Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Update on School, Work, et cetera

A friend e-mailed:
Well, it sounds like you will be Mr. Busy come April...I suspect (hope?) your prodigious web output will be diminished in the coming months as you focus on your studies and work.

Indeed, as I am now working full time and attending Japanese school full time, I am very busy these days. And no doubt probably the wisest thing to do would be to put this blog to rest for a few months until summer vacation .....But after being addicted to blogging for so long, I can't bring myself to give it up completely cold turkey. Maybe I'll gradually wean myself off.
For now I'll try and sneak in about one post a week. And probably continuing to work my way through the retrospections (I've got a bunch of those pre-written anyway).

I was going to write a long post recounting the reasons why I've ended up enrolling in this school, and all my ambivalence about where this is headed and how useful this will end up being for my future. I don't have time to write that post now, and besides much of that information was already included in this post I did back in January anyway.
I also had it in mind to write a post about my history of studying Japanese; my ups and downs and why I'm still struggling at a lower intermediate level after 6 years. But that also I don't have time to write, and besides much of that information was included in this post back here.
For now I'll just plunge right into describing my life as it is now, and leave aside the big picture questions for later.

So, yeah,...Where to start?
While, for starters, I am extremely busy. Here is my schedule for a typical day:
* 6:30--Wake up, shower, shave, breakfast, etc
*7:15--Due my best to get out of the house by about 7:15.
*8:30 It's about an hour and 15 minutes commute to the school in Beppu.
*9:00-3:10 School
*3:10--Get into my car as quick as I can and drive back to Nakatsu for work.
*4:30--With any luck, get into work at around 4:30. Have a half an hour to try and prepare a few lessons and grab dinner on the run
*5-9 Work
9:30. Get home. Eat something. Try and do some homework. Sleep.

You know, it looked fine on paper, but it's proving to be a very hard schedule in real life. For example the stress of having to wolf down just about all my meals on the run. Or having to always rush at full speed from one city to another. Or never having time for simple things like a bit of exercise in the day. Also I was told by the school I should be doing 3 hours of studying every night, and I don't really have time for that.

The weekends are not much better, because when I re-arranged my schedule with Nova I agreed to move my afternoon classes to the weekends.

I have been suffering from a huge headache when I get into work every evening. I'm not entirely sure why. It's probably just a result of studying all day, added to motion sickness in the car from zooming through mountain roads to make it back in time for work. But being of a rather paranoid disposition, I worry that it's because my aging car is spewing out too much carbon fumes or something, and I'm losing brain cells with every long drive.

I am also tired and feel sick all the time.

I've already had a couple conversations with Shoko about quitting my job, and she is strongly against it. So I promised to soldier on for another couple weeks before I brought the topic up again. I've been told by a number of people that there is a period of adjustment to a new schedule, after which your body starts to feel better and you can hack it easier....We'll see I guess.

The school I'm attending is a subdivision of Beppu University, designed for foreign students who want to be able to attend a Japanese college. The idea is that the school takes them in at whatever level they are at, and after one year of intensive study they have enough Japanese to be able to function in an academic setting. Needless to say the pace of the course is very intense.

My fellow students are mostly around 18 or 19 years old. And 90 percent of them are Chinese. They speak Japanese to the teacher of course, (and to me when they want to communicate), but among themselves there's all sorts of Chinese flying around the classroom. A Vietnamese student joked that she heard more Chinese than Japanese in her Japanese classes, and it's not far from the truth.

It's a bit disconcerting to have spent so much time and energy studying Japanese, only to find myself in a room full of Chinese students and back to square one linguistically. Especially when they're looking in my direction and chatting away excitedly and I get the distinct impression they're talking about me. (I had years ago past the point where I developed enough Japanese to listen in whenever I realized someone was talking about me, and usually get the jist of it. I had forgotten how unnerving it is not to understand at all.)

The other students are made up of a mixture of Koreans, Vietnamese, and from the Indian subcontinent. They range in ages. (Most of the Koreans I met, for example, are in their mid 20s, and I even met one student so far who was older than I am.)

I am not only the sole American, but the only native English speaker full stop. And with the exception of 2 French students, the only Westerner.

As is always the case in these international settings there are a lot of interesting people and a lot of interesting discussions take place between classes and after classes. I've met a lot of great people, and I really wish I had time to socialize with my fellow students more than I do. But because I don't have time to study at night, I spend most of the class breaks and lunch breaks doing my homework. :(...

I was talking to some Chinese students the other day, and confiding to them that I didn't have a lot of time to study outside of class, and I asked how many hours they usually studied every day. They answered they rarely studied at all, and just spend every afternoon goofing off and enjoying student life in the dormitories or around the city. At which point I really became envious of them.
...But as Shoko repeatedly pointed out to me, I already had my carefree student days once in my life, so I can't complain.
(And in fact truth be told, I've led a rather privileged life and have had more than my share of goofing off time up until now. For example the summer Japanese course I took up in Hokkaido a few years ago was during school summer vacation, and we had every afternoon we had free to explore the city and then go out to bars at night. (And that school also had a very diverse and interesting student body).)
...But alas, I always find the knowledge of having played in the past is a slight consolation for having to work hard in the present.

At the beginning of school we all took a placement test, and I managed to test into the highest class. (I guess 6 years of living in Japan haven't all been in vain). Two days later I had to drop out and go down to the intermediate class. The advanced class was a bit too difficult for me. I think I could have done it if I had my evenings free, but with no time to study at night there was just no way I could have kept up with that class.

After having tested into it, I was resentful of having to drop out of the top class just because of my stupid job. But the intermediate class moves at a fast enough clip to keep me challenged.
Indeed it is somewhat hard to gauge my level comparatively, because my Chinese classmates have a huge advantage in reading Kanji characters over me (Japanese Kanji characters originally came from China). But at the same time they are all recently arrived in Japan, and many struggle to put together even basic sentences when speaking.

My classmates in the advanced class had been reluctant to lose me, and tried to encourage me to stay in their class. I suspect this was because as the only non-Chinese student in the advanced class, I added a bit of color in the classroom for them.
In fact the conversations I have with the my fellow students are often the same sort of conversations I have with local Japanese people. "Wow, aren't you tall?" "Isn't it great that you have blue eyes?" "Can you use chopsticks?" et cetera. I guess this is all part of being a Westerner in Aisa whether you're dealing with Japanese, Chinese or Koreans.
They have also taken an unusual interest in my nutrition, and criticize my habit of always eating at lunch fast food bought at the convenience store.

Link of the Day
Amy Goodman to Speak in Grand Rapids at Fundraiser on May 10th
...Wow, first Christopher Hitchens and now this. What's with all the big names suddenly coming to town? Looks like I left Grand Rapids at the wrong time. Hope some of you still in the area take advantage of this.


inertbat said...

It's true, your body adjusts. It was easy enough rearranging my schedule to fit in another job, but like you said, actually doing it is a lot different than how it looks on paper and for the first month I regretted my decision to keep all my former lessons. Once I got into the pattern of living the schedule it was alright, but I still think about how much freer I'd feel if I only had one job.

The high school added on 4 more classes to my schedule and changed the days I have to go in, so my body is having to readjust to another schedule all over again... if it makes you feel any better to know that someone else is suffering at least a little bit too :)

paul bowman said...

Wow. Does sound like one hard slog. My guess is the income is worth some sacrifice in the long run, and generally that having to adapt to heavy imposed structure for a while will pay big dividends in managing future study/work regimens. But I hope you get a good break at the end of the term. And hope the junk food doesn't kill you before you get there!

: )

A good update — thanks.

ジョエル said...

Thank you both for your kind words.

I am beginning to feel better this week than last week. I still would like more time to study though...