Beautiful Moments

I love my job. I really do. Such amazing, hilarious, heart-warming, and beautiful things happen there.

In case you didn’t know, I used to be an ALT (assistant language teacher), but now I am a teacher at an all-English day care in Fukuoka, Japan. We take care of kids from the age of 3-9 (at the moment) and teach them about the world in English. I am currently running the Elementary class, but I help teach all levels. It is not an international school; most of our students are 100% Japanese. Some of our kids come from mixed backgrounds, but they still live their lives mostly in Japanese. The biggest difference between my workplace and the typical Japanese English school is that we also teach our students how to take care of themselves, how to function in society, what makes a good person, etc. We also run class with lots of games, praise, and encouragement.

If you have ever interacted with a small child in your life, you know that they have little to no filter and are usually naturally confident and unashamed. Combine that with an upbeat English environment, and you get some pretty funny situations. I used to write little posts about interesting moments I shared with my old students, and I thought I’d start doing that again. So here is is: Beautiful Moments this far.

1. The Kissing Epidemic

Last month’s theme was fairy tales and movies, so we taught the kids a lot of fantasy words like witch, knight, dragon, princess, blah, blah, blah. There is one particular fairy tale you may know involving a princess and a lucky little frog. There were flashcards for princess and frog and kiss, of course. The elementary school kids were not pleased with this one. One third-grade girl actually shrieked every time she saw the card. The funny thing is, when I asked her if there was anyone she wanted to kiss she said, “Ah, yes” very casually and calmly. She’s only selectively embarrassed I guess.

The preschool-aged group had an even better reaction. They all thought the kiss card was the funniest thing ever, and many of them started kissing each other randomly from the first time they saw it. Two boys, who are close friends, started kissing each other on the mouth a little too much, so we had to start making a bit of a social lesson out of it. I mean, it’s flu season people! Let’s keep our lips to ourselves! The smaller boy actually ended up getting the flu, so he really should have listened to me.

Some other 6-year-old boys also tried to kiss, but it was more like a weird comedy act than anything else. One would approach the other and pretend to kiss him, but the receiver of the kiss would always pull away and pretend to be disgusted. Everyone would laugh. I would tell them all to stop kissing each other, so they’d resort to kissing their own hands.

Just today the mother of the boy who got the flu warned him not to kiss any more people in front of all the other kids. The other kids told him in English to stop kissing. But he still says “YES! Kissing please!” so excitedly. More than a few of them have said to me, “Kissing teacher is good!!” They’re just too cute…really.

 

2. Genuine Smiles

When the parents come to pick up their kids, we do a mini presentation for them to show them what we’re teaching and help them see their kid’s progress. Yesterday I did one of these presentations for a second grader who is usually pretty rowdy but is getting so good at speaking English. I explained to his mom that we’re learning color theory this week, and the boy identified some of the flashcards. Then I asked him a few questions, and he answered them all perfectly. I, the school director, and another teacher all let out a huge “WHHHOOAAAA!” and the biggest smile cracked across his face. I almost started crying it was so beautiful. I told his mom he really is improving so much, in regards to English skill and behavior, and he just smiled even bigger. It is these exact moments when I know I’ve found my calling.

 

3. The more you mess up, the more you learn

Thursday is a small class day. In Elementary, we only have seven kids. This means we have a lot more time to get off topic and just talk to each other. Today, I read them a book about the solar system and asked them some questions about space. I had this pretty normal conversation with a 3rd-grade-girl:

“What is space??? In English please.”

“Sky. It’s black. Uh…many stars.”

“Yes! Good. Okay, so what are people who live on other planets called?”

“Um….space people!”

“Aliens. Nice try though. They definitely are space people.”

During free time, we were talking about superheros and villains, and she gave parts to everyone there. “He is villain. He is the police. He is superhero.” and so on.

“Okay, so who are you?”

“I’m so-so people.”

“So-so people?? What’s that?”

“futsu na hito. So-so people.” (NOTE: futsu means normal, so she meant an ordinary person, but futsu is also what you say to mean fine/okay/so so when someone asks how you are).

“OOOOOh, a normal person. Person!”

“Ah yes, person! I’m normal person!”

I’m telling you this story because this girl would not stop talking today. Every silent moment was an opportunity for her to tell a joke or ask a question or something, but I was so happy she did it. She keep saying she alone was “people”, but it opened up a chance for me to teach her about irregular plurals. More importantly than that though, it gave me a chance to bond more with her and for her to practice her conversation skills. She is an amazing student because she is never afraid to make mistakes.

I’ve honestly learned a lot from my students. The mess up and brush it off. Sure, the teachers always encourage them and praise them for trying alone, but they are so brave! I want to be childlike in that way. I want to not care at all about failing, because I know I’ll learn something and improve from it. That’s why this story is beautiful for me.

 

4. Caregivers

Little kids are so pure and kind. A lot of crying goes on at my school, but the little ones always look out for and comfort each other. We have one little boy who wears diapers, and the other little boy in his class always helps him get his diapers ready to go to the bathroom. If a little girl cries, there is always another little girl there patting her head and asking “Are you okay?” If I accidentally drop all the flashcards on the ground, there are at least five kids at my feet trying to pick them up. Way to go parents of these darling children.

 

5. I am a monkey.

Little kids are essentially monkeys. They climb you, run around with no direction, throw food, and other monkey-like things. However, it is I who has become the monkey of my school. I will do literally anything to make them smile and laugh, including act like a monkey. My favorite moment at work so far was during a kindergarten spelling lesson a few months ago. My work name is Teacher Koko. You need to know that. So during this particular spelling lesson, I decided to ask them how to spell monkey, because they love monkeys. One boy, without missing a single beat said, “K-O-K-O! HAHAHAHAHA!”

I died. I literally couldn’t finish the lesson. I just let them watch me double over in a fit of laughter for three minutes or so. It’s still funny.

 

 

Kids are amazing creatures. I used to hate the idea of ever birthing another human, but gradually I have come to really want a child of my own. Someday. I cry all the time at work. Mostly it’s because they are genuinely that funny and can make me laugh until my sides hurt. But sometimes it’s because my job is so beautiful and rewarding that I feel almost unworthy of it. I get paid to hang out with children and have fun all day. I am so lucky.

 

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Why am I still here?

I’ve been living in Japan for three and a half years now, and sometimes I catch myself thinking, Why am I still here? What am I looking for? What am I doing with my life? But I never have to think very long for my questions to be answered. Here are some of my current reasons for staying in Japan:

1. OMOTENASHI–Customer service

My mom always told me that I should never settle for anyone who doesn’t treat me like a princess. She was obviously talking about relationships, but it definitely applies to customer service as well. In America, they say “the customer is always right,” but in Japan, “the customer is god.”

I went to a department store last week a few minutes before they opened, and a staff member came out in her fancy uniform to unlock the doors and great everyone waiting. She said they’d be opening soon and apologized for making us wait. At exactly 10:00AM, she came back with three other fancily-dressed staff members, who all bowed deeply towards the crowd and energetically said “Good morning and welcome. Please come in!” They opened the doors so politely and personally greeted everyone entering. Then, as I passed each vendor in the basement to get to the vegan bento shop, I noticed literally everyone bowing and saying “Good morning and welcome!” This happens everywhere, but this was the first time I’d been to a department store right as they were opening. There weren’t many people buying things yet, so the staff had plenty of time to greet and bow. The amazing customer service and attention to detail was so much more visible because I was early.

Granted, this was a high end department store, but most places in Japan are like this. Makeup counter staff are super flattering and helpful, restaurant staff almost never get anything wrong, and even fast food workers are super nice. It may all be fake, but it works on me. I think clothing and beauty store staff have single-handed scooped me out of my shy, introverted past and brought me into this new world where I like talking to people. I’m treated like a princess all the time, and it’s really changed me. Bravo, Japan. BRAVO.

2. Health Consciousness

Minus Japan’s annoying disregard for the dangers of cigarette smoke (it is legal to smoke almost everywhere here for some VERY STRANGE AND ILLOGICAL REASON), Japan is a pretty healthy place. Kids learn nutrition from a young age, and their school lunches are carefully thought out and prepared fresh. Because of this, people recognize that certain foods shouldn’t be consumed all the time. It should be easy, but America still has a hard problem differentiating healthy from cancerous so apparently it isn’t. I will say that there is a lot of pressure here to be thin and thus many people take it too far and end up with eating disorders, but that happens literally everywhere. Overall, Japan has quite a few healthy restaurants and a generally good grasp on nutrition.

Also, veganism hasn’t really caught on where I live, so there aren’t a lot of vegan junk foods for me to be tempted by. I literally have to make my own food for almost every meal, and I eat pretty clean. It’s not hard for me to be healthy here at all. AND if you read my last post, you know that health care is super cheap as well. Win-win.

3. Safety

Bad things happen in Japan. I know this. Yet I feel very safe walking home at night from the station. With headphones in. Occasionally holding bags of groceries. I have had a few encounters with suspected stalkers, but the experience never lasts more than a few minutes. In America, walking around alone in the middle of the day could gain you a lot of unsolicited advances. Old guys in cars used to always try to pick me up when I was in college. Now I don’t have to worry about that nearly as much.

I know I should be careful, and I am, but I feel like Japan does have a more peaceful, safe atmosphere. There aren’t usually large men around the corner waiting to rob you at gunpoint. Even Osaka, Japan’s most dangerous city, feels much safer than the average American city. This has allowed me to feel more comfortable going places alone and just doing what I need to do to live.

4. Public Transportation/Proximity to City Center

I love driving and belting my favorite songs just as much as the next person. I don’t, however, love driving with a purpose. Having to drive to work or the doctor or the mall is stressful. What if there’s traffic and I’m late? Where do I park? Also, gas prices are ridiculous in Japan, and car maintenance is even worse. If I had a personal chauffeur I’d have no problem, but unfortunately I am neither rich nor important enough for one of those. I was made to live in a place with good public transportation. Japan is that place. Between trains, subways, buses, and taxis you can get anywhere you need to without having to drive yourself. It’s lifesaving.

Japan is also really small and densely populated, so everything is centrally located in cities. If you live even somewhat close to a city, you can get there pretty easily and find anything you may need. Texas is a vast land full of cows and long, winding highways. Everything good is a least two hours away. At this point in my life, I’d take Japan over that any day.

5. Fashion

America has its pockets of good fashion. The problem is that they’re all so far away from each other and only so many people even care about fashion, that it was never really that exciting for me. I had to rely mostly on fashion blogs and runway videos to get any kind of style inspiration. Now, I just have to walk outside. Japanese people just seem to care more in general about their outward appearances. That, or I just find standard Japanese style to be more appealing than its American counterpart. Either way, Japan is full of beautiful, fashionable eye candy. People-watching here is like watching NY Fashion Week and not a train wreck like it is in America. Seriously, even if Japan had Walmart, People of Walmart would not exist. I am so so grateful for that.

Recently I’ve been seeing more and more stylish old ladies wearing very odd but amazing clothes, and I can’t wait to grow up and be one of them. Maybe Japanese people have more money to spend on nice clothes because housing tends to be cheaper, or maybe the need to fit in just forces people to look nice because of peer pressure…either way, I enjoy going out and seeing what everyone else is wearing.

Disclaimer: I am not trying to be vain or judgmental; I simply really care about personal style and think fashion is the perfect way to tell people about yourself without having to say anything.

6. I’m having fun

Quite simply, I don’t feel the need to leave because I’m having so much fun. I love my job and getting to meet so many amazing bilingual children and their families. I love teaching English as a foreign language. I love teaching Japanese people about America and what I know about the rest of the world. I love being an outsider because there are so few expectations of me, and I like proving people wrong. I love learning and living the Japanese language. I love it all. Everyday is an adventure here even after three years, and I hope that feeling never stops. Then I’ll just have to move again.

 

In conclusion, there are a lot of really good reasons I choose to stay in Japan. I still don’t know how long I’ll be here, but for now I am enjoying life and finding happiness. That alone is reason enough to stay.

 

Check out my instagram for current pictures of my adventures (which admittedly haven’t been so amazing lately, but that’ll change soon)! See you soon.

5.18-5.24

I think I had the busiest week of my career here last week. All of the sudden everyone I work with/for needed my help AND I had so many plans!

Around this time every year, I conduct an interview for students hoping to study in America. The program is run through my board of education, and they always ask me to help out with the English portion. It’s pretty simple; I just have to make sure the kids have decent communication skills so they don’t faint or something the first time they interact with an American in America. I knew about the date and time way before, but five of the students hoping to go this year are students at my junior high and a few of them asked me to help them prepare for the interview. We met up a few times last week, and I gauged their attitudes and skills. One girl in particular wants to go so bad, that she’s been visiting me every week after lunch or after school since the beginning of term. I love when my students are motivated and passionate, no matter what it’s about, but when it’s about English…and they want to talk to ME, I get super excited. So even though I haven’t had a break at work since March, I’m pretty happy.

The actual interview was Wednesday. There is also a high school program, and one of my favorite students from two years ago was there! I haven’t heard the results for the high school interviews yet, but I hope he gets to go to America. He is such a kind kid, and I know he’ll do great. (I did get results from the JH interview and all of my 8th grade girls are going to America! I am so proud!)

In addition to this interview’s prep, I’ve been helping students with English test prep as well. The test, called Eiken, has a speaking component from level 3 to level 1, and one of the students didn’t have an idea how to do it. I helped again during my “break time,” and I feel confident she is going to do well!

Okay, let’s go back to Tuesday. I’ve been applying to some jobs online, and I got an interview for a school in Fukuoka. The interview was via Skype so I didn’t have to go anywhere, but I was surprisingly nervous. Talking to a stranger via a computer screen is really odd. I think it went pretty well though. Even if I don’t get the job or even a second interview, talking about myself really helps me put my thoughts and dreams into perspective. I’m really starting to get a good idea of what exactly it is I want to do with my future.

I also had to practice music a ton this week because, the band and I had a show on Sunday. We messed up super super bad on one song (I blame the sound guy ha), but we performed all of our originals and had a good time. Some friends came to watch, and I saw some people I haven’t seen in a while. That’s always a treat. Anyway, I really think our sound is coming together nicely. We even finished recording some songs and sold a few copies of our single. Baby steps guys! Baby steps.

Other than that, I hung out with my friend Kina and some new friends. I’m a pretty shy person, but I’m getting better at talking to new people. BABY STEPS.

Although it was a hectic week, and I literally slept all day Saturday to make up for it, it was wonderful. Being busy with things you enjoy is certainly a good thing, and when it’s all over and you take a breath, you can look back on it and feel accomplished. Yea, I definitely feel good about last week.

party with my girl!

party with my girl!

show time

show time

Quarter of a Century

bday outfit

bday outfit

I recently celebrated my 25th birthday!! Yay! OK, so birthdays in the third world really aren’t huge achievements until you’re 85 or so, but 25 feels big. I’m a real adult now, all fully grown and perfectly me. It feels amazing.

I’ve heard from some people in this country that 25 is the age by which you should be married…or at least seriously thinking about it (totally BS btw…who actually believes that?). If you know me at all, you’ve never really expected me to get married any time soon. Up until a year and a half ago (estimate), I was certain I would never get married. Now I’m open to the idea, but I’ll also be okay if it never happens. Which is great because I haven’t been on a date in FOREVER.

I am about 90% okay with that though. I’m 25 and awesome, and I really don’t think I need a man to tell me that. Unless it’s my dad. Dad, I need you to say I’m awesome. Anyway, I have some time left before my eggs shrivel up and die, so I can patiently wait for all the cute romantic things to happen again. I’m not stressing.

So, back to my actual birthday. I spent my birthday eve with my favorite people in the eastern hemisphere, and we had a great time. There was a moose and a golf game involved. And horrible karaoke singing. And lots of hugs. It was magical, and I am so lucky to have such kind, amazing people in my life. And almost no one important to me forgot to wish me a happy birthday! I do wish I could have seen my family and friends from the US too, but overall it was a great time. I am so excited to see what 25 holds for me!
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presents!

presents!

dinner AND golf

dinner AND golf

Junior High School Stories: Kids are so Weird

I haven’t written about my students in a while, and I feel like they know it because they’ve been giving me a lot of great material lately. Cute, but mostly creepy material. (NOTE: some student comments are translated from Japanese.)

 

1.

My 8th graders have been studying infinitives and what expressions to use them with. Things like “I like to play soccer” or “I want to go to the movies.” So one day at lunch, I asked some students what they want to do in the future.

The young lady sitting across from me said, “I want to marry a rich, handsome man so I can sit on the couch watching TV and eating potato chips all day.”

To which I replied, “You want to do nothing but sit and eat? that’s not very healthy.”

And she said, “Oh we’ll have a pool. And three mini poodles. It’ll be fine!”

Okay sweetie, what a wonderful dream!

The boy next to her said the opposite. Apparently his dream is to marry an ugly, poor woman. I just don’t even know where they get this.

 

2.

Soon after that conversation, one of my most adoring students came over to poke me and ask me weird questions. I ignored her and asked her the same question as above instead. Her answer? To be my boyfriend. She meant boyfriend. When she was in 7th grade she wrote “I Love KORI!” on her arm and told everyone she was my boyfriend. Hmmm….::concerned face::

 

3.

That same day, during 5th period, I asked a young man where his workbook was, because he was supposed to be working in it.

He said, “It went home.”

“It went home? What?” Because I thought he meant it was at home.

“Oh, yea, it went home. By foot!”

 

4.

Another day, I was walking back to the 7th grade teachers’ room after a lesson. I walked by a group of three girls, and as I passed, I could feel them stop and face me. I turned to see one girl sniffing my shoulder.

“What are you doing!?”

“YOU SMELL GOOOOOD!”

 

5.

Almost everyday, someone (usually a boy) will scream, “I DON’T SPEAK ENGLISH!” in English. Why?!

 

6.

One day I caught a boy copying the answers for the workbook page he was supposed to be doing from the answer book. I grabbed the answer book, playfully tapped his head with it, and then erased all of his answers. He laughed nervously, and then actually did the workbook page correctly. It was a rewarding day for us both.

 

7.

Recently the 9th grade upper level English students were writing group essays. Their teacher was absent this particular day, so I went to the lessons by myself and helped the kids with their grammar and word choice. Easy stuff, you know. I’m helping one group write something about kimono or something, when one boy starts yelling “BEE! BEE! A BIG BEE!”I freaked out, because for once the students knew the correct English word for such an animal and because our school had been having a problem with giant hornets that are apparently vicious and painful. I did not want to stick around to find out what it felt like to be stung by one, and with all the children flailing around like drunk donkeys, that bee was probably peeved enough to stick his little stinger right into my face. Before I could calm anyone down, or breathe for that matter, the tiniest girl in class had run to the teachers’ room, fetched a bug spray gun, and begun (trying) to kill the little insect. She was way too short to reach the bee, who was flying close to the ceiling like any smart bee would, so all she managed to do was douse the classroom in a very obnoxious fume cloud. We all had a good laugh at her futile attempt to murder the poor thing, and then a much taller boy yanked the canister from her hand. He gave that hornet the lethal dose every student was hoping for, and  the little bug buzzed his little way down to the floor where he perished in a puddle of poison.

I felt so weird. This little bug had the ability to scare 20 teenagers with just the flap of his wings, and yet he died so easily at a few breaths of poisonous air. I didn’t know what else to do, so I made the kids have a little funeral for him. We all said “Sorry. Goodbye Mr. Bee.” and threw him into the “general waste” bag.

 

8.

Every Tuesday I help the 7th graders clean the teachers’ room, mostly because I like to look busy, but also because I like to make them speak English. A while back, I taught them the words “dustpan” and “broom.” Now, every week without fail, a boy who could easily pass as an American 3rd grader comes to my desk and exclaims, “Kori! Clean time!” It’s so cute, I have to clean. He is also “dustpan” boy, so whenever someone yells, “DUSTPAN!” he promptly scurries over to them, not unlike a mouse, and provides his dustpan-steadying skills. Tuesday is probably my favorite day of the week because of Dustpan (his loving new name).

 

9.

My favorite thing about my job, by far, is watching students’ faces when they randomly blurt out an answer and it’s right. They’ll say it happily, and if you don’t immediately congratulate them on their answer, they doubt it and try to retract it. That’s when you say, “THAT’S RIGHT!” and their faces light up like the sky on (American) New Year’s. It’s more beautiful than the most beautiful fireworks display, really, and it’s why I do what I do. Slowly, these kids are picking up English and enjoying it. And maybe English itself isn’t so important big picture-wise, but being bilingual is correlated with higher intelligence right? And it means they can talk to me more, because Kori-sensei does not speak Japanese at school without good reason. No sir.

 

Thanks for reading! Let me know if you enjoy this kind of post. I certainly enjoyed writing it! Until next time!