Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Back again

I've been out of the blogosphere for the last week, mostly due to my laptop being in the shop for repairs. It was overheating playing Age of Empires 3 and the speakers had been broken for a while. I suppose if I'd been desperate to write I could have done it through my iPad, but I got frustrated dealing with the smaller screen.

Anyway, in the week I've been away I managed to finish my CELTA pre-course task (took me a while, but I got there) and I went to a meeting on Saturday because I'm doing a Creative Writing course with the Open University, starting in October. Should be fun.

Also, I've had a lot of driving lessons recently. Before the end of August, I'd never driven a car before, and I didn't even understand the basic principles involved. Now I'm cruising along merrily, at least until I change gear too fast and stall the car with a queue of traffic behind. This week we started on three point turns, which may be a bit of a mental block for me. Too many things to think about at once.

Also, I got a pinboard onto which I have stuck my Creative Writing course schedule and a weekly planner in the hopes that it'll get me on track with the various things that need doing. I'll see how that works out. I've cleared my desk of most of the unnecessary items and turned it into more of a work space.

Productivity, here I come.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Terminal Procrastination

As I mentioned in the last post, I'm learning to drive. I had my first lesson a few weeks ago. Next week I'm sitting my driving theory test.

From the 11th of October I'm starting my CELTA course. Before I start I have to read up on stuff and learn everything about grammar that I didn't know during the interview.

I haven't mentioned this before, but I'm also starting a course with the Open University in October on Creative Writing. This one lasts until next June, and I'll have coursework to do while the CELTA course is going on. There's a lot of reading and thinking about ideas that needs doing.

And here I am, doing nothing.

In fairness, I have done a fair bit of preparation for the theory test. But that's probably the easiest part of what I have to do. The problem is that when I have a lot of things I know need doing, I end up starting none of them. And playing computer games instead.

Sometimes, the efforts I go to to avoid procrastination are in themselves a form of procrastination. "I procrastinate because I don't have whiteboard markers to write down what I have to do on a whiteboard, which will make all the difference." So I wait until I have whiteboard markers. Procrastination. Then I have whiteboard markers, but suddenly the whiteboard seems insufficient so I need a pinboard. Order one on amazon, and in the meantime, procrastinate.

Then, when I've run out of excuses, instead of doing the things I'm supposed to be doing, I'll blog about not doing them. Procrastination on the subject of procrastination.

It has to stop. Not the blogging, necessarily, but the excuses. I'm back in the real world, now, and it's time to get real.


Pope's in town

The Pope started his trip to the UK today in Scotland, landing here this morning at about 10.30. I had a driving lesson from then which I wasn't sure was going to happen, what with traffic diversions and whatnot, but the roads were actually quite clear. I was near Holyrood Palace - the Queen's official residence in Scotland - yesterday, and it was surrounded by security and media. This morning, the man himself was there and gave a speech after being given a tour by the Queen.

I was looking through some of the stuff in my cupboard after I came back from Japan and there's some things in there that are from when I was at primary school. In primary six or so we were learning about Europe and each of us had to do a project about one of the member states of the EU. I chose Italy since I seem to have that ancestry, and I made a tissue picture of the Pope (perhaps not knowing that the Vatican City is an independent state). When I found this picture, it struck me that it looks a lot more like the current Pope than it does of Jean Paul II, who was obviously the Pope at the time. See what you think:

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Fish and Chips

I had fish and chips from the chip shop last week. Or, I should say, I had a fish supper from the chippy. Supper means with chips. I realised that I hadn't actually had this trademark item since before I first moved to Japan. Three years without a chippy (chippy also refers to food that comes from the chippy). Anyway, here it is:

Friday, 10 September 2010

CELTA is win

I had my CELTA interview today. I passed, though it seemed like you would have had to have given them cause for concern for them not to offer you a place.

We had to do a short test at the start, which tested your sense of the language and also knowledge of the names of tenses. I didn't do too well on that front, but we were told that most people didn't; these were the things we needed to be confident of by the time the course started. There was also some spelling to correct and we had to write a response to the statement, "You don't need a teacher to learn a language, only a grammar book and dictionary."

After finishing our tests we were asked a few questions, but it never felt like being grilled, as job interviews often do. Then we had to do a short teaching session with something we'd prepared. I brought my friend's Perudo set and taught them that. It's a dice game (also called "Liar's dice") and after that we had to assess our own performance.

Finally, we had to spell ten words read out by the interviewer, then write the correct punctuation of ten sentences. I got 19/20 for putting an apostrophe in "1920s" - fool that I was. I knew it felt wrong, but as the lady said, you see it written incorrectly all over the place.

After being given the opportunity to ask questions, we were told we were okay to go on the course if we wanted and so we paid our deposits.

We were warned, however, that the course is very intensive, and in addition to the 9-5 of the classes, we would have between eight and and twelve hours a week planning our forty-minute lesson slots that we would be doing every other day.

Expect much blogging on this subject when the course starts on the 11th of October. At 10am.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Steve update

I got up earlier than usual today and as I was rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I caught my first glimpse of Steve for a couple of weeks. This time he was going from right to left, apparently heading back the way I usually see him come. As soon as I saw him, I grabbed my camera, but by the time it was on and ready, he'd already jumped over the wall into the neighbour's garden. I got close to the window and pointed the camera at the gap between two bushes where he would have to pass through, but apparently he noticed me, and stopped to stare at me for a while from a small gap between two other bushes.
You can just espy him behind the black pole. I was a little creeped out by his staring. I didn't think he would be able to see me since he'd already passed through our garden. When he finally moved off I got another unsatisfying snap of his retreating form.
I'm determined to get a good shot of him someday.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

How to get on the JET Programme Part One - The Application

I thought it was about time I posted something useful.

It's September, which means in a month or two the application forms for the JET Programme year 2011-2012 will become available. JET is a potentially life-changing experience, but it's not the easiest thing to get on. True, some are lucky and get through the process with little difficulty. Based on what I know from my own application experience and what I learned from meeting the other JETs in Japan, I'm going to give some tips for the first stage - the application. Some of the advice will only be relevant to those applying to be an ALT, but much of it applies to anyone looking for a place on the JET Programme

1. The Application form
The JET Application form is very long and detailed. Here's a link to one from last year.
Going in order, then.
i. Placement
The form lets you choose three prefectures or designated cities in order of preference. I wouldn't worry about this too much. Very few people get a placement that's anywhere near what they asked for, but you shouldn't worry about that either. Most often, people request to be placed in places they've heard of, or visited before. These tend to be famous towns and cities, and there are so many people who want to go to these places that very few can get their wish. My advice is either to choose where you really want to go, prepared for the possibility that you wont be allowed to go there or - and I think this is the smart option - research lesser-known prefectures and put down a place that sounds interesting. I was placed in Tokushima Prefecture which wasn't among my choices and seemed really out of the way, but it was only two hours on the bus from Kobe and Osaka, and the Prefecture is the home to Japan's biggest dance festival, which I've also heard is the second largest dance festival in the world next to the Rio Carnival.
The form also asks if you'd rather live in an urban, semi-urban or rural environment. Now, rural Japan can be very isolated, and while the scenery can be stunning, you should remember you may be the only foreigner in the local area. It takes a particular kind of person to take on that challenge. Not to say, again, that you will necessarily get the kind of area you requested, but if you choose rural, because of the huge number of rural placements available against the smaller number of inner-city placements, you are more likely to end up in one of them.

I should note that if you have good reasons for wanting a placement - a spouse or dependent in that prefecture, for example, you are far more likely to get it. The only people I know who got their choice of prefecture were married to Japanese women from that prefecture.

ii Teaching Background
A lot of people on the JET Programme are passionate about teaching, want to be full-time teachers, or are already teachers in their home countries. Some have done a TEFL course, but most haven't. What I'd say here is that, as you would expect, any relevant experience or qualifications will be useful, but you shouldn't worry if you don't have a lot. In my case, I took part in a student support scheme where students from my university were placed in local high schools to help in classes. I did it the semester I was applying for JET so I'd have something to put down. Maybe it worked in my favour. If there's something you can do, even at the last minute, so you can put it on your form, it's worth considering.

iii International/Intercultural Experience
I think this is probably at least as, if not more important than teaching experience. One of the purposes of the JET Programme, as written in its charter, is to promote grassroots international understanding. I was a member of the Japan Society at my university. I also visited Japan for two weeks, two years before I applied for JET. That was about the extent of my experience, but it showed that I had a strong interest in Japan and, more importantly, went there for a while and came back wanting to go again. One of the things that concern the people who look over the applications, and who interview you if you pass this first stage, is the possibility that you'll get sent to Japan, find out you can't cope with the climate, the food or whatever, and have to go home. They lose thousands in plane tickets and other fees when this happens. These are the things to bear in mind while applying.

iv Japanese
There are plenty of people who go on JET that have zero language experience. It's perfectly fine to say you're a beginner in all areas of the application form, but showing an effort to learn will obviously do no harm. I'd been learning through evening classes and self-study for a couple of years before applying, and when I got to Japan I studied most of the time I was there.

That's about it as far as the application form goes. Just...don't lie, obviously. It may come back to bite you.

2. Personal Statement
I don't have much to say on this subject. Most people who apply for JET come from Arts degrees rather than sciences, so should know how to write an essay, and even if I was qualified to tell you how to write the perfect one, it would probably take a whole book to do so. All I can say is that when you write something like this, it's about selling yourself, making yourself sound better or different than everyone else, and making your education and life experience seem like it was geared from the start towards applying for the JET Programme. Make every paragraph do its job. Make it clear why you think everything you've done would help you if your application was successful. If you have too much experience to fit the space you have, choose the best and most relevant pieces.
Anyone reading this who wants more specific advice on the personal statement can comment or email me.

3. Other Preparation
There are a lot of things you have to get sorted out before you're ready to send your application. Make sure you leave plenty of time to get academic transcripts, proof of degrees etc. and ask for your references well in advance. In my case, I got references from two tutors of courses I was taking that semester. I'd never had these tutors before (and never did again) so they didn't know me so well, but I asked them in advance and they gave me the references after I'd handed in essays to them, as well as my personal statement. When you have everything you need, of course send the thing off early enough so you don't have to worry about it arriving on time. The person I got to write my second reference did so a little late, so I ended up sending by (expensive) next-day guaranteed postage.

So there you have it. A brief but I hope useful guide to the first stage you need to pass to get on the JET Programme. If you pass this stage - and as far as I know, most candidates with at least some relevant experience do - then you'll get an interview in January or February, which is the real challenge. More on that later. Please leave comments or questions, or you can send me an email.

CELTA Update

After much email wrangling and getting nowhere, and time ticking away until what happened last month seemed doomed to repeat itself, and the October course filled up before I got a chance to interview for it, I did the sensible thing. I went to the office in person. Should have done it a lot sooner. Now I have an interview on Friday at 3.

I think sometimes I avoid having to deal with people directly and use email for that purpose. It's a bad habit and I should try to get out of it.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

The Fabulous Bacon Boy

We get bacon from a delivery boy now.

Well, not all our bacon. But it's only natural to have bacon needs that the major supermarkets can't fulfil. Actually, I'm not sure why my mum has decided to get bacon from the bacon boy. Maybe it's just a way to support a local entrepreneur.

Anyway, last Wednesday my mother was going to see Alexander McCall Smith in the Edinburgh book festival, so she left me in charge of getting our unsmoked back bacon and giving him the money, if he were to stop by while no one was in. This was just in case he came round - he was supposed to be there on Tuesday. Anyway, I completely forgot about the bacon boy very quickly. Let's call it a freak brain malfunction. Thus early on Wednesday evening when the doorbell rang, I assumed it was a door-to-door cavity wall insulating company and didn't get up to answer it. But I went to the front window upstair to catch a look of whoever it was as they were leaving. When I saw what looked like a teenaged boy in a white coat with a bucket (o' bacon!) I realised my mistake.

My mind works in weird ways, sometimes. I can be entirely ruthless and detached at times, and at others I get stupidly emotionally involved. As I watched as the bacon boy walked down the road, glancing back just in case someone had taken their time in coming to the door, I started to feel really guilty. What if this poor boy needed the bacon money to pay his way through university? What if my failure to buy his bacon led to the collapse of his business? Such things I think. But then, in an effort to make myself feel better, I remembered that he was supposed to come on Tuesday. That'll teach you, Bacon Boy! Come when you're supposed to! Still, the guilt remained.

This week, with my parents away on holiday, once again bacon buying duty fell to me. I was determined not to make the same mistake twice. However, a hitch occurred to me when I realised that my second ever driving lesson was scheduled right around the time would have been due - between 7 and 8 on Tuesday. Emily suggested I leave a note on the front door to the effect of, "I'm not in right now, but don't give up on us, Bacon Boy!". I ended up being too much in a rush to leave a note, but it didn't matter, anyway. The Bacon Boy came this evening.

I was looking out the front window because the ice cream van was there (there was always an ice cream van when I was growing up but I didn't remember there being one for years) and I wanted to see how much business it did. And there, coming along the street, with shoulder-length hair and unshaved lip-fuzz, was the Bacon Boy. Hooray for the Bacon Boy! I ran to get the money my mum left and went to answer the door.

When I answered the door, the Bacon Boy didn't say anything. He just sort of stared at me, or behind me, I couldn't quite tell. I assumed he was wondering where my mother was. She had, after all, been the authority in the house vis a vis bacon purchasing, so I explained that the parents were away. He still didn't say anything about what he was giving me, or even asking what I wanted, so I started to wonder if he was a bit special. So I just told him what it was that I thought my mum would buy and he finally responded and gave me the price when I asked. When I gave him the money and the goods were handed over, he finally looked at me, and at my hoodie, and asked, "Is that a Fullmetal Alchemist top?" Aha! The weird looks and silence are kind of explained. So we chatted about Fullmetal Alchemist and I told him that I'd been living in Japan for the last three years. His response was, "That is so cool." Finally, recognition!

He left, saying that Wednesday was now the day for bacon, and I was left feeling much better about the whole business.

This was about twenty minutes ago. Who says you need time to reflect before writing about the really life-changing events?