Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Oh, Christmas Tree!

I'm staying in Japan for Christmas this year. I'm going to miss family, friends, and delicious food that simply can't be replicated despite my best efforts (au gratin potatoes, for one). However, being away from home for the holidays has some perks.


My family has sent two packages full of presents that are now over-taking my tiny tree. This makes me very happy.

In the second package there was a present that had "Open B/4 Christmas" on it. This made me very very happy.

I thought I'd document the occasion so my family could see my excitement. Also because I don't have much else to do with my time but that's really besides the points, isn't it?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Indeed! Culture Shock

Before coming to Japan I went through several orientations and half-dutifully read materials the JET Programme prepared for us. A lot of the information was on dealing with culture-shock.
Culture-shock is a bit of a strange word, isn't it? I can't say I feel shocked by Japanese culture; this is a first-world nation with the second largest economy in the world. It's different but not shocking. Living abroad has tired me out sometimes but other times it's made me feel very alive and happy.

Today, however, I can legitimately say I am facing culture shock.

For the last two years at my school (I've been here about a year and half) there's been a part-time PE teacher working here. She never leaves before I do and is always here before I am so I didn't know until yesterday that she was a part-time teacher. She's been here while the full-time teacher takes a leave of absence to care for her sick father.

The sick father died two days ago. Yesterday was the funeral. Today is the part-time teacher's last day and tomorrow the woman who's father died two days ago with start working again. They don't know where they'll send the part-time teacher but presumably she'll have a job relatively soon. She spent today cleaning out her desk in between teaching classes.

We spent today smiling and joking and complaining about the cold together like we do any other day. But come Monday (when we have her farewell ceremony) most of us will not see much of her. (Teachers work until about 9pm every weeknight and have coaching duties most Saturdays and Sundays leaving little time to socialize outside of work).

In Japan, teachers move around constantly. One of the English teachers I work with was amazed that she was able to stay on at our school for another year. This is her second year here. She's been a teacher for five years and has worked at 3 different schools. Abrupt moving and massive change is not uncommon to the Japanese school system but rather the practiced norm.

It has it's benefits. New teachers get a lot of exposure and learn quickly from a lot of mentors. Seasoned teachers get moved to a variety of schools where their experience can benefit their coworkers as well as their students. Teachers become attached to their job of educating students rather than to a particular school.

I don't think I'd deal with the uncertainty well (at my school the changes were announced on the last day of the school year and the teachers who were getting moved cleaned out their desks and tied up loose ends over spring break). But I can appreciate the practice.

This, however, seems weird, unnecessary and unnatural. It seems that on the third day it's time to get back to work in Japan.