Island Hopping

-Hannah Xu, Amami Island

I arrived in Japan last year, and since then I’ve had the chance to visit many of the southern islands of Kagoshima Prefecture, and I regularly teach on two of them. I currently work at three very different high schools. I live in Koniya, a small town on the southern end of Amami Oshima. When I got notified of my prefecture, and found out where it was, I prepared myself for an

Shoryudo Cavern

island placement because I thought it was more likely as a Group C arrival (in reality, only a couple of us were islanders!). So when I learned I was going to Amami, I wasn’t really surprised, but I had no impression of what life would be like here. I had to adjust my expectations, but also discovered the benefits island life can have.

One of Amami’s Beaches

For one, I’m living in a place many people dream of taking vacations to, with breathtaking beaches, unique culture, and a slower way of life. Before I came to Japan, I lived in a city where it snowed a lot, and I was a city person. I loved the freedom of being able to take public transportation, exploring on my own, and being surrounded by diversity. Life on a subtropical island closer to Okinawa than mainland Kagoshima is very different. Amami is a bit of a contradiction — it’s both inaka and not; both a part of Japan and its own place. Community is very important here. There are plenty of things to experience, and they’re very much community-based. The ALT community on the islands is also strong, because it has to be — everyone knows each other, and we’re the only English-speaking community here.

“Why do you want to come to Japan?” In my opinion, one of the most important things for a new ALT to have is the desire to experience a totally different way of life. Following “ESID,” if you look past the variables of individual situations, what you’re left with is someone leaving their home country and culture to start life in a different one. In my opinion it does take courage, because not everyone would choose to do it! Sometimes you do feel the pressure of differences in culture. But I can also see these things as evidence of how strong the sense of community is here.

View of Kikaijima from a plane

Soon after arriving, I was traveling for the first time to Kikaijima, a small island to the northeast of Amami, where I go every month for a school visit. It’s about a four hour commute one way, but on the islands, commuting is fairly common. Many students island hop for sports events, and teachers for business trips. Ferries, planes, and unpredictable weather are just a fact of life here. (Though some regulars on my flights even manage to fall asleep in the ten or so minutes from takeoff to landing!) This past summer I also had the chance to participate in an English camp on Okinoerabu island.

Honohoshi Beach

The islands are a really unique place with a lot of spirit. The students here are generally really friendly, and they really love their islands. With the views I’ve seen, I agree!

Overcoming Challenges

-Daniel Alderink, Shibushi City

When I found out I had been placed in Kagoshima, I had no idea what to think, seeing as I had never heard of it. Once I learned that it was a rural prefecture in the south of Japan, I thought, “Well, at least the winters will be mild.” Now after having been here for over four years, I can say that I couldn’t have been luckier to be placed here.

I have constantly been surrounded by a loving and helpful community made up of awesome ALTs and local Japanese neighbors. Seldom was there a time when I felt lost or alone. Thanks to the people here, I not only enjoyed my time here, but also grew more as an instructor.

Now, that isn’t to say that everything was sunshine and flowers every day. Being an education major, I was excited to come to Japan and put all I had learned in University into practice. Needless to say, I still had a lot of learning to do. From the teacher-student relationships, to the English education pedagogy, to the actual classroom itself, everything was different from what I had experienced and learned in America. However, thanks to awesome Japanese English teachers, and the advice from senior ALTs, I was able to meet these cultural differences, resolve them, and then utilize them to impact my teaching in a positive way.

I have honestly had so many impactful experiences like this that it would be impossible to talk about all of them here, so I thought I’d talk about my one of my favorite things here.

Three times a year there is a standard English proficiency test held in Japan. When students pass the written portion, they have to take an interview test. In order to prepare for that, they often ask me to help them with practice interviews. When I first got here, I volunteered to help with this, but became a little dismayed when I found myself staying at school well past the time that I would normally be going home. However, I gradually found myself enjoying these practice sessions more and more. During this time, I get to practice speaking English one-on-one in a more casual setting than the classroom. I get to hear students’ opinions on various subjects, and help them process the difficulties of speaking English. Sometimes I’m even fortunate to help students study for the next level of the test after the pass the lower level. Seeing my students grow and master English has truly been one of the most fulfilling parts of my time as an ALT.

Cliché…but true!

-Samuel Landsborough, Kagoshima City

Hello! Welcome to Kagoshima!

I bet you cannot wait to start your new life as an ALT here in this amazing prefecture. I’m sure by now you must have heard or have read a lot about how everybody’s “experience is different”. Although this may sound rather cliché, this couldn’t be any further from the truth! You may be teaching at one main school, or you may have the opportunity to teach at many schools. You may find yourself working in the bustling city of Kagoshima under the watchful eye of Sakurajima, or you may find yourself on one of the prefectures semi-tropical islands.
Wherever you find yourself, make sure you make the most of your time here in Kagoshima and always keep an open mind to new experiences and opportunities.

So, being an ALT …

I am an ALT from the UK teaching at a senior high school in Kagoshima city. I have had no prior teaching experience and the idea of having to teach students a foreign language became increasingly daunting to me. This feeling wasn’t helped once I found out that I would be teaching senior high school students who are preparing to enter the top universities in Japan. However, although still feeling nervous, I relished the opportunity and with support from my teachers, I was able to grow and develop in confidence.

Teachers:

I am lucky that I have teachers and staff who are genuinely interested in my well-being and want to help me as much as possible. My JTE’s made it clear from day one that they have my back and that we are a ‘team’ rather than just ALT and JTE. Overtime, my confidence increased lesson by lesson and this was due to forming close positive bonds with my teachers.
Which brings me onto the most important part; the students.

Students:

Students at senior high schools are, for the most part, extremely focused and determined. At my school, they are constantly grafting day in and day out in order to pass into the university which will see them achieve their futures while also taking part in club activities and other various projects. Having said that, they are always excited to talk and want to improve their English or general communication skills. Though some students can be hyperactive, and others quite the opposite, all of them are extremely polite and respectful and will always try and give 100%. You will have a great time with your students!
However, I do question as to how many students enjoy my jokes. They will laugh but is that out of curtesy? sympathy? If you plan to make jokes, it’s best not to think about that and just assume their laughs are out of sheer appreciation for your comedic skills!

Making the most of being an ALT …

For some of you, this may be the first time living in a new place. You may be worried about the dreaded “culture shock” which affects most of us. Kagoshima is the only place I have lived in outside of the UK. I understood that I was going to a country where much of the culture and customs contrast my very own.

So, what did I do?  I feel I need to repeat myself by saying “Keep an open mind”.
This may sound easier said than done (believe me it is). Try new things! Try new food! Get out of your comfort zone in order to become more comfortable (I hope that makes sense!).
But most importantly, make friends!

You will be one of many ALTs in similar situations. Make close bonds with your fellow ALTs as you will be able to support each other whenever problems arise in the workplace or in your social life. We are all in this together so we will help each other out! Connect with the locals, join clubs, explore!

Please enjoy your time here in Kagoshima! Although we are ambassadors of our respective countries and are responsible for cultural exchange and teaching English (obviously 😉), that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun!
Get out there and have a great time!

Finding Utopia

-Jessuina James, Island Placement

When I applied to the JET program, I had no idea that Japan had this many small Islands. I had only looked at the possibility of being placed on the main Island. Eventually I received my placement, I was overjoyed, as it was Kyushu and not Hokkaido. The cold weather and I are archenemies and that is all I cared about. My placement was Kagoshima ken so I only received my exact location closer to the departure date. I was placed in AmamiOshima an Island in-between Kagoshima and Okinawa. I could not find much on the Island, it was even hard finding it on the map, I needed to zoom and zoom and zoom before I could see it.

Amami Island

At this point, I was anxious mainly because I would be far from the other South African ALT’s, But I decided to spend the time I had left with family and friends just to fill up my love tank and leave home on a good start. It is important to sort out the administrative side of moving, but also the psychological side. The expectation is that you will return home and see everyone again but the truth is we never know. So creating good memories with your loved ones is just as important as selling your car and getting a new wardrobe.

Narrow Village Street

Once in Amami, I was overwhelmed. The first 3 months were just about adapting and familiarizing with my surroundings. Getting to know the teachers, students and the neighbourhood. Everyone understood that I was confused and jet-lagged and were very patient.

You may be wondering “What is Island life like?”. Well, it is hard to describe, it has its ups and downs but which place on this earth does not? People are very friendly especially the senior folk, they always trying to feed me fruit from their farms or traditional sweets. Living on the Island is a unique experience, as I wave back at the bus driver passing me I sometimes feel as if I never left Soweto. However being social on an Island takes more effort than in the city because of the greater language barrier. For people who enjoy a night out, the local bar is a starting point to socialize. Other places like churches, English practice classes, and sports clubs are also a good way to meet people. You will be invited to more events and there you will meet more people.

As an assistant, I work on two Islands, and have more than nine teachers. Each school has its own work culture. A teacher is not just an English teacher but also an individual with a unique personality. To maintain a good relationship with everyone it is important to navigate your space and

My school on Okinoerabu Island

manage all the different personalities as best as you can. Teachers also have to transition, get the old ALT out of their system, and adapt to you too. In conclusion, adapting is key to enjoying your stay in Kagoshima whether you are in the city or on a beautiful remote Island, taking one day at a time. Kagoshima is one of Japans most beautiful prefectures as its natural spender is breathtaking. There will always be something to do. The relaxed Inaka (countryside) lifestyle will afford you the opportunity to tap into your creative side whether it be music, art, photography etc. it’s a fountain of inspiration. Leave your expectations at your departure gate and be pleasantly surprised.