A Letter to Myself (’14) from Myself (’13)

Today I was delighted and excited to see this letter in my mailbox from Oberlin Shansi.

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I had written it almost exactly a year ago at the end of the intensive month-long ESL/Shansi training session at Oberlin. (Oh, memories of Shansi House come flooding back.) It is quite an experience to read such a personal message, a written time capsule, from someone who knows me more than anyone else. As cheesy as some of the words sound, I could not have been  more sincere at that time. I knew I’d be thrown into classes with unmotivated students, so I’d need 10x more of my usual energy, enthusiasm, and optimism to both impress them (or just keep their attention) and fight off any disillusionment. Now that I’m in my last few days of teaching for the semester, I can say that I kept surprisingly true to my goals that I set back then, though I certainly haven’t done enough dancing!

(I have written my reactions to the letter at the bottom of this post.)

Dear Cassie,

Hello!I hope your time in Japan has been wonderful so far. I hope you have made time to explore and make great friends, and if not, start working on that! (*1) Today is the last full day of the Shansi retreat, and I have many hopes,fears, dreams to fulfill.

I hope to become an official member of the professional world. I want to be treated with respect and admiration by my students and my co-workers. I want to be fair and consistent and well-prepared for each day. (*2) I want to be fearless (just like Oberlin’s motto) and try new things without being such a worrier. I want to be able to move forward constantly without feeling down or getting bogged down by small things. (*3) I want to be HAPPY and spread happiness to others. I want to INSPIRE and help create new dreams. (*4)

I hope to find taiko and play often. I want to find venues to go dancing. (*5) I want to travel to see the other Fellows whom I’ve come to love this past month. (*6) I hope that by now you are responsible re: $$!! Have you been sending Evelyn your receipts? Blogging for Shansi? Are you still into 沖縄?

I fear that I’ll become lonely and feel isolated. I fear that I won’t get through to students or be taken seriously. I fear feeling that after a year I will have lost my sense of purpose, achievement. But always remember that every day you are accomplishing so much by being there. Your Junior Fellow’s naivete will show you exactly how much you’ve learned and grown. (*7) It will be so nice to be able to watch someone else grow and solidify the tie between Oberlin and Oubirin!

Don’t forget how much your family has done for you. Don’t forget how Mom and Dad always supported you in everything you did, going above and beyond in everything possible. They love you so much, so be good and Skype often, make them proud. Skype with Christian too and this time listen to what he has to say. Don’t get caught up in your own  selfish world like last time (though of course, keep living it up!). Don’t forget Tita Agnes, T. Boy, Ate Alex, Ate Cris, and Ate Joy and how they all helped raise you and made you the woman you’ve become. They have taught you to respect yourself, make smart decisions, and stand up for what you think is right. (*8) Don’t forget about Oberlin, your home away from home, which has taught you to embody equality and justice. Right now, I am an idealistic college student. Despite what happens, always stay idealistic – never give up hope! (*9) Go out and live an amazing, fulfilling life ’til the end of your days.

Also, don’t forget about Ken and how much he meant to you at this time. He really loves you now (Jan ’13) and you are lucky to have loved him.

Stay vigilant. Keep up with the news and try reading when you can. Keep in touch with friends and family. Earn your respect. Go above and beyond. Do more than you thought you ever could.

I’m so excited to see who you’ll become. がんばれ!

Love,

Cassie

Present day reactions:

1. The feelings of friendless-ness and isolation were painfully real during my first few months. Almost every day I would think to myself, “With this kind of job, and in this location, how exactly can I go about making more friends?”  Toward the middle of November I finally started meeting and hanging out with more people, therefore breaking out of my mostly-English-speaking bubble.

2. I can’t say that I was very consistent in my first few months of teaching. As I was still experimenting with various activities, methods, approaches, games, I was very “tekitou” (適当), often changing things to be more suitable to each class’s personality, and sometimes just barely pulling things together in time for class.

3. Anabel and Lissette can tell you that I am definitely still a worrier. In most cases.

4. I was most worried (ah, worrying again) about if I would have any impact at all on some of my students.. but some letters I received on my last day of Class 80 reassured me that somehow they “had a lot of fun”, “really liked [my] class”, “made a lot of friends”, and “learned a lot”. Some expressed that my stories about America and my latest visit to Australia made them want to go abroad. Perhaps my first essay topic, which asked them to describe a dream vacation in a foreign country* (that they had to research (Google) about) helped with that too.

5. Taiko was one of my first priorities since coming here, and I am now going every week to a class at the “Oedo Sukeroku Daiko Dojo” in Ochanomizu, Tokyo. I am definitely not doing enough dancing, but hope to start going to swing dancing events once in a while after my long spring break!

6. I’ll be getting to meet up with a ton of the other Shansi Fellows (both junior fellows from my year, and senior fellows)  in Indonesia (Feb 9~) and China (end of March)! I’m so excited!

7. This was basically taken from the Shansi Orientation handbook. Hehe, “naivete”.

8. Being away from family is one of the hardest parts about living and working in Japan. I have often thought about staying in Japan after Shansi, but this issue is one of the few things that gives me pause.

9. In this case, I was thinking about all the English teachers I have seen in Japan who are completely defeated by their students apathy and become completely apathetic themselves. I don’t know if it has worked this semester, but I want to be an English teacher these students remember, one who made them see the benefits of knowing two languages, or exposed them to parts of the world they hadn’t stopped to think about before.

From now on I’m just gonna keep working hard to get better at teaching. これからずっと頑張りたいと思っていおります。

But first, (once I’m finished with all my grading), I’m going to enjoy my super long vacation! 🙂

Writing Task 2: Comparing American and Japanese Movies

The prompt was to write a four-to-five paragraph essay comparing American and Japanese movies. Here are some highlights from my students’ essays….

  • Comparing Anpanman and Hancock (two quite different superheroes)

I think that another difference is about the  main character. The face of Anpanman is made of bean-jam buns. However, Hancock is a human being. I think that a bean-jam bun is more delicious than a human face. I want to eat a face of Anpanman sometime.

  • Comparing Doraemon and Terminator (two very different robots from the future)

    Doraemon and Terminator are very famous and interesting movies. Doraemon is Japanese animation. Almost all Japanese children watch it at Friday night. This animation’s main character is Nobita. He is lazy boy. Terminator is world famous  movie. The movie’s main character is terminators. They are robots. These movies have nothing in common with each other at a glance, but in reality, they have something in common.
    Doraemon and Terminator’s characters are both robot. This is the first commonality. They are robots for helping people. Nobita is helped by Doraemon. John Conner is Terminator’s character. He helped by Terminator. But almost terminators are bad characters.
    The second is they are both from the future. Doraemon comes from 2112, and Terminator comes from 2029. They came through a time slip. Why do they came past? Because they must help people. […]

  • Comparing Heroes and Spec (superhero dramas)

    Since I was seventeen years old, I have liked Heroes very much. Heroes is supernatural power’s people TV drama. IT is an American TV drama. IT was very popular TV drama in America. I have also liked spec since I was eighteen years old. Spec is supernatural power’s people too. Spec is a Japanese TV drama. IT is very popular TV drama in Japan. Both of them are popular supernatural power’s people TV dramas. I think that spec is more interesting than Heroes. Sometimes, Spec is laughed me. Spec has laughable scene. And, Heroes is more many characters than Spec. Heroes is more exciting than Spec.

  • Comparing Gundam and Transformers (two movies about giant fighting robots)

    American males don’t get wildly excited when they see TRANSFORMERS. But Japanese males get wildly excited when they see GUNDAM.

  • Comparing Action in Japanese and American movies:

The American movies are very powerful compared with the Japanese movies. The American movies use a lot of Computer Graphics, and the American movies use fires and a lot of bomb. The American movies perform the intense action. For example a person sometimes run on may cars, and a person sometimes fly in the sky on his own.
There are many comedy movies and many cartoon movies in the Japanese movies. The Japanese movies are small scale compared with the American movies. But there are many good points in the Japanese movies. For example The Japanese movies sometimes use a sword. By contrast, the American movies sometimes use guns. It represents the traditional Japan. Gun is not ordinary for the Japanese people. Therefore it is easy for me to understand a sword than a gun.

  • Toy Story vs. Crayon Shinchan

   

  • Alice in Wonderland vs. Spirited Away

 

  • The Ring vs. Ringu
  • One Missed Call vs. Chakushinari

They worked hard this semester. Very proud- and very amused. 😀

“Continue the story…”

On the first week of classes, I had my level 2 writing students get into groups of four and trade off writing stories based around four prompts. Two of the prompts were:

  1.  One day I went to school and saw it was under attack by aliens!
  2. One day I decided to go running in a haunted forest.

Here are some examples of their writing at the beginning of the semester:

  • Aliens ate many students and teachers. But a person was left alone. He is a superman! He can fight aliens. Aliens bit his leg. He had damages. But he was boyscout. He treated himself. He put up a good fight. Aliens grew weak.
  • One day I went to school and saw it was under attack by aliens! (This was the prompt.) They said “We are aliens. We’re from space.” I was very surprised and afraid of them. But we ate stacks together. Because we must eat stacks. We’ll strong what eat stacks. My skin changed green. and my eyes changed big. I looks like aliens.
  • One day I decided to go running in a haunted forest. I saw a bear. Bear appeared my behind. Bear introduced self in English. Bear’s name is Toby. Toby is so big!! His tall is about two meters. He doesn’t eat human. Because I was relieved. I made friends with Toby.

Toward the very end of the semester if I would love to redo this activity for fun.

In the meantime we are writing short essays (4 paragraphs) on My Dream Vacation. 🙂 I asked my students to answer certain questions like: Where did you go? How long did you stay? How much money did you spend? What did you do? (3 things) What did you eat? (3 things) How did you feel?

In one class, students are writing about imaginary vacations to China, England, America (Las Vegas, Hawaii) France, Spain, Italy, India, and Kyoto. In another class students are writing about those countries plus Thailand, Tahiti, Korea, and New Caledonia (a place that I’d never heard of), a French collectivity on a small archipelago to the east of Australia that is said to be “heaven on Earth”. Because I know that many of my students have never gone abroad before, I advised them to write about a foreign country rather than a place inside Japan. Many students might have originally written about Hokkaido or Okinawa. (The Kyoto student is an exception because he was absent for the brainstorming class.) To increase diversity I also limited one country to two students, so not everyone could write about Hawaii. In the brainstorming stages I allowed them to use smartphones to look up foods, activities, and places specific to those sites.

In class I usually go over certain grammar points and common mistakes within writing (a vs. the, comma usage, missing words, incomplete sentences/clauses as sentences, spelling, etc.). Last week I worked on past tense verbs that might be used to describe a vacation, and this week I taught about adjectives (to describe hotel, food, activities, mood) and connecting shorter sentences to form longer ones. (“I went to America. I went with my family. I stayed for 3 weeks.” –> “I went to America with my family for three weeks.”) I also reviewed essay structure (Intro, Body paragraph A, Body paragraph B, Conclusion) and mentioned the indentations at the beginning of paragraphs. I’m impressed with the first drafts of some of my students, and look forward to seeing their improvement over the semester.

一級を目指す、日本語力の上達!: Studying for the JLPT1

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Friends and teachers from KAI Language School.

Friends and teachers from KAI Language School.

As I might have mentioned in my bio or in other posts, I started studying Japanese quite a long time ago. Between sixth and seventh grade I had the dilemma of choosing which foreign language to study (French, Spanish, Italian, or Japanese). I am an indecisive person in general, but I suppose at the time I knew that my foreign language selection might have a huge impact on my life. I enjoyed being exposed to all four of the languages in a “quarter” each of the school year, but was leaning toward Spanish for practical reasons. Yet, since I was 6 years old I’d been attracted to Japanese, the language of which seemed least practical out of the four. I turned in my selection sheet saying “Spanish” only to run back into my guidance counselor’s office to change my decision. Needless to say, that decision was one of the biggest ones in my life.

However, although I started at an early age I felt I was never able to improve as much as I’d hope to. One reason may be was that no matter when I was studying, middle school, high school, or even in college, my exposure to Japanese would be halted as soon as I exited the classroom. There were no Japanese families whom I knew of in my mostly-white (~82%) suburban hometown in New York. Even at Oberlin College I felt like I knew most of the international Japanese students who made up a small percentage of the already fairly small student body population.

Reading was by far my greatest weakness. Because I was never exposed to Japanese outside classes, just glancing for a few seconds at the Japan Times or the inside of a novel would get me frantically closing the browser or shutting the book. I was intimidated by all the unfamiliar kanji characters and discouraged by increasingly formal or complicated grammar. I just couldn’t get myself to read.

One of the great parts about being an Oberlin Shansi Fellow is that all Fellows are granted the opportunity to take summer language courses in the language of their site (Japanese, Mandarin, Hindi, or Indonesian). Some Fellows studied in intensive programs in the States, while others like me studied in their host countries. Our levels vary tremendously, but I especially admire my friends who are studying an entirely new language right before jumping in to teach for two years!

Because I hoped to travel around for fun before taking my course and because I have already experienced a year of study abroad in Japan, I looked for an intensive upper level course that was also a short period of time. At first I applied to a brand new, 3-week, upper-level intensive program by the Hokkaido International Foundation (HIF). Their popular 8-week program has been around for a while, and one of my Oberlin teachers has taught there in the past. Unfortunately, even after completing an application (with many recommendation letters and some essays in Japanese), the program was canceled because of lack of enrollment. (I’m thinking they just didn’t advertise it enough….)

After the time and effort I and my teachers put into that application, this cancellation was a bummer. (So was not getting back my application fee.)

BUT it was also a blessing in disguise because after more searching I found the Kai Japanese Language School and their three-week JLPT Preparation Course.

Me and my friend from Belgium. He loves writing in Japanese and his kanji/vocab skills are amazing!

Me and my friend from Belgium. He loves writing in Japanese and his kanji/vocab skills are amazing!

According to the JLPT official website:

The Japanese-Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) has been offered by the Japan Foundation and Japan Educational Exchanges and Services (formerly Association of International Education, Japan) since 1984 as a reliable means of evaluating and certifying the Japanese proficiency of non-native speakers. At the beginning, there were approximately 7,000 examinees worldwide. In 2011, there were as many as 610,000 examinees around the globe, making JLPT the largest-scale Japanese-language test in the world.

Over time, test applicants have become more diverse, and use of JLPT results has expanded from skill measurement to include employment screening and evaluation for promotions and pay raises as well as use as a form of qualification.

N1 is the most difficult level.

Although I passed N2 (by a super small margin) in 2011, I wasn’t feeling very confident when I enrolled for the N1 course. I was completely terrified on the first day. However, the energetic and enthusiastic teachers plus the fun students made me feel I was in the right place.

There were only 8 students in my class: 2 from the USA (including me), 1 from England, 1 from Italy, 1 from Latvia, 1 from Iran, 1 from Belgium, and 1 from Australia (in that seat order). Everyone was super motivated, and that was inspiring.

Our class was small and intimate.

Our class was small and intimate.

Like the actual exam, class was broken up into segments: 文字語彙moji goi, 文法bunpou, 読解 dokkai, and 聴解choukai (Vocabulary and kanji, grammar, reading comprehension, listening comprehension).

Every segment was tremendous help for me, but the best part that I was forced to READ.
Four hours straight, twenty hours a week of strategy lessons and practice questions forced me to get over my inhibitions, looking for the meanings of the passages rather than the reading of every single unfamiliar character. The course really changed my outlook on Japanese, and hard work paid off because the first and final practice exams revealed that my reading comprehension score rose by 42%!!! (Albeit you can imagine it was miserable to begin with.)

As a student of Japanese and as a Shansi Fellow, my time at KAI was really an invaluable experience. Now I have new friends from AND I can read without freaking out! (Still need to use dictionaries though.)

Sadly after one week I’m already beginning to forget some of the difficult grammar patterns and words that appear mostly in written works… Luckily I have a classmate, friend, and study partner in Tokyo! Even though I’ll start teaching English soon, I’ll try my best to keep up my studies and pass the N1 in December! これからも、私なりに頑張って生きていきます。

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The small but proud JLPT N1 class. :)

The small but proud JLPT N1 class. 🙂

Now the daily rush-hour commute into Tokyo, THAT was another “interesting” experience…