Take Me Back: Enoshima

It’s been so long since  I last made a post on here. Over the past few weeks my life has gotten surprisingly busy. Unfortunately not with traveling but, fortunately it’s been filled with a pretty active social life. In the spirit of summer vacation which is approaching in about three weeks and me needing a vacation, here is a little throw back post of my time in Enoshima for Golden week. Enjoy!

Enoshima

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The weather is quickly heating up in Japan and my need for a little fun in the sun is quickly approaching. Unfortunately, since I live in Tochigi I’m landlocked completely and the idea of sunbathing in a park just doesn’t seem to appealing.

Fortunately in an area not to far away from, Kanagawa prefecture is full of beaches that I could go to. Out of the three I’ve been to Kamakura, Zushi, and Enoshima; I would have to say Enoshima is my favorite one.

Enoshima is a small island off the cost Kanagawa. From Tokyo you can easily buy an Enoshima day pass which greatly reduces the cost of traveling and gives you access to most of the attractions in the area.

 

 

 

I’ve only been to three beaches in Japan so far, but so far all three have been very scenic. The route to the beach isn’t surrounded by long board walks filled with novelty swim wear shops instead Japan or at least Kanagawa prefecture has done a good job of upholding local architectural aesthetics. As for Enoshima beach it’s kind of small in my opinion it seems like it would be terrible to visit here if it gets to crowded. But the experience of the rest of the island makes it the best one of the three.

 

IMG_1916From the station there’s a long walkway that takes about 15 minutes to walk to get to the main Enoshima island. Once you’ve made it on to the island from there the rest of the way is a constant up hill battle through crowds of people, past all the food stands, and souvenir shops until you reach Enoshima-Jinja

It starts in the market area that’s a complete up hill climb. At first the crowd seems kind of uncomfortable to go through but you soon realize that everyone is moving at a predetermined slow pace so as long as you stick to the same direction as you want to move in it’s not that bad to get through.

 

You’ll soon reach the large temple at the top which has plenty of great areas for a nice scenic photo opt. After there are a plethora of stairs to climb however if you’re feeling faint, for a small feel you can take the escalators (going up only) all the way to the top.

Surprisingly there are many attractions on the island that you can visit such as a flower park, sky candle, and at least three museums. At the end of your island trek you’ll reach the rocky shore of Enoshima which gives you the most amazing view.

 

Summer vacation has gotten off to a slow start but at least I’ve had some time to explore.

 

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Beach Bum

 

Before becoming an ALT

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I think it’s funny that the natural response to “teaching English is hard” is, ” How can it be hard, don’t you know English? Just teach them English.” As if just because you know something means your a natural born teacher. Teaching in general is a pretty tough job, but teaching to people who don’t understand even half the words that come out your mouth is a whole other level of difficulty.

These past few years, Japan has made more efforts in improving its English programs. Many schools require students to learn English as a part of their core classes. Some schools have even hired permanent native English teachers in efforts to improve EFL education.

Before coming to Japan, I’ve done volunteer tutoring with ESL students so I have some experience in how to communicate but, unlike teaching in America, teaching English in another country is completely different. The national language in Japan is Japanese, so outside of music and movies the kids don’t have much exposure to English. Unless they plan on going abroad in the future, many kids just aren’t interested in learning it. Why should they if they’re not going to use it everyday.

I teach at three different high schools with over forty classes and each class has varying levels of English ability. Some students are pretty conversational while some students can barely form a sentence.Outside of JET it’s pretty easy to become an ALT but it’s not a job that’s right for everyone. Here’s a couple things I wish someone would’ve told me about teaching in Japan before I started.

Keep them Interested

This of course is easier said then done. Even Japanese kids find school to be boring most of the time. That being said I like to bring in things to help make the class more interesting i.e. pictures, fun activities, music, etc. to give them a reason to want to learn English. After all learning another language is about cultural exchange as well. Tell them things that they wouldn’t already know about your country. I love showing the kids old prom pictures or digging out the photos from my blonde days. I think one of the best lessons I’ve taught was actually on soul food where the students learned about some of the crazy deep fried treats you can find down South. I try my best to really find the quirky fun parts of the United States to share with them because that’s what will get them talking in English.

No Homework

Stated in a previous entry, Japanese kids don’t really have homework. At least not in the way that Americans think about homework. It’s treated as optional work, and it’s very possible to be at the top of your classes without doing any homework. Some ALTs use homework regularly, but personally I found it was just more work on my part with very little pay off. The kids didn’t take it seriously so I ended up grading work that they didn’t even try to do correctly. Instead I give a lot of handouts just to make sure they have something to refer back to when I’m gone.

Emphasize Talking

I’m not a very talkative person so I don’t like to lecture the students for more than 15 minutes. Outside of school the students don’t really have much exposure to English so I try to get them to talk as much as possible in English. This is also hard because many students will give you the age old excuses of I’m shy or I don’t understand to avoid being called on. I find a good way to relive this problem is getting your Japanese teacher more involved with the lessons. Having them do demonstrations and holding model conversations really helps students feel at ease because, when they see their teachers make mistakes they won’t feel as nervous making them themselves.

 

Limited Technology

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Most people really don’t understand that Japan is a pretty minimalistic country. Japanese students don’t grow up using computers for homework or really any type of classwork. So it’s pretty unrealistic to rely on technology when making your lessons. It was a real adjustment to come from having a SMARTboard in every class to relying solely on a chalk boards. I can’t look things up on the internet if something seems off, so I have to make sure my lessons are planned down to the T from all the things I want to explain to everything I might have to say in Japanese. And if I do plan on using any type of technology I always have to have a back up plan in case the computer/ internet decides not to work that day.

Be Patient

Finally, the last thing is just to be patient. I think teaching in general is very humbling, things that seem easy and obvious to me aren’t to my students. English as a second language is hard in a country where only 1% of the population speaks it fluently. So always be prepared for constant mistakes and questions from both students and teachers alike. Be patient when it comes to teaching, understand that not all students are going to take your lessons seriously. But those that do will be grateful for them and will make the effort to really improve their skills.

Looking back six months ago I never thought that I would enjoy teaching as much as I do now. I focused so much on preparing to live in Japan I never really spoke to anyone about the actual teaching part, so I wish I could’ve spent more time getting comfortable being front and center all the time. I’m not sure if teaching will be a permanent career path for me but I’m glad to know that it is a pretty fulfilling option.

What it takes to get into JET

jetIt feels so strange to write about applying for JET because when I first applied, I didn’t really see it as a goal. I knew of JET through my language courses of course but I never really had any intentions of applying to the program until I realized I had nothing to do after graduating college. Most participants have been dreaming about JET since high school, others have applied to this program maybe two or three times before being accepted. While I am happy to be here now, I will admit that I wasn’t the most ideal candidate for being an ALT. To be honest when I left the interview I felt as if I didn’t make the cut and started looking for other jobs to apply to.

Probably not something you want to read if you’re really hopping on getting in but it’s the honest truth. My grades weren’t at the top of the class, my references were turned in at the very last minute, and I had very little work experience compared to some other more qualified applicants. Along with those things I was really worried that my ethnicity would hold me back from being accepted. Not to say that JET is racist in anyway but it’s not the most encouraging thing to notice that you’re the only black person sitting in a room full of white faces. But despite all of that I was picked and I’ll share what I think was most helpful in having the interviewers choose me.

Experience

Of course experience for any job is important, but what if you don’t have any formal teaching experience? Well you have to find some opportunities. For me this was the easiest to sell myself on because I have been tutoring and teaching grade school kids throughout college. You don’t have to have your own classroom, but tutoring, volunteering opportunities, anything like that would qualify as experience. For those wanting to be ALT’s there are plenty of foreigners that are looking to learn English online, at college campuses or even at local YMCAs. I would recommend getting as much experience as you can teaching, especially if you want to be a high school ALT, you’ll be expected to run your own class and make your own lessons.

Statement of Purpose

I will admit here that I’m a pretty good writer. When multiple people tell you they really enjoyed reading your SOP that statement really sticks with you. Even though it seems long at first there two double spaced pages really isn’t that much to write. Most people mess up by rambling about why they want to come to Japan and not necessarily why they should be chosen for JET. Coming onto JET is more than just living in Japan and everyone applying to JET wants to come to Japan, so you have to talk about how your experiences will help the program. Why are you a good fit for the JET program, not why Japan is a good fit for you.

 

Preparation

Of course you should prepare for any interview you have. For the JET interview there are plenty of sites dedicated to helping you pass. There’s even sample questions which are the same used in the interview floating around somewhere online so be sure to read those questions carefully and have a good answer for each one. Make sure to do a little research on Japan as a country, i.e. current issues, political leaders, famous artists, etc. Show that you are actually interested in Japan as a country and not just for the entertainment it produces.

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Flexibility

Finally Flexibility is really important, something they stress in JET is that you might not get exactly what you are looking for as far as placement. Many people want to go to Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, etc but the reality is that you might be placed somewhere out in the middle of nowhere, on an island, where you’re the only person who speaks any English. You could get placed at a really rigorous academic school or placed in a special needs school where the kids can’t even speak Japanese. Every situation is different, and an important part of the interview is understanding that you can deal with whatever you get. If there are some things you really can’t deal with such as health or living wise of course let it be known as early as possible. But you have to be okay with the fact that your Japan experience might not be everything you were hoping it to be.

 

So there it is, my four biggest tips on getting accepted into the JET program. There is no such thing as a perfect candidate, there are plenty of people who got accepted who don’t know anything about Japan with no teaching experience. I understand that working in JET is a dream for a lot of people but understand it’s not the end all to everything. Even if you don’t get into JET there are other companies in Japan and around Asia that are offering the same job that are less rigorous. So if you’re end goal is just to live in Japan, know that there are other ways.

 

Japanese High Schools

Japanese classroom.jpgThere was never a moment in my life where I thought I would be teaching in a high school. Not to say that teaching is bad, its a very respectable job that only certain people can do well. It just wasn’t something I saw myself doing. Yet here I am in Japan none the less, teaching high school students English.

Before coming here I knew working in a Japanese high school would be different compared to working in America, but I wasn’t prepared for how different it would be from my perceptions.

Academically:

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From what I can tell going to school in Japan feels a lot more like going to college. Not in the sense that everyone is drinking, but in the sense of the way that school is taught. For instance homework isn’t all that important. As a matter of fact students aren’t required to do homework at all. Homework is just treated as extra practice, you should do it because it will help you but if you don’t no one is going to chase you down about it.

The only things students seem to be graded on is their midterm and final exams, otherwise than that they have nothing to worry about as far as grades. That’s not to say students don’t work hard. They are very studious and they do put a lot of effort into their school work. I’m pretty sure a majority of students do their homework daily but it’s just not something that they have to constantly stress about.

 

School Life:

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Life in school is much more community based. At one of my schools (I work at three) students don’t change classrooms, the teachers do. So the students spend all day with the same people.They learn together, eat lunch together, “clean” together, answer together, togetherness is a very important concept for Japan. I often get the best results from students when I allow them to work together in class.

Students also spend a lot of time at school. Some students show up early for club activities, stay late to study or do more club activities, and then some even come in on the weekends for club activities or for a quiet place to study. I was surprised to see students coming in during summer vacation for extra classes but that type of behavior is very normal.

Even as a teacher there is still a strong sense of community. As mentioned before I don’t have my own office instead I work in the teacher’s room with the English, math, Japanese department, and Vice Principal. Every morning we have a short meeting to announce changes to the schedules, absences, etc. All the departments communicate with each other about everything.

Discipline:

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This concept probably took me the longest to get used too. Discipline in Japan unless the problem is very extreme is very rarely discussed. Japanese people in general don’t really believe in discipline which was very frustrating at first. Behaviors that would seem unacceptable in America; talking in class, sleeping, being late are not really seen as problems. When these do happen teachers will kindly talk to the student and that’s about it.

That’s not to say that, they let the students get away with whatever they want but, overall Japanese students show a little more respect for their teachers than Americans do I think. I have plenty of loud and talkative students but as the year progressed the problems sort of resolved themselves. The reason for this seems that Japanese people in general don’t like to be singled out. So consistently calling attention to behavior issues eventually causes them to conform. If a student is to disruptive you can talk to the homeroom teacher or their sempai (upper class men) and they might give the student a good yelling but that’s about it. Again community is very important if your classmates, teachers, or principle find you to be a problem then its usually not good.

It’s different but I guess the system works. I haven’t seen any kids get violent or be outright disrespectful to their teachers. At the end of the day kids are all the same everywhere and they’re just looking for someone’s attention.

Energy Consumption:

This is more of a nationwide thing but since I spend most of time in a school I notice it most often here. All of my schools do their absolute best to be sure they’re using as little energy as possible. That means no AC or heat unless the weather is unbearable and all electronics are off (not standby) unless they’re being used.

It’s getting cooler outside but we can’t turn on the heat since it’s not winter yet.Instead everyone is just expected to dress warmly. They also do their best to keep off all the lights unless it’s absolutely necessary. I’ve been caught at all of my school several times having to walk through the hallways in the dark. It seems strange especially when you compare everything to home, but again its just one more thing to get used too.