A long overdue blog post here. I haven’t written much lately, not because I’ve been slacking, but simply there hasn’t been too much going on! Due to the coronavirus situation, I ended up working from home for around six weeks (quick review: I hate working at home), just coming in to work at the office once a week. Thankfully, the situation has improved a lot lately, so we’re all back working as normal (albeit with added masks and open doors and windows) and preparing as usual for our upcoming events.
Unfortunately, we have had to postpone our delegation visit to Michigan that was scheduled for July, but all being well, we’ll be getting ready to head out there this time next year. We do have a few events on the horizon though which we’re looking forward to at the moment:
Japanese Teaching Seminar (June 14th)
World Watching (July 19th)
English Tea Parties (July 31st, August 21st, August 28th)
Summer English Club for ES Students (New event for this year!) (over 5 days in early August)
BBQ and Dragon Canoe Race (August 9th)
I’ll write boringly about all those events when we’ve done them, but for today I thought I’d introduce a little about what I was working on from home.
Firstly, with the coronavirus situation, and a bit of a dearth of information in English for local residents, I updated information regarding infected people across our prefecture onto this homepage. While I was doing so, the numbers flew up from twenty to around ninety, but since we’ve all been back working in the office the numbers hit 98, 99 and then 100, and have, since then, mercifully, stayed at that point. There will certainly be new cases over the coming months, but it’s been really positive to see how everyone’s efforts have paid off in stopping the spread across Shiga. I think updating that information about the virus was useful, and I received some nice feedback from foreign people in the area about it. Hopefully with everyone’s continued efforts, and improved treatment etc., coronavirus infections can stay low in the prefecture, and I won’t have to update the info so much from now on. Time will tell, I suppose!
The circumstances with the virus also led schools to shut too of course, which has changed the yearly curriculum and prevented us from starting our Guest Teacher Programme. We usually begin going into schools from mid-May, but that has been impossible this year. The schools have recently restarted though, so we will be able to join some classes from July, and plenty of requests have started to come through. However, the lessons we join will much likely be far fewer this year as the yearly schedules for schools have contracted to about 80-90% of the usual annual lesson-load. On that basis schools have to focus on academic classes, and are not able to prioritise the school events, or non-academic subjects such as human rights education or cultural studies under which bracket our programme comes. Due to this circumstance, rather than our usual programme, we will join many more English classes this year, though we will have to be careful with the content of them. In particular, it will be necessary to make sure that we are not fulfilling ALT-like requests, as that wouldn’t fall into the bracket of ‘volunteer activities’, and, more crucially, would be disrespectful to the ALT profession and those working in it. We will be going to classes to introduce our home-countries, school-lives, cultures, and hometowns, and then enjoy communicating with the students. I will write more about our work in the English classes during this year, as I can see that it is going to be quite a big component of the job until next March.
While I was at home though I thought about the positive things that I might be able to do for the Guest Teacher Programme. I ended up starting a video project for the programme with videos made by volunteers from different countries to introduce their home-life. Not to mention the difficulty in finding volunteers to help, with all the editing, subtitles, my ‘presenting’ sections, and shorter country-intro videos I clipped together from other Youtube films (I await the copyright-police any day now!) the individual videos took an extremely long time to make. On that basis. I’m not sure about whether the output was worth the input in general terms, something I’m always wary of in my work. Due to the unique circumstances though I had plenty of time to use, and I’m very happy with how the videos turned out. I have completed five so far, with further videos to come. The recently completed videos introduce Nepal, America, the U.K, Bolivia and Hungary. I’ve put them onto YouTube for a short while, so please go ahead and take a look if you’re interested. These videos will be used in one elementary school (in 3rd grade classes) from the end of this month, and I’m sure I can find ways of using them in schools in future too.
The first video to be finished was the America one. I really wanted to have someone from our sister-city of Clinton Township to introduce their home and life, and thankfully the Cattivera family—veterans of the sister-city programme—were able to step up and help. Veronica gave us a nice tour of her home, and then showed some of the food that they eat as a family. I think it will be an interesting watch for the students, especially the fact that they have a big pool in their backyard; something you don’t see much in Japanese homes! The opening country-intro film for this video, compared to the other ones, was quite easy to put together. American culture is so prevalent around the world, it was easy to think of ‘American things’ to find and edit together. With the ultra-cool James Brown in accompaniment, I’m happy with that intro, and—thanks to the excellent video supplied by Veronica and family—the whole thing will be a great tool for the schools to use in teaching about American life.
The video about the UK was another fun one to make. I got help from some family-members in my hometown for a tour of their home which I’m sure will be thought-provoking for the students. The point I would like the students to take away is that homes are constructed in a different way in different countries; the children may then take the leap to consider that the reason for this different means of construction is based on cultural differences. In the home of my family-members, students might be surprised to see that the house is over 100 years old, that it is four floors high, and that there is a nature-filled garden. A second video supplied by my friends in the countryside in northern England also showed some differences which are different to Japan, notably roaming wild sheep and the very long days of English summer. Overall, this video will also be a really positive educational tool. I left some clips of myself stumbling over my words at the end of this video just for giggles...presenting is a tough gig!
Probably the most fun video to make for me was the Nepal introduction video. The family introduction was made for us by the Kathmandu-based family of a Nepalese resident of Yasu. It was very interesting, and I was very glad that she drew attention to some cultural differences, such as religious rituals and traditional clothing, while also showing similarities such as people spending (too much!) time playing on smartphones. As that introduction was a little short though, I thought it might be better to round off the introduction with something about Nepalese food, and, as there is a Nepalese restaurant around the corner from our office, I asked them for their help! Very kindly they accepted, so the next day myself and Nanako (an intern currently helping us) went to visit with camera in hand. They were very kind showing us how all the different foods are made, (and then letting us sit down and eat them all!), and I know that they’ve been struggling a bit since the coronavirus situation began, so I hope this video being used in schools might help their business a little bit. Mainly though, it will be a great educational tool for the students; not just as a way of teaching them about Nepalese food and the (extremely interesting!) methods of its preparation, but to see some of the foreign residents that are living and working in Yasu.
For the Hungary-introduction video, I was introduced to a family in Budapest by Aniko, a local Hungarian resident who often helps with cultural events and such. I couldn’t have been happier with what I received from the family, and—aside from subtitles—I hardly had to edit anything at all. The video was presented by their 6-year-old child who showed his life at home, cooking, playing, bathing. and doing all sorts of things. The students will find lots of similarities and differences in their lives and the life they see in the video. It will be a fantastic thing to use in lessons I’m sure.
The final video to discuss in the Bolivia-introduction one. For this video I got the help of our friends Miguel and his wife Hiromi (presenters of our last World Watching event). Slightly differently to the other videos, they didn’t introduce their lives in Bolivia, but—from their home in Shiga—introduced elements of Bolivian culture. As an artist and musician, Miguel was able to show us his huge plethora of musical instruments, and how to make some traditional Bolivian food. In this video Miguel and Hiromi, explained by using a lot of Japanese as well, so I didn’t have to worry about adding subtitles. It ended up being a very fun and interesting video, and, on top of that, a rather easy one for me to put together!
Thank you for reading down to the bottom of this page…you must be at a loose end! I’m glad I managed to write a blog-post for the first time in a while. Things are looking positive, and, as I mentioned earlier, with our programmes and events all on the horizon, I’m looking forward to this year getting started properly soon. With all the things going on in the world, things are going to be different, and possibly tough at times over the course of this year, but I’ll do everything I can to make it a success both for myself professionally, and a success for the association and our projects. All the best. Phil