Category Archives: Pre-lauch

No Countdowns

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I just don’t like countdowns. Something about it makes the days leading up to day zero less important. Right now, they’re more important. Saying good bye to family and friends. Figuring out how to part with me boyfriend and my pets. I guess I should be happy that my subconscious is more concerned with connections and relationships than material things.

Speaking of friends and family, I had 3 parties this weekend and one I didn’t know about until I showed up. It was good ^o^ very enjoyable. The best part about a party being a surprise is you don’t have to worry about any of the setup! The other best part of course is that you get to see people you really didn’t think you would. Not that I hadn’t been trying to see them. Everyone has busy lives, ’tis all. By day 3, I was absolutely exhausted. We’re talking bloated from food, tired from doing way more than normal for 3 straight days, and worn out from answering the same questions a ba-jillion times. But it’s all worth it. My Grandma and Nana are coming to see me off tomorrow (they’re about a 5 hour drive away) so I’m expecting less running around but more answering questions. Grandparents will be grandparents.

Note – I hadn’t been posting much to my busy state of being as well as waiting to check-in with my Osaka branch contact about still coming to work. All is well. She assures me that things are happening as planned and I have other reliable friends in the area who also tell me that the rest of Japan is unaffected, physically at least. Though I’m sure everyone who has connections with the area of the disaster has been affected emotionally. Hopefully, I’ll be able to find a volunteer relief group that I can help in some way.

For anyone wanting to know where I am in relation to Fukushima power plant, see the previous post on placement. I’m in Nanao, 6 hours minimum or 250 miles minimum from the site.  Also, check out this article about keeping a reign in on all this sensationalism going on in the media. I have to admit, I’m kinda looking forward to a less crowded flight and airport. We shall see…

I know I had wanted to do a whole post on packing (I might do a follow up one after I get settled in Nanao) but here’s a sum-up of my plan. I have a monster bag I bought recently, Athalon I think, which separates into 2 bags for checking at the airport. International flights get 2 free checked bags with a 50 lb limit. Separating the bags helps keep them under the limit. I also have a small 20 inch carry on and my backpack. I compiled a list of items I want to take ages ago and had one pre-packing with an older bag. I highly recommend both a  list and pre-packing that list. I realized what things I really didn’t need (like lots of shoes… hey, I’m female) and what I needed more of such as work shirts. I’m likely going to have a full weeks worth of suit pants, a couple nice suit jackets, and 2 weeks worth of work shirts with assorted short-sleeve and long sleeve. Work stuffs is my biggest concern because I’m a bit curvy and I have a hard enough time finding shirts that fit in the States. Something else important to consider is bringing a couple items with sentimental or fun meaning (my items are a sweatshirt, a pair of heels, some corsets, and particular jewelry).

Today is a collect-items-for-the-kids day for me. Stickers, coins, photos, and so on. I’ll try to put another post together specifically about JET vs Interac but it may not get finished until after I’m in Japan.

With love – M

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Quakes and Shakes

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3/16 Update: Alright… I feel like everyone’s freaking out. Until I get some solid scientific sources about the new reports on radiation levels and such, I am forming no opinions of my own. I’m usually pretty trusting of BBC but with this stuff, I want someone with a degree in radioactive isotopes or something.

 

By now, anyone that doesn’t live under a rock has heard about the goings on in Japan. To be honest, I don’t think the worst part was the earthquake or the tsunami. The aftermath of food, water, and energy (electricity and petrol) shortages in those areas is going to be the hardest and longest hurdle.

Since so many friends and family have been asking me questions about Japan and me and what in blue-blazes is going on, below is a sum up.

  1. I am still going. My town is far from the epicenter and hopefully I won’t have issues flying into Tokyo. If I do, we’ll deal with that when it happens. I will be contacting my contacts in Tokyo as my departure draws closer but right now, they have enough on their hands dealing with the poor ALT’s going to or are already living in those areas. Please pray for their safety. In addition, if allowed, I will be heading anywhere I can that needs help while over there. However, I have a feeling my company may advise to simply do my job so that it will help things continue to some sense of normalcy.
  2. The media is blowing a lot of smoke here in the states so please don’t just watch the news. Read a source that is at least slightly educated in how nuclear reactors work. My boyfriend found a very good blog post that has gotten attention for being effective at explaining what actually happened and why Japan is not in danger of having something like Chernobyl happen, ever. Please at least read the sum up at the end. It’s all much more complicated than many of the news videos I’ve been watching via abc and cnn. Let’s be real, news reporters are not scientists. And safe news is boring news.
  3. Yes, from what I understand there is one more quake on it’s way. The earth has to loosen a belt notch one more time before it can settle, I assume. No sense holding our breath on it though. Whatever happens, happens. Let’s just hope everyone comes out of it alive and well. It’s hard when you’re on the other side of the world and all you can do is sit and watch. If you do have the means to go help the efforts over there in some way, please do. Like I said, the worst is what comes after. But it’s also the best, right? People really come together and lift each other up. I have no doubt the Japanese will do just that.

Enough blabber from me. I’m mostly done work so I hope to have a couple more posts about my preparations before I leave in 2 weeks. And thank you to everyone that’s been concerned for me. I’ll be just fine ^__^

With love – M

The Oops and Recovery

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Man oh man. There’s been a bit of back and forth on things so I was trying to wait for the dust to settle before I did another update. To be clear, not ‘bad’ back and forth, just… lots of decisions to be made. Some rearranging of my schools and also where I’ll be living. I will update with maps as soon as I have a more final answer/decision. The worst part is waiting for a reply. Gotta love that 14 hour time difference.

I had my not-so-official last day in the office this past Friday. Fortunately and unfortunately, since this isn’t really my job and I’ve pretty much taken on my bosses duties out of the goodness of my heart, I can drop the reigns at any point. But I won’t. I’m seeing all these loose ends through as far as I can see them. The last thing I want is for this program to suffer any just because I got tired and let some things slide. It’s not in my nature. But, come to an end it shall. I can’t really help anyone while on the other side of the world… well, maybe just some emails here and there… and some powerpoint presentations… and maybe some website stuff… GAH.

On to heavier things.

The Oops: The day I was going to mail my visa, I discovered my passport was missing from our family safe. On the night before I was going in to get my replacement passport, I discover my birth certificate is also missing. I officially have thieving gnomes that follow me around. Panic ensued.

And Recovery: After a few tears, I gathered my wits and sent off for my birth certificate. I wasn’t born here, in Delaware, so I had to request it from Orange County, Florida. I know, right? Just my luck. Surprisingly, I got it less than 3 business days after I ordered it using the credit card expedited method they recommended. Then I was off to get my passport replacement, which went off without a hitch. (Make sure you have all your paperwork in order BEFORE you go! Several people were having fits due to their own unpreparedness.) And today I picked up my passport, again just under 3 business day wait, and mailed it off to the Consulate in New York.

When I hold that visa in my hand, then I shall dance and scream SUCCESS.

For those of you out there who fear this scenario, and fear it you should, don’t be like me and wait to make sure that passport is where you think it is. Caress it each week until you send it off for your visa. But at least, in this sort of worst case event, all is not lost. Well, it was… but I made it reappear. Stay sharp, stay calm. As Tim Gunn says, make it work!

And now for some awesome.

With love – M

Destination Confusion

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After a little hiatus from blogging, I have returned. There have been quite a few variables floating around and a few have been pinned down recently so I can finally chat about them in confidence. From where I would like to live to where my schools actually are, it’s been a little turbulent.

There tends to be some frustration involved when dealing with people over long distance primarily via email. It has little to do with the people on either end and more to do with the fact that we have to wait till the following day sometimes to get a response. Thankfully, my contacts at Interac have been plugging away at making sure my needs are satisfied as can be. I ask a question, I get an answer. It may not be the answer I was looking for but hey, it could be worse. I’ll do my best to keep the next bits brief.

Shika is my city. Period. I believe my accommodation contact was trying to place me in Nanao (noted on the right side of the map) simply because that’s where they’ve had all the other ALTs previously. It is 45 minutes drive from Shika so you can imagine how far a drive that would be to  the 5 schools noted on the map. My dude is going to look into  finding a Leopalace in the Shika area but I’m not holding my breath. I did my own searching and found nothing. The closet building was in Hakui, about 30 minutes south. Unfortunately, google maps no longer lets me search for アパート which is just weird. Before I could pull up every apartment in Japan that was listed.

Click on the “View Larger Map” to see the actual addresses and such.

What happened originally was my dude gave me a call and we chatted about possibly having me move into one of the apartments that are currently occupied by ALTs that are leaving in April. This was a good idea in theory but like I said, they were all in Nanao and were way more expensive than the Hakui or Shika. Now it looks more and more like if I would like to get a place I actually want, it’s going to have to be on my own. A mightly daunting task, for sure, but a feasible one.

As you can see on the map, my schools are a little scattered. Three are well within acceptable distances (10 min, 17 min, and 23 min) but the two up north in Togi… a bit far. The saving grace is that I can take the cliff/sea-side highway and it’s about 45 minute drive to both schools. That will be just beautiful. The ugly icing on the cake? My base school is the Togi Jr. High. Of course, I mean why wouldn’t it be? It’s okay, I’m not really that bitter about it. It would have been too much of a dream to get the Shika Jr and Sr High schools like my placement guy thought I might.

Oh – and for anyone curious, I was originally just told I had 4 schools. That was it. I had to specifically ask for addresses. I assume they do this because things tend to change sometimes and it’s easier to give you all the information during orientation. But since I’m renting a place on my own, I want to have it reserved BEFORE my butt lands in Japan. In fact I may look at a couple apartments since they’re all so close to each other in the town. And then I sent another email asking that I please be notified should any of my schools change so that I can plan accordingly. Osaka Branch got back to me lightening quick to let me know I had another school (the 23 minute one). I guess it’s a compliment. They must think I’m pretty hot stuff.

The biggest issue now is how to go about getting a guarantor. For those that don’t know, this is something that most all apartment real estate agents require for any foreigner: a native Japanese to co-sign, essentially saying that you aren’t going to take off at a moments notice and are at least somewhat trustworthy. Though I could whip up more glowing recommendations than threads in a shirt… I don’t think it would get me anywhere. This seems to be one of those things in Japan that is simply unbending. Right now, my feelers are out with a friend who works in the state government of Delaware and with a friend in Japan who has recently discovered a fellow JET ALT who found a guarantor through her board of education of her prefecture. Hmmm…

That’s enough for now. I’ll do another blog soon about packing struggles. Since I’m a girl, I’m sure it’ll be unendingly entertaining.

With love – M

Conversation test and expected stresses

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Oh the dreaded Interac conversation test. Japanese language proficiency call is probably a better description. My caller was adorable, as most I’m sure are. We had a little hick-up because I missed her first call (8:30pm my time) by a couple seconds and then when she said she’d call back, her son was sick and she had to stay home. But we worked it out and she was able to call me back last night thankfully.

I felt a little bad because I highly doubt I’m fluent enough to be considered for the extra money they offer (5000 yen per month). My goal was simply to get my feet wet with a real Japanese person I had never met before.  I surprised myself and did really well as far as understanding everything she said. A few of the sentences I just couldn’t respond to due to my low level of grammer and vocab. I mean, I only had a year and we didn’t even finish the first Genki book.

Now, don’t think I went into it unprepared. I absolutely studied my head off. My buddy Nathalie was great and helped me practice formulating some simple sentences like the all important “mouichido itte kudasai” or “could you say that again please”. She also gave me some questions she might ask, tho she ended up only asking of them, it was still really helpful just to practice listening skills. The best bit was a facebook link she sent me of a discussion she found about the calls.

“It’s not that hard. I had one.
They do start off pretty easily with very basic Japanese and eventually move into the more difficult levels of Japanese.

I can’t remember the whole conversation, but this is a good example of what to expect:
Firstly, she asked what my name was after introducing herself.

She asked me how the weather was where I live after that.
For how long did I study Japanese and where.
What I did yesterday, today, and what would I do tomorrow.
If I had ever been to Kyoto.
What my favorite Japanese food is, and where I go for it.
What I want to do in Japan.

There were more, but those should give you an idea.
At the end, we had some small talk in English for a couple minutes. She asked me if this was the first time I had spoken to a Japanese person on the phone.

That’s a pretty basic rundown– though the last questions were very difficult. Such as what interesting news I had read in a newspaper. Don’t worry– it’s not a big problem. You’ll do fine. :)”

This was the absolutely most helpful post for me. The caller asked almost all of these questions. In addition she asked when my birthday was and some other questions in response to answers I had given to the above mentioned questions. These were obviously harder because I had to think on the spot. But I survived. I’m really proud of myself for not stuttering and understanding all she was asking. Hopefully my sentence making skills will improve as my exposure to more Japanese people sky-rockets.

One last note:

Stress is starting to take it’s toll. The late night calls, lots of researching and reading, and studying the language have been my daily companions. But I also am working my part-time job during the day as well as finishing up my lingering personal projects (like getting as many kanzashi and painting done as possible). It’s all tumbling together in what feels like a giant snowball of doom.

BUT it’s all kind of awesome, too. I’ve had the opportunity to really perform in my job, assisting and doing a lot of duties in place of my boss who unfortunately has had to step aside for little bit.  I’ve been able to get experience in administrative duties as well as interviewing and event planning. And don’t even get me started on how much I love swimming around on google earth in Japan and reading other ALT’s blogs or surfing websites about the area around my placement in Shika.

It’s just something I want clear to any prospective ALT’s out there. If you don’t like stress, this job is not for you. However, if you thrive on the unplanned, the unknown, and the all around awesome that is traveling abroad, climb aboard, my friend.

With love – M

Placement: Shika, Hakui District, Ishikawa

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It would be smart to post where exactly I’m going… just maybe. I’m rather excited, though initially I was slightly put off because I’ll be so far from a close friend who’s currently over there already.

So this is me, or will be in about 8 weeks. My friend, Nathalie, is in Anan, Tokushima Perfecture. If you look at the directions, it’s roughly 8 to 9 hours of travel time between us either by train or car or whatever. It’s a long haul. Longer than either of us were looking forward to but hey, we’re looking on the brightside.

The areas about right between us are Shiga and Kyoto. What better places to meet and share a weekend? They’re big but not crazy big. This affords us cheaper food and lodging so we can spend more time enjoying the towns and less time fretting over costs. I can’t say from personal experience just yet but every single resource screams it at you “Japan is EXPENSIVE. Be prepared”. I think if I’m smart and turn down my princess meter a gauge or two, I’ll do just fine.

A little bit about Shika: It’s the boonies. There are no less than 15,000 people living there, limited stores and activities. BUT I have put my meager Japanese skills to the test and have been clicking away on Google Earth to find the goodies close by. Things like the Silk Beach in Hakui, 30 minutes south, or the confection museum in Shika (drool!), a type of hotspring/resort area  on a cliff in Shika, really interesting looking temples and natural made rock formations on the sea side, and (the best part) my very own locally grown farmer’s market with some 300 farmers there.

Of course, many natives have already told me that  the best way to see the true Japan is to get out of the cities, stay in the countryside. And I thankfully have Hakui and Nanao within an hour’s drive. Also, two hours drive gets me to Kanazawa or Toyama. I say drive because I’ll have to have a car for my town but once I get to Nanao or Hakui, I can pretty much take public transport anywhere in the country.

Then there’s the most awesome fact for me. The awesome of awesomes. I will be living near the sea. A large body of water which connects to other large bodies of water. I realize Japan’s an island, but I could’ve landed in center Nagano or Maebashi. I’m sure it’s great there but I’ll take waves over mountains any day. I am a ocean kind of girl. My name even means “gaurdian of many waters” or “ocean goddess”. Oh and when I say living near the water, I mean I have been actively searching and in contact with realtors about certain apartments that are as close to the ocean as possible. Oddly enough, these are also really close to the main schools in Shika.

So it’s not all bad, right? Somehow, I’ll survive… that was total sarcasm.

Anyone out there in the Ishikawa area reading this, you should let me know. The more friends I have before I get there, the better.

One last thing before I close – I received my email from my branch office, evidently in Osaka this morning. They have advised that I fly into Osaka airport and travel from there to the hotel for us, which also right next to the office for training. That’s all well and good except flying into Osaka costs a good 400-500 dollars more AND stops in Tokyo on the way, usually for a minimum of 3 hour layover. I am seriously debating flying straight to Tokyo and hoping on a shinkansen into Osaka for 200 dollars less and many hours less. I think after 16 hrs, I’ll be sick of flying for a while. However, all this is speculative based on a roundtrip ticket because the one way tickets… are almost exactly the same for Tokyo and Osaka. The roundtrip tickets are always cheaper but I have no idea what the holiday schedule is for my August break yet. Some schools let out the week before August, some the week after July. I just don’t know. Too much to think about.

I hope this was somewhat informative. If you have any questions, ask away. I may edit them into the post, even.

With love -M

Jet vs. Interac… FIGHT!

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Round 1: The Process

In my mind, this fight scenario is indicative of the fight between government-run and private run companies in Japan at present. I’m not much for politics in my own backyard, let alone a foreign nation but I can understand the importance of this battle. From what I gather, the recent political switch over that happened recently has sent Japan in a more private direction. Basically, the government will be made smaller, its many sub-company’s made private like the post offices and so on.

What does any of this have to do with JET and Interac? Everything. As I have viewed thus far, JET has been the reigning giant when it comes to the placement of ALT’s (Assistant Language Teachers). There are several factors that feed this such as being the best paid ALT job out there (for someone with no experience, new to the country, etc.) and loads of assistance from the company, both financial as well as psychological. It is, by far the most recommended, well funded, stable ALT placement company.

So why would anyone bother with Interac? Because if JET’s doors were any tighter to squeeze through, they’d be making diamonds from coal in there. The first and second times I applied to JET (2008 and 2009), the process began as early as late August/early September. I was informed of whether I was coming for an interview around December and then the actual interview was in the heart of NYC in mid February. THEN I waited another couple of months to find out I was put on the Alternate list (basically, if you’re on an alternate list, they want you but there just isn’t enough room on the short list for everyone). The application process alone is demanding. Attention to details, concise but informative answers, and getting that app in as early as possible is what’s going to get the win. The interview… I usually do well in those situations and I don’t think that I did poorly but I’m not a teacher. I have loads of experience working with children but not with pretend teaching with 3 stern interviewers. But they want the best of the best so I don’t blame them. Thankfully, for any new applicants they have now shortened the process by at least a month or so and I believe their eventual goal is to make it almost completely online based, like Interac. For now, expect to give them EVERYTHING up front in the application. There is no real back and forth. They evaluate everyone at one time and if you don’t measure up on paper first, they don’t even bother talking to you.

Like I explained in the previous post, Interac’s process was quick, to the point and fairly painless. Many of the questions and paper documents needed for visa and other things are not requested until the interview process is underway. And the interview doesn’t happen until you’re first screened over the phone by a recruiter after you’ve submitted the application online. I feel that these steps create a much less stressful experience. Much less time is wasted in this way. Something like this:

Applicant: “Hi, I’m interested in this position. Here is my resume and reference list.”  1 day to a couple of weeks pass

Recruiter: “Hi, you meet our basic requirements. I will now ask a series of questions to ensure you are competent…. Congratulations! You have passed the initial screening. Let’s setup an interview date.”  Several days to several weeks pass

Applicant: “I have come to this professional interview, prepared to perform under pressure for a video interview (to be sent to Japanese clients), interact with fellow applicants in a group setting, and interview privately. I conduct myself formally, expressively, and with confidence.” 3-4 weeks pass

Recruiter: “Congratulations once again! Here is your letter of an offer of employment. This is your estimated start date (either early April or July).”

I actually enjoyed the interview itself because it’s a group process all except for the 30 minute private interview at the end. It took all day for me since I opted to go next to last… because I’m such a nice person. Nearly 10 hours, not including drive time which was a hike. Still worth it. I hope I’ll get to meet some of my cohorts again at the orientation. All good people. It was almost comical because we all agreed that every single one of us there was good choice. Everyone had different strengths and weaknesses and we seemed to compliment each other very well.

In summary of the processes, JET can take anywhere from 11 to 16 months to finally get placed where as Interac takes a minimum of 6 and a max of 10 months to place. For Round 1, my winner is undoubtedly Interac. Stay tuned next time for Round 2: Placement.

With love – M