With International Week over, I can now reflect on my experience with the busiest time of my internship.
Thirty-five sister school students and professors came to Technos for two weeks as part of the international week program. Throughout their stay, they enjoyed tours of Technos, were immersed in Japanese culture, went sightseeing, and tasted a variety of Japanese foods. As a guest of Technos, I was able to participate in some, but not all of these activities. This was because I was often helping the students prepare their materials for international week. Just about everywhere I went, I would get approached by students asking for their work to be checked by a native English speaker. Sometimes, I was so busy I would not even have time to eat a proper lunch because I was working so much. However, the students had much, much more work to do, so I worked hard to make their lives a little bit easier. Many students were very nervous, especially at the beginning of the international week, to talk to the sister school students. I can understand, as I was once nervous to make acquaintance with them at the start of my internship. However, just like with my story, not only did they meet the challenge by practicing their English, planning, and in general doing work ahead of time, but they got much more comfortable speaking to the international week guests by the end of the week.
After International Week, I decided to use my two free days to go on a mini trip around Japan. I left Saturday morning for Kyoto using the JR rail pass. The rail pass cost about 160 USD, but allowed free access to the bullet train rail lines that go across mainland Japan. I visited Kyoto, Osaka, Okayama, and Fukuoka before coming back to Tokyo. It was an amazing experience, and the rail pass made it over five times cheaper than it normally would have been. The mini-trip allowed me to experience parts of Japan that I have only heard about in stories from the students. I visited Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, tiny food stands, local shops, and so much more!
I am sad that I am leaving Japan soon, I wish that I could stay longer. It feels like I just got fully adjusted to Japan, and now I have to leave. However, I am glad that I will be able to see my friends and family back home soon.
So far, I have been in Japan for one whole month, it’s so exciting! I have had the pleasure of having many eye-opening and once-in-a-lifetime experiences. In this blog post, I will share more about my experiences and my thoughts on them.
School, and Internship
I love my internship. Talking with the students is enjoyable, and gives me insight into the culture of Japan, specifically the culture of younger people. So far, I have made friends with many of the students through various club activities, talking in class, or striking up conversations in the hallway. Talking with the students is the highlight of my day, and as I have gotten more confident talking with them, I enjoy the conversations more and more. Usually, the conversations revolve around school, hobbies, and favorite things, but sometimes I have more in-depth conversations about goals or life advice. Those deeper conversations are more engaging and what makes me the most excited to talk with people. Sometimes, the student might not speak much English, and that is ok. Throughout my time here, especially during International Week, I have been using much more Japanese. It is very useful because I can be used as a translator for the sister-school guests, most of whom cannot speak Japanese. My Japanese has certainly improved, but that may just be due to the confidence boost that speaking it more frequently gives me. Regardless, speaking with the students is much easier now because of my improvement, which is another reason I enjoy our conversations more. These conversations also keep me refreshed. I notice that the more time I spend alone, the more often I start missing my family and friends at home. This is the longest I have ever traveled, so I get lonely easily. However, the students help a lot with this, and they keep me too engaged and interested for me to be lonely. I am fortunate to be able to interact with these amazing people.
Every Weekend, I have been trying to go somewhere interesting to make the most out of my time here. Since my last post, I have done even more:
Tokyo National Museum in Ueno
Sunshine City in Ikebukuro
Narita (mostly just in the airport)
Tried Okinawan Food
Tried Dango (cooked mochi with a sweet topping)
Tried Wagyu Beef Ramen
Bought 10 different kinds of Kit Kats
Tried Japanese American-style fast food (i.e. McDonald’s, KFC, Starbucks, etc), because they are very different from their American counterparts.
Technos has an annual event with its sister schools called “International Week”. This year, 35 individuals have come here to experience Japan for two weeks. It is a student-led project and has kept everyone very busy for the past few weeks leading up to it. As a native English speaker, my role in this has been to check English material (scripts, instructions, presentations, etc.) and translate conversations when needed. However, I oftentimes feel that the students are doing such a good job, I do not have to do much work outside of the preparation, it is nice to see that some of the students who are typically very shy in English classes, use the knowledge that they have learned in class and talk to the native English speakers with confidence. It has been a great event so far, but recently due to the volume of work (and the fact I ran out of allergy medication), I have not been sleeping very well. I hope to catch up on much-needed sleep this weekend so I can be refreshed for more international week events next week.
I enjoy all the time that I spend here, and I will try to fill the rest of my time here with as many memorable experiences as I can.
In my last entry, I promised to talk more about the types of people that I have seen or met. I will also discuss some of the activities that I have done, as well as some of my plans for the future.
When first coming to Japan, I had an idea in my mind about what Japanese society would look like. I had seen things on the internet about how Japanese people are extremely polite, humble, shy, along with living with futuristic technology, while also valuing cultural traditions very heavily. All of this is true to some extent, but I feel as though many of these claims were overexaggerated. I have come to realize that many things in Japan do not feel too different than back home in America. The culture here feels very different, and certainly people are very helpful to me, but because I am living in the city, and have to walk, commute, eat, and buy things more like that average Japanese person (in comparison with a tourist living in an expensive hotel), and talk closely with Japanese students, I have a more clear picture into what Japanese life, especially student life, is like.
Over these past few weeks, I have seen that Japanese students are normal people. That seems like a strange statement, but I feel that the hyperbole used in discourse about Japan makes everyone’s expectations about students too high, unrealistically so, and place them in a box where you think that you how students are, but that isn’t the case. In my classes, I see everyday people just like at IWU. On most days, there might be a few brave souls who might answer questions in class, but most of the time, students are hesitant to ask questions, which is strikingly similar to school in America. I see students who sleep in class (mostly freshman), students who like music, students who like to gossip, students who are really into the class material, students who like sports, students who like video games, etc. This was honestly really refreshing, and makes talking with them much easier, as I can relate to them much more than I initially thought I would.
I love walking, and I find myself exploring areas during my travels to places in Tokyo. On weekends, I have notice many families with children either biking together or at a local park. It feels nice to watch families have fun, and runs in contrast to what I hear about Japanese people not having any time to have a family due to working so much. I know that this is the weekend, and that I do not often see families together during the week, but it is nice to see that family bonding time does exist here.
Hearing that Japan had public Wi-Fi available in the cities, I had assumed that I would not need a SIM card, so I never purchased one. I have since learned that public Wi-Fi is spotty at best, and non-existent at worst, so I often do not have access to the internet or even a map at times. This has made getting around difficult at times, as I am not able to read some signs, menus, and informational screens because the kanji is difficult to read. This has made asking for help really important for me, as I am otherwise unable to read. Fortunately for me, the culture around helping strangers is very positive. Oftentimes, I am able to ask someone for directions, and they are always willing to help me out. Sometimes, they even offer conversation if they are in the mood, which is always pleasant, even if I do not understand everything they say. Asking people is also a way to get good food, as they usually recommend their favorite menu items, which is always a treat.
Speaking of food, I have had the pleasure of eating a lot of different foods recently:
Udon, from a “fast food” place
Pizza (not very Japanese, but still very good)
Yakiniku, a do-it-yourself grilled meat dish where a stove is in front of you, and they bring raw meat and vegetables as you order, and are cooked on the stove
Okonomiyaki, an unsweet pancake with egg, cabbage, bacon, Japanese mayo and a special sauce
Baskin Robin’s Ice cream, it is surprisingly very popular here, and is also called 31
Tonkatsu in Kabukicho (also I visited the nearby Godzilla head)
Udon, from a more traditional place in Kawagoe, where I sat on a tatami mat
Sushi, including Uni (sea urchin) which is a Japanese delicacy. Uni is intimidating at first but I think it tastes like fishy butter (in a good way)
Taiyaki, a pancake like dessert with filling, usually shaped like a fish (this one was a special Hello Kitty strawberry variety)
Some of the places I have went to are:
A maid cafe
That is a rough summary of what I have experienced so far. In the next blog entry, I hope to talk more about Japanese culture, as I plan on visiting the Tokyo National Museum, where I hope to learn more about Japan.
Also, I am having trouble sending some of the pictures from my phone due to the way that the images are converted, so hopefully I will have more pictures next week!
This past week was my full week at work, plus a few new Japanese experiences!
My TA position keeps me pretty busy, as I am going to classes along with students, and have office hours on my time away from classes. Working with students has been interesting, as the experience depends on the class. Like my experience in America, there is a wide variety of students that all have their own personalities that they bring to the classroom. While there are some very outgoing students, who are not afraid to try and practice their English with me, many others seem a bit hesitant, especially when I first met them for the first time. I have been trying to be welcoming (smiling, saying high, trying to remember their names) as much as I can so that the awkwardness breaks a bit. I find that as I get to know students (which mostly comes from 1 on 1 interactions of having a lengthy conversation) they get more comfortable with me, and try to use more English.
One thing that I took for granted was vocabulary. As someone who like reading, I know a lot of big words that are not commonly used in conversation, and can be confusing for students who do not have previous exposure to the English language. Therefore, I find myself commonly trying to explain words more creatively, often using a picture, acting or trying to use the student’s imagination. Honestly, I find that my own understanding of the English language has improved, because I have to think critically about the meaning of words, rather than just internally understanding them.
My ability to speak Japanese has also improved. I feel more confidant talking with people in Japanese, in addition to having English as a fallback in case the other party happens to know a few words. I like to refer to this way of speaking as “Japanglish” and usually is accompanied with a lot of hand motions to convey basic ideas a bit more clearly. I feel as though I could go almost anywhere with only minor help from the dictionary app on my phone.
Next Post, I plan on talking more about The types of people that I see around Japan, as well as what interesting things I have seen.
I arrived on the afternoon of May 10th at Haneda Airport, where I was greeted by the previous TA Devesh Mondal, who showed me the ropes on my first few days in Japan. The flight was smooth and not as long as I thought it would be. My fellow TA, Alexis, Devesh and I traveled to our sharehouse in Hanakoganei (花小金井) via train, and after getting lost a few times and some backtracking, we made it to our destination around 7:00. Since we didn’t know anything at the time, our first dinner consisted of items from the convenience store (コンビニ) across the street. I was pleasantly surprised to see that convenience stores here are very different than those in the U.S.
The first day of work was mostly introductions. I met with my supervisors, teachers and a few of the English students. Everyone that I have met here has been polite and friendly, even if they have to put up with my barely comprehensible Japanese. This extends to outside the college as well, as people are always ready to answer my questions whenever I have needed assistance in public spaces. After my short day at work, I visited Shibuya (渋谷) with Alexis, where we walked around and saw the famous Shibuya Scramble Square. We tried to get sushi in the city, but it was peak rush hour, and the lines to get in were unbearably long. Due to the population density, rush hour can get very hectic with the sheer volume of people in the area. Shibuya, Shinjuku (新宿), and Takadanobaba (高田馬場) stations were among the most crowded during this time.
On the second day, we had a nice party for us coming to the school, where we introduced ourselves to a larger body of students, played games and asked questions. We were also given an assortment of Japanese snacks, I would show a picture, but I was so excited to try them, I ate them already!
On Saturday, I visited Mitaka (三鷹) and Inokashira (井の頭公園) Park. Inside the park was the Ghibli museum (which needed a reservation so I will go back at a later date). It was very nice to see Japanese families having fun in the park.
The first day of school went well I think. For the most part, I think both the students and myself are pretty shy, so hopefully, if I get to know them, they may open up a bit more to me.
I am still getting used to having Japanese being spoken to me, and it sometimes seems like I am a toddler. I have to remind myself that I am still learning, and that mastery over language does not happen overnight. I will continue to try to get better at speaking and understanding. Plus, the students learning English are probably thinking the same thing when I talk to them, so I feel as though I can relate better to them in this way.
I will be back this Sunday with another blog post, I will have updates on what I have done and seen!
Welcome to my blog for my summer internship at Technos College in Japan. I currently a Junior Biology major at Illinois Wesleyan, and I have interest in Japanese language and culture. During my internship, I will be assisting with students learning English, and I hope to learn from the people I am helping just as much as they can learn something from me. I hope to immerse myself within the culture to broaden my horizons, and take back a few lessons that I can apply when I return home. I will be posting weekly with updates on what I’ve seen and experienced that is worth sharing!