Monday, November 29, 2010

ES Tour Week 4: Thankful

Last week was week four of my elementary school tour, with a day off thrown in on Tuesday for "Labor Thanksgiving", which I'm assuming is the Japanese version of Thanksgiving, with probably a lot less turkey.

My first school of the week was pretty far south, nestled in the mountains surrounding Sapporo. It was a very small school, as the classes only had about 17 students, when most classes have 30-40. I enjoyed the kids here, they were very nervous to speak with me, but slowly warmed up after a while. After lunch, they asked me to play "Onigakko" with them in the gym, which is basically Japanese tag. I ran more than I've run in a long time, and was actually sore the next day. The second day I was there, I had lunch with a charming class of fifth graders. One of the boys I sat next too proceeded to try to explain to me the conflict with North and South Korea, all through gestures. When he made the explosion sound, I got the gist of what he was saying. He asked me if I liked Kim Jong Il, and I said no I didn't. He said me too.
This was my little lunch group. I love how you can see each of their personalities in this picture. One of them asked me during lunch what type of man I like. I said tall. He looked disappointed. Can you guess which one?

When I left on my last day all the 5th and 6th grade came to see me off. It was very sweet.

My next school was up north, and a little more suburban. The 6th graders were super shy, the shyest I've experienced. The teacher wanted me to choose a few to speak to, and I thought I was going to give them heart attacks! But leave it to good ol' Sneaky Statues to get them warmed up and loving me by the end of the class. It was at this school that I signed more autographs than anywhere else. I felt like a celebrity - huge crowds of kids asking, "Sign please", as they handed me their notebooks, textbooks, and pencil cases. One boy asked for my autograph 6 times! Towards the end I was getting really creative - putting in hearts, stars, or smiley faces with my signature. One group of girls - and one boy - followed me around habitually. Feeling a little bit like a celebrity I called the boy my bodyguard. Maybe the fame was going to my head a bit.

Oh, and let's not forget about Thanksgiving! I wasn't off on Thursday, but we did get to have a Thanksgiving feast at a restaurant and bar called TK6. I was relieved that we got to eat a delicious dinner without having to cook, and it was nice to see other ALTs I haven't seen in months!

It was GOOD!!

So now everyone and everything is gearing up for Christmas. There's beautiful lights up in Odori Park (more on that later), we bought a Christmas tree, and the snow is falling! In fact, the snow's been falling all day - beautiful, fluffy flakes, the kind you don't mind walking in. Well, I didn't mind anyway. I'm just so thankful to have had this wonderful experience here and to have met the people I have. Life is good!!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Apartment Tour

I've been putting this off for a while, mainly because I kept telling myself the place is not quite finished yet. But I think it's about as finished as it's gonna be for a while. All the big furniture pieces were here when we arrived, and the only things I brought from the US was a calendar and my Camilla Engman canvas above our dining table. I wanted to keep things simple and basic, but still true to my design style. But I've been slowly accumulating cute home decor to liven to place up a bit. I have a feeling I'm going to be bring a lot more back with me to the States than when I got here!!
Our apartment complex. We live on the third floor.

It's been a fun challenge decorating this place. I made the garland above our bed and the yarn "art" above our "couch". You may have noticed the lack of bed in Ethan's room. Ethan sleeps on a Japanese futon, which we fold away in his closet during the day. It was supposed to be the alternative for him until we could buy him a bed, but he loves it. It's hard to believe that all my stuff is in a storage shed in Canyon, and how I really haven't missed all those things too much. It's actually been refreshing to live a little more simply.

With that said, these are things I still want to get: an afghan for our bed, some more potted plants, and a beanbag chair for Ethan's room.

And you know me, always keeping the place tidy, just in case company comes over!

Monday, November 22, 2010

ES Tour Week 3: Teaching is hard work!

These last 3 weeks of elementary schools have been some of the most exhausting and most fulfilling days I've had in a long time. I'm guess that since the school only gets you for two days, they're gonna make sure to get the most out of ya! When I'm not team-teaching classes I'm visiting other's classes. And just when I sit down in the teacher's room, a group of kids will usually knock at the door looking for me.

And man, have I been all over Sapporo! One day I'll be in the south near the mountains, and the next day I'll be amidst the factories in the east. I've taken buses, subways, and the tram (streetcar). And thank goodness for my iphone! The map on that thing has saved me so many times, I haven't gotten lost yet!!

A few of the teachers I've worked with have asked me if I have any American games to play with the students, so I've been testing out some of my old reliable theater games. They don't really have anything to do with learning English, but the kids have fun, and the shy ones definitely warm up to me after a game of Sneaky Statues (which I'm calling "Janitor" in Japan). I think the teachers love the game just as much as the students, and some of them even join in!

Nathan has a full-time job as well! He's working for an after-school English school (if that makes any sense). I met the owner of the school, Mary, yesterday at a staff party they had, and she's really great. She's half Japanese, half Brazilian, and speaks Portuguese, English, and Japanese. I think she's going to be a great person to work for, and I think Nathan feels better now that he has some consistent pay. Ethan's doing great in school - he's improving in math and has made some good friends. The other day he came home from playing with friends with an armful of long sticks. He told me that he and his friend were making spears for when the Earth floods in 2012. I'm just happy he's outside and playing with friends, even if they are preparing for disasters!

More observations of Japanese elementary schools:

  • During lunch, every student wears an apron and a bandana (for their hair). Most even have placemats.
  • Accordions are standard musical equipment. Here's the proof:
  • Each classroom has an aquarium which either contains gold fish or small lobsters.
  • ES students love to have your autograph. I signed at least 15 English textbooks today.
  • They also love to give you gifts. Here's a pile of origami I received from one school:
  • A few people have asked me why Japanese are always throwing up the peace signs for pictures. I have no idea, and I'm not sure if anyone knows. They could be doing worse gestures with their hands, so I'll take the peace signs!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

ES Tour Week 2: Observations

My second week of the elementary tour is almost over, and I have now visited 4 schools. I'm really glad I have the opportunity to visit so many, as it gives me a chance to really experience the broad range of neighborhoods and kids that make up Sapporo. Every school and it's students have been different, but there are definitely some common denominators I've noticed with each visit. Here's my very scientific (ha!) observations thus far:

  • As a visiting ALT, you are seen as a rock star to the students. They oooh and ahhh over your eye and hair color, clap and cheer when you walk into the room, and watch you with awe as you say "hello". At my first school last week, I had a group that called themselves the "Sarah fan club". This group walked me to the bus stop on my last day, and ran beside the bus as it was driving away. It's a bit surreal.
The Sarah Fan Club.

  • The amount of work a Japanese elementary school teacher is required to do amazes me. Each Home Room Teacher is not only the teacher of your regular classes - math, science, Japanese - but also teaches music, art, calligraphy, sewing and cooking, etc. There are no specials teachers, so the HRT does it all. Oh yeah, and teach English. Phew!
  • When I eat lunch with the students, they enthralled with my ability to use chopsticks. I find this with the adults as well.
  • Accordions are one of the instruments used by students in music class.
  • Every Japanese student knows Texas and cowboys. And they think my parent's house is huge!
  • I've been called "beautiful" and "cute" more times than I can count. It's quite the ego boost.
  • Japanese 1st graders are about the cutest things I've ever seen. Especially when they try to talk English.
I have to say, it's so nice to be able to go to work with a huge smile on your face, and the kids don't ask you why you're so happy all the time (what my former US students used to tell me). Now when I smile, they smile back. I have a month and a half of elementary schools to go, and I can't wait to see what's ahead.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

I think I'm cooking Japanese

When I first moved here, I didn't cook for the longest time. Sure, there were lots of restaurants and socializing going on the first few weeks we arrived, but honestly, I was scared to cook. The Japanese kitchen was as foreign a place to me as Japan itself. The stove looked like a camping stove, with no honest oven in sight, but supposedly the microwave could be the oven ( I've barely used the oven even today, as I can't make out most of the kanji.) And let's not forget the grocery store! Aisles and aisles of things that, as David Sedaris would say, "All look like soy sauce". I realized that I was going to have to get over my fear of the grocery store and learn how to cook in a Japanese kitchen. So the first thing I did was buy a cookbook (in English of course), on Japanese cooking. Seriously, before this move, the most Asian meals I'd made were stir fries, and I knew there had to be more I could cook than that.

First the basics. Most Japanese dishes revolve around rice, and thank goodness we had a rice cooker. It's super easy to use, and luckily, the people who lived here before us, wrote the English translations for the buttons. Next, most Japanese dishes start with a base of dashi, which is what I would describe as a broth of fish and seaweed. Luckily, you can buy instant dashi at the grocery store, and once I figured out the hiragana, I was set.

Here's some of the dishes I've made so far:

Soba in broth with Japanese pumpkin

Uh, I think this was udon casserole

Okonomi-yaki with edamame. Okonomi-yaki is a pancake-like dish that was cabbage and ground pork in it.

I've made more, but I don't always get out the camera. I try to make mostly Japanese meals for dinner, with at least one American dish or pasta during the week.

And the grocery store's not such a scary place anymore. In fact, I feel rather proud of myself when I can read the labels and descriptions.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Elementary School Tour - Day One

I like to think of my two month stint of elementary school visits my elementary school tour. A new school every two days. Kids staring and cheering and asking for your autograph. You feel a little bit like a celebrity on some tour route, and the first school on the tour is Fujino Minami Elementary School in Southern Sapporo. This was actually a pretty easy school to find - their directions were pretty straight forward and I'm used to riding a bus. Honestly, I thought that I'd be more anxious than I was; the whole ride to the school I was surprising calm, despite this huge change in routine. The school was big, much bigger than what I'd been experiencing at Higashi Yonesato. The school had to be three stories, and as I walked to the entryway I could feel all the stares of the students waiting outside. Some would let out a "Hello", and I would answer back, which would just make them laugh and giggle. The teachers I met were all very nice, yet everyone seemed nervous, like I was going to judge them critically on the fact that they couldn't speak English. I heard, "I can't speak English", a lot today, to which I replied, "I can't speak Japanese well, so it's OK". I tried to make it clear to them that I'm not here to judge them, but to help them. There was one young fifth grade teacher that was so nervous that I was in his classroom that he was sweating! One teacher at the school - a first grade teacher - speaks perfect English, and the poor thing had to leave her classroom all day to be my English chaperone. I taught two fifth grade classes and one class with all the 6th graders (90 students in all), just giving my self-introduction and whatnot. I thought it was lots of fun, especially answering the kids' questions. Between classes, I was ushered into the principal's office, where I could "rest". Their previous ALTs must have been very tired, because I was frequently told throughout the day that I must be very tired, teaching all these elementary students. I tried to explain to them that I've been a teacher before and am used to teaching several high-energy classes every day. I wasn't tired at all! In fact, it was invigorating to be back in the elementary classroom.

Now, if I could just have my own tour bus.