“Are bananas a fruit?” “Yes.” “Are bananas a vegetable?” “Yes.”
Back in the States, I graduated college with a bachelor’s degree in English, emphasizing on the subjects of Language and Literature. Aside from my full time job working in the hospitality industry, I was fortunate enough to also be able to work within the educational system in the States, gaining experience with children as a part time job or an extracurricular hobby. I loved it, but I chose to study literature as a part of my English degree instead of earning teaching credits. I was not 100% positive that I wanted to use my degree and pursue a career in teaching. I just knew that I very much enjoy English but deeply love literature.
So, when we found out that we were going to be relocated to Sasebo, Japan, I began thinking that maybe I should look into teaching. Learning and studying languages fascinates and interests me. I then began taking some TESOL courses to gain certification in teaching English to speakers of other languages, more specifically teaching Business English and English to children and adults. After completing those courses, I became more excited for all the opportunities that would be available to me as a teacher of TESOL in Japan. There were and are still SO many needs for native English speakers in the Japanese school systems, not to mention the individuals looking for private English lessons! And, I read somewhere that there were actually English conversational places (a room in random city buildings), where the Japanese would just stop by to converse with an English native, pay per hour, and then be on their way. How easy did that sound!??
Well, it turned out that it wasn’t so easy. All of those conversational buildings and big full time English teaching jobs that I had read about or researched turned out to only be offered in Japan’s bigger or really big cities. Now, this wouldn’t have been an issue if I weren’t attached to the military as a spouse because then I could have just moved to another city to work, or moved closer so the company could cover commuting costs, or the job could’ve put me up in a home if I signed a contract with them. But I was confined to the limits of Sasebo City. Even the closest, bigger cities, Nagasaki or Fukuoka, are 1 1/2 – 2 hours away and that would’ve been a heck of a commute to teach there every day! (Not to mention, highway tolls will suck you dry). For those of you who know me, I have worked ever since I was able to have a job. I worked when I was younger, not because my parents made me, but because I wanted too. It kept me busy, I gained experience, and I liked the extra cash, of course! As an adult, I’ve always had a job, well… because I have too! But my main reason for working is that I DO NOT like depending on others, for anything. I want to be able to provide for myself or be able to contribute in some way. It’s not greed, or selfishness, it’s just a very strong sense of independence.
As far as the job prospect was looking, I came to Sasebo a little bummed knowing that I wouldn’t or couldn’t be rolling in the big international teaching salary that I was hoping for. I had studied for this and researched everything about teaching in Japan, but I guess I left out the part about first researching teaching jobs in the area that we’d be stationed! There were close to none within even a slight proximity of where we’d be living. But things actually began to look up fairly quickly for me! Only after about a month or a little more of living here (my husband had already been deployed just days after arriving here), I had my first job break! About a half hours drive from Sasebo, located right next to another naval base, there is a Dutch theme park known as Huis ten Bosch. Here in this park is an area called English Square. Many schools come from all over Japan to visit English Square and participate in their English programs. It is these programs that I help with when needed. One program they offer is Jr. SEED, where a group of younger, elementary school children stop in to just talk with English speaking natives. Subjects range from sports, birthdays, food, colors, and body parts. We make it as fun and interactive as possible, incorporating games and songs to keep them focused and learning. Another program is just SEED. This one is for the older students, mostly junior high and adult ages.This is the same concept as the Jr. SEED program, with the addition of some more difficult subjects such as traveling and dreams. Also, the English coaches grade the students, numbers 1-5, when they talk with them based on their English skills and their enthusiasm. The last two programs that are offered here at English Square are called Situation and Mission Field. In Situation, there are different booths set up inside (“Immigration,” “Fast Food,” “Gift Shop,” “Currency Exchange,” etc.) that are meant to imitate different situations that the students will encounter when traveling and interacting in English. They learn common English phrases and slang words, how to exchange money, how to order food, etc. And the last program, Mission Field, is where we take the students out into the park and have a kind of treasure hunt, looking for certain places and objects within the park to find hidden clues. During this mission we make sure to talk with the students, and practice their directional vocabulary as well.
Working at Huis ten Bosch has been a great experience so far! There are so many groups and schools that visit, all ranging in different age groups. You meet so many people and witness so many personalities- eccentric, silly, shy, gigglers, etc. It’s always a challenge, keeping you on your toes but a good challenge nonetheless!
Another company that I work for is called American Life Club. Through this company, I teach, I am an escort for schools to give them a tour on the naval base, the company contacts me with private students, and I participate in their homestay programs. One teaching gig was teaching at a camp up on Mt.Eboshi. I would go to their campsite each day and have an English lesson with them. On another teaching gig, I actually went camping with a school on Mt.Eboshi for three days. Each day we would have an English lesson, one day the lesson was even taped by reporters from Nagasaki! For the remainder of the camp, I ate meals with them, played games with them, and we even went to the aquarium for a field trip and gave them an English sea quiz, etc. It was such an experience. The Japanese rarely, if ever, go camping so it was a treat for the kids as well. The weather was very uncomfortable, hot and humid, and it even rained quite a bit but we made the most of it. If you are a foreigner or non-military member/spouse and you want to enter onto the naval base, you must have an escort with a military I.D. You can escort up to 10 people. Whenever a school visits Sasebo and wants to see the base, I attend as an escort to take a group of students onto base and give them a quick walk-a-round of the area (showing them our commissary, post office, food court, etc.). Then the school usually heads to the park across the base for a BBQ.
The homestay program is when I take Japanese students to show them our home. We show them American homes and the way Americans decorate (very different from Japanese), give them at least a one hour culture lesson, have American meals, etc. It is very rare but sometimes these are overnight homestays. The very first one I participated in was an overnight stay. That was very fun and I had the most delightful two girls, but it was difficult. Only because I don’t have any children or kid toys to help keep the kids occupied. I also don’t have television, nor did we have a car so I couldn’t take them anywhere. I am trying a different homestay program in December though. I will be having about 3-4 kids over just for the afternoon, and it’s kind of like a holiday stay. They want to see our Christmas decorations, maybe do a holiday craft, and of course have an American meal with us. I’m excited for that one! (More to come on that next month!)
I currently have two private students. One student is thirty-one years old and her name is Rumi. She speaks English pretty well and has a fairly good bank of English vocabulary already. (She has been and lived in the States a couple of times, but no longer than six months). Her goals are to learn more vocabulary, specifically business and travel vocabulary and to work on sentence structure as well. The second one is a junior school girl, fourteen years of age, named Ena. She can read English very well, but her understanding of vocabulary is not as strong. One of her goals is to work on forming sentences. She can answer, “yes,” “no,” or she’ll know what you are saying but not know the right words in English to respond. When teaching English as a second language to a speaker of another language, the learner may feel intimidated much of the time. Intimidated that they may not say the correct answer, or not know the right word. One time I asked my student “are bananas are a fruit?” and she answered “yes.” I then asked her “are bananas a vegetable?” and she answered, “yes.” Whether she understood what I was asking or whether she thought I was trying to trick her, I’m not sure, so I had to re-explain just to make sure she was learning right. Teaching English always makes me smile! I love hearing students’ responses and all of the questions that they want to ask. Just the other day while escorting a group of students on base, I had one girl come right up to me and say “I speak English!” nice and loud. It made me smile!
(See blog #9 for pictures of my teaching adventures!)
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Our roots will forever be from here, America, born and raised. Yet, life requires us to move more frequently than we care to count. Whether living stateside or abroad, you can always find us traveling somewhere. We scout out places that you only think you can dream of one day seeing and we seek out those that aren’t found in guidebooks. We then bring them to life here in our travel memos, so hopefully, one day you too can visit them or at least be able to live vicariously through us. This blog isn’t just about crossing off places from a bucket list. It’s about absorbing and learning how other cultures grow and fit into the same world that we do. Life is short and the world is big. Enjoy and get out there!
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