This week in Tokoro

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Sorry if this is a little dry but I wrote them up during my office time.

August 6th - 8th

This weekend proved wonderful!

First of all on Friday we had a heat wave! Tokoro (part of Kitami) was the hottest city in Japan! I got messages from people in Niigata asking if I was ok. It was all over the news that we were the hottest. That day in the office it was just my supervisor and I so we just flopped around with our uchiwa complaining about the heat and gossiping.
At one point in the day the principal of Tokoro nursery school came to the office to prepare for the small school's festival taking place that evening. He invited me to go it was really exciting. I went home and got changed (not easy in the heat). Upon arriving the kids were all in yukata dancing in a circle. I got to eat a lot of festival food and play with the kids. Everyone was so friendly. One little girl was really pleased to meet me and talked to me a lot! I got 3 yo-yo balloons from the kids and one frog bag from the prize table. They had me introduce myself with a microphone and let me tell you there is nothing like a large group of hyper little kids yelling “Yoroshiku onegaishimasu”. If that doesn't make you feel welcome nothing will. We then went outside after one of the mothers sprayed me with bug spray. There was a small fireworks display during which some of the little girls held my hands. It was really nice to spend that time with them before teaching them.
Saturday I slept in a bit and then arranged with Kori to come over that night after her festival. While I waited for her I went out walking as the weather was nicer. I headed down to the beach. The water was an amazing temperature Kori and I will go swimming next weekend. After wading in the water a little I headed to the beach side cafe 'Cafe Shaberitai' for some drift ice soda! The cafe is really cute and rustic. When I left I introduced myself to them and talked to them briefly. I got caught in the rain after trying to get some grocery shopping done. I still managed to get some nice pictures of the temple.
Later that night after I cleaned and unpacked a lot Kori arrived.
Kori and I headed out to Ble to have dinner. It was amazing we each had a gratin, basil buns, and milk tea. We took dessert home. They closed around us and talked to me a little about where I'm from and where I had lived in Japan previously. After we left we greeted the group of people having an enkai in a tent and went on our way to Seico mart.
We stayed up way too late talking, watching videos and fiddling around on the internet. After finally getting to bed we woke up the next day and made pancakes with sausages and eggs. After that we headed down to the beach and played around in the water a little. Afterwards we went to the cafe together where everyone was really friendly. As we were about to leave they started talking to us and introduced us to some young men from the area who were having lunch together. They had brought omiyage which the owner promptly shared with us and we sat down again. They then gave us some complimentary tea to go with the cake. It was lovely! Kori and I slipped out and hurried home grabbing some nice gifts from Canada (and stickers for the guys) before returning to give them out. The atmosphere at the cafe is really great.
The two of us then headed out to Abashiri to go shopping! First we went to Basic Food Master and got some interesting food. It took us quite awhile to find where we were going after that but we finally made it to Daiso and Coop. It was starting to get late so we headed to pizza hut for a quick dinner and then she drove me home. I felt bad that she had to drive the whole way home but I am so happy she came.
Next weekend she will be coming back for my town's festival. My supervisor is going to put both of us into yukatas! I'm really looking forward to it.

August 9th - 10th

So here I am in my office again worrying about the future. I've had my first classes and other than my body still hating humidity in an embarrassing way they went well. You would think after 2 years my body would adjust, but no.
I had my first After School Club and now I understand what they want of me there. It was really quite enjoyable. We talked about me for a bit and then we moved on to learning how to say where they're from. We practiced this playing hot potato, which they loved. There were 13 of them and I didn't feel intimidated at all, it was a relief. They reacted well to my inherited teacher humour and overall seemed to be glad they came.
Today I was even more worried because I had my first nursery school. So I drove there and made it in good time with little stress. I'm actually realizing I missed driving. That alone time in the car is kind of nice. So I arrive and they say hello and I'm whisked off into the classroom without any further greeting. We just dive right in. Much shorter introduction today. I found out their names and favourite colour and then we went right into 'I'm from...'. We played duck, duck, goose with Canada, Canada, Tokoro and they loved it. I played too even though it was embarrassing due to my heat problems. Ask me in private about this teacher. So then we switched to hot potato to practice the 'I'm from' part. The kids seemed to really like it though sometimes the ball escaped them. Then as quickly as it started I said goodbye and was out the door. It was fast and unceremonious. I hope the teacher liked it. I have no idea...
So now I'm back in my office fretting about the next first class later today.
Off the topic of schools, I went to the pool again yesterday. This time I took my supervisor's advice and it was much better. I really enjoyed it and I can already feel the swimming muscles waking up. I was able to swim longer without taking breaks and I felt myself getting back into the groove.
I finally feel I am starting to settle in. We shall see how the rest of the day goes.

August 11th

Again I am sitting in the office trying to figure out what I should be doing. I have read and in some cases re-read so many of the books on this desk. I've sorted through the flashcards and come up with a basic outline for a curriculum for my nursery schools. I'm so grateful for all the materials left behind for me. I am also grateful to see that many of the things the books instruct you to do I already do. I am feeling a bit sick of sitting here though. I almost wish I could have done all of my intro lessons and then had this down time. I would be able to get so much accomplished.
As of now I'm starting to run out of ideas of what to do at work. I don't want to just slack off and ask to go use the internet but the two BOE days I have coming up are seeming pretty daunting right now. My office is full of amazing people but I don't want to bother them by just gossiping with them.
I'm also starting to feel stressed about the elementary schools beyond my intro lessons. I haven't met any of my teachers that I will be working with. I want to know what they want from me and from the time I have with their students. The high school and junior high school have been so clear in what they want and the nursery schools seem quite straight forward. I want to get ahead and plan for my elementary classes but I have no idea what to make. I also have a lot of really good flashcards pre-made it seems a waste to make too many new ones if these ones are still good. I need to just get started but then I worry I won't have time to do these things.
Today I have another nursery school class, it's a little cooler today, I'm hopeful.

August 12th

It's raining today. It's raining hard. More on that later.
Yesterday I had my first class with Kamome nursery school. Again, I had the privilege of having snack time with them. It's such a strangely wonderful experience to sit in tiny little chairs at tiny little tables eating small snacks with a small drink and listening to the little kids talk. They talk to me, about me and about many other things. Kamome was much less shy during snack time than Tokoro was. It helped that one of the girls there is one of my coworkers' daughters. She is a bright girl full of confidence and energy. The class was really fun though they had no concept of what Japan was. They thought it meant Hokkaido. When I tried to explain it was bigger than Hokkaido they said “Osaka”.
After returning, by car, to work my supervisor promptly led me back out to pick up my inkanshomeishou with my crazy new hanko. It says Nicholls in katakana but you wouldn't know it. It makes me happy that they made it cool. So after picking that up I will now be able to buy a car. Though at the moment I'm not sure which car as the one I picked made strange noises and so Ross decided against it.
I slipped out to the pool where I swam laps for 30 minutes. All my muscles are waking up again and it feels good! One of the lifeguards actually timed me and I did 100 meters in 50 seconds! I hope to get faster before the pool closes for the winter. I might try to go to the Kitami pool once a week over the winter if possible. It feels so good to do that and so relaxing too.
When I got home I showered and made corn stew. It was really, really good. It made tons so I will be having corn stew for the rest of the week.
Back to today. It's still raining. I woke up and it was pouring. I had to leave for work a bit early because I wasn't sure if I should walk or ride my bike to work. I ended up doing half and half because I was getting wetter walking than riding my bike.
I have been studying kanji all morning. Well reviewing mainly. Shirahata has been checking it over. It is interesting how excited they are to see that I can use kanji. I really want to work hard for my next test. I would be so disappointed if I don't make it.
Everyone has been really friendly and talkative today. We've talked about music, my shodou, Shibata, Anpanman and much much more.
At lunch time, guess what, it was still raining! My boss Suzuki was kind enough to drive me home and pick me up again for lunch. I was really grateful. So here I am back at the office. I wrote a letter to Masako and am now working on my kanji again.
Sometimes I ponder the significance of my not drinking beer but remind myself I drink and eat a lot of other things that make up for it to most Japanese people. Though when given a beer drink ticket today everyone was hoping I would have at least one this weekend we'll see.
Oh quick addition to yesterday, the lunch man came over and after talking to me, he's really funny, decided I will get cup ramen and onigiri for school lunch every time.

August 13th

Another office day. Today this one is very relaxing. Suzuki is on holidays and the other two men are out of the office so it's just us three women. The atmosphere is very chill and calm. For awhile this morning we didn't have power while an electrician was working on the wires. There were also a group of people working on something for the festival tomorrow. I got to use the computer lab for a bit and talk to Kim. She's a little fuzzy right now due to her teeth having been pulled and taking T3.
I headed home for lunch and relaxed for a bit before coming back to work and working on my kanji some more. It's really fun to work on it at work, everyone is so encouraging and interested in what I'm doing. Shirahata always checks my work and it is such good practice.
Tabuchi and I then headed out to the bank and got my address changed as well as arranging for my rent and school lunches to come out of my bank account.
Now we're mostly just sitting around talking and enjoying each others company. Holidays are fun.
This evening I'm planning to go to the pool but it's sounding less and less likely. It's kind of bothering me but I'll make it work I guess. Kori is coming around 8 and June is coming around 5:30 to pick up some wings so I don't know if I'll still be able to fit the pool and dinner in there.



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So the last two days have been great. Yesterday I got to meet my junior high school JTE who is amazing, and arranged to tutor one of his students in the speech contest. I went grocery shopping (glad I can get to Abashiri sometimes) and explored the beach a little.

Today I went to work and after making some lesson plans and drawing up an ID card I tutored the jr high girl. She is so bright and made me re-excited for this job. I also got the thumbs up from my JTE on the speech I'll give to the school and the Bingo games I made (thanks for the push Kim).

Then after that we drove out to a couple of my schools, the nursery school was filled with about 10 little kids all in their pjs eating lunch. So adorable. Then after lunch I went to the high school. The staff there are amazing! My two JTEs and I talked for about 2 hours! We're excited to start the classes! They also want to have dinner with me this month and plan to invite me to the high school enkais.

In the afternoon I finished up my day with my BOE people and it was too fun. I got a lot done but I also got to learn a lot and visit a lot. I can't wait to get into this properly. It feels like it will be as busy as GEOs possibly more but so much more rewarding!


Tokyo to Tokoro

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As you all know I left Mori behind one week ago.
I left, a home, a town, and some of my dearest friends behind. It was quite emotional. Even thinking back onto it now I get teary. Carlee and Kim saw me off at the airport and it was so hard not to cry.
Then I flew into Haneda airport where I had to catch a bus to the Keio Plaza. At this point being a part of JET still didn't seem real. When I arrived at the hotel and checked in it started to sink in but I was quickly out on the streets of Tokyo in Shinjuku.
I met up with Ayumi and Miho. We had "Mexican" food. My favourite part was the Cassis Colada. Who knew that Cassis and coconut milk tasted good together.

The really interesting part of the evening was when I was finally able to meet up with all those people I have spent the last few months chatting with online. All my fellow new JETs from IRC and ITIL. It was amazing to meet them face to face even though it may be the last time for a long while. The most startling thing of that evening was having a sudden realization that I do know this country, its language and how to get around. I hope that my friends (those who can't already) will soon experience this feeling and love it a much as I do.

The next day was a day of speeches, seminars and more importantly meeting people. I was able to meet Dori, Kim's new townmate, and Kori my new neighbour. Both of them are amazing people. I also met a crazy fun girl named Regi, she's not too far from me as well. We already have plans to go to a concert together, so long as we can manage to get tickets. The Hokkaido people all seem really great. I got to know many of them on our journey from the Keio up to Chitose. It was strange though having already lived in Hokkaido and yet being just as new to JET as they were.
Back to Tokyo, I spent my two free evenings getting to know my new Hokkaido people and meeting up with Shota. This actually felt like the most important aspect of Tokyo Orientation to me.
So upon arrival in Chitose we were led off in groups of five or six (sneaky Kori) to meet our supervisors. My supervisor is amazing! She is such a cool, forward and easy going! She has been taking such good care of me. She took me all around town. Including to the pool which is on the beach! We had a great dinner together at Ble. She also let me stay home and unpack on Thursday. Friday she took me to Kitami to meet the big boss and my supervisor promptly told me as we walked out "You will never see them again". Then she gave me a wad of cash (love!!) and took me to the bank to deposit it. We went around doing paper work and then she took me home. This where the real fun happened. The maintenance man came over to check my screens and my kitchen light. He took a bunch of my screens away to repair them, and came back with new light bulbs. The new bulbs didn't fix it so in walks the electrician to check it out. Then moments later 2 gas guys came in leading to the kitchen party of the year!

Saturday my supervisor and her son picked me up and took me shopping in Abashiri for several hours it was so useful and wonderful.
When she took me home Kori and Roger came over. When we got hungry we ended up going back to Abashiri for some aimless wandering and then Nepalese food. Yay for butter chicken. After this we ended up watching a movie at my place. I am so so so happy Kori lives near me. I felt so unlonely. So very different than Shibata. I already feel so much apart of this community.
Tomorrow is my first full day at the office but I do believe I'm going to the jr. high.


Final Days in Mori

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Well the time has come at last... The time to say goodbye to Mori-machi.
It's been three months since my world was turned upside down.
I've said my goodbyes and packed my bags/boxes.
My bedroom for the last 3 months is now empty.

I'm going to be heading to Tokyo tomorrow to start my new job. I still can't believe it. I will be meeting all the people I've been talking to online for months and meeting up with some old friends too.

My last few weeks here have been action packed and wonderful.

I've done everything from visiting a beautiful lakeside town frequently ravaged by it's many active volcanoes, to climbing a volcano!

In Toya I not only saw the beautiful lake which has filled the crater created by an extremely large blast hundreds of thousands of years ago, but also the ruins of more modern eruptions and current active volcanoes.

After going to Toya I went to Canoe Club with the usual people. We ate a lot, talked and even canoed. Kim and I rode in the Canadian Canoe hand made by one of the members. I hope to come back next summer and go again.

The next day we got together with a group of people from the South West and climbed Komagatake the volcano closest to where Kim lives. It was quite the experience but very much worth it in every sense of the word.

This weekend I went to a farewell party for a friend who is returning to the United States as well as having a farewell lunch with just a couple of my friends. This evening I had the neighbours over for cookies. They brought pizza, beer and scones.


It's coming and I'm loving it!

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Now don't get me wrong! I loved my students and life back in Shibata but I am so glad I'm not still working for GEOS.
Yesterday I realized that had GEOS not gone under I would still be there, working until the 17th, possibly the 15th as I had some un-used holidays left.
The thought actually made me cringe. I never realized how truly unhappy I was there. The money would have been nice and being able to say a proper good bye would have been nice but the stress and sadness... Not so nice.
I would be in the process of closing the school and explaining to my students why they wouldn't be able to continue taking English lessons and that I was moving to Northern Hokkaido to start a new job.
With the bankruptcy I wasn't leaving them, I wasn't closing their school, I wasn't cutting their lessons short. I think even with all the problems (mainly financial, especially for my friend) I'm glad to no longer be there for these few months.
Instead I've been introduced to the JET way of life and been able to experience so many amazing things!
I've been able to meet some of the amazing friendly JETs in Hokkaido and attend many different events.
I was able to visit my future home up in the North!

I was able to attend the HAJET (Hokkaido Association of JETs) Summer meeting/camping party.

I was able to participate in the Yakumo lantern festival.

I have also been to many smaller gatherings and spend time with people down South as well as up North.

My article was published in the HAJET newsletter, the Polestar.
I'm considering joining the PC (like a student council but for HAJET).
Already I can tell JET is going to be drastically different from my experience with GEOS and I am excited.
JET has been welcoming, friendly, helpful and like joining a community. I still plan to be very involved with the town I live in but it is so nice to know that I have this huge support system outside of my town to help me when I'm in trouble and if I just need to get out for a bit.
I feel so much less alone...
It's a nice feeling.


How I came to JET

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So my story is a little different than most. I haven't started JET yet and here I am in Hokkaido.

I'm currently staying at a friend's house while I wait for JET to start.
I assure you this is not how I saw it happening at all. I was supposed to be working for GEOS until July 17th but things did not go according to plan.
So let's start from the beginning and steal from the article I wrote for the Polestar (Hokkaido's JET Newsletter).

The process of being hired by GEOS was fast and quite pleasant. The only negative was that I had to travel a long way for the interview. One person I interviewed with had to come to Toronto, Canada from Texas. The interview itself was long and stressful, lasting two full days with eliminations a few times a day. The results, however, came only a few days after the interview. On average the process took less than a month and most people could be in Japan within two to three months. I left later than this as I hadn't graduated yet. It was a bit of a roller coaster and yet, I'm sure many JETs might agree, much more merciful if a bit hectic.

When preparing for the new life waiting in Japan, we were only given a town name. There was no contact with our predecessor beforehand. Most people never had any contact with them even after they arrived unless the predecessor's contract overlapped with the new teacher's. The only information about my school was given during my pre-departure training which occurred a few days before take off in Vancouver. During the training we went over the teaching manuals and guidelines of the company with a few other trainees. We even had to do a model lesson with a real student. This was quite a stressful period as they still reserved the right to let me go if I was not up to their standards.

The departure was very unceremonious as was the arrival. We were left on our own to make our way to the airport even having been allowed to choose between several flights so long as we arrived on the right day. In Narita I was met by one person who took me as far Tokyo and from that point I was on my own. After 4 hours of trains I arrived in my town where a few minutes later a woman came down the street to meet me. This woman was to be my future coworker, a Japanese English teacher, known as a JET. I was a native English teacher, a NET.

Before arrival we were assured that we would be working with a manager, at least one JET and possibly another NET. I found out I was in one of the supposedly rare situations where I had no manager. I was in a rather small city and a small school so this wasn't too shocking. I thought that it would be fine but it led to much more of the business and paperwork being handled by us, the teachers. It also meant I had much more contact with the upper levels of GEOS both through emails and phone calls. Things got worse as my JET was transferred and the substitute quit leaving me to run the school on my own. When money issues came up I had to call a manager who would occasionally visit. I worked alone for approximately seven months.

This extra work was stressful and yet the students were all amazing individuals. They ranged from children to adults. Many of the children's parents were friendly and would visit with me in the lobby. The adult students were very kind and I grew to enjoy their company greatly.

My students were the reason that even as my job got harder I could not imagine leaving. I truly felt a part of the business community during the seven months I worked alone. I even formed friendships with neighbouring shop owners and staff. These relationships with both students and local shop employees are the reasons that I would never look back on this job as a waste of time.

Suspicions and rumours were rampant amongst GEOS employees since 2009. Many thought the company did not have long to live and people often wondered to one another whether or not they would be paid that month. NETs had never been paid late but there were several months where it was rumoured that JETs or managers were not paid on time, but the delay was only a few days. With this in mind I applied for the JET Programme and was lucky enough to be shortlisted early this April. I was very relieved as I thought from that point on the drama with GEOS was over.

It was only a day later, that we received notice that they were planning to close approximately 80 schools within the next year. None of us were told exactly when or how this would happen but many small schools, including mine, and a few bigger schools were on the list. I felt extremely betrayed at this point as they had renewed nearly 80% of my students just weeks before. This meant that my students had paid for lessons that they might or might not be receiving.

I barely had time to process this, however, as only a week after that, we were sent a foreboding e-mail which announced that we had to fax all of our students' contracts to head office and that we would be required to attend a video-chat meeting the following work week before working hours. The weekend was filled with speculation and tension. The meeting came and went but nothing new was discussed and it was very short. Everyone was relieved, though a little annoyed at having had to come to work early for it. We were assured that we would be paid the overtime.

The same day as the first meeting, April 20th, another e-mail was sent out. This one was nearly identical to the first in that it asked us to attend a video-chat meeting the next morning before work. This time people were worried and yet a lot more relaxed as the first had been nothing shocking. This one was shocking, however. I was awakened by a call the morning of the 21st from one of my friends who had attended an earlier meeting stating that she was on her way to the train station to catch a shinkansen. GEOS had declared bankruptcy. I rushed into work to find e-mails instructing me to call all of my students and cancel that day's lessons, as well as the following day's lessons. My stomach sank as I read the e-mail addressed to schools that had been on the closing list. This e-mail told us that we would not be reopening again. The day before had been my final day of teaching. I rushed to board a train to Tokyo myself to attend the meeting officially announcing the end of GEOS.

GEOs staff were asked to attend meetings to explain the future of the company. Unfortunately many of the teachers working for schools that were closing were not given any answers and asked to wait for phone calls. The one thing we were told for certain was that we were not going to be paid for the previous month's work. Many of us went home wondering how long we could even continue to live in our apartments if we weren't being paid. Receiving no phone call until weeks later many people in schools which were closing packed up their belongings and returned to their home country before the end of the month. Those who worked in schools which remained open were offered the opportunity to start working again as of the 23rd of April with the new company. I know some people who did this, and others who didn't. Some people working for schools that closed waited for phone calls hoping they would find a new job in a different school. I was fortunate enough to move up north to Hokkaido and stay with a friend until I start my new job with the JET Programme in Kitami-shi, Hokkaido.

All in all, while the experience was one of instability and stress it also led to the founding of many friendships which I do and will always treasure. I enjoyed teaching in an eikaiwa, as did many of my friends, but working for a large company that never truly communicated with me as an employee was not something I would care to do again. This is not to say that all eikaiwa are terrible to work at or that everyone in GEOS had an experience like mine. As the old JET saying goes: 'Every Situation is Different.'