the nikku

reflecting on ESL/EFL and its relation to faith

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

excerpt from the mail part 2

Actually it's refreshing to have someone truly interested in life here.  Most people just ask "So, how's Japan?" Like I can tell them in five minutes or less! :)  That's actually where I got the new subtitle for my blog.  I think after a week of being home and talking with Mom she understood "how things are going" here. 

Or perhaps everyone wants to know, but no one has the time.  That's what the blog is for. :)

I speak in chapel every month except for March because March is almost entirely spring break.  The school year starts in April here (with the cherry blossoms, and the fiscal year), so actually spring break is one of the larger breaks here.  Spring, summer and winter vacation are each about a month long. 

Since few of my students are Christians, I usually talk about salvation and personal belief in Jesus Christ.  However, I also talk about aspects of the Christian life, like reading the Bible, praying, loving one another, etc. and how those have changed my life as well.  I often use stories from high school or college that I think the students can relate to.

I speak in English, and I try to keep it simple.  Every time I speak there is a paper made for each of the students.  It has:
    1)   the hymn in English
    2)   the Bible passage in Japanese and English
    3)   my sermon word for word in both English and Japanese

The bilingual sections are side by side so students can quickly find the meaning.  Most hymns in Japan are translations of German or English, so we sing only English hymns they already sing in regular chapel, and by the tune they have a basic what they are saying - the corresponding hymn number is also printed on the paper if they want to look it up. 

The eight Japanese English teachers take turns translating my message every month.  I'm very grateful for their help.

I find it amazing that the school continues to have chapel everyday, and Bible readings everyday.  Even though very few of them believe.  In fact, I'm most surprised by the teachers who adimately deny faith in anything, but still stand up for having chapel everyday.

...the principal considers chapel a 15 minute waste of time in the morning, and a chance for disciplinary problems to occur while all the students are sitting together. 

Japan has a history of not trusting outsiders.  This is another topic I could talk about forever, and there is plenty of history there as well.  In my city of 180,000 there are less than 100 Caucasian foreigners - apparently in the 70's there were about 10.  There are many more Asian foreigners in town, however, these foreigners tend to blend in.  Some even go so far as to change their full names to a Japanese name.  America is known for being a melting pot.  Japan is known for being "homogeneous".  For now suffice it to say that I am the only foreigner at my school. 

All my students are Japanese.  Living here it is very difficult to explain the difference between ethnicity and nationality.  In the Japanese mind they are one and the same.  In fact, I once taught a lesson on describing people.  It started by describing hair and eye color.  I had to use color pictures because, of course, none of my students had blond, brown or red hair.  (What did you do for props before the internet?)  One student raised her hand and said, "NB.  We all have black hair and black eyes.  We will NEVER use this."  I said, "Perhaps you'll leave the country, or meet a foreigner on the street in town someday."

The same is generally true for church goers.  Christianity still has a reputation as a foreign religion.  Sometimes I meet host families who bring their host child to church - even though neither have ever been to church!  However, foreign Christians do tend to seek out churches, and I have met Christians from Brazil, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, South Korea and Africa at church.  Most of these were exchange students from the local public university. 

As you might know, the Korean church is particularly strong.  And I have co-workers in Tokyo who are Korean and sent here through a Korean denomination.  One of the pastors at a church on the south side of town is also related to a Korean family and he and his wife usually help out the Korean students who come to town. 

Although there are a few students who come here for Christian teaching - these students usually come from Evangelical churches and are usually disappointed to find only "Christian information" here. 

There are also students who come here because their parents came here.  Two of my best students are a brother and sister who are children of a single mother who was a student here 20 or 30 years ago.  Families who have a lineage of coming here are usually proud of that.

However, the fact is that most come here because they have no other option.  Of course we are more expensive, and in the current economy, parents and students usually choose the cheaper and better funded public schools.  (Japan hadn't quite recovered from the "Asian market crash" yet either before this came)  And being in the "rural northeast" funds are especially tight. 

Starting in junior high, there is a complicated entrance exam system in Japan.  I liken this system to a college scholarship award program.  There are standardized tests, essays, and even interviews.  The days and procedures are outlined by the government.  Students can try one public school and one private school.  Basically, most of our students take our test as a backup in case they fail the public test.  We are well aware we were most of our students' second choice.

I believe our tuition is still affordable.  In fact in a last ditch effort last year, we lowered both teacher salary and tuition 20%, and our enrollment just about broke even. 

Because of the entrance exam system, schools don't consolidate, they generally just close.  We recruit some students from neighboring prefectures for sports - they generally live in dormitories and go home on the weekends.  And it's not uncommon for some of my students to have an hour to 90 minute commute on the train and bus one way from neighboring towns. 

With school uniforms, economic mix is hard to gauge, but I gather we have students from both poor and wealthy families.  Once in my third year elective English class we were talking about globalization and wealth.  Two boys were talking to each other.

"Your wealth is a PSP.  My wealth is this chocolate bar."

"A PSP is not wealth."

"Yes it is!  NB!  Is a PSP wealth?"

I had to agree that a PSP was an indication of wealth.  Although these two boys were friends outside class, I get the feeling that students are well aware of the income gaps between their families.

(sorry for the spasm of topics)

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