Friday, April 29, 2011

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    Monday, April 25, 2011

    250 days to go...

    Day 109: Piles of ichi nensei papers. It took me hours to read all their messages to me in Japanese, but I did it!

    Day 110: Ethan in his "bachelor pad", complete with crappy loveseat.

    Day 111: We found a delicious soba place near our apt.

    Day 112: Typical Sapporo architecture.

    Day 113: Beautiful stain glass in Sapporo Station.

    Day 114: Jazz in da house

    Day 115: Gundam at Sapporo Factory.

    Thursday, April 21, 2011

    All the school's a stage (...or the rise of Super Genki Sarah)

    I mentioned on facebook today how teaching is so much like acting. This was obviously the case when I was a theater teacher, but it's also true of teaching English in Japan. I've been lucky with all the fourteen or so schools I've visited this year - in every one the kids were excited to hear me speak and seemed to be interested in interacting with me. And the actress in me loved it: I talk about all the cool things in America and that my husband is an actor (this always brings out comments of "kokui!", which means cool), they ooh and ahh over my pictures of Texas and the 72oz steak from the Big Texan. I've done my self introduction so many times, I could do it in my sleep, which makes me feel a little bit like a Broadway actor doing 8 shows a week. And then I realized, when I'm teaching these English classes, I'm a character in what feels like a one-woman show. I'm "Super-Genki Sarah"*, much like Beyonce becomes "Sasha Fierce" when she steps on stage. When I step in front of my students, it's like getting back on stage, whether I'm teaching them how to pronounce "sh" and "th" or conducting a conversation lesson. My energy has always been able to keep their attention, and sometimes I even get applause!

    I'd been lucky with the ichi and ni nen-sei students at Hitsujigaoka. They laughed, they were interested, they asked lots of questions. But I'd been warned that third grade was difficult, and I was ready for it when I taught their classes for the first time this week. The first two classes went really well, and I was feeling confidant. Then came my third class. Usually when I step into a classroom, I'm greeted by "hello"'s or clapping, or a little of both. This class was dead silent. The usual things I say that always get a laugh, got nothing. They just stared at me with their big brown eyes, with nary a smile or nod of agreement among the 37 of them. But I didn't get frustrated or discouraged, if anything, it made me want to perform even more. To make it even more challenging for me, I also had to eat lunch with this class. I usually really enjoy eating with the students, but none of them would even look at me, much less talk to me. But I think I've figured out why the third grade is so afraid to speak English. I think they know what to say, but they're so afraid to get chastised by their peers, which would happen every time one of them would talk any English to me. Somehow it got in this grade's head that to speak English is embarrassing, and that only the "nerds" do it. This is something I've never experienced since I've started teaching here, and isn't the case at all with the first and second graders. Am I up for this challenge? Do I even have enough time with this school to make any kind of difference?

    In the end, I don't know if this class got anything out of my presentation, but I'm proud of what I did. You can take the girl out of the theater, but never the theater out of the girl, apparently.

    *FYI, "genki" means "cheerful" or "healthy". I like to think I'm both!

    Tuesday, April 19, 2011

    257 days to go...

    Day 101: Huge slices of heaven. Our first Western-style (aka big and no mayonnaise) pizza since coming to Japan. Thank you Costco!!

    Day 102: Baseball team, showing off their warmup skills. These boys have easily become my favorites at the school. I'm even going to their game on Saturday!

    Day 103: My shoe locker at school. The ram is the school mascot, I think.

    Day 104: Cute third graders. Barely speak a word of English, but they love to see pictures of Nathan!

    Day 105 and 106: For some reason, I didn't take any pictures these two days. I don't know what was going on with me. Last week was a long week. So here, enjoy a picture of a puppies instead:


    Day 107: Great gum packaging. Too bad the gum's gross.

    Day 108: Ethan with his new glasses. These now officially make Ethan the coolest 12 year-old ever. He looks like he should own a record store and write for Rolling Stone.


    I hope everyone enjoys looking at these pictures. With the exception of two days this week, this is one New Year's resolution I've kept, which never happens. It's not so much about the photography, I just thought this would be a really good way to document the little things that go on in our life here. I think it'll be fun to look back on in the future. But in no way do I fancy myself a photographer....

    Last week felt ridiculously long. I think it's just getting used to the new schedule of things, and last week was the first full week at my new school. The kids are warming up to me, and I'm realizing how low most of their English skill is, especially the third grade. I can see on their faces how much they want to talk with me, but are just scared to death to speak English. I'm encouraging them as much as I can, hopefully it'll make a difference. And so far, I've really enjoyed the work I'm doing in the classroom. The teachers use me quite a bit, and for more than just a tape recorder. One of the first grade English teachers even told me I was so helpful, which made my day! In two weeks I'm off to another visiting school for the month of May, this schedule is killing me! I'm ready to settle down in one place! I saw one of my old Hokuyo students on the subway the other day, he was coming back from his new High School. I probably scared him and his friends to death when I ran up to him.

    Nathan got a new bike, and I'm feeling the urge to get one as well, but I will require that it be cute. Do you think they sell Rilakkuma bikes?

    Wednesday, April 13, 2011

    264 days to go...

    Day 94: Susukino on Ladies Night.

    Day 95: I think this photo (by Kelly) perfectly illustrates our karaoke session during Ladies Night. I can't remember what we were singing, but we were into it!
    Day 96: Nathan took this ghostly picture of Nathan.

    Day 97: Beautiful, European-style church I found while walking to my new school.

    Day 98: Small samurai dolls and suits of armor for Boys' Day in May. I thought I'd buy one for Ethan, then I looked at the price: about $800!!!

    Day 99: Posters advertising club activities at school.
    Day 100: Tea cup at a great sushi restaurant we went to with friends. But anyone else find it disturbing that the mascot for this place is a dolphin?


    In other news...

    • Spring has finally come to Sapporo. After a few over 40 degree days last week, the streets are finally walkable again, and the only snow left is the bigger piles here and there. I'd forgotten what this place looked like without snow!
    • With Spring comes the new school year in Japan. The subway is full of high schoolers every morning in their crisp, new uniforms. I keep hoping I'll run into my old students from Hokuyo...
    • We took our first trip to Costco on Sunday, to find Ethan some glasses' frames. Not only did we purchase some great "Buddy Holly" style frames, but we had our first American-style pizza since coming to Japan. God bless Costco!
    • My new school is pushing my Japanese skills to the limit. Everyone speaks to me in Japanese - even the English teachers! I come home mentally exhausted from having to think so hard!

    Tuesday, April 12, 2011

    New school year, new school

    Well, here I go again, another school. This time, it's Hitsujigaoka JHS (Hitsujigaoka means "little ship on the hill, isn't that cute?). Hokuyo was a hard departure for me, so I must admit that it was with a heavy heart that I came to this school on Wednesday.

    Hitsujigaoka Junior High School

    The first thing I noticed about the school was that it wasn't the usual beige concrete block that constitutes most Japanese public school. Solar panels? Large windows? What was this fancy place? Come to find out, the new school building was built about 3 years ago, and I must, say it is nice. The kids are nice too, for that matter. They're definitely more shy than my Hokuyo students, but I think that's because their English speaking ability, as a whole, is a little lower. My first two days - Wednesday and Thursday - were filled with opening ceremonies and the welcoming of the ichi nen-sei (1st graders) into the school. And what cuties they were, marching into the school gymnasium with their new school uniforms that are just a wee bit too large for them. I haven't really introduced myself to any of them yet; I think they're freaked out enough right now as it is, they don't need me coming up to them and scaring them with my English! The school's a little larger than Hokuyo (600 students), and so far I've taught all the second grade classes. They're a sweet, polite bunch. The boys are precocious and energetic, and the girls are quiet and shy. Actually, that was quite a shock for me, as most of the girls I've taught at my other JHS were so excited to talk with me.

    The march of the first graders during their orientation on Monday.

    During lunch break and after school, I've made it a point to walk around and talk with the kids. While doing this, I've discovered that the third grade is definitely going to be my wild bunch. They're loud, a little obnoxious, the girls roll their skirts up ridiculously short, and the boys are obsessed with their crazy anime-like hair styles. My kind of kids. I haven't had a class with them yet (I only teach each third grade class one time this month - I think they don't want me to be scared away...haha), so I've really been trying to talk with them. I go right up to those girls with their short skirts, tell them how cute they are and they giggle. Then I go straight for the groups of boys and tell them I like their hair and ask them if they play any sports. I worked in New Jersey....these kids don't scare me!!

    The baseball team showing their skills at the first grade orientation

    Through all this, the brass band club and baseball team have grown quite fond of me already. I had a huge group of girls in the brass band run up to me on Friday and say in unison, "Sarah, you are cute!" And after a great conversation with the boys of the baseball team on Friday, they make it a point to tell me goodbye everytime I leave at the end of the day.

    The track and field team trying to diminish one of the last snow hills left on the sports field.

    Table tennis team gettin' at it.

    I'm having a hard time trying to remember the kids' names this time around. It's just that I worked so hard to memorize so many students' names at Hokuyo, it's a little overwhelming. Maybe I'll just give them all nicknames....

    But despite all the new challenge - new names to memorize, wild third graders, English teachers that'll barely speak English to me - I have a good feeling about this school. I think maybe their previous (non-JET) ALTs were bad experiences, so I really have a chance to make a difference here.
    Banner that came down from the ceiling during orientation. It says, "Welcome to Hitsujigaoka Junior High School. Please do your best during your junior high school life.

    Hai, Ganbarimasu!!

    Tuesday, April 5, 2011

    Monday, April 4, 2011

    271 days to go...

    Day 87: Sunday dinner was a twist on the American classic - steak and mashed potatoes with a Japanese mushroom sauce. Delicious!!

    Day 88: My beautiful flowers from Hokuyo. Still looking beautiful now, even after a week.

    Day 89: My little Hokuyo bouquet.

    Day 90: Can't believe I've never taken a picture of this. This is on the toilet in our bathroom. Just in case you need directions on how to use a Western toilet, I suppose...

    Day 91: It's election time in Sapporo. This is one of the candidates for something, out talking on the streets. Note that he's standing on a box.

    Day 92: Took this picture to show the new photo project I put up on our wall. But notice to the right the ugly blue thing they call a sofa...

    Day 93: ...and behold, our brand spankin' new sofa bed, finally delivered after I ordered it three weeks ago (the earthquake stalled deliveries from Tokyo). I'm sitting on it right now, and let me tell you, it was worth it!


    Last night was our first-ever Ladies Night; a bunch of us got together and had drinks at a bar called Electric Sheep and then karaoke. It was the most fun I've had in such a long time! I have a tendency to become a hermit here with my little family, the effect of which is that I've never really had too many close friends. But I think it's good for me to get out once in a while and just enjoy myself! And that's certainly what we all did last night as we karaoke-d (new word) into the wee hours of the morning. We talked, sang, danced, and laughed the night away, and even though I may have had one too many drinks (ahem..), I woke up this morning so happy that I got to hang out with such an incredible group of women. I feel another Ladies Night is in our future....maybe around my birthday?