your country then destroy that similarity by telling all the differences. Yes, we wear swimsuits in our Hotpools!
  • Things which are so different in your country that they're alien. 
  • Brief history of something interesting in your country. I did some extinct birds. The Moa. I compared the size of a human to a drum stick (englarged KFC) to a human. Wow, it is the same size as a fully grown man! Then, tell them that some giant eagles (Haasts Eagle) used to eat these other birds. What! The other bird was already soooo big!
  • Cultural dances, songs, sports. I included a video of the All Blacks (NZ rugby team) performing the Haka (cultural dance... I guess). They loved it, and knew about it. Amazingly some girls really got into it and asked for it to be played a second time. They loved the big Adidas logo at the end.
  • I built a few quiz into my powerpoint to make sure they were listening.
Of course, after all of this, you still have to introduce yourself. Make sure they know a little about you, who you are. The above are just a few examples of what I did, but you know, craft something for your students interests. Think of the 50minutes as 10 5minute slots (although you may use 5 minutes due to greetings and other unknowns, and another 5 for questions already). What 10 categories (or just interesting things) can you share about your country, yourself? 

Ok, last thing. Also, for your first time, prepare something in case you have extra time: a 5 min video, small game, country quiz, speech, whatever.

Let me know if you have any questions about your intros.

Wednesday 2 March 2011

Buying a Japanese/English Electronic dictionary: perhaps a great alternative

So, for a while I've been wanting a electronic dictionary to translate Japanese while I'm reading without going all the way to my computer. However, I got thinking. It cost about 30,000yen for on of these dictionaries in which you can write Kanji on the touch-sensitive pad, but it actually cost a little less to buy a Nintendo 3DS. Now, I found that you can buy a game for the Nintendo DS called "Kanji Sonomama Rakubiki Jiten" and from what I've heard it is a good dictionary with the ability to enter Kanji. The 3DS apparently has backward compatibility with all DS and DSi games. Sweet!
So, you know, it seems wise to grab one of these 3DS machines and the dictionary cartridge and get a few bonus features on the side (such as 3D movie player, and 3DS!).