Archive for November, 2016
This is a post that didn’t originally appear on my blog in 2005.
Vivian was an English teacher from England who moved to Numazu in October 2005. She was one of those friendly, outgoing people who made every situation more fun and was nearly impossible to dislike.
Having a cell phone (mobile phone for my non North American friends) is critical to daily life in Japan. During new teacher orientation, NOVA had Vodafone sales reps on hand to provide phones to teachers. If the teacher wanted one of the few phones available, the Vodafone team would complete all of the paperwork and have the phones activated and ready to use by the end of the training session. Most teachers (including me) took this option out of convenience. Vivian decided that she didn’t like any of the phones available and decided to test her luck at the cell phone store.
Despite Vivian’s best efforts, the language barrier was simply too much to overcome at the Numazu station phone store. Choosing a phone, a plan, and signing a contract requires a fairly high level of language proficiency, and the store staff didn’t speak English. Vivian explained her difficulty to the other teachers at work and asked for advice.
One of the very cool things about expat culture is that the more experienced people generally do their best to help out new people. When I first moved to Japan, my roommates did their best to show me around and help me with everything from buying lunch to finding a barbershop. I knew that my Japanese wasn’t going to be good enough to help Vivian, but I did have a secret weapon up my sleeve: a Japanese speaking girlfriend. I texted The Penpal and she agreed to help.
Vivian and I met The Penpal after one of Vivian’s early shifts and went to the store all together. Vivian picked out a phone and The Penpal did the rest of the work necessary to get the contract filled out and the phone set up. Vivian was thankful and The Penpal felt good about being able to help.
Being far away from home can be a challenging experience for anyone; you really need to rely on other people to help. It’s rewarding to be able to return the favour for fellow travelers.
During my time at Mishima NOVA, I got to teach some really memorable students. This is about The Twins, who usually came for lessons on one of my days off.
Many students come for lessons on the same days every week. My usual days off were Sunday and Monday, so I rarely got to teach students who would only come on those days. One particular Monday I was working on a shift swap, and noticed that I had a lesson with two students with the name family name. When I asked about it, the other teachers told me that I had to teach “The Twins”.
The Twins are identical 14 year old twin girls who, like many of the younger students, were only taking English lessons because their parents forced them. They were notoriously difficult to teach, with my supervisor warning me that it wasn’t uncommon for them to both stop talking a few minutes into the lesson, turning the remainder of the 40 minutes into an uncomfortable staring contest. To make matters more challenging, they were both in the second lowest level and had been for some time.
If I had been a less experienced teacher I probably would have entered the classroom with an impending feeling of dread. In this case I decided to challenge myself; I was going to see if I could get The Twins to talk.
I walked into the lesson, put my student files down on the table, and introduced myself with a big friendly smile. I asked Twin 1 her name and she responded. I asked Twin 2 her name and she responded as well. I told them I was from Canada and I lived in Numazu (modeling the response I wanted from The Twins). I asked Twin 1 where she lived, and she said Mishima. I then asked Twin 2, who naturally also answered Mishima. I pretended to be surprised that they both lived in the same city.
I then told The Twins that I was an English Teacher and asked what they did. This time I started with Twin 2 who said she was a junior high school student. Twin 1 gave the same answer. I faked surprise again. My fake surprise increased when they told me that they went to the same school. I kept doing this for a few more minutes until Twin 2, who wasn’t sure if I was actually clueless, pointed at Twin 1 and said “she is my sister”.
Score one for the teacher! I just got unprompted dialogue in English from one of the school’s most difficult students!
I don’t think they really knew what was going on, but they did keep talking and I managed to get a decent lesson out of both of them. I proudly returned to the teachers room to describe my accomplishment.
In case you’re wondering, acting clueless was not something that I learned in my 3 days of on the job training when I became an English teacher; that was all me 🙂
(Author’s note) I did get a few more successful lessons with the twins after this, with only brief staring contests.