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And just like that, my first week in Japan has past. This week was been nothing short of incredible. Backtracking, I don't remember too much of what had happened on Wednesday, my second full day in Himeji, but I attended my first community lesson at the Shirasagi residence on Thursday. The Shirasagi residence is where the other assistant teaching assistants (ALTs), JETs, and I live. It is currently summer holiday, but even on holiday or break season, teachers still go to school. In our case, instead of going to school, we teach community lessons at our place of residence. The lesson topics spans far and wide according to our individual interests. There is usually one primary teacher who teaches the lesson of their interest while the other teachers assist in facilitation of English language speaking at each table, and these lessons are taught twice a day during the weekdays. Going back to my first experience of a community lesson, I coincidentally sat in on a community lesson about product design (just when I thought I had gotten away from the torturous product design and development process engrained by the infamous ASU BME program). The teacher, Kevin, is an industrial engineering graduate from South Africa; he's a very nice fellow and has a twin brother, also an industrial engineering graduate, teaching in Sapporo, Japan. The lesson, context wise, was exactly as I remembered the product design process to be. The facilitation part of the lesson was interesting. While I have facilitated conversation on various topics in the past, facilitating conversation for the sole purpose of practicing a language was a bit different. The community members were very polite, and they spoke English well enough to communicate their thoughts. Most community members were a part of the older generation, but there are instances of younger students (possibly a daughter or son of a community member). Because my contract does not start until September 3, I do not need to attend these community lessons, but attending them beforehand made me less anxious to teach and facilitate future lessons and helped me get acquainted with the members themselves.
Friday, August 24, was the day of the new teachers' contract ceremony. We were picked up from the Shirasagi residence by Mr. Kamata at 10:30 AM. Once we arrived at city hall at 11 AM, Mr. Kamata informed us that the meeting room will not be opened until 11:30 AM and that we can go get lunch and just be back by 12:45 PM. I didn't believe the veteran teachers up until now when they said that we meet early to meetings to standby. This is what they meant. Thus, we all walked to the most Italian place you can get in Himeji, where they serve pizza, pasta, and yakisoba. Clay, Kevin, and I shared a small cheese pizza and a small anchovies and squid pizza. The anchovies and squid pizza was definitely interesting, to say the least, but from a pizza standpoint, the pizzas were... not like American pizzas. After lunch, we returned to city hall, and we waited in the meeting room for an additional hour and a half before the ceremony started at 2 PM. After the formal ceremony of speeches and contract-giving, I got to meet my teachers! The Japanese school system functions in three terms rather than four quarters or two semesters. For the first term that I work (which is really the second term of school for the students) from September to December, I will be assistant teaching at Hayashida, a 45-50-minute commute every morning and every afternoon. For my second and third terms, I will be assistant teaching at Takaoka, a school that is thankfully a simple 15-minute bike ride from the Shirasagi residence. My teachers are incredibly nice and friendly. They went over the necessary routes I needed to take to get to school as well as all the essential information about my duties. Hayashida is very small junior high school that consists of 89 students while Takaoka is a medium-sized junior high school consisting of roughly 400-500 students. At Hayashia, there are only two English teachers, and the one I met after the contract ceremony was very young and energetic. At Takaoka, there are many English teachers I will be assisting. While they are English teachers, their English was not as fluent as I thought they would be. Regardless, I am sure their ability to communicate with their students is more far-reaching than mine as I have yet to learn conversational Japanese (soon though...). So primarily, I will be teaching junior high school, and every Thursday, I will be going to an elementary school to assistant teach, which I am very excited about. There are five different elementary schools that I will visit, visiting one per week every Thursday. Otherwise, I will primarily teach at Hayashida or Takaoka junior high school.
Aside from that, I started a 30-day yoga challenge on Friday, hoping to expunge any negativity from my life and mind. As a non sequitur, I would like to acknowledge that I am so wonderfully lucky for the situation I am in. I came to Japan, into a fully furnished family size apartment. I didn't have to buy a single thing coming here (aside from deodorant and toothpaste because I'm very particular about those things). I was given the opportunity to be settled in and to explore my surroundings immediately, and in addition to my living situation, living at the Shirasagi residence gave me the chance to meet the other teachers and to make new friends. The people here are truly sensational and quirky in their own ways. Coming to Japan seemed overwhelming at first, but now, I realize what a blessing it is to be here and to be a part of this journey with other wonderful human beings who are on the same, yet totally different, path. I realized I needed Japan and this opportunity more than it needed me. I know I will be getting so much more from this opportunity than I can ever imagine, and it is a blessing to be here. It gives me a chance to get away from all the negativity that was present in my life back in the States, and I get a rare chance to start fresh, with a clean slate filled with joy and positivity. Perfectly, I'm listening to Michael Buble's "Feeling Good;" "it's a new dawn, it's a new day. And I'm feeling good."