< class="pagetitle">Archive for the “moving” Category

Posts about packing, moving, and unpacking

“Don’t they all move?” you may ask. Yes, but I mean “move” as in “Let’s go rent a truck for half a day and move this stuff in weather that’s so crazy all the schools are closed and the trains stopped running.” I helped Joe move his scooter, bicycle, and some miscellaneous stuff from Sakurai (a small town about 45 minutes away) to Matsuyama in gale force winds and driving rain. We actually had to take the panes off the second story window to lower the bed on a rope. Awesome.

I barely made it to work on time, and all our classes were cancelled today, leaving all the teachers doing administrative work in the office. Not so bad, but a little slow.

In any event, let’s hope this storm blows over like the last one did.

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I know I’ve been a bit of an absent blogger lately. Work’s been kicking my butt, and I’m one of those people who falls into the “if I can’t do it perfectly, then I won’t do it at all” trap sometimes. So to combat that tendency a little bit, I’m going to throw up some information in what I know is a less-than-ideal format. That said, here’s what I’ve been up to recently:

  • I moved in with Yuko a few months ago. Her parents weren’t thrilled with the idea at first, but they’ve since come around, which brings me to my next point:
  • I met Yuko’s parents yesterday. They were supposed to come out to Matsuyama around Christmas, but her dad hurt his back. They brought a carload of stuff, including enough food to feed a small militia for a few days. Luckily, Yuko is a fantastic cook, and the veggies her mom brought are all really fresh.
  • I applied to JET for the 2009-2010 school year, and had to go to Guam in February to interview. This created a tricky timing problem. I had to tell American Language School in April if I was going to renew my contract (set to expire in July), but JET notifies participants through May (and sometimes later) if they’re hired for positions starting in August. I ended up not renewing with ALS but not getting a JET position either, which leads to my next point:
  • I started working for a different English school here in Matsuyama. I now work for Miki Study Pals (pictured at left), a school that caters to parents who can pay for their kids to become essentially bilingual. Even though the bilingual students only represent about 10% of the students at the school, they have a bit of a “halo effect”, much like the Toyota Prius makes people associate fuel economy with Toyota.
  • I mentioned that work has been kicking my ass. I’ve been tasked with designing the curriculum for the last three months of the school year (January – March) for one of my co-teaching classes, and decided to go with a music unit. So I’ve been reading a lot of lesson plans, worksheets, and exercises that teachers have put out there on the web, trying to figure out what I wanted to do with the kids, who are all around ten years old, and mostly bilingual. Then I had to wrap my head around the best way to organize and present the material. My first lesson was Saturday, and it went quite well. =)

I think that’s all of the major stuff. I’ve done some traveling with Yuko recently that I should blog about. And I keep taking photographs of weird stuff with the ultimate goal of putting them up here. I’m sure I’ll figure out a way.

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The past two weeks have been a whirlwind. Since the first job offer to the time I landed in Japan was fifteen days, which I spent almost entirely packing.

You might ask “if you knew you were going to move to Japan, why weren’t you packing anyway, even before you got the official job offer?” Well, every time I spoke with a school or visited a job board, I specified that I would need about 30 days to get ready- plenty of time to pack a 1400 square foot home. I was so excited to get the job offer from ALS, the school I actually *wanted* to get into, that I took the position, even though they wanted me to start in just over a week from the initial job offer.

Moving, of course, is always a pain in the ass. My last two moves were both to spaces that could absorb everything I had, so I didn’t really need to get rid of anything. In the last few days though, I ended up spending some time packing that I’d normally be sleeping, and consequently got about six hours of sleep in the last two nights before I left. I didn’t even have an opportunity to go get the playing cards I wanted to give as small gifts to students and teachers at ALS. I’m so thankful I built an “extra” 24 hours into my move schedule, as it allowed me to do mop up of things I forgot to take care of before then. Canceling my utilities and services, for instance, and spending an additional six hours at my house so my mom could pack up things that interested her that I was ready to just toss as trash (a lot of food from my pantry, for instance).

After convincing ALS that starting the week after they initially wanted me would be at least as good (really, is eleven days enough to pack a house and move to a foreign country?), my start date was pushed back by a week. Effectively a little less than that though, as they then told me that I should arrive in Tokyo three or four days before training started, so I could acclimate, decompress, and play tourist a little before my class started on Tuesday. At any rate, my last few days were totally consumed by packing, to say nothing of the panicked couple of hours I spent at the very last moment (early early in the morning of the 11th) unpacking, redistributing, and repacking to keep my big bag under 50 pounds. It’s a great suitcase, but it’s a bit heavy by itself, so I need to be more careful about using it on flights with a weight limit. It ended up at 53.5 pounds, but the nice lady at the check in counter didn’t make me pay the $50 to have a bag in the 50-75 lb range (thank god it wasn’t $100 for the 75-100 lb range).

I had the forethought to put all liquids in my checked bag, so I didn’t have to deal with that fiasco again (ask me about the Helena airport screening sometime). I squeezed my Wii and controllers into some spaces between clothes in my carryon bag (I had originally planned to pad it with the clothes in the big bag, but I couldn’t add the weight). Without my knee brace, I breezed right through security in Las Vegas.

The flight from Las Vegas to LA was uneventful. To pass the 1.5-hour layover I struck up a conversation with a Korean accountant who was waiting to fly home (whose sister, coincidentally, used to own an English language school).

The flight from LA to Tokyo was quite long. It seemed much longer than any of the transoceanic flights I’ve flown previously, probably because the in-flight entertainment system was malfunctioning. It only worked for a few minutes at a time, then the system would show static and a message saying the channel was no longer available (which only lasted about a second at a time, but it forced you to change back to your chosen movie or TV show after it reset). At any rate, I have to say the in-flight entertainment system on Japan Airlines is much better than American Airlines. Though they both have individual seat-back monitors, JAL’s system offers true On-Demand programming, where American Airlines had a two-hour (2.5?) block of programming on thirteen channels that looped throughout the flight.

I was met at Narita airport by an ALS teacher named Chris. Chris is 27, originally from Long Island, and has a degree in psychology. He’s been with ALS for a while now, and helped me get the perspective of someone that actually works in the trenches. Everything he told me jived with what the recruiter said, so I felt pretty good about my decision to join ALS. He also mentioned that he was moving in next door to the guest house, and should I need anything, to feel free to ask. We rode the JR East train from Narita to Yotsukaido, which turned out to be a bit further from central Tokyo than I thought (the fact that we had to take a train instead of a subway might have tipped you off).

Here are my four bags on the floor of the train. Even though you can see the orange “Heavy” tag on my big green bag, it was only about two thirds full- but still, all four bags together weighed about 135 pounds. The problem with this became very apparent when we arrived in Yotsukaido and I had to carry my laptop, blue backpack, and overstuffed garment bag from the station to the guest house, almost half a mile away. I seriously felt like I was plucked out of a cartoon, wearing the backpack with the garment bag looped over one shoulder and the laptop bag over the other. Chris walked next to me, and we tried to talk over the din of my 53 lb suitcase’s plastic wheels negotiating the rough asphalt road. We certainly weren’t travelling covertly, that’s for sure.

I was pleasantly surprised by the guest house itself. It has five bedrooms- four upstairs, and mine downstairs. Yes, like all of the homes in Japan, you do need to take off your shoes when you come inside. Just next to the front door is a cabinet to store your shoes and a long shoehorn to help you back into them when you need it.

The living room, kitchen, and dining areas are one large room. When I looked around, I was pleasantly surprised again- one of my housemates brought his Nintendo Wii, and was playing Super Smash Brothers Brawl. The kitchen is modestly sized, and generally exactly what you’d expect, except for the undersized refrigerator (undersized to my American preconceptions, anyway) and the built-in oven that’s almost the exact same size as a toaster oven. In fact, the only advantage it has over a toaster oven is that it doesn’t use up valuable counter space. The only internet connection in the building is through the one ethernet cable on the desk in the living room, where I’m sitting right now. Also on the desk is a crazy rotary pay phone. It costs Â¥10 for each 30 second increment of local calls, so people generally use it just long enough to tell someone to call them back.

My room is about the size of a single dorm room. I have a sliding door that affords me an excellent view of the not so excellent rear cinderblock wall and the rear of the neighbors’ house. The bed is a standard bed frame, but uses a futon mattress and pad. The downstairs toilet room is just outside my bedroom, and the shower/laundry room is five steps further. All things considered, I’m completely satisfied with the digs.

After I put my bags down, Jonathan stopped playing his Wii and joined Chris and I on our walk to Ito Yokado, a department store about a quarter mile away from the guest house. It’s a three (?) story standalone affair with its own internal food court and supermarket, and is a great place to shop for just about anything you need. We each grabbed a pre-wrapped item or two from some waist-high open-top refrigerated cases, and brought them back to the house to eat and talk.

It’s funny what happens to your concept of “reasonable walking distance” in a situation like this. I’ve walked to Ito Yokado at least once a day since I’ve been here, and I was still shocked when I figured out the distance using Google Maps. It really doesn’t seem far from the house at all, just a few blocks. I imagine this’ll get me in slightly better cardio shape, at the very least. 🙂

All in all, I’m very happy with my decision to pursue ALS the way I did. Everyone I’ve met from the company seems very friendly and knowledgeable. I’ll have a lot more to say about that in the days to come, as I get into my actual training, I’m sure.

Signing off,

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In early December of last year, I applied to the JET Programme, a program sponsored by the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations, a Japanese governmental organization. CLAIR places native speakers of English in private and public schools throughout Japan to promote English language skills and cultural exchange and understanding. Unfortunately, after going through the second longest and most arduous application process of my life (Las Vegas Metro Police being the first), I didn’t get an interview.

I was horribly disappointed but not totally surprised, as each year they get many times the applicants as positions they need to fill. To make it even more competitive, the application deadline was a month or two after Japan’s biggest private English language school, Nova, went bankrupt, so thousands of experienced, native English teachers, already in Japan, found themselves applying for work at about the same time.

I found out in late January they weren’t going to interview me, so I struck out on my own. I started by earning my TEFL certification in early February in one rather intense weekend from i-to-i International, a British firm that offers accredited TEFL courses in six English-speaking countries. With cert in hand, I started applying to private English language schools in Japan. I posted my newly-revamped résumé on job boards, applied for individual positions, and read as many forums and blogs and tips as I could.

One of the things I was looking for was a company that provided a good amount of support for incoming teachers. For instance, I would rather someone who knows the area find an apartment for me, so I paid extra attention to the job postings that spoke a few lines about the assistance they provide to incoming teachers. I found that in the company that ended up hiring me, American Language School. They provide a week of training on their particular way of lesson planning, separating students into grade levels, and how to use and integrate the different textbooks, workbooks, and supporting teaching materials that the school uses. After that, incoming teachers shadow the teacher they’ll be replacing for one more week, then they’re on their own.

I was excited when they offered me a second interview, and absolutely ecstatic when they offered me a job last Thursday, March 27th. The only caveat was that I needed to be in Japan on Tuesday, April 8th. Yes, that’s only a week and a half of notice to move across the Pacific ocean. So now I’m feverishly packing my house.

I’m really not that worried about teaching. I know I’ll do fine once I’m over there. I have a reasonably strong grasp of the English language, and I’ve taught plenty of classes with absolutely no supporting materials, so I think I’ll do fine with whatever they provide.

The position they gave me is the one I requested in my initial application, in Matsuyama. Matsuyama is a city about half the size of Las Vegas, and sits on the northwestern part of Shikoku island just across a channel from Hiroshima (kind of near Bunny Island, actually). My company-subsidized apartment is a five minute walk from the school, and I’ll be taking it over from the outgoing teacher, a New Yorker named Erin. The initial contract is a one year commitment, extensible in six month increments. I’m not sure how long I’ll ultimately be there, but it’ll be at least a year.

I just learned last night that I will be the only teacher at the school. Not the only American teacher or the only foreign teacher even, but the only teacher, period. I’ll have 25 hours of classroom instruction time per week, interspersed with prep time and paperwork time. Erin mentioned that the setup at this school afforded him a remarkable amount of freedom to teach how he saw fit, which is good in that I won’t have someone constantly telling me how they would rather do things, but a little unsettling in that I won’t really have much direction, or the experience to draw on to formulate my own teaching methods in the first place.

At the moment though, I’m more concerned with getting my crap in boxes and getting it to my mom’s house with my dog, car, and grand piano, so I can get my house rented. It’ll be a fun week, I tell you. In fact, I’ll be getting back to it right now. 🙂

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