But Let Me Tell You More About Germany!

reverse1And I thought I was doing so well.

One month after coming back to the UK after having lived in Germany and Japan for a total of 6 years, a reverse culture tick hit me.

In the garden of a pub, I was sat with a nice guy, trying to charm him as I tend to do with nice young men. We were trying to find how compatible we are by asking each other ridiculous questions. He asked me what my favourite fizzy drink was.

“Uhm, well I’m not sure of the drinks round here but in Germany there’s this cola…”

To which he mock rolled his eyes, and poked fun at me for starting most sentences with “in Germany…” [Read more…]

My Biggest Mistake in Japan

mistake

Recently I was in a Japanese restaurant with some Japanese friends. The conversation was flowing, but then I stopped dead when I heard a certain song. It was a song I’d long forgotten, a song that took me right back to the school I worked at while I was in Japan.

I worked at a junior high school, and in Japan, all JHS students should choose one club activity. It’s fairly hardcore, and the kids have to practise their chosen activity every day – even on weekends.

When I arrived at the school, I was told there was a baton twirling group. I couldn’t believe it! Of all the schools in the prefecture, I got the one that did twirling! From the age of 7 I was a majorette in a troupe called The Sapphires. We were the top in England…though I wasn’t that good myself. The winter months were spent planning our new routines, spring would be village fetes and carnivals to hone our moves then in the summer we’d travel all over the country to competitions – most of which we won.

So to have a team right there in Japan – I could show them all our training exercises and get them to be top of their game! They’d love me forever and we’d all live happily every after, right?

Wrong.

In Japan, it’s not the level of skill that you have that matters, it’s going through the motions. So, as long as you join the club and go to the meetings, it doesn’t actually matter if you put in any effort or not. You’re there as part of the team, not to be amazing at whatever it is yourself. Proving this cultural observation of mine, there are teachers assigned to each group, but the chance of them being an expert in that activity is slim, and they rarely turn up to train the kids. The kids train each other – meaning that bad habits are passed down from year group to year group.

So I turned up to their training session on the top floor of the school to find them sitting down, copying each others’ homework, playing with their phones. I asked to see their routines, and they were technically very very good. They’d been given some great tricks to learn – some of which I couldn’t replicate later at home when I tried… But their dances were set to slow music…love songs where the beats dragged on.

April came and the 3rd graders graduated and tiny little 1st graders joined the team. I saw an opportunity to start a new training regime and to oversee them practise so I could pick out any bad habits they were learning. The kids hated it. They hated me butting into their ‘downtime’, they hated me trying to change things, they hated the music I was suggesting for their dances. They just wanted to sit down with the team and chill out for a bit – even while the school’s famous sporting teams were showing dedication by training really hard outside the window.

I tried to show them videos of other Japanese baton groups who are just spectacular. I thought maybe they’d be inspired and want to be like them. They said that those girls were different. They were just country girls so they would never be as good as that. Then they went back to playing with their phones.

Around the time of me being exhausted trying to think of ways to make the girls be more passionate about baton twirling, some nasty bullying happened. A nasty 1st grader girl was picking on a slightly eccentric teammate. The bullied girl stopped coming to practice, and then stopped coming to school all together. I was fuming. As someone who suffered with bullying, I spotted the signs early on and told the Japanese teacher in charge. She said to leave it be, and the girls will sort themselves out. Of course, that didn’t happen and I felt rotten that a little girl was missing out on an education just because this wasn’t sorted out earlier, and more so that there was nothing at all being done about it. As a foreign teacher, I had no right to discipline the kids and I wasn’t even meant to be left in a room with students without a Japanese teacher there (though this rule was conveniently forgotten each time the Japanese teacher was sick and I was asked to lead classes alone).

The mistake that I made with my experience with the baton twirling group was that I, as a foreigner, can’t just come in and project onto the kids the things that I assume people strive for. In the west, we are taught to be the best that we can be. I am proud to say that I was in the top English majorette group, and I trained hard in my garden every night to try to be as good as the other girls. In Japan, they are taught to be a team. As long as they were together at the right place at the right time, even doing the least amount of work possible to qualify for that activity, then that’s OK.

I also can’t assume that education works the same all over the world. Bullying is dealt with seriously in the UK, but it isn’t in Japan. Me standing over a Japanese teacher tattle-telling on a spiteful girl won’t make Japan change its stance on how to deal with bullying. They are in charge of their own country’s children and I should treat this with an open mind, even when kids are staying home from school because of it.

I did a lot of good for the team, as well. After me prompting and then preparing them, they performed at the summer festival in the village, and were simply wonderful. Two of my favourite girls performed a duet and even pushed themselves to do much more difficult moves than they’d previously tried – which they aced on stage without a single baton dropped. They also performed at the local old peoples’ home, showing that just because they themselves chose the baton team to get out of much harder sports, they can still use their skills to make other people happy.

We expats go about the world and take with us ideas of how things should be, and what is right and wrong. It takes some failure to realise that you have to relax these jerk reactions in response to things that you think are wrong. And we can’t go into things like a bull in a china shop, as I did. This was my biggest mistake in Japan.

 

The JET Programme

 

** Another post copied over post from Sherbet and Sparkles! Enjoy! **

This week I went to dinner with a nice American girl. I’d helped her a little in her application to the JET Programme, and she got in.

I like to help people with the JET applications in my spare time. I had a lot of help when I applied, and so I like to give back. Also, I just like that satisfaction you get from knowing you helped someone out.

So what is JET? Most people think it stands for “Japan English Teaching” but it’s actually “Japan Exchange and Teaching”. The Japanese government spends a lot of money sending young people from all over the world to live in the Japanese countryside, to live among Japanese people who would never get to see a non-Japanese person  otherwise, while teaching in the local schools. I was on the JET Programme for 2 years.

I had always wanted to be on JET. I first encountered Japanese people when I did an exchange in my town with one of the Keio middle schools when I was 13. I thought those kids were amazing – I’m still good friends with some of them today. My Japanese teacher (because I would not shut up until my parents let me study it in the evenings) told me about the programme, and I had my heart set on it from that day forward.

Applying to JET is a rollercoaster of emotions. You need to write an essay, then you have an interview, then a police check – but that’s not all! You don’t know if you’ll get on the programme until around this time in the year (for a July departure) and you won’t know which area you’ll go to until June, in some cases.

I sat there across from my friend this week and I could see all the same emotions in her that I had 3 years ago. I’d been to Japan twice before – the second of which was for a year as an exchange student – so I imagine she was feeling even more nervous than I was. But I was so excited for her. I was bouncing on my chair telling her how she’ll be the star of her town, how the kids will be amazing, how the food will make her fat, but happy…

So why did I quit?

Well, there is a downside to JET. In preparation, I had done a joint degree in Japanese and teaching English. I had also had experience teaching English. I was ready and raring to rock the classroom. But you can’t as an Assistant Language Teacher. Well, not in junior high schools, at least. My job was to, if I was lucky, make 15 minute activities that couldn’t be too creative and at other times I stood in the classroom and was a living cd player. Why wasn’t I happy with the activities? Well, it really depended on the teacher and the class. Some classes were awesome – I remember doing a gap-fill exercise to The Beatles’ Hello Goodbye. The kids LOVED it. It was creative, used real English and wasn’t a textbook. Other times I was not so lucky.

The textbook had a section on how to take a train. It had a small map with stations called “Plum Station”, “Flower Station” and “Sunshine Station”. This was for 16 year olds. I was asked to do an activity based on this, so I started off working through these pages, and teaching things like “take the Apple Line to Plum Station, then change to the Banana Line”. This worked well. Then I whipped out a REAL LIFE map of the london underground. I had simplified it to a handful of stations and had written how to say the stations in katakana. The teacher wasn’t happy. The students did their best, but they just don’t experience real English. It was using all the same terms as we had just practised, just with real life stations. If it’s not in a textbook, the teachers don’t think it’s useful and the kids get scared and don’t try to understand it.

My opinions were not valid in the school, my experience and skills were not touched upon. And moreover, the other teachers in the school practically ignored me. I understand Japanese perfectly fine, but they spoke to me in a mock foreign accent… They made me so angry.

However, the students were angels and I love every single one of them. That’s why I went back to see their graduation last month. Even the kids who were little monkeys were sweet. One little boy in the first grade (11 years old) would come up to me every morning and say, in English, “Charlotte-sensei, I have a hangover!!” I’d reply with “OH NO! What was it this time? Beer? Whiskey?” While he would nod enthusiastically and choose which drink he had “drank”. Another girl named Airi was particularly close to me. She was a loud mouthed drama queen – always screeching about this and that and creating a scene. She dyed her hair and rolled her skirt up, and the teachers said she was a lost cause. Do you know what? I’ve dyed my hair since I was 12, I sure rolled up my skirt when I was younger, and teachers have also called me a lost cause (the one that sticks most in my mind is my A Level French teacher who told me I am “just not cut out for languages – if French is too hard then Japanese will be impossible”.) I wasn’t going to let her fall behind. I knelt by her desk when I was in her class and explained stuff to her one on one until she got it. And do you know what? I think she was one of the brightest kids in there. It’s just that when I wasn’t in the room, no one tried with her and so she didn’t try to study.

Look at this long post… I could talk for days on my JET experiences. If there happen to be people out there applying, I would be glad to write a post on how to prepare and so on. But I think I should make more posts about the cute things students wrote and drew for me. While looking back in my old folders I came across a stash 🙂

How Many of These German Expat Mistakes Have You Made?

German Expat Mistakes

I’ve written a lot about how wonderful it is to live as an expat in Germany, but today I’d like to flip and talk about the mistakes new expats can make here. Especially to other Europeans, coming to Germany is so easy. We don’t need any visa or much planning at all and as long as we’re registered to live here when we get here, it’s all good.

BUT there are things that can go wrong…

  1. Register as Christian

A lot of British people, as well as American people (I assume) would say that their religion is generically Christian. It’s the default option because a lot of people grew up in Christian education and culture. I myself went to Christian primary and middle schools and although I went through a short spell of taking my little sister to church every week when she was curious, I’ve never been one for actually going to church. I am Christian by culture, not by religion, I guess.

So when you come to Germany and, when registering, you’re asked what religion you are, should you say that you are Christian? Well, maybe not. If you do, you will have to give money from your wages (around 9% of your salary) every month to the church. Of course, if you are church-going, and are very serious about being Christian, then this is no problem. But for lazy Christians like myself, this is probably not something we want to do.

  1. Phone contract

How long are you planning to stay in Germany? If you are there on a whim and are trying out a new job I advise you to refrain from getting a phone contract. German phone contracts usually last for 2 years, and you have to inform the company 3 months in advance at the end of the contract if you want to end it. If you do not do this, it automatically rolls over another year.

Canceling the contract when you move back home is a pain in the bum. There are loads of horror stories about people who have been given trouble when they try to do this, but luckily, (TOUCH WOOD) it’s been OK for me so far. I first sent a letter to O2 informing them that I will be going home in June. Next, I’ve had a string of emails back and forth giving them various bits of information. After this, I should pay the remaining 300 euros for my actual mobile phone. Then, in the last week of me being in Germany, I’ll send them the confirmation from the town hall that I have deregistered.

It’s all so much faff that I wish I’d just been pay as you go the whole I’m I was here.

  1. Downloading

Now you’re in Germany, you can’t catch up with your favourite shows from home any more, so you switch to downloading them, right? WRONG!

Germany is VERY strict with downloads so there is a much, much higher chance of people who use torrents getting caught and having to face a large fine. It’s happened to two people I know, and even the whole “only downloading, never uploading” doesn’t seem to work.

There are lots of legal ways to watch things these days – I know a lot of people who pay for things in the iTunes and so on. Some people also use a proxy to watch the BBC iPlayer and so on, which is still dodgy, but not enough to get you in trouble.

Extra – TV Licence

I’ve put the German TV licence – GEZ – as an extra because there are two ways to go about this. In Germany you should pay the GEZ for a TV licence even if you don’t have a TV – even owning a radio, computer or mobile phone counts. But this has changed recently and you are to pay it just by existing here. When you register here in Germany, GEZ will be given your address and they will start asking you to pay.

Some people say they have never paid this, and tell you to ignore the letters and to refuse the GEZ people entry to your home. Other people just pay up, as it’s our responsibility living here in Germany. They can, however, get it wrong sometimes as even though I replied to their initial letters saying that my flatmates pay a cover for the whole flat and that I should not have to pay, they are still sending me scary-looking letters demanding money.

I don’t have an answer for this one, but Toytown has extensive information on their forums about it, so if you are worried about this then please have a read.

What German expat mistakes have you made? Are there any that I’ve missed off my list?

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