Friday, August 19, 2005

My quest to be able to master chopsticks....

Immersing Oneself Into Another Culture...

I keep trying to think of ways to prepare for my trip, and I think the most important is to learn more about the culture, its customs and language. I have learned after living in Costa Rica, that one really needs to make an effort to understand the country. When I was in Costa Rica, I did not know the language at all (yes, five years of French did not come in handy!). Even though I was teaching at an American International School that spoke English, I still felt like I was being rude to the Ticos (people who live in Costa Rica- like we are called Americans!). When I first arrived I was unable to communicate with anyone who didn’t speak English. I only knew a few words and often felt like I was being inconsiderate. I did learn more Spanish while I was there (and could eventually do things such as take a cab by myself, order food, make small talk with my students and get from my city to a beach about three hours away- not big feats, but I felt like I got to know the country more this way.).

I am finding myself in the same boat with my trip to Japan. Here I am heading over to a country and not knowing too much about their language and background. I have made it my mission to try to prepare a bit more for the trip. I am happy that I know where I will be staying, because I can now start reading about the cities and the surrounding areas. I have tried to read books by Japanese authors and have poured over travel books. I think I can still learn a bit about their history, the government and more issues that are pertinent in the country. It’s often times overwhelming to learn so much about a place in a short period of time, but I have been trying.

I think one of my largest hardships (besides learning the language!) is learning how to use chopsticks! I just can’t do it! I have been practicing with almost everything I eat, and I seem to get more food on my clothes then in my mouth! I defiantly want to be good at this when I go to Japan. I remember when I worked in Boston Public and the kindergarteners (yes, kindergartners- if they can do it, so can I!) were learning how to use chopsticks. The teacher had given them M&Ms to practice with. I actually got the mini ones (which makes it harder!), and I am inspired to pick them up because no one can resist chocolate! I promise, I will be able to use chopsticks like a pro when I get to Japan!

I think it is important that I learn a lot about this country, since I am a guest there. I want to represent myself in a considerate and friendly way, and I believe that when I know more about a culture I can do that.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

A Bit More About the Experience....

The following is from the press release about my trip. It adds a little bit more insight into what I am doing and the purpose of the trip....

I will depart for Tokyo as a participant in the Japan Fulbright Memorial Fund (JFMF) Teacher program. I was selected from a national pool of over 2,500 applicants by a panel of educators to earn this honor. This program allows distinguished primary and secondary school educators in the U.S. to travel to Japan for three weeks in an effort to promote greater intercultural understanding between the two nations.

I will begin my visit in Tokyo with a practical orientation on Japanese life and culture and meetings with Japanese government officials and educators. I will then travel in a group of twenty to a selected host city (Katsuyama, Fukui) outside of Tokyo where I will have direct contact with Japanese teachers and students during visits to primary and secondary schools as well as teachers college. I will also visit cultural sites and local industries in addition to a brief home stay with a Japanese family.

The Japan Fulbright Memorial Fund, based in Tokyo, oversees all aspects of the teacher program. The program is sponsored by the Government of Japan and was launched in 1997 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the U.S. government Fulbright Program, which has enabled more then 6,000 Japanese citizens to study in the U.S. on Fulbright fellowships for graduate education and research. The Institute of International Education acts as the agency for the Japan Fulbright Memorial Fund to coordinate the recruitment and pre-departing activities of the Teacher Program in the United States.

Upon return, program participants share what they have learned about Japan with their students and communities through a variety of outreach projects.

Monday, August 15, 2005

A look into someone who has gone before...

This site was made by Travis (he wrote one of the e-mails to me). He created this site as the project that he had to create for the project. It's pretty interesting and gave me an in-depth look at what I had in store!

Travis' Site

Sunday, August 14, 2005

One more e-mail...

Well, first let me tell you that you are in for the experience of your life! This trip is so well organized and they treat you royallythroughout the whole experience. It is awesome.

Here are some random thoughts about the experience that I would share with future travelers:

1. I wouldn't bother with the business cards they tell you to get. I found very little use for them and it would not have been a problem at all if I didn't have them.

2. I wish I had packed something a little bit dressier for the banquet/receptions that we have. I took some nice jumper/blouse combos and some skirts and blouses. I threw in a pair of dockers at the las tminute and I traveled in a pair of jeans on the flight. It was very, very hot when I was there so I was going through laundry like crazy but aside from that, I really could have used a little more casual clothes and definitely take a couple of pants outfits. The day we visited the elementary school we were specifically told to wear pants. Also our sightseeing day they recommended pants and walking shoes. That was specific to our area (I went to Nikko which is awesome!) but I didn't feel like I had packed too well.

3. They only let you take one suitcase over but bring two home. I packed a suitcase inside a suitcase to go over and it worked out great. Gave mel ots of room for souvenirs coming home (I have 6 kids so there were lotsof gifts to buy.). Don't lock any of your luggage. Airport issues.

4. Take plenty of film/memory cards. I am not known for taking tons of pictures when I travel but vowed to do so on this trip. I took well over650 pictures and could have easily doubled that.

5. They set up a listserve ahead of time that I guess is good. For some reason I never got the announcement about it so missed some stuff. If it gets close to travel time and you haven't heard about the listserve - call someone and ask.

6. The exchange rate in Tokyo was better for travelers checks than for cash. I never saw that before but it is true.

7. Use your free weekend to see and do as much as you can. On Saturday I took a day trip to Kyoto with some new teacher friends and had a ball. The bullet train is expensive but Kyoto was so worth it. We were going strong all day and barely scratched the surface. They have Japan Travel set up a table in the hotel lobby to help with any travel - in or out ofTokyo - and it is really helpful.

8. Go to a baseball game if you can. They are so much fun.

9. Learn to ride the subway. It really isn't hard and it the most economical way to get around town.

10. Oriental Bazaar is a great place for nice Japanese gifts. Also the area around the shrine or temple in Asakusa is a great souvenier shopping place too.

11. If you send emails home in the hotel business center or anywhere, tryto get an English keyboard, as opposed to a Japanese one. Even though theJ apanese one can do English, it is different and I had lots of problems with it.

13. The schools visits are awesome. Each day we thought it couldn't possibly get better, but it did. Homestay weekend is good too. You have a welcome reception in your host city the first night and the host families are invited to that so you get to meet them ahead of time. Helps break the ice a bit.

14. Rest up - it is exhausting - especially the first couple days when you are so tired from traveling.

15. Follow the JFMF rules. Trust me. It just works better that way. They really have thought of everything. I am a very organized person andI was stunned at how I could just follow like a sheep. It is amazing.

I'm sure there is more but that is what comes to mind right now. This is an incredible trip. No matter how many times you hear that, you have to experience it to fully appreciate it. I have traveled a fair amount and lived overseas as an exchange student in high school and I loved every minute of this experience. I hope I can go back someday.

Please feel free to ask any specific questions you think of. I am glad to talk about it with a willing listener!

More wisdom....

Hi Rachele,

Congratulations! You will LOVE this trip!!! Another colleague of mine went in Oct....unfortunately she had some bad weather. Ours (Nov) was picture perfect!!! Only one evening of rain! Sun and warm the rest of our visit!

I used the suggestions from JFMF for packing. I probably overpacked, but I did not do laundry there like many of the others!! I purchased clothes that did not wrinkle (Chico's Travelers brand is one that another teacher bought....I just wadded up the clothes when I bought them and hung them at home to see if wrinkles dropped out before packing them.....many fabrics work great now!). I also made sure I had low pumps that were comfortable. I wore them to school several days to be sure.

Be sure to pack some extra gifts. I know it's not recommended, but we did give our prefecture guides gifts. Our group pooled what was brought and gave it as a group gift as some did not bring gifts. The schools loved receiving our gifts, too....such as pencils, CDs of our schools, etc....I brought freebies from my school district for that.

Your home stay will be wonderful. Mine was quite interesting as it was a single woman who had a German foreign exchange student (who spoke English, too!). If you can email your home stay family prior to going, do helps.

Hot Springs were wonderful for many. No one felt compelled to participate if they didn't want to. Very low key.I brought 2 pairs of slippers....didn't really need them. I imagine you might in some should be plenty. Most bathrooms have "bathroom" slippers that are plastic (one size fits all...these are shared). No big deal. Most bathrooms have at least one "Western" toilet (like ours). I only had to use a Japanese toilet once when there wasn't a Western available. The hotels are lovely!!! Even the "businessman's" hotel in Uji City, Kyoto was fine. Simple, but fine. Hotels in Tokyo and Kyoto were top-notch!

Pack some flat wrapping paper in the bottom of your suitcase along with a small roll of scotch tape. Scissors in your checked bag is helpful, too. I bought a pair in Japan (cheap enough) and brought them home.Don't obsess about gifts. Apparently, what you purchase for educational purposes does not get declared on the forms. Someone will explain this to you there. I brought back tons. In general, we were wisked through things. Some did get checked upon leaving Japan and arriving in U.S.the first time (Port of Entry).Bring some thank you cards.If you can pack an empty suitcase in one of your bags it's great for the return trip!! You'll have an extra bag to bring gifts. It's also helpful when you pack for your Riokan overnight and homestay (a small bag is needed).

I'm sure there's more I could tell you, but this seems like a lot already!!! If you have more questions....just ask.


More Words of Wisdom....

Hello again Rachele,

As I said I would, I am writing back to you with more detail of the JFMF trip.

Okay, to what you wanted info on. First of all, just to let you know where I am coming from, I am a 29 yo single teacher (math and science) used to walking about 1-3 miles a day. My small group went to Saitama City, about 1 hour outside of Tokyo. The hotel in San Fran we had a roommate from our home state (only 1 night), and the rest of the time except for the ryokan we had our room. The hotels were really nice, not sure where you are staying in Tokyo....we were at the Akasaka Prince Hotel.

1.) Get to know the subway system. This will be your best way to get around.

2.) Go to the fish market (tuna auction from 5-6am M-F)

3.) Don't take gobs of kleenex that they suggest.....unless you want to carry them around and bring them back.

4.) Don't worry about searching for western toilets. Most places had them available (even the schools).

5.) Make sure your clothes are washable, and bring laundry soap or extra shampoo to wash out underwear, bras, etc. in sink.

6.) I did not bring a laptop (one more thing to carry!), some people did. I am glad I didn't.

7.) Kinkos/FedEx are usually close or an internet cafe for email.

8.) AT&T phone cards are good for calls home, but they will debit 8 minutes from your card for every minute you talk. (that's a general international calling rule)

9.) Japan is mainly a cash economy...they don't depend on credit cards like we do. I took $800 in travellers checks, the front desk at the hotel exchanged it for yen w/o a fee. Some people brought yen with them, and they told us that they had paid exhorbitant fees. I only spent maybe $400-500 of my cash, b/c they give you yen for non-arranged dinners/lunches on the way from the airport to the hotel (about a 2 hour ride for us). SOOO...Bring a credit card..especially if you are planning on getting university credits from the program...they require you to show the card. I brought 2 cards....American Express (only a 2% markup), and VISA (3%). I used AmEx at Hard Rock Cafe for souveniers, and that was about it. CALL your card companies before you go and let them know when and how long you will be gone. When we were there, some people had VISA travellers checks, and that's when there was a problem with VISA and MC in the states....some numbers were released or something? The hotels wouldn't cash them, or the stores take the VISA card.

10.) Business cards are good, although there wasn't really a need to have them in Japanese. I did, however, have my name, school name, and title written in Japanese, but the rest in English. If anyone is going to email you or send you anything, they're going to have to write in English.

11.) The dress code for women wasn't as 'professional' as I expected. Most women wore pants/knit top to the meetings in Tokyo, and we dressed up a little more in Saitama when we went to the schools. Have at least one, possibly 2 pairs of jeans, though, for the evenings when you are on your own to find dinner, go to the 100 yen store (GREAT place for souveniers)---their version of our $1.00 store, etc.

12.) JFMF provides people who will help you with traveling, for your weekend off, and evenings. They even printed 'maps' and subway directions for various desired locations: Harajuku, Roponggi, and 100 Yen stores. They were displayed in our lobby for us to take a page.

13.) For baggage, as you know, you are allowed 1 checked luggage going to Tokyo (even though the airline's rules are different). This is because of the bus that takes you to the hotel has limited space, and when you return to the US, you are broken up into smaller groups. So....unless you don't plan on buying ANY souveniers, bring an additional CHECKABLE bag. You will be getting all sorts of things (handouts, books, etc.) from the presenters, so you will need some room in your bag. Be sure your luggage is in good shape. It will take a beating.

I can't think of much more now...when I do, I will write more.
If you have any other questions, let me know.

Have they set up a listserv for your group yet? That was a nice way to 'meet' people before we went anywhere.

Have a great school year!


Advice from those who have gone before...

This e-mail is from a teacher named, Travis, who went two years ago.

Hey Rachele, No problem.

I'll try and answer as best I can, but everybody's experiences were different, so take mine with a huge grain of salt. HUGE.

1) Did you feel like you needed to bring your computer? I'm debating whether I should or not, I don't really want to carry it around if I don't have to, but I also don't want to not have it if it's needed.It wasn't much of a problem to carry mine around - of course, "mine" was the school's, so that took some pressure of me in case I lost it. But it came in really handy for my follow-on project, which was the website. I was able to write my journals right there when they were fresh in my mind and have them saved. Of course, you could do this old school writing on paper style, but I found it easy. I felt a little worried about carrying around an expensive piece of equipment, but I felt safe, so everything went well. You don't NEED it, but it comes in handy.

2) You mentioned that you went to Kinkos to e-mail. Did you do that often? Was it expensive? Was it close to the hotel?I went to Kinko's, when I was in Tokyo, about every two or three days later in the evening (around 9 or 10 or 11 pm). It wasn't expensive, but honestly, I can't remember how much - nothing major though, considering. It's about one-two blocks from the hotel. The FMF desk will have directions to it.

3) Are business cards something that I need to get? I haven't heard that yet, and I didn't know if I needed them.If you get them now from or some place like that, they'll be relatively free (minus S&H) for something like 250. My problem is that I waited until the last few weeks and paid a ton for S&H. So get them now and they won't be too much mula. Honestly, I only gave out about five to Japanese folks, but at the end of the trip, I gave out about 20-30 to fellow FMFers. The FMF organization says you should bring about 250 or so, and if you get them now, they'll be inexpensive. I'd get them, just in case.

4) Did you walk around a lot. It seems like you did and I'm trying to decide what types of shoes I should bring (since girl's dress shoes are a bit different then men's).We walked around a ton. I brough my relatively comfortable school dress shoes and some Dr. Scholls insoles just in case, and I was in good shape. Definitely bring something comfy/dressy - not crazy dressy, but casual dressy, if that makes any sense.

5) Did you have a place to do laundry?Most of the hotel's have a service, but it's expensive, so I stayed clear of it. I did, at the end of week two, have to break down and wash my pants/shirts, but I was able to wash undies/under shirts/socks in my hotel room shower. If you can bring some polyester (like running shirts) under garments, they'll wash and dry easy, and that'll help.

6) Did you feel like you only needed the amount of clothes you packed? I'm such a pack rat and can't imagine only bringing two or three shirts. Shoot, this one is going to be hard! :)At first I thought I didn't bring enough. I only took two shirts and one dress shirt and two pair of Docker's. But it turned out to be quite enough. You end up seeing different groups every day, so they have no idea taht you haven't changed your clothes in three weeks. I brought a lot of socks/undies/under shirts and washed those a lot, but I'm glad I didn't bring lots of other stuff. You just don't need it. And at the end of the trip, when your trying to stuff all your clothes and all the stuff you end up buying or gifts your received, you'll thank yourself for not bringing tons of clothes.

7) What was the weather like? Should I pack more long sleeve types of things and sweaters? What season would you compare it to in Cleveland?We were there in Tsunami weather, so it was warm, but wet, wet, wet. My umbrella broke due to all the rain. Hard to tell if that's going to be the same for you guys, but you never know. In terms of warm clothes, I had one sport coat and ... well, that was it. I wore that when it got cold, which for us, it didn't get. It was mostly warm, so I'd compare it to ... our Spring...? Don't hold me to that though - it's a bit warm but wet. Or at least was for us.

8) Was the people on the trip a mix of ages? I'm young (I have only taught two years) and wondered if there would be other newer teachers. If you are in your mid to late 20s, and your experience is like mine, you'll be the minority. Out of the 200 of us that went last year, about 10 of us were 20-something. Most the participants are late 40s, early 50s. But they were a lot of fun, even with the big age differences. It takes some time to hook up with people, but once you do, age didn't seem to matter. That sounds beautiful, doesn't it?

Hope that helps....Travis