the nikku

reflecting on ESL/EFL and its relation to faith

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The JetSetters

It seems nearly everyone in my generation has a patron country - England, Ireland, China, Russia, Wales, Guatemala, Norway. And some of us have a bad habit of thinking that we are special because we travel.

Recently a column in the Argus Leader wrote about how the growing trend towards internationalism is simply a part of our time in the world. We are no more special for being jetsetters than our forefathers were for being pilgrims, or soldiers, or survivors of the Depression. We are simply who our times call us to be.

I have heard comments from friends like, "But no one here understands", "Things are just so much better there", "The food is so great". We are not - or rather should not - be traveling around the world collecting souvenirs and exotic foods. That isn't to say there isn't a place for tourism or souvenirs, but a study abroad, or living abroad, is more than just a vacation.

Now that there is a growing need for international cooperation - in spite of what our foreign policies, exported commodities and movies say - we are traveling in order to understand and cooperate with the cultures of the world. And "surprisingly" we're finding that we have more incommon than we thought.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

wish list

It has come to my attention that I will be needing some rather frivolous things for my time in Japan:

A book about the life and ministry of St. Patrick.

A book about the life and ministry of St. Francis of Assisi.

A new pair of Adidas Samba shoes.

A copy of The Book of Common Prayer.

A coin purse.

Two sticks of High Endurance Red Zone deoderant.

These images are merely the first Google results. Feel free to comment.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

What I love about Japan

Last Thursday, I went out for sushi with my friends MW and EO to celebrate my new job. As we left, the waiter (who was American) wished us good night. He was standing next to the chef (who was Japanese). The chef and I made eye contact. Without even thinking, I bowed and uttered "ありがと ございます!(Arigato gozaimasu -> Thank you very much)". He replied with the same, "ありがと ございます!" And that is one of the many things I love about Japan.

For a small moment I returned back to a system where everything had it's place. Where you must say Thank you, and you must receive a reply. Some people would say that this system is authoritative, demeaning, or destroys freewill. And in some cultures it may be. I realize this is my first real cross-cultural experience, and I may be seeing everything with rose-colored glasses, but in this instance the structure is freeing.

It is freeing to know where your place is, and what you can and cannot say, to know the appropriate actions, and know that people before you have been doing the same for a very long time. The order of this system is freeing - at least right now.


I'm going to try and go out for sushi every Thursday to get used to the tastes and the order I have forgotten. If you're in the SF area and want to come with me sometime, give me a call.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Lost in a sea

At the end of our trip to Japan during the summer of 2004 AY, JV, and I were waiting to board our flight back to the USA at Narita airport.

JV casually commented, "Oh yeah, can you drive AY and I back to OC?"

"What?" I asked. I had assumed JV had already arranged transport back home from the airport. But it was okay, OC was sort of on the way to my hometown. And after all, what are friends for?

Our flight departed at 3 pm Japan Standard Time. Twelve time zones later we were back in the USA.

After a quick stop off at the twin's (SM & MM) house - and some Kix cereal - we started the long interstate drive home. The first hour was okay. After about half an hour JV was asleep in the passenger seat, and AY was asleep in the back. It was a hot August evening, and after 12 hours of jet lag, it was getting hard to concentrate.

In some ways I was glad they were asleep, the lack of sleep made any conversation irriating. But then again I needed something to help me focus. I was thinking so hard. Mirror, speedometer, accelerate, gas, road, mirror.

I used to wonder why the foreign exchange students had such a lost look on their faces, why they stuck together in small groups. And as I drove through hours and hours of corn fields I began to understand.

I had spent the last week and a half barely understanding bus drivers, train engineers, shop owners, and waiters. I was ready to get home. They had driven these endless hours into a place far from home, and they were not going home anytime soon. And I saw why they stayed in groups, because even though I knew the road, all I really wanted was for my friends to wake up. As I tried to focus on the simplest tasks, all I wanted was something familiar.

Monday, April 10, 2006

The proper place for a passport

When I was at AY's apartment and JV had his passport in his pocket. I seem to remember a conversation about how irresponsible that was - and that I was only a little better for keeping my passport in my backpack.

So now, I am calling on you, my friends with an abundance of international travel experience. Where is the proper place to keep your passport when you are living abroad? Please comment. :)


I've been reading an anthropological book about Japan called, "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword". It talks a lot about the idea of "proper place" in Japanese society. More on that topic later.

...Thanks for the book BN! I did read it (as if there was ever any doubt). :)

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Travel light, that's us!

Shopping for luggage is an interesting excursion. You go from store to store comparing 31" to 29", red to black, $300 to $100. Not only does it need to fit your entire life. It should be light, but sturdy, and large yet maneuverable. You open up each suitcase and every time the same question enters your mind, "Can I fit myself in here?"

And as funny as the literal idea of you in a suitcase is, the practical question of fitting your essential belongings into one container is quite, well, large.


By the way, if you are in the market for luggage, Gordmans seems to have the best balance of quality and low price.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

But how are you feeling?

In response to the most popular response to my mass email, "How are you feeling?":

I am feeling relieved. Relieved that I know what I will be doing for the next two years.

I am anxious. Of course!

I am confident. I've been to Japan before! For a combined total of three weeks. I know everything there is to know about Japan. :) riiiight.

I am excited. I am excited to teach something I know well. Excited to use my skills, and to be useful for my students and my school. I am excited to learn all the modern day intricacies of a culture whose history is longer than 300 years. I am excited to be a part of a culture that still has some rules about what social interaction should consist of.

I am worried about what the process of learning a new culture will entail. I am worried about how long it will take to make new friends - I am just getting to know some real friends here in SF! I am worried about being a foreigner for two years.

I am curious. I have read (thanks for the book BP & NP of CL! It was very useful) that in Japan your classmates become your second family. And when you are done with school, your co-workers become your second family. I am curious to see for myself just how "group oriented" Japan really is.

I am looking forward to meeting my students and co-workers. I look forward to working with, teaching, and being taught by them. I am looking forward to the challenge of making the material interesting and memorable for students with whom I have very little in common.

Mostly, I just can't wait.


I think it is important to note, that when I was living at home, I promised myself that I would NEVER be a teacher. As I watched my father work - very hard - it seemed very troublesome and not nearly rewarding enough.

And now, only one year after my college graduation, I feel as if being a teacher may be one of the greatest things ever. Right now in SF I am volunteering as a teacher's assistant in an English classroom for immigrant children. Already this experience beats my six months of software development, hands down. If only the two jobs paid the same!

Monday, April 03, 2006

The little yellow book

Over three years ago I was in a friend's dorm room. She had been on a YWAM trip to Japan. She had a little yellow book about learning Japanese. I told her I would come back to borrow it when I had some spare time.

That spare time ended up being right before Christmas break nearly a year later. When I started reading the book, it quickly became evident that I could not simply read and learn how to pronounce Japanese. So I went to my Japanese neighbor NM-kun.

"If I study this, and do all the work. Can I get together with you maybe once a week and you can tell me if I am pronouncing it right?"

"No. I am a Religion Major. I am always busy studying. But do you know KS-chan? She is a new Japanese student, and she just started a student lead Japanese class."

It was the beginning of the second half of my junior year, and I had a new schedule. After an email to an exchange student I had never met, I started going to the class on Sat afternoons in the library. There were three American students, one Korean, and one Chinese student. One of the other American students was JV. He had already learned a little Japanese from his Japanese roommates, and Japanese girlfriend AY-chan. I did not know it at the time, but soon both he, AY and KS would become some of my best friends.

I had 45 minutes between my two afternoon classes on MWF, and that was a worthless amount of time. So I stayed in the academic building and studied my Japanese. Soon I was going faster than the class, and I started teaching myself from the Internet. To this day I wonder what motivated me to study so hard.

I went to Seattle for spring break that year. It was my first flight, ever. Not a week after spring break, I saw KS in the hallway.

"Have you seen AY lately?"


"Oh. She has something she wants to ask you."


Later that week I was at the coffee shop studying my Japanese. AY and JV came in.

"Hi. Can we interrupt you?"


"Do you want to come to Japan this summer with JV? You can stay with KS and me. We can cook. It will be cheap, and fun."

My mind was blown.



"I just got done with my first plane ride. Whoa!"


"Whoa! That is really far away."

"So will you come?"


"Stop saying 'whoa'!!"

"I don't know if I have the money. Whoa!"

"Stop it!"

How could I pass an opportunity like this up?

"Yeah, I'll do it. Whoa!"


At that time I hardly knew AY, JV, and KS. But after two weeks of trains, sushi, soba and a 14 hour flight, that all changed. These are the events that started me down this fateful path.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Destined for S. High

A year ago I applied for a job teaching English in Japan through the denomination my college is affiliated with. After six to eight months there had been a few positions open, but most positions specifically requested women, or hired someone already working in the country.

When I asked my recruiter/middleman if I should be concerned about the long wait he said the denomination would love to have me work for them, but it would be understandable if I looked into other options.

I was a Computer Science major in college, and for the first six months after college I was a programmer. However, I was let go after six months. I had been applying to a few other places while I was working full-time. But with my new-found spare time, my search went into high gear.

I tried to get a job from AEON and postings from along with tips from my friends already living in Japan. I got rejection from every place I tried. Nothing specific, just "we found someone more qualified".

So after three months of desperate seeking and rejection, my denomination has come through with a school that wants to hire me. So now I know that I have no other options, this job at S. High is the only path fate has handed me. I'd better make the best of it.

To my school, my denomination, my family, and my country, I promise to represent you all well.