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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

I'm learning too.

I’ve been busy writing songs for elementary schools. The teachers enjoy hearing the key words for their lessons in a song. The students are shy to sing out loud, but if the song has a good rhythm or movement, the kids love it. The younger the children are, the more action the song requires. I enjoy watching a song evolve with each class. Singing is a great tool for teaching a foreign language. The student may forget the words, but the action or tune will stick in their heads. Eventually, the students will want to sing the song with their classmates and maybe they will sing at home. If the parents hear a song in English…that’s great!!!

I think traditional elementary songs are boring. If I can target a song for a specific lesson, then the song is useful. The Yufuin Education Department has an open mind for new ideas and they want to give the students the best opportunity to learn English in a limited amount of time. Sharing my American culture with the students is a vital part in their understanding of English. It helps them visualize who, what, when, and where to say words and sentences. Teaching is new to me. Learning is something I have done all of my life. Maybe this perspective will be an advantage for the students since I’m trying to learn a foreign language too.   

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

My new “K” Truck

I would like to introduce my new “K” truck. I don’t know why the Japanese call it a “K” truck. As I was thumbing through the owner’s manual, I discovered something. The truck doesn’t have a hood that you can pop open to look at the engine. I asked Erika if I miss understood the manual. She couldn’t find anything about opening a hood. “So, how do I check the oil?” I asked. Simple…just pull the seat cushions out. “Say what?!” The engine is located under the seats. I ran to the truck and pulled out the seat cushions. I could look down and see the ground, bottom of the truck, and the engine. Cool! The engine is compact and I can’t believe that anyone could work on such a tiny thing. One of these days, I’ll change my oil and I’ll write a blog about that experience. The pickup truck is a 4-wheel drive with an automatic transmission. This will come in handy for driving in the snow. The bed is large enough for carrying lots of building materials, firewood, and a tandem. I might even carry my sailplanes up some of these beautiful hills in my new “K” truck. Megumi, thank you for your help and the jack will help make those snow tire changes a lot easier.

I visited my last new school today in Yufuin. It’s located way out in the countryside. It takes one hour to get there from Tsukahara, but the drive is gorgeous. I have six schools each week. This makes it hard to figure out the different schedules, memorize names, etc. Imagine trying to locate these schools without being able to read Japanese. I don’t even know how to say, “Fill it up” at the gas station. None of the streets have names which add to the fun of getting lost in Japan. I know that Erika is worried about my survival without her at my side, but somehow I seem to struggle through it. The students help to make my day run a bit smoother by asking me to join them. We may not be able to communicate by words, but gestures and patience goes a long way. The honeymoon is over and real life begins. I’m driving and working on my own in Japan…and loving it! Not bad for living in a foreign country for only 4 months, neh?  


Saturday, January 14, 2012

First Week

I’m eating lunch in the teacher’s lounge. It’s the first day at work. There are no English classes today, but I must stay until 4pm for reasons I don’t quite understand. I think it has something to do with the taxpayers complaining about teachers going home early when they should be at school teaching something. This is the first time I have spent any time in Japan without Erika at my side. It’s uncomfortable, but at the same time I feel like I’m starting a new life. The teachers sitting around me are friendly, but I can tell that they aren’t too excited about speaking to a foreigner. They look down when I approached them with a question. I understand that I might seem like a creature from Mars. Some of the students have never seen a foreigner. I get a kick out of seeing their expressions when I pass them in the hallway. Their mouths open and they run into walls or they start to giggle.

I started this post earlier this week. I’ve been to five schools and taught 8 or 9 classes. I haven’t really taught anything. I’ve been introducing myself with a PowerPoint presentation and having the students ask questions afterwards. I think the kids are interested in me and I hope they will be interested in speaking English. I’m not worried about the students. They ask me to have lunch with them and play soccer or whatever. I enjoy hearing the students call me, “Mr. Kimball”. This is new a new concept for them. In Japan, they are used to calling a teacher, “Sensei”. I wanted them to experience some American culture by calling me, “Mr. Kimball”. Besides, my official title is not a teacher; I’m an Assistant Language Teacher. The faculty at each school is also having difficulty getting used to calling me, “George” instead of “George-sensei”. The biggest challenge for the faculties is communicating with someone that does not speak Japanese. I think the Education Department is trying to force the teachers to speak English by using me as a guinea-pig. Erika has helped the teachers break through the communication barrier, but they have a long way to go. My job is to encourage the teachers to speak in English and to assist them in any way that I can. It’s easy to see how nervous they are when they try to speak, but I think the Education Department is approaching this in the right way.

I still have to introduce myself to one more school and 5 classes. I have a total of 16 classes. The grades range from Kinder to 6th. The 2nd and 3rd graders pick up the new language very quickly as they are curious about everything. The 6th graders are challenging, but with the teacher’s leadership, they are showing interest in speaking English and learning American culture.   George

Thursday, January 5, 2012


The forecasters have been predicting snow for the past few weeks and it finally happened. This morning we woke up to about 3 inches of snow. It’s nice to look at, but it can be a pain to drive in. It looks like the road crews in Japan only de-ice the toll roads. That means many of the smaller roads are covered in snow and ice. I’m not used to driving in those conditions, but I won’t have a choice starting next week. The schools I’ll be teaching at are about 40 minutes away. Some of that commute involves driving on narrow mountain roads. The Moco has 4-wheel drive and it’s fitted with snow tires. The icy roads will be a problem since snow tires are of little help on the ice. Slow and easy will be the only way to go.

The dogs love the snow. Kiley was hopping and playing the moment she stepped out of the front door. Lucky is a little faster in the snow since he has big paws. It’s fun to see them romping and rolling in the white powder. Erika hasn’t complained too much about the frigid temperatures. She’s trying to stick with her New Year’s resolutions…to be positive. I was told that the coldest months will be February and March. It’s minus 4 degrees Celsius right now. I wonder how much colder it will get.


Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Hills are Alive

To celebrate the New Year, Erika and I decided to explore some of the nearby hills with the dogs. We were unable to do so earlier because of the over abundance of ticks. I was told that the ticks disappeared when the ground froze. Sure enough, the fields were frozen and no ticks. I know that I had mentioned that the surrounding hills were beautiful to look at. Let me tell you…the scenery was breathtaking when I looked down from the hills. The pictures can’t capture what we saw and felt from the hillsides. Remember the scene from “The Sound of Music”, when Julie Andrews was singing in an alpine meadow surrounded by mountains? Well, it didn’t look anything like that, but it sure felt like it. We had a blast! I wish I could have flown my sailplane, but some things will have to wait until we are settled. Enjoy the pics…  George

Bringing in the New Year

George wanted to do something new for the first year of our new life in Japan. Since the people in the village went to the Kirishima shrine at midnight, we tried to stay up until then. Well, that didn’t work out. At 10:00 p.m., we went bed. We decided to go in the morning with the dogs.

I told George that my new resolutions in Japan are to PRAY, be POSITIVE and PRACTICAL. At the shrine, my dogs PLAY, PEED and POOED. I guess I’m already off to a difficult start for 2012. On the other hand, George has been PLEASED and PAMPERED in his PREFERRED country.

We were invited by one of the local business owners to celebrate the New Year with some foreign students. We enjoyed sharing a traditional meal with them for one hour, but we returned quickly since we were not comfortable leaving our dogs at home alone. We will have to get used to working full time and leaving the dogs. I don’t think the dogs will suffer separation anxiety…we will. The year will be full of new challenges.