Monday, April 27, 2009

Boarding School

Well, since I last reported on our very first snowboarding/skiing adventure, the season has come and gone, and I only took advantage of hitting the slopes a total of five--yes FIVE times!  Alas, succumbing to my lack of confidence out on the snowy mountains and the inevitable post-snow-pain, I totally managed to avoid one of the things that I REALLY wanted to tackle this year!

Those five times that I made it out, though, were GRAND!  I learned so much and totally improved my snowboarding/skiing skills (which, as they were previously at zero, I guess I really had no where to go but up)!

My fab friend, Adele, and I...we're hot!

Last weekend I went out to Kiroro with one of my co-workers and his super-cute 4-year-old son (who can ski circles around me...pic below)!  Sadly, this was probably my last weekend out boarding, giving me a full four hours to lament the fact that I didn't make better use of the season!  On a good note, my beloved bunny-hill was closed for the season, forcing me to attack an actual mountain on the family slope!  After some pretty good wipe-outs, the rest of the day went fabulous and I'm happy to say that I can now call myself a snowboarding chica!

I did get to go out with a bang...for my last snowboard rental (I bought my own this week!), I got this awesome board with an American (duh!) cop chowin' on a donut!  I'm hoping there isn't too much of a resemblance!

So, my season was short but seemingly successful!  Now, if I don't forget everything I conquered within the next 8 months, I'll be golden for next year!

Speaking of golden, this week marks the beginning of Japan's Golden Week, a time when almost everyone has a good 5 days (or more) of vacation in a row!  I'll be heading south to meet my sister, who is flying over from the States for a good two-weeks romp with me in Tokyo, Kyoto, and good 'ol Sapporo!  Golden Week post to follow...Japan won't be the same...

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Anti-Textbook

There comes a time for most Japanese students when, after years and years and years of memorizing English vocab words and drudging through boring English textbooks and preparing for yet another English test, they just get plain BURNT OUT of learning any more English...this was especially true in a couple of my English writing classes this past school year.

Fortunately I am extremely lucky to work at a school with some teachers who are open and very willing to try new things in the classroom when it comes to English-language learning (strict English-textbook-followers are still the norm in Japan).  Because of this, we came up with the idea of having the students produce their own hardcover English story books for our school library!  With the software from one of my favorite companies, Blurb, and a little help in international shipping from my fab mom, the books turned out AWESOME:

Each student received one of four story-starters to which they had to creatively finish.  It's amazing what they'll come up with when they don't have boundaries or regulations on how they use English!  I was really impressed with a lot of their stories, and the students had a great time as well since they knew their endeavors would result in a finished project at the end!  Some even included illustrations (the covers were also drawn by one student from each class):

I can't wait to see these as the newest additions to our school library!

At times it's been a challenge to get the students away from the notion that English is not a textbook subject used only for passing tests, but instead a living and breathing language that should be used for communication and self-expression!  It's so amazing when they see that they CAN use their second language to do something like produce a book, or write to native speakers, as we did in my first-year culture classes.  One class wrote to students in Texas, and the other class wrote to students in Florida (thank you, Matt and Katharine), and many of them said that experience gave them so much more confidence since they could have a "writing conversation" with a native speaker!

To my amazement, ALL of the students (even the boys) have wonderful matching little stationary sets, so their bundles of letters always look so cool:

Being the Anti-Textbook teacher has helped to make my workdays more of a challenge as I'm always trying to think of new ways that the students can productively USE the foreign language they've been learning for a good portion of their school lives!  I'm super excited to see what we'll be able to do in this upcoming school year...

Thursday, April 9, 2009


春は今ここです! Springtime is (I think) finally here, bringing with it singing birds, budding trees, and carefree missiles flying overhead from Korea! Not only that, but the wintertime slump is melting away and we are enjoying ourselves in what now feels like home! Jacob has been playing basketball twice a week with students at the Sapporo International High School, as well as at the local community center, on the days that he's not working downtown. School for us has begun again, and we've spent the week preparing for classes, welcoming new first-years, and guiding the new foreign exchange students through the maze of terrifying Japanese introductions and first impressions (I was there only 8 months ago).

This Springishness has definitely given us a new bounce in our steps and new energy for some of our favorite things, including eating massive amounts of raw fish and rice at the local kaiten zushi (conveyor-belt sushi) restaurant down the road:

Getting a new Spring hairdo is almost obligatory and nothing out of the ordinary...except when the process is in an entirely different language and the hairdressers are almost certainly only proficient working with the Japanese National Hair (thick, coarse, and black as opposed to thin, frail, and reddish/brown). I sucked it up, somehow made an appointment over the phone, and managed to score a lovely, lovely hairdresser (named Rie) who took me from this grown-out mangle:

To this lovely new (and hopefully not too soccer-mom-ish) 'do:

My students seem to like it...I've heard nothing but yells of "kawaiiiiiii!" (cuuuuute!!) for the past couple of days!

Another highlight of these new spring days was watching the result of the concert band's 9:00am to 5:00pm everyday Spring Break practices!! No kidding, these kids are SERIOUS about their clubs! The concert, held in Sapporo's Kitara Hall, was no less impressive than their crazy practices!

Speaking of crazy practices, I was in charge of training 10 amazing and very talented English speakers for the Hokkaido English Challenge (HEC), an awesome competition put together by HAJET (Hokkaido Association for JETs) which tests students on their ability to speak and actually communicatively USE their English (as opposed to merely cramming in grammar points and written vocabulary for yet another exhaustive test...the Japanese historical preferred method for language learning...). Through working with these gals, I not only saw their confidence in English speaking greatly improve, but I also got to know each of them a lot better than I would have on a day-to-day basis as I have about 240 students that I see each week!

Aren't we so kawaiiiiiiiiii!!!!!

The grand prize of this competition is a 2-week homestay to any English-speaking country that the student chooses. Pretty freakin' awesome if you ask me!

Last, but not least, these springish days bring with them a whole new throng of Kit Kat flavors for our enjoyment! First up, Sesame-Glazed Potato:

Followed by the amazing flavors of White Peach and Orange Peach:

And then, the dreamy, DREAMY baked custard flavor!!! Let's just say that this bag is what pushed me to begin running again! These are limited editions, folks...get 'em while you can:

The last and possibly the most disappointing flavor because, despite the packaging and promises of Cherry Blossom goodness, this was, in fact just regular Kit Kats in a ready-to-send Springtime greetings box! Blast!

It's been well over a week or two without snow, and almost a week without any more Korean missiles, so here's hoping to a future of full-fledged Springtime loviness!