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Reflecting on the Year Past

This blog comes after an extremely long break indeed! In spite of all the coronavirus related restrictions, I’ve been very busy here over the last few months. Over the second semester we visited a lot of schools with the guest teacher programme, both for English classes and for traditional culture-based lessons. Considering the schools being closed for a couple of months at the beginning of the academic year, and the understandable reticence from nursery schools to hold events involving guests, we were hugely active over the past year. In fact, thanks to our being able to join English classes this year, we had our most active year ever!

Over the past few weeks, I have been looking over the data for past years with regards to the guest teacher programme to analyse any trends that exist, and look at ways to improve our activities. It turns out that we have been much more active over the past couple of years particularly, but as part of an overall trend: In 2016-17 we made 23 visits with the programme. That increased to 28 in 2017-18, then 33 in 2018-19. Last year we made as many as 49 visits; a number which increased to 53 this year gone. Unfortunately, due mainly to Covid-19, we were only able to hold an event at one of the nursery schools last year, as opposed to the average of over 6 in previous years. This is something we can hopefully rectify in the coming year, as I feel these visits are among the most important that we do. Although we don’t directly teach anything to the children, they gain a valuable experience in meeting people from other countries, and discovering that the world is a much bigger place than they thought.

Another thing to consider is the frequency of English classes that we have joined over the past two years. In the two years prior to my joining YIFA, English classes comprised only 12 percent of the overall total, but this jumped to 41 percent last year, and up to 75 percent in the year just gone. Last year, I was very happy to join the English classes in addition to the regular guest teacher visits, as I viewed it as a positive chance to let students meet lots of different guests, and to motivate the students to want to speak English more. I became extremely busy in 2019-20, especially in the second semester, but I was glad with the work we did in the guest teacher programme. Last year though, as the schools were closed at the beginning of the year, and the academic schedule became very stretched and schools were forced to prioritise ‘subjects’ above activities, we compromised by joining a huge number of English classes in lieu of regular guest teacher visits. We made the most of these visits, introducing various cultures at the beginning of the classes, and actively engaging in class activities for the remainder of the time, but, overall, the objective of our programme is better suited to the regular visits (i.e. ones where we have much longer, and can feel comfortable using Japanese). This year, due to some strange budgeting reasons (not well explained to me!), we had some classes at the end of the year cancelled due to going over an apparent threshold that had been set. This has created an issue in terms of the number of English classes we join next year, as, if we join too many, it means that will have a consequence in terms of how many regular guest teacher classes we can deliver. Therefore, I may have to set a limit on the number of English classes we join to make sure that doesn’t happen. The aim of the guest teacher programme is to increase international awareness after all, not to fill in gaps in English education. There is also another apparent issue of some nurseries which we have never visited (in the past 5 years at least!). If possible, we’d like to visit all the educational facilities across Yasu, so that’s something to think about too. Anyway, I’ll finish analysing the data before making my final conclusions.

Aside from the guest teacher programme, we have held some other events over the winter, such as a World Watching event about the Dominican Republic, presented by a Japanese volunteer who had lived there for a year. It’s usually better to have someone from the country in question, but our speaker on that day was a very good one, and everybody who attended learned a lot and enjoyed the event. Over the past few weeks, we have also been holding the winter Tea Party events too, which are always good fun and a nice chance to meet new people. Last year the winter events were a bit less popular than the summer ones for whatever reason, and I guess with worries about Covid-19, as well as some bad weather on the day of the first one, reduced numbers were to be expected. The first tea party was probably the most enjoyable one from my perspective; there were only six Japanese guests, and as many as 5 foreign guests, so adding myself, we sat 2 each to a table and were able to really enjoy chatting together. The next event had a few more participants (12 Japanese, 4 foreign residents), but it was still a nice small-scale event, and the atmosphere was very nice again. We’re expecting similar numbers for tomorrow too according to the current list. It’s definitely better for everyone when the event is kept a little more intimate, so that’s something to consider for the summer when numbers tend to get a bit higher.

On top of the events, I’ve had a lot of interpreting work over the last couple of months as well. There generally is a lot of help needed as we get towards the end of the fiscal year, with people moving jobs and homes, and I was glad to help a few residents with various procedures as and when needed. I had to make a number of dreaded phone calls too (not a comfortable thing to do in one’s second language!) to various gas, electric and insurance companies, as well as helping someone with their tax returns (long story short: I had no idea, so we went to a consultation and let that guy do it all for us!). Anyway, we were supposed to have a lot less of the interpreting and translating work this year (April-March), as city hall have been trying to make us of a new tablet-based multilingual interpreting system, but I personally have responded to 76 requests up to now. The interpreting system is a huge benefit to the foreign people in Yasu, particularly those who don’t speak English or Spanish (languages spoken by our office staff), but sometimes, especially when it comes to filling in documents, or things of a more personal nature (e.g. medical checkups, things related to money), people prefer the human touch. Hopefully next year, we can continue to support the foreign residents of Yasu.

We are already looking forward to next year now, and have been putting the final touches to our annual schedule. Unfortunately, but inevitably, we won’t be able to visit America this year either, but we are trying to think of somethings to do that can keep the sister-city relationship alive. At the moment we are considering whether some sort of school-based exchange programme might be feasible, and I also like to idea of sending a gift to our friends there. Hopefully we will have something concrete decided before too long. Anyway, as I won’t be going to Michigan in the beginning of July, I have had to think up an additional event to hold at that time. I have decided to give a series of classes on how to discuss Japanese culture in English. I think it could be an interesting event and it also makes use of my university specialism (BA Japanese Culture; MA Japanese History) too which is always a bonus!

I don’t have too much scheduled for what remains of this month, but in a couple of weeks I will hold an emergency rescue training event to help firefighters to be able to support foreign people at times of emergency. We do this on an annual basis, but unfortunately this year we won’t be able to do an actual drill outdoors (too much close contact), so will just make do with the classroom environment. Either way I’m sure it will be a benefit to the firefighters who attend. I’ll write more about our activities as we move into April. We’ll be having our general meeting in April 18th, where our budget and plan for the year will be officially decided. Then it will be full steam ahead! Thanks for reading, Phil.



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