Missing Morocco

When I was thinking about moving to Japan, part of me was nervous about it becoming my new second home. Knocking Morocco out of this place in my life. I was worried that my experiences abroad in Japan would top or replace the ones I experienced in Morocco. That new people and new customs would move into that space in my heart. What has happened couldn't be farther from the truth. 

When I visited a friend in the city of Nagoya she took me to a Moroccan restaurant for lunch. There I met Karim, the owner who has lived in Japan for 10 years. Within the first minute of entering I asked him "wesh unti Magribi" are you Moroccan? The flood gates were open.
We ordered our Moroccan tajines for lunch and sat at the counter of the small, intimate restaurant as I carried on a conversation with Karim in Moroccan Arabic. I was so ecstatic to be using this language again. The ease in which it came to me revived confidence in myself as I am struggling to acquire much useful Japanese. Talking with Karim about Morocco allowed me to connect with my second home once again.
Being in Japan makes me miss Morocco in a way I didn't miss it in the United States. I am in a place where everything is new and though I crave the familiarity of the United States, I also crave the familiarity I built in Morocco. Despite it being a culture so different from my own, after two years in such an intimate, immersive relationship with it Morocco became comfortable.  I miss the outpouring of hospitality of small town Moroccan people. I miss the cushy hugs and uncountable kisses from Moroccan women and girls. I even miss the music, yes the repetitive songs that seem to go on forever. 

Being in Karim's restaurant surrounded by pieces of Morocco, I felt at home. In a way that I could lean back and the entire country of Morocco would catch me. I felt again, like Morocco was mine. 

One thing I never wanted was for my Moroccan people to ever be replaced. I spoke to Karim about my sister Rababe, brother, Soufiene, and my Mama and Baba, people who are often on my mind. I spoke of them with a genuine pride and joy that they are mine. 
Soufiene, Rababe, and Baba, 7 years ago
Coming to Japan has, in a strange way, brought me closer to Morocco. I know I'll have space within me for this time and place as well. When the unfamiliar begins to become familiar I know my heart will begin to swell with more affection. Now I know I have room for it all.

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A Day in the Life

5 a.m.- Wake up at  and access if I will be able to go jogging outdoors or not. With so much rain, every day is a gamble.  But, with outdoor jogging being my only source of  high intensity cardio vascular activity, I usually hope for a dry morning. I grab a small snack, drink a glass of water, and head out when it’s quiet and deserted on the streets. I alternate between jogging three miles around various sidewalks and going to the nearby park for short laps mixed with body weight exercises (push-ups, lunges, squats, etc.). I try to get vigorous exercise for 30-45 minutes 3-4 days per week. When returning, I towel off sweat and humidity and lay out on my yoga mat for some stretching and cooling down. 

6 a.m.- Start making a hot, beverage which alternates between matcha green tea and coffee, depending on my taste that day. I start getting items around for my sack lunch, possibly leftovers from the night before and a few random snacks. I can also choose to buy my lunch in the school cafeteria, from a nearby take out restaurant, or a convenience store. I can typically get a decent lunch for 500 yen (or $5.00).
At this time I usually turn a t.v. show on my computer. This carries over from my life in the U.S., when I enjoyed having some “company” as I got ready in the morning. Though it seems mindless, I enjoy having that stimulation to get my mind going in the morning. I begin making breakfast, which is usually oatmeal with nuts and  fruit. Or, if I am feeling lazy, I will pour a quick bowl of cereal. I have always liked having a good breakfast as a base, and here it is no different. I also like to use this morning time to do some personal reading, journaling, or studying Japanese. I have felt an increased sense of productivity here in the mornings.

7 a.m.- I am not a morning shower taker, so I only spend a few minutes at the mirror.  I brush my teeth, wash my face, put on some makeup, and get my hair to do something decent. I’ll put together an outfit in front of my closet. I haven’t brought many clothes to Japan, so this process is rather simple. Since dressing for work is between business casual and business formal I have certain parameters to stay within. Dresses are simple, and I have a few in basic colors that I enjoy rotating to make it stress-free. When there are so many other things for me to make sense of in a day, I like to keep my wardrobe easy. 

8 a.m.- Depart for work on foot or bike.
Arriving at the main entrance of school.
8:15 a.m.- Arrive at school I stop at my locker to change from my outdoor shoes to my indoor ones. In this school, as with many other similar establishments people do not wear their outdoor shoes inside. This means that every teacher and student must change their shoes when coming in. The students all wear the same athletic sandals and teachers keep whatever kind of shoes they like in their locker.
Can you find my locker?
I head up three flights of stairs to the teachers room, put down my things, go fill my water bottle and get to work. Depending on the day I may have a class first period and if I do, I hustle to my classroom by 8:20 when the first bell rings. Click here to listen to what our “bell” sounds like. 

Again, depending on the day I teach between two and four classes. In the periods that I do not have a class, I am working on grading. Most, if not all of my grading responsibilities, are reading students’ writing. Weekly or every other week I will read and correct writing by the approximately 300 students I come into contact with through teaching. I read a lot of short essays (50-100) words, correcting  spelling, grammar, and natural flow.

Is this hard? Yes. It is doable? Yes. Do I enjoy it? Yes, pretty much. Luckily, I love reading and writing, so this type of work is right in my wheelhouse. Though, I won’t pretend that it doesn’t get a little bit daunting and I can begin to zone out while correcting hundreds of writing samples by students who are writing in a foreign language. The 3rd year (seniors) students’ writing is typically quite good and I enjoy learning about them through it. The 1st year (sophomores) students’ writing usually has more red ink on it, but is still fun to read. 

12:15 p.m. It's time for lunch and I typically eat at my desk though I’ve try and challenge myself to go elsewhere just to get away. If the weather is nice and I have a free 5th period, I like to go out for a walk to get some midday exercise and fresh air. While teaching I am on my feet a lot, but during free periods I can be guilty of large amounts of sitting. 

Afternoon- More classes and grading.

3:50 p.m.- 7th period ends which is the last class of the day, though  I am still at my desk until 4:15. Technically, within the parameters of my contract, that is when my working hours end for the day. However, I am expected to play a role in the after school English speaking club which meets daily from 4:15 to sometimes as late as 6:00 p.m. I am not needed every day and out of respect for my time, I am not expected or asked to stay every day. I usually inquire about the club’s activity during the school day or immediately right after to see if I am needed. There are busier periods and slower periods with this club. Though the students always meet daily, they only need my help daily during periods leading up to speech competitions or drama performances. All in all, I typically will stay until about 5 or 5:30 if I stay at all. Making my work day 8-5, just like a typical American work day. Though my contract states I have a 35 hour work week, sometimes a 40 hour week is necessary. Since I am salaried, I don’t see any difference in pay, however my salary is quite generous. 

Somewhere between 4:15 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.- After work I can decide to go out on an adventure or head home. Adventures can include, exploring the public library, grocery shopping, going out for ice cream, shopping at the 100 yen store, or exploring some nearby landmark. These adventures are simple, but fun, and are eventful in another culture. If I am too tired or hungry (all too often) I just head home and begin making dinner and winding down for the day.

Checking out a nearby shrine.
6-9 p.m.-At this point daylight has faded along with the energy left in me. Since I wake up at 5 a.m. and I don’t get a midday rest, by 7-8 pm my eyelids are getting pretty heavy. In this time I like to spend time online, looking up things that interest me and getting lost in eclectic YouTube labyrinths. 

Between 9 and 10 p.m.- After a long day I find going to sleep quite easy and I’m excited to have a still and quiet place to rest, until the alarm rings again the next morning. 

Right now and hopefully for the next year this schedule will be a good balance of a comfortable routine spliced with adventures. I believe both are needed for this experience to be successful for me.

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International Festival

I attended an International Festival in downtown Kanazawa put on by Ishikawa Foundation for International Exchange (IFIE). I rode the bus downtown for ¥240 and got off at exactly the right stop, yay! I began exploring the four levels of the building and scanning the booths of many different countries to discover. 
Many JET participants were representing English speaking countries, so I got to meet and talk to some new JETs in the area. Many of the booths had some kind of food or candy from the country it featured. I enjoyed a makeshift smore from the United States booth, made from comparable Japanese ingredients.
Andrew, the happy American.
In addition to different booths featuring many world countries, the event featured hands on Japanese cultural demonstrations. This was most exciting to me because I had been eager to experience a couple Japanese traditions. 

I got to make a calligraphy scroll.  It was fun using the thick brush to make gentle but bold strokes to form the character.
I chose the word Love to write in Kanji, the Chinese character.

I got dressed up in a kimono and got to walk around for a while. When the act of helping someone get dressed is virtually non-existent for adults anymore, it was fun to be assisted into this garment. The woman dressing me and I got pretty intimate as she wrapped me tight making the kimono feel somewhat like a corset.
There were many foods from several Asian countries to try for a small price. I ate a couple of foods from Bangladesh while watching a performance of Japanese belly dancers. The music reminded me of Morocco.
I was able to use English quite a bit to converse with people of several different lands.  This as a great experience of soaking in not only Japanese culture but other world cultures too. It was neat to see all the different foreigners making their home in Kanazawa.

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Developing Youth My Own Way

It’s great when you find what you are passionate about. For me it’s, youth development. When I was thinking about doing the JET Program and living in Japan, teaching English was far from the main reason I had for wanting to do it. Instead, I wanted to challenge myself to live in another culture and travel to new places. However, being an assistant language teacher is allowing me to live many of my passions every day, including youth development. 

Having only spent a small amount of time in Japan, it’s not hard to see that the Japanese are perfectionists. They are always striving to do more, achieve more, do better, and be their personal best. I can’t relate.The goal of perfection starts at a young age and the teenagers I work with are surely striving for it. When they complete an assignment or show you something that they’ve done they want you to tell them how they can make it better or how they can make it stronger next time. 

This has posed a bit of a problem for me. My approach to youth development in the past 10 years has been to lend support, encouragement, love and compassion to the youth I come into contact with. My contact tends to come outside of a classroom setting, where I believe true character is formed. During my interactions with my Girl Scout troop, I loved listening to stories about their day and teaching skills that could mold them into well-rounded human beings. I loved just being there for them and showing them how much I cared. When I worked with young children in Morocco, it was enough for me to give them crayons and paper, inspiring them to draw pictures. When they would gift me those pictures I would receive them delightfully, which always put a look of pride on their young faces. Moments like these warm my heart and let me know that I am doing my true calling. 

Being put in the situation to constructively criticize students’ writing and performances is just part of my job and is something I must accept. However, it doesn’t mean that I can’t also interact with my students in my own way. It’s something that I have to do, just for myself, but I hope that it has a positive effect on their self-esteem.  

Recently, three students of mine participated in an English speech competition. I worked with them for three weeks on their delivery, pronunciation, and gestures. They wanted to continuously improve their performance, so I gave notes after each time I heard them practice. To balance this, I made sure to continuously praise their effort and hope I made it clear that they were doing well and should be proud. After Soma, a young man of my school performed his speech at the competition our eyes met just for a moment. I gave him a quick power fist to show my support. When he took 2nd place, I found him after, gave him a hug, and told him how proud I was of him. I love Soma’s smile, it is one that exudes self-pride when he feels it. I believe there is no mistaking that look in people, and I love seeing that look when I tell people how proud I am of them. Unfortunately,  I didn’t get to have similar interactions with the two young lady students of mine that competed. But, I took time to make them little cards and snuck them in their school desks.
I didn’t come here only to teach students’ minds. I came here to teach their hearts and souls too. I feel these interactions are fewer and farther between than I’d like, but you’d better believe I will seek them out and revel in them when they happen.

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Classes I Teach

In Japan, students begin learning English as early as elementary school.  It is obligatory and for many, it is the only foreign language they will learn. English is not an official language here, but since World War II it has been heavily taught and used. 

In elementary school, learning English is lighthearted and fun. Later, in junior high school, students spend most of their time on English grammar and vocabulary to prepare them for high school. Lastly, in high school students continue to hone the skills they learned in junior high, through continuous use of the language. An English essay is part of most all university entrance exams. 

Students in my high school do not experience English daily, but rather in a few different classes per week. Which English classes they take depends on their year in high school, and educational track they are on. Here is a description of the four types of English classes I assist with each week. 

Global English-I teach 10 identical lessons of this per week. This is a fun and lively class for the first year students. Myself and the other Assistant Language Teacher (ALT), David, in my school are responsible for most of the lesson planning for this class. Since David has four years of experience doing this, he comes up with most of the ideas and he bounces them off me. We work side by side with the Japanese Teachers of English (JTE), to make the lessons just right for the students. Each class is taught with one ALT and one JTE. I work with a few different JTEs during the week. I enjoy learning from them and their different teaching styles. This class is focused mostly on speaking and is conducted almost 100% in English. We focus on using the language, mostly to talk about global topics such as culture to expand the students’ world. For example, we are just beginning a long project in which the students will choose a country they want to be from. They must research their country to have the ability to answer questions from their classmates about that country. 

Science English-Students in this class have interest in pursuing the sciences in university and later on in life. They learn how to express scientific concepts in English. Currently, in small groups, they are working on long term science experiments which gives them material to write about and discuss in English. For example, one group is testing growing plants in different soils to determine the quality of the end result. They should be able to express their processes and findings in English. This is where I help them with the language. Many of the scientific concepts they are working with are over my head, but it doesn’t mean that I can’t help them properly express themselves in English. 

Practical English-This class focuses mostly on becoming a stronger problem solver and the subject matter is presented in English. Last semester, they worked their way through a text book that was based on numerous Ted Talks about current unique issues presented to humans today. Through it they learn English comprehension as well as speaking and writing abilities. Right now, groups of students are working on research projects in which they are looking deeper into an issue they see in their own country. They are creating spoken presentations about these issues that the will present to American students on their trip to New York City next month. JTEs are responsible for planning most of this class. I am present to help with proper pronunciation and offer suggestions to improve the expression of their thoughts.  

English Expressions- I teach three lessons of this each week with a JTE taking the lead. In this class students learn English essay writing. They practice good mechanics of composing an essay, while honing their vocabulary and grammar usage. There are a few different styles of essay they work on from argumentative to anecdotal and they receive prompts from their text book. We spend the first part of the class discussing the prompt, and in the last 15-20 minutes they must compose an 80-100 word essay on the topic. Examples of prompts include: Should grocery store stop giving away free plastic bags and Tell about an unforgettable memory in your past. Then, I am responsible for reading and correcting these essays by the following week to return to them. I get to learn a lot about the students by reading their work. In these classes, students tend to understand more of what I am saying to them. It has a more quiet and studious feel. I don’t have to exert as much energy and I feel that my knowledge of writing is more appreciated and put to good use.

You will see that these range of classes offer a variety in my week that makes my job fun, challenging, relaxing, and fulfilling. This schedule just happens to be perfect for my skill set. It utilizes my knowledge of the English language, writing abilities, teaching experience, and world experience all at the same time.

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