Friday, April 27, 2012

What I actually do

Congrats to THE IMMORTAL RULES winner, Sana!

Last week, I talked about the parts of my job that my employers mandate. But I'm kind of hired for more than that. I'm on the JET programme. It's a Japanese government initiative which hires people into 3 job roles. Apart from your job role, the JET programme also asks participants to "promote grassroot internationalisation."


Eikawa is the place where internationalisation and teaching naturally meet. It's a Japanese word meaning "English conversation" and is generally used to mean any English class, outside of school, which focuses more on the spoken aspects. My town doesn't require me to teach eikawa, nonetheless, my neighbour started one up in my first year, and it's been going strong ever since.

As our eikawa is so informal, it really provides a chance to learn more than English. We - the town's 3 ALTs from 3 countries and the Japanese adult students -  get to exchange ideas. We present about our cultures, and show bits of it. Best of all, we get to know one another. For my first 2 years, most of my Japanese friends in town were from eikawa. Our interactions outside the classroom did a lot for my understanding of Japanese culture, and their understanding of mine.


There are a million and one formal ways to internationalise. The simplest and easiest is to present on your culture in the classes you're already teaching. At elementary school, I'm pretty free and flexible. So once I get ahead in the text book, I occasionally include a lesson with Bajan culture. I do Halloween and Christmas lessons. I tell the kids about the rest of the world.

And there are formal activities outside the classroom as well. The various international organisations in my prefecture put on various events. So far, I've done a general presentation on Barbadian culture, and a cooking class with Barbadian food. (I also did cooking classes with the eikawa.) And there's a big international fair every year. I've hosted a booth there, basically just telling people where Barbados was, and a few facts, and listening to Bajan music.


Why would something like internationalisation even be important enough to mention right next to your official job role? To understand, you have to think of the Japanese position. Japan is an archipelago off the coast of Asia. They spent hundreds of years at war with their neighbours. They purposely shut themselves off from the rest of the world at times. And they are the only country with Japanese as their first language.

All of those things combine to equal a simple fact. Japan sees only Japan. Unlike the rest of us, who see and understand the rest of world, Japanese people can (and often do) forget there is a rest of the world. And many of them have no idea what that rest of the world is like.

I am a fountain of information. People can find out that Coca Cola exists outside Japan (yes, I've been asked), that the word "bye-bye" did not originate in Japanese, that black people have different hair from Japanese people.

My mere existence here is a reminder of the world, of the Caribbean, of Black people, of English-speakers. I think I do most of my internationalisation when random people talk to me on the streets of my town, or on the bus, or the train, or even with the new teachers at school. Especially being from Barbados.

There are a couple THOUSAND Japanese people that only know that Barbados exists because of me. Last week, I was at a PTA drinking party (um, that sounds so horrible- Japanese culture does not translate simply), and the lady next to me was the Mom of a Junior High student I'd been teaching since she was 8. She told me her daughter loved English and that she'd come home and told her the English teacher was from Barbados and she actually looked it up!

My being here also translates into people trying with English. My students will often scream "Hello" at me from across parking lots. Some of my spunkier JHS students will think up random comments. "My name is legend. I am dangerous," and "You have Canada face" to a Canadian ALT. Sometimes I run into random students from other schools, towns, etc, and they'll try their hand at having a conversation. And random adults will as well. Sometimes they will say strange things. Very, very strange things. Like the urologist who said, "I penis doctor. Penis turn black, fall off? Call me." (Ah, sweet memories!) All these people try because they see me.

My VISA says "INSTRUCTOR" and my town technically pays me to teach. But there are days when I teach nothing at all. And even when I am teaching, it's not earth-shattering. I've already mentioned that elementary school and kindergarden English aren't really meant to "teach" so much as to make kids receptive to English/foreign languages. And so, I often feel like the more important job is the one that is less measurable, the one that doesn't have a start and end time. The one I do all day long merely by being.

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