Sunday, September 11, 2011

Language is Overrated...

Being one of the only tall, white, female teachers for miles around definitely makes a person more conspicuous, which increases the chance of being recognized by nearly every 15- to 18-year-old high school student in town. I’m not complaining; instant popularity is fabulous. However, I can already foresee some embarrassing situations taking place when we get back to the States. Here in Aizu Wakamatsu, whether I am in the grocery store, school, or riding my bike down the street, I can be 99.999% sure that every “Hello!” (more like “Hallow!”) that I hear is directed toward either me or James, so it has really become habit to turn, smile, and say “Hello!” back. (This brief encounter, by the way, is always followed by uncontrollable giggling. Who knew that one word could be so funny?) But I know that when we get back to an English-speaking country, I’ll be so used to turning and responding, “Hello!” to anyone’s greeting that I’m sure I’ll get some strange looks as I turn and interrupt phone calls and other private conversations.

Living in Japan with less-than-survival-level Japanese skills has given me some unique insights into Japanese culture and human communication in general. First, rather than getting to know my Japanese co-workers or the branch members by hearing what they say, I am learning a lot about them by how they express themselves. It’s interesting how much you can learn about a person by focusing entirely on the expression of their conversation rather than the content. Second, the Japanese people may be shy or have inadequate English, but they still want to communicate and include everyone in the conversation. This means one of two things for me; either 1) I smile and nod and then say, “Oh, ok!” when the seven-minute completely Japanese conversation is summed up in one English word, or 2) I smile and nod as the seven-minute conversation directly involving me takes place without the summary. I started Japanese classes this week though, so hopefully things will get less fuzzy in the linguistics department.

Funny moment at church today; I had to capture it. This is what happens when you ask Japanese people a question. My visiting teachers were trying to figure out where I live and half the branch got involved in trying to draw a map for them. Definitely a group-based society.
Classes have finally started for both of us. We are really enjoying the time we get to spend with the kids, James at elementary school and me at high school. Most of my lessons so far have been get-to-know-you lessons, so I ask each class to tell me a little bit about themselves and then give them time to ask me questions. This activity has generated some pretty hilarious responses. In one class, there were 14 students and only one of them was a girl. She sat in the back corner of the class and looked completely miserable. When she introduced herself, she said, “My name is so-and-so and I don’t like English.” Great start to our year together. Below are some of the crazy questions I have gotten from students:

*Do you love me?
*Are you pregnant? (That kid is totally failing my class…)
*What is your first impression of me?
*What do you think of So-And-So Sensei?
*What kind of men do you like?
*How many CDs do you have?
*Have you ever been to Miami?

September's bulletin board. It looks much better in real life, I promise. The tree is 3-D and everything. The students are supposed to write their name on a leave and attach it to the board.

My favorite school to teach at so far is called Odaka “satellite” school, meaning that the students from this school were evacuated to Aizu Wakamatsu because their homes are too close to the nuclear power plant in east Fukushima. There are only 23 students in this branch of the satellite school, and the kids are really energetic and happy. The Japanese teacher I work with at this school is great. Her name is Miki and she speaks wonderful English.
My bento lunch from Odaka school; it also came with curry and rice. I thought Japanese people ate smaller portions. Apparently that stereotype was not true. I couldn't even finish the whole thing, but I love the variety in each meal.

Not having an oven has forced us to get creative with our cooking, especially our desserts. Last night, we attempted (quite successfully, I might add!) to make homemade ice cream from milk, yogurt, sugar, and vanilla. Great date night activity and oh-so-yummy. 

Our awesome strawberry homemade ice cream: milk, sugar, strawberry yogurt, and a little vanilla.

My birthday cake...made with pancake mix in the rice cooker. Didn't turn out too bad, actually.
All in all, it has been a great week. We are very blessed to have the opportunity to able to take part in such a grand adventure.

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