Thursday, June 20, 2013

June Adventures

June has been surprisingly eventful so far. My friends and I held an epic pig roast in a big park in a nearby city. It wasn't quite like Filipino lechon, but it was still delicious. Here, don’t these look yummy?

Epic Pork Roast

Dripping Off the Plate

Outdoor Grillin'

The following weekend, I drove down to Nikko, in Tochigi prefecture, to see some famous temples. On the way back, I stopped by Nasu and took some pictures with a gigantic…hamster. Actually, it’s a capybara, the largest rodent in the world.

I'm a Guy on a Rock

"The place of Kendo's rebirth"

Kendo's Rebirthplace


Like Bruce Lee's Game of Death

Mon 2


Sorry, lady

Mon 3


More Gold

Sitting Archer

Angled Gold

That was a really long flight of steps

Going down


Hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil

I am the Guardian

Largest hamster ever. Also, forgot my hair wax.

No idea what this is, but it was chillin' with the capybaras.

Nasu's mascot, a big nasu (eggplant)

Saw this cutie, too.

 On Monday, I was invited out to dinner by my former supervisor, Supes! He wanted to take me out to dinner again one last time before I left Japan to go back home. We went to the same place he took me when I first arrived three years ago, an izakaya called “Otaru.” Otaru is a city in Hokkaido, and a very lovely spot during the Snow Festival. Anyway, he was holding this long cardboard box. I thought it was something he picked up from work, or a big poster or something, until I realized that it must be something for me. What a pleasant surprise.

Modeled after Date Masamune's sword
Now, how am I supposed to bring this home?

Word of the Day: 伝統的 「でんとうてき」 “dentouteki,” or “traditional.”

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Quick Update

I had been toiling for a couple days about this sudden "opportunity" that appeared in front of me. The advice of one teacher was really hitting it for me. "Think about your future." Over and over, I was thinking about how this decision would affect my plans. I've realized that working and studying at the same is extremely difficult, especially for such difficult subject matter as science, medicine, and MCAT. I knew I had to make a decision for my future.

Last week, I had been working on the Successor's Manual, a guide that I'm writing for my successor. I put it on hold last weekend due to the situation, but I have since started it back up again.

Yesterday (Tuesday), I was informed that the Prefectural Advisers had discussed my situation, and as it turns out, because my successor was already contacted, and because he has already submitted the official Reply Form, it's no longer even possible for me to stay, even if I had changed my mind. Interestingly enough though, I was told that it might be possible to send me down to Ogawara, where they won't get an ALT until next April.

But I wouldn't want that. Shikama has become The Place where I spent 3 years of my life in Japan. I've traveled all around the country, and have even spent more than a month or two in the Kansai (Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe) area, collectively. But Shikama is where I worked, where I lived. Where I've expanded my Japanese lexicon. Where I've built new relationships and a connection with the local community.

And soon, we will have to part ways. But it'll always be my second (third? fourth? fifth?) home.

Word of the Day: 一斉に 「いっせいに」 "issei ni" or "simultaneously."

Monday, June 10, 2013

Just, Maybe...

While I've been preparing for my repatriation this summer, a strange and peculiar opportunity has possibly, maybe opened up for me, かもしれない (maybe). Ever since I submitted my form to decline the offer to renew my contract with my employer, the Board of Education, the feeling of wishing I had accepted their offer has been growing stronger and stronger each day. My friends in and around Japan have been expressing how much they'll miss me and how they wish I would stay. And usually, I would speak from the heart, and say that I wish I could stay, but it would make the medical school interviews difficult to schedule.

After having taken the MCAT a month and a half ago, my plans were slowly changing. At the end of the test, there is a prompt on the screen, asking the test taker to choose one of the following options:

A. I wish to have my MCAT exam SCORED.
B. I wish to VOID my MCAT exam.

You have five minutes to make your selection. Talk about stressful, right? So there I was, legitimately contemplating voiding the exam. My gut instinct was that I didn't do so well; the test felt rushed. So much stuff to read and so little time to read through and choose your answers. But if I didn't choose to score it, then the whole trip of returning home for those two weeks and the prep work that led up to that day would have felt like it was all for naught. And the other side of me was still curious; perhaps I did better than I thought. So I chose to score it.

In the past month, I was contemplating my plans for medical school. Regardless of my score, I knew that my chances of matriculating into med school would improve dramatically if I attend a pre-medical post-baccalaureate program at a university or school of medicine. So, my focus has shifted from applying to medical school to applying to a post-bacc program. Finally last week, I received my test results, and やっぱり (as I thought), they weren't as strong as I had hoped for. That isn't stopping me from applying to post-bacc programs, as most programs would include an MCAT review course and have me retake the test anyway. But my morale did take quite a hit.

At the end of the week, I went down to Sendai to discuss Art Show plans that MAJET is hosting. As one of the presidents of the association for JET ALTs in Miyagi Prefecture, it's one of my responsibilities to help set up events. The person spearheading the Art Show is actually one of the Prefectural Advisers for Miyagi JET participants. During an informal discussion with her, I had mentioned that "Oh, I wish I could stay in Japan." She had then informed me that another JET who lives in the southern half of Miyagi had originally accepted the offer to renew his contract, but has since declined the offer due to plans to enter a graduate program. His town is now searching for a new replacement ALT, and that new person would arrive next April, during Orientation C. That would leave the town without an ALT for 8 months.

Half jokingly, I told her that they should just send my successor over to his town so that they will have a new ALT right away and so that I could stay in my town. She said, "Hmm, maybe it's possible." She told me that it's something she would need to talk to her supervisor about, so I should send an official e-mail to the advisers so that they could discuss it. I brought up the situation to the three JTEs I worked with and they were all for the idea of me staying. The school's English system is undergoing a big change right now from Elementary and Junior High, and since I am the bridge between the two systems, my participation would be a tremendous help to them. That, and they like me as their ALT.

The problem in all this is that in February I had submitted the paperwork to my BOE stating that I would be declining their offer to renew my contract. So since then, they and my supervisor have been preparing for the hiring of a new ALT to replace me. Just last week, my supervisor had a meeting with the prefectural advisers and he had received the Reply Form from my successor stating that my successor has accepted the offer to work in my town. I had also helped my supervisor write an email to him along the lines of "We received your Reply Form. I am your supervisor. We look forward to meeting you." It's not the official contract yet, but the first communication has already begun. I hate causing trouble for other people, especially if it's my employer (it's not good to upset the people giving you money). But perhaps these inconveniences would be better in the long run?

Of course the other, bigger problem has to do with my future plans. As it stands, I will do applications online, but I'm not sure which programs require an in-person interview. Some do, but I believe some allow phone/Skype interviews, and others don't have any interviews. What's also interesting is that the different programs have different submission and due dates. I am looking specifically into programs in Pennsylvania (hopefully Philadelphia), as my home and college are both there, and I know there are some great schools.

At the end of the day, I talked about my situation with another teacher who isn't a JTE but has acted as an assistant JTE and substitute in the past. Her English is perhaps the best out of everyone else in the school due to her previous job as a flight attendant. She seemed happy and surprised that my situation has come to this, but she reminded me that while I would indeed be helpful for Shikama and its new English curriculum next term, it's not something I should worry about so much. What's more important is my future, and I need to think about that as I make my decision.

Thanks, Sensei.

Word of the Day: 多分 「たぶん」 "tabun," or "probably." My students often translate "maybe" to "tabun," but I have to correct them on the difference.