The Year of the rabbit has come and gone, and the year of the dragon begins. This year was our first Japanese New Year. Last year we were busy at home ringin in the new year by drinkin beer, watching the ball drop, and screaming, “HAPPY NEW YEAR!!” while lighting fireworks and blowing through noise makers. 2 years ago I was anxiously getting ready for my interview with the JET Programme, truth be told, I can’t even remember if they’d told me I HAD an interview yet.
NEW YEAR’S CELEBRATION
When I was a little kid, my family used to bang on pots and baking bowls with chopsticks to make the loudest sounds we could. We’d bang and scream, and listen for the neighbor kids the next house over, waiting for their New Years reply. Even now, if you go to my mom’s house in Vancouver, you can pull out a big silver baking bowl and see all the little chopstick sized dents in the bottom. Ahh, such fond memories. In Japan, everything is much more subdued. In the states a person can go outside, put their ear to the wind and hear hundreds of people screaming and cheering. Here at midnight, you put your ear to the sky and all you hear the sound of a gong being rung 108 times. Our friend Sho said that it’s to symbolize the 108 human sins in Buddhism, and the ringing rids people of the 108 worldly desires.
I love ikebana. I have been doing it for a little over a year now. This is the arrangement I did for New Years. It is meant to resemble a sort of kadomatsu (traditional New Years arrangement here in Japan). It’s and arrangement of good fortune for the new year. My supervisor, OG-sensei said that when the Gods pass over the houses in Japan, they will stop at those with pine trees set in them. The name of the little red berries is ‘nanten’ which usually means south heaven. But the kanji for these is difficulty/trouble and change. These little berries are to bring good fortune to people and to remind them to change the troubles in their life to good. The rest is adorned with winter flowers and bright flowers to celebrate the new year. The silver branch I curved around is supposed to represent the dragon (this year) and the gold loop is the sun:)
We were able to spend the new year with our good friend Sho and his family. We did the Japanese style celebration! Hungout with a family and good friends, ate traditional Japanese food, their family’s favorite New Year’s food, and soba at midnight. Poor poor Kyle, had to eat outside the box. He was really brave and tried all the icky things. So I am really proud of him! Haha.
We watched the US VS JAPAN soccer game, watched NHK and saw a bunch of musical performances by different Japanese bands, waited for 12 AM to come, ate soba, listened to the gong, and headed home. It was super relaxing, VERY enjoyable, the food spread was legit, and it was a great way to welcome the year of the dragon.
MY JET INTERVIEW
Now that the new year has come, I’d thought about doing a year-in-review for everyone, but realized that I am really lame at thinking of my life month by month. Instead, I was thinking about where I was this time when I was still living in the states. Man oh man, how life changes with the blink of an eye. Like I said earlier, this time 2 years ago I was gearing up for an interview that could potentially change my life. And, alas, it has. This could be its own blog, but it isn’t, so if you need a break and don’t wanna read the rest, it’s totally OK:)
It was the morning of the interview. A week ago I bought a long black dress skirt and dress jacket for this thing, and I hadn’t gone and bought pantyhose yet to complete the outfit. I figured, now was a good time. I bought the pantyhose, I’d hopped in my car, drove almost 5 minutes, then realized I forgot my interview slip, which I definitely needed to participate in the interview. I drove back to my house, got in the car, turned around, and headed toward Portland again. The instructions said to arrive at least 20 minutes before your interview, which based on my calculations, at the rate I was going, I would be there 30 minutes before. YESSS!!!! The only thing that could get in the way of that is if by some weird chance the I-5 bridge went up (connecting Vancouver to Portland)… and of course, that is exactly what happened.
As I sit in my car staring daggers at the hundreds of cars piled up waiting for that stupid bridge to go up and back down, I thought to myself, “Oh God, I still have to get down there, park, walk to the interview spot. I should have left earlier.” I am Vietnamese… I am notorious for being at least 10 minutes late to everything. It is the Vietnamese way. However, not for business purposes, and I was still trying to master my understanding of this concept.
A flew downtown, faster than my X-terra had ever driven before. If a cop saw me, I was too fast for them too. I found a parking garage and parked my car, looked at my watch, and I had exactly 23 minutes before my interview. (So much for being able to relax and collect myself before going). I was in a full blown sprint. In a business suit. Correction, in a a business SKIRT and business JACKET. Sprinting. All I could think was, “What am I going to tell Kyle if I screw up our shot because I left too late? What will he saaaaaay? Oh God, he’s going to despise his wife forever!” I sprinted the 4 blocks until the building was in sight, then slowed to a super smooth mom butt shaking fast walk (just in case someone was watching me from the windows). I got into the building and approached the interview table with my card. Sweat, dripping down the small of my back. They took it, handed me my interview slip and I sat down… for about 2 minutes. Then they called my name! I didn’t even have TWO MINUTES TO SIT AND CALM MY BRAIN!! Where did my 20 MINUTES GO!? Pointless… it was time.
I walked in the room, to the left were 3 different people standing in black suits behind a long white table. 2 men and 1 woman. to the right was a lonely little chair on the other side of the table about 4 feet away, facing the three. The man on the left was in his 30’s and had a hot nerdy boy look about him. They told me he worked at the Portland Embassy. The man in the Middle was extremely tall, overbearing, and with a shiny bicked head. He was an international translator. The woman on the right was a small woman about five feet tall with shoulder length jet black hair, bangs, and glasses, with a soft voice I could barely hear. She worked as a coordinator of some sort and was straight from Japan. They all bowed, I bowed back, said good morning and took a seat after they asked me to. Interview commence…
Them: Good morning Mrs. Sharpe. The interviews have been going rather quickly all morning, so I hope it’s OK that we started yours early. I think the program has had more applicants then ever before this year, so it’s our job to work through them as quickly, yet thoroughly as possible.
Me: *crap, they’re going fast. All the blogs I’ve read about this… they must be so bored by now… I know nothing about Japan… or Japanese culture… or current events… I’m not even WORLDLY…* Oh of course not! It’s no problem at all. I hope that you get a better understanding of who I am through this interview as well.
Them: Well Great! Let’s get started then! Tell us about yourself.
Me: Well, what would you like to know? *Why the hell did you say that, just give them a self-introduction you idiot. And calm down, it’s not the end of the world if you don’t get this. Just be yourself. Make them laugh, and be honest. Maybe you should have researched more on these interviews. Maybe you should have read something Japanesey. Crap.*
Them: Anything you want to tell us.
And so the interview started. I was run through a slue of both relevant and random questions. After I gave my brief self-introduction, they started looking through my application and statement of purpose. It was during that time that I was able to collect my thoughts a little and stop sweating. I hope I don’t bore you with ALL my answers, but I will tell you what they asked me! Here are the things I can remember along with shortened versions of my answers:
Tell us about your husband. My husband? Well, he’s really cool, and very laid back. He is fine for anything life throws at him. He is the biggest cheerleader I have ever had in my life, and is encouraging and supportive with basically anything I do. From sports to careers, he just wants to make sure I am living my life the way I want to live it. He is also really easily entertained and doesn’t need anyone’s help to be that way. He is funny and has a great sense of humor. He is the friendliest person I have ever met and rarely ever gets embarrassed about anything. He is extremely outgoing. Grew up in a military family and has always moved around, so is good at making friends quickly.
Why Japan? Honestly? I’m not entirely sure. I grew up very open-minded and around a very culturally diverse group of people. Out of all the different kinds of people I know, I have only met a few Japanese people in my life. I have never been particularly interested in going to Japan before, until I met 2 of my wrestlers 3 years ago who are 1/2 Japanese. Then I met 2 Japanese brothers while snowboarding at Timberline 2 years ago who were amazing. My friend also taught in Japan a few years ago and had only great things to say about Japan. These friends are the reason I became interested in Japan. I realized that with all the cultures I know about, I know the very least about Japanese people. I would like to know more. What a better way to learn!
Why the JET Programme and not the other programs out there? My friend who just returned from teaching over there did a LOT of research, and told me out of all the programs he liked, JET was the best one for numerous reasons. Kyle and I didn’t really know where else to look, so his opinion was key in our decision. He didn’t even work with JET. I also like the Goals of the JET program and the reasoning behind it. The pay isn’t bad either!
What do you think of Japanese people? Like I said, I only know what i have interacted with. So far, they seem so kind and so funny. I hope that going over to Japan will help mold my understanding of the people and the culture, so I can share that with students when I return.
What do you know about Japanese current events, besides the Toyota fiasco? To be very honest, I know almost nothing. It is for this reason that I feel going to Japan will help give me a better understanding of the world that they live in. I think that this, in all honestly, would be the best way for me to understand what is going on in that side of the world and gain new perspective on my own life, and be able to share about the Japanese lifestyle with others.
Let’s say that a coworker did something to sexually harass you at work, what would you do? Would you tell anyone? First, I would familiarize myself with the protocol in that situation. Then I would talk to that coworker just in case there was a misunderstanding. If the problem is not solved, I would talk to my supervisor. If the problem is still not solved or continues to happen, I would alert my vice principle. I think it is important that with the cultural exchange that is happening, that people understand what makes others uncomfortable. Would you tell anyone else? No, I think that might be inappropriate. What about your husband? Oh yeah, him! Yeah sure, I guess I’d tell him 🙂
It says on your application that you can speak Spanish, do you think this will be useful for your life in Japan? Absolutely. I have the understanding of what it feels like to learn a second language and the different ways you can motivate people to enjoy something so difficult. I remember the things I hated when learning, as well as the things that spurred me on to continue even when it was really difficult. Plus, it might be fun to teach them a little Spanish!
It says you are a high school mentor, and you have a BA in English Education, can you tell us more about that? Yes, I have been doing this since 2005 and I absolutely love it. I meet with students every week to help them find motivation in their lives. I substitute in public school, more as a permanent sub. I sub the same classes every week and help kids learn how to write and read. I love it. I never wanted to be a teacher, but fell in love with it in college. I always said I would never teach, because of the pay, and I would never work fast food, because it was gross. I ended up working fast food for four years to make enough money to get through college to become a teacher. How ironic.
Do you enjoy teaching? Absolutely. As long as I am working with kids, I love it. I can do it in the school system, or what I am doing now as a mentor.
Will you pursue teaching after this experience? I am not sure. I hope so. You just never know how your life will turn out. I like to take my life a year at a time. So, I’ll let you know how I feel next February:)
Why did you choose teaching as a profession? My sophomore year of college I was asked to help plan a curriculum for the incoming freshmen. It was about time management, goal planning, and study habits. For whatever reason, I just REALLY liked the planning part, and seeing the plans being executed beautifully and failed miserably:) I liked learning how to improve things and see people get better at the things they weren’t good at.
Do you think that your English degree will help you teach students in Japan? I hope so. Since I am teaching them English:) It all depends on what the teachers would like from me.
Kids are different in Japan then they are in the States, do you think this will be a problem for you? Nope. I love all kinds of students. And I teach different students all the time. If anything, the students’ behavior won’t even be a problem, so everything else is just trial and error. I can learn as I go I think.
What if you are hired, and the schools you are working at in Japan never let you lesson plan? I realize that I am getting hired for a job as an ASSISTANT. Which means that I am there to assist. If it is their wish to have me only as a helper then that’s OK. Of course, I will always offer ideas and probably show them what I am capable of.
Many JET participants have said that they are treated as a tape recorder when they go to Japan. If a teacher asks you to do this every day in their class, how will you respond? I would say OK! I talked to my old Spanish teacher last week and asked her what the most important things are in learning a new language. She told me REPETITION. So, even though I may think it’s boring, it doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t working. There’s a lot to learn from hearing a native speaker.
Let’s say you have just walked into a class of 35 students, and the teacher with whom you are working tells you that they want you to teach the entire class about anything you want. You have had no preparation. What will you do? How much time do I have? 40 minutes. What grade are they? Let’s say they are elementary students. Well, based on only that information, I would teach them the days of the month. I could sing an easy song that will help them remember. Then if the teacher wants to throw in some kind of art piece, we could draw a picture for one major holiday in each month. I would encourage the kids to sing the song while they drew the pictures. I would provide a giant calendar for them to see on the blackboard, and maybe have pictures with me. When I substitute teach I always have a bag with me with emergency lessons (or time wasters really) to keep kids focused on something so they don’t freak out. Maybe I could do the same thing with English lessons.
What if you have a different class each day and you never know if you or the teacher is teaching it? Well, it would be a lot like how I am teaching now. I teach every day at Skyview, but I almost never know what I am teaching. Sometimes teachers get sick, so they have no time to plan anything, and it’s my job to help keep them calm. So, I think I would just need to be over prepared and expect that.
If a student tried to touch you, or asked you your bra size, what would you say? I would kindly let them know that it is not OK to do that. And that culturally it isn’t OK to ask either. For my own safety I would document the day it happened, if this were in a high school setting, and probably let my supervisor know.
It says on your application that you were a wrestling coach? And that you played soccer? And that you’re a snowboarder? Can you tell us more about that? I have played soccer since I was 5. I was captain of the high school varsity team my senior year. I love playing. I was a wrestler for 4 years and a coach for 4. I have been snowboarding now for about 4 full seasons. I love everything active. I am extremely competitive. I think I have learned a lot about personal challenge through these sports.
How do you think your experience coaching wrestling will help you on the JET Programme? I’m not really sure actually. I highly doubt they will ask me to help with anything remotely close to wrestling. But I do feel that it will help my coworkers get a better understanding of who I am. I have learned a lot about working with parents and teachers who may not necessarily understand my perspective on crossing gender boundaries. I have learned how to work peacefully with people who don’t agree, and even sometimes strongly oppose my views. I have also learned how to help kids get better at something they thought they never could accomplish. I have learned how to celebrate the small victories, and feel I can do the same. The classroom is just a more subdued wrestling room or soccer field really.
You don’t speak or read Japanese, do you think this will be a problem for you? Not unless I let it be. People can communicate through things that they love, and similarities that they find. Plus, I hope to catch onto the conversational Japanese quickly. I am fairly good at pronunciation and recognizing tonal changes. I grew up in a Vietnamese household and was surrounded by thick accents all my life. Although I can’t speak the language, my ear is able to recognize tones easily, and with Spanish, it was easy for me to pronounce words. Japanese sounds are pretty similar.
You said you are 1/2 Vietnamese and Native American. But you look almost like you could be Japanese. How would you react to people thinking you’re Japanese and have higher expectations for you? Some Asian-American JETs have had experiences where Japanese people expected them to already know their customs, how do you feel about that? Well, to answer the first part of your question, I wouldn’t really react in any particular way. I would politely let them know that I am not Japanese and don’t speak the language. I understand a lot about Asian culture in general, so I know sometimes the thinking is not malicious. I think part of this job is the cultural exchange part, so I would use this as an opportunity to help them understand more about mixed race people in America. I wouldn’t be offended at all really. I would learn how to adapt and help them understand that I am working hard to understand their culture.
How does your husband feel about moving with no job on the horizon? He is excited! Haha. He wouldn’t have to work! He realizes his chances of finding a job are slim, but he isn’t worried. Like I said, he is really friendly and laid back, I have full confidence that he will do just fine. And he thinks the same thing.
It says here on your application that you chose Nagano as your first choice, and Okinawa as your second, and Hokkaido as your third. These are very different places, can you tell me more about this? Well, we don’t really mind WHERE we are placed, but we had to choose. So, we chose! We have friends in Nagano, those two I mentioned earlier, and my sister and Kyle’s cousin lives in Okinawa. Of course, there is also snowboarding in Nagano and Hokkaido… Of course there is! That is also why we chose the first two. We really hope to be an ANY place with snowboarding. It’s one of our passions. So that would be awesome.
Let’s say your supervisor asks you to stay late to help students after school, and they do this about 4 times a week, how will you respond? Do it? I stayed late all the time at work. They are probably working WAY later. Personally, I don’t mind. Sometimes work requires extra time. If it becomes an actual problem I would let them know.
What do you hope to do with your experience on JET when you return to the States? Share what I learned in my experiences with the Japanese people.
I think what made my interview so good for me, was that I made the people laugh. I just chilled out and let myself be me. I made jokes, and was sarcastic, and shared stories about things they had questions on. If they asked a question where I needed more specifics I just asked them for the specifics so I could better narrow down what I wanted to say. Anyway, that was my interview. I went and sat at Coffee People for about an hour after my interview ended. I ordered a peppermint mocha and a bagel and thought about how stupid some of my answers were. I was exhausted. The whole thing only took about 20 minutes, and I was still sweaty from my crazy morning.
So, if you’re reading this because you love us, then I hope that was fun for you. If you’re reading this because you’re someone who is trying to get on the JET Programme and looking for examples, I hope these helped:) Either way, I got through it by being honest, and being confident that no matter what the outcome, life would bring me great things.
And it has.