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2019 Reflection

As the year approaches its end, it feels like a good chance to reflect on my experiences working for YIFA. My first day was April 1st, so that makes it just over eight months working here, and plenty of challenges and new experiences to learn from.

The first big job that I had to contend with was the translation of the 74-page jargon-beast that is the Yasu City Guidebook. This translation work was actually a project for the year 2018-2019, but my predecessor at YIFA had to leave and go back to America very suddenly at the end of February, so he was unfortunately unable to do the work himself. Told about the work in around mid-March, before seeing the document itself I said that I would do my best to get it done by the end of the month. However, on receiving the original Japanese I very quickly realized how difficult it was going to be!

In spite of the difficulty of the terminology (especially in the tax, insurance and health chapters), and the sheer length of it, I did manage to finish an extremely rushed and mistake-laden first draft by March 29th. That meant that we technically kept our word insofar as doing the translation work, though we still didn’t look great as it still necessitated a huge amount of editing and rewriting. In fact, as I didn’t have the same programme used by the city when they made the Japanese original, I had to try my best to construct the whole document up in a similar style using Word. This all took a huge amount of time. In fact, I finished my second draft by April 9th, then with the help of Takeda-san who painstakingly checked every sentence for errors, we had a very accurate third draft finished up by the end of the month. From that point I started the very time-consuming work of rewriting it from scratch (to a similar design), and had the fourth draft ready by May 22nd. With a couple more meetings and some final editing, the final draft of the guidebook was submitted on June 7th. The final printed document was brought to us on June 12th… What an undertaking!

This was a fantastic first job to do here though. Firstly, it was great Japanese study for me! A lot of the words and phrases were either new to me, or previously learnt but lost in the recesses of my brain, but now are very familiar to me. Secondly, it was a really good way of learning about the procedures of the city hall. I occasionally get called over there (well, it’s happened about 20 times so far according to my documents) to help some foreign people with something-or-other, and although it’s sometimes tricky, I don’t feel too out of my depth, in part thanks to the background study that the guidebook translation amounted to. Finally, the rewrite in Word helped me to be much more adept at using that particular software. I’ve always just used it in the most basic way, but now am able to design things much better with it. That’s a real positive.

My second big job was the World Watching event which comprised the content of my first unread blog entry. That too was a mixed bag in terms of the success-failure duality, but was—like the guidebook—a terrific learning experience. Particularly in terms of presenting in Japanese, but also in terms of teaching myself how to use PowerPoint in a skillful way as well. Like my use of Word, I always only used PPT in a most basic way, but have taught myself how to make presentations really well through the course of this year, and especially in the course of preparing for that World Watching seminar.

Another experience that brought me technological skill was the Halloween Party in October, when I was asked to make a video to introduce the topic. I had the ideas for it, but was not confident at all in being able to put something good together. In the end, I taught myself how to use I-Movie (a fairly foolproof application thankfully), and was able to put a nice video together. I’ll be much more confident if I have to make a similar video again in the future.

Those are concrete skills that I developed and I can see the fruits of now. If I reflect back on other activities I’ve participate in, and jobs that I’ve done, there are other, slightly more vague ways in which I’ve attained professional development. I guess things like my Japanese or interpreting skills have increased throughout the year, though it’s not a readily noticeable fact.

Having previously taught for around ten years, the Guest Teacher Programme is the element of the job which I was most experienced in, so naturally that is the area which has been the most comfortable for me. There have been plenty of things that I have learnt throughout the year however. I’ve had to develop some skills related to recruitment, as we need to have volunteers to come and teach about their countries. Luckily, there are a handful of people who love joining the programme and try to be available when they can. Occasionally though, especially when there are a lot of requests at one time, and requests for multiple guest teachers at single schools, recruitment can become more challenging. On top of that I try to take into account the schools’ and volunteers’ respective preferences as well; for example, trying to get someone from a country/region specific to what children have been studying, or inviting someone who loves little kids to come and help out with a nursery school event. I think I’m getting better at all of that as I get more experienced anyway.

I must say, of all the work I do, the guest teacher programme is probably the most rewarding thing. When a group of us go to a school somewhere and have a really successful time, I feel great. Largely that’s been the feeling throughout the year, and, as I gain experience of the programme, I expect things to get better and better. To that end, I have started to make a guide pamphlet for guest teachers to help them understand what the programme entails, and a little bit of basic advice aimed at those who don’t have teaching experience.

I’ve also remade the request forms we send out to schools, as the previous ones weren’t very clear (sorry predecessors!), and have made some posters to help with recruiting volunteers. A couple of the posters are for use at specific universities from where a lot of our volunteers come (Ritsumeikan and Doshisha), and one is a simple-Japanese one to be put up in facilities around the local area. Hopefully, I’ll be able to start using them in the new year, and at least before the new academic year starts in April.

I should get back on with proper work, so will call an end to this mindless drivel now. I remember feeling very thankful to be given the chance to work here last February/ March, and one of my aims was to be mindful of that feeling the whole time; not to get frustrated or upset with any difficulties, to use everything as a good learning experience. I think I’ve done quite well on that account. Sometimes I feel a little bit of pressure with the job, but every day I'm glad (and grateful) I’ve got this chance to develop lots of different skills at work.

If anyone was to ask me what my favourite thing about my job is though, I would certainly say that it is the chance to meet so many different people. Through the sister-city exchange, our various events, the guest teacher programme, and the huge number of visitors we always have to our little office, I have met lots of new people from Japan and all over the world, some of whom I count as good friends now. That’s a real positive point of the job, and I’m sure if you asked anyone involved in YIFA, they would say that it’s these connections which are at the absolute core of the association.

OK, that’s it…I’m going to get on with work now! よいお年を~



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