Something nice and cheerful to start the year… oops…

Hello and Happy New Year! As you may be able to deduce from the date of my last entry, it has been a while. Also, I am no longer in Japan, I actually ended up quitting JET and returning home early because… Well, because. It’s actually what I want to blog about today.

Some people are born with depression but the symptoms are not always constant; they become more distinct in certain stages of our lives. I was an anxious and sensitive child but only started to struggle with depression as a teenager although at the time I level headedly put it down to puberty; it has only been since looking back that I have realised there was probably a little more going on. Once I went away to University my self esteem and confidence dramatically improved so much so that I applied for JET in my third year (whereas in my first year there had been a chance to study in America for six months and I didn’t bother applying because I just assumed I wouldn’t be good enough).

But then in the last two years the symptoms came back and gradually worsened. It was only when it started to affect my work that I knew I could not stay in Japan, certainly not for a fifth year. I wanted to, more than anything. I loved my home and my schools, teachers, students, friends and how every day had the potential to turn into an adventure from trying a piece of unknown raw fish to driving from Tokyo to Fukuoka in a night! My time in Japan really showed me what I was capable of and even during some of my darkest days, a pizza night with fellow JETs or a student saying, “I ラブMiss Emirii” could still make me smile. Japan was exhausting but was not the cause for my mental illness. I feel like that is important to say. It was not culture shock or the day to day stuff of being a foreigner in a foreign country but depression made that existence too hard to cope with.

The young woman who was helping organise conferences and giving presentations, who chaperoned Japanese students to Texas twice, who could make a fifty minute lesson out of a worksheet, a blackboard and one minute’s notice would come home every night and hate herself. I dreaded being on my own but at the same time that was all I wanted. I was comfort eating, self harming, having panic attacks (there was a phase where my legs would just seize up so I couldn’t cycle to work!), sleeping badly but also too much… Some mornings, I couldn’t get up. Sometimes I would look in the mirror and not recognise myself. I would look around at the stunning scenery (Karatsu is surrounded by mountains and beaches) and feel nothing. And honestly, that’s putting it lightly.

I started Skype sessions with an American psychiatrist working in Japan. Things did not work out with him in the end but I still remember the day I called him, how much it felt like spotting a lifeboat at sea. He confirmed that I was ill and it was such a relief to finally believe that it was not my fault. That’s one of the worst things about depression, the shame you feel. A normal person with a loving family and a good life who could not even go to the corner shop; “Pathetic,” I would call myself. “Tired,” I call myself now.

As I started combating my illness, I began to perceive it as a trick; like a trick of the light it was a trick of the mind. Winston Churchill described his depression as his black dog and one of my favourite quotes of his is, “I know why logs spit. I know what it is to be consumed.”  Giving depression a shape separated it from myself. I don’t think I could ever settle with a dog being the bad guy though, they’re too darn amazing, so mine just looks like some weird underworld gremlin demon thing. A bit like that painting they use in the TV series, ‘The Fall’.

Anyway, I perceived it as a trick, as a parasite, I guess. What I did not consider though, was that sometimes, things are just hard. Sometimes, feeling upset and stressed are perfectly rational responses to the circumstances you find yourself in. Also, some people are just plain mean. Basically, something occurred that resulted in a breakdown and I blamed myself and being too ill but actually, it didn’t have a lot to do with my depression. I was only able to see it that way once I returned home and started receiving counselling on the NHS. My counsellor was an amazingly kind person and just gave me step by step methods to rationalise and combat negative thinking. I had been on a cocktail of anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medicine when I was in Japan but none of it did half as much good as the small amount of CBT I received back in the UK. I am still taking anti-depressants but just one pill a day instead of six! I honestly think both medication and talk therapy are essential to fight depression. It’s a hard decision for people though, sometimes because of pride, sometimes because of fear. It took a long time for me to seek help because I was afraid that the professional would tell me that there was nothing wrong with me. It was quite a strange feeling but I guess I preferred to live in hope that it could be a disease than to live with the shame of knowing I was weak.

It has been about seven months since I left Japan. I miss it and sometimes I feel guilty about quitting. Then I remember where I was and where I am now mentally. I do not think that depression can ever be cured but it can be handled. I can handle it now much better than I used to because I have the tools and the means to do so. It does not dominate my life anymore and my Resolution list has expanded from just the one resolution (stay alive) to fourteen! Things like ‘Lose weight’ and ‘Join a choir’ actually feel like challenges I can take on now.

Of course, there are some people without whom I could not have got through the last few years. So to them, a huge thank you for the shoulders to cry on, the TV drama recommendations, the hands to hold, the cups of tea, the no-questions-asked-understanding when I could not manage a social gathering, the support that enabled me to not only go home early but also to bring my beautiful dog, Tuuli, with me and so much more. Mental illness cannot easily be treated with a plaster or a kiss on the place that hurts; it is complicated and confusing and one thing that works one day may not work the next but your words of comfort, your hands, your help and determination to bring joy back into my life, I held onto it all and did not let go.

Will tidy this blog post up at a later date (there’s a cup of tea waiting for me downstairs!) with useful links and not as useful links to memes!

じゃあ、あとで、ね!

Emily x

ELEMENTARY SCHOOL- Do you like apples?

Karatsu Castle in June

Karatsu Castle in June

Alright, obviously this lesson follows “I like apples.”

Review the vocabulary and key phrase from the previous lesson. Then, introduce “Do you like apples?”

I like to do this by picking a flashcard (例dog) and saying, “I like dogs. Do you like dogs?” Emphasize the meaning with a gesture to the class; obviously be a bit slower and bigger with your gesturing but you don’t have to go nuts. Or you can, they enjoy it.

Anyway, some of them might understand and raise their hands to communicate that they like dogs, too. Ask the HRT and make sure they say, “Yes, I do” regardless of what they actually think because otherwise it confuses things. Practice, “Yes, I do” then pick another flashcard and ask the HRT who will then answer, “No, I don’t.” Practice both answers and have some volunteers answer some “Do you like~” questions for stickers!

To enforce the question as well as the answer, you could play the line game again and whack out the old Hi, Friends DVD for some listening activities.

A game I find the students enjoy is BONGO. Not Bingo. BONGO!!!!

Here is my version of Bongo: DoyoulikeBONGO

So the pictures are already on the grid. Each student chooses a line, vertical, horizontal or diagonal. They want to check off all the pictures in their chosen line to achieve a BONGO! Ha! Sorry…

So they play janken, winner asks, “Do you like blah blah?” which will be a picture from their chosen line. If the loser doesn’t have that same picture in their line, they answer, “No, I don’t”. But, if they do they can answer “Yes, I do” and also check the picture off their line. Makes it a little more win win and also means they’ll be saying “No, I don’t” more which is a little harder to remember.

Of course, this is just for fun and doesn’t really put the phrase in context. Interview games are great for this phrase- you can have the students ‘gather data’ then look at the results together.

To make it into a janken game again, here is another worksheet that can be good fun, especially if you want a bit of a break: Ilikeboardgames

The students play in pairs and the aim is to be the first to reach the finish. Play janken. The winner asks “Do you like soccer?” which is the first space on the board. If the loser answers “Yes, I do” the winner draws a circle. If the loser answers, “No, I don’t” the winner draws a cross. Whatever the answer, the next time the winner wins janken they can ask, ” Do you like baseball?” which is the second space on the board. So it’s an interview-janken-race game.

If I don’t make any sense and you want a better explanation or have any questions, feel free to comment!

Emily x

ELEMENTARY SCHOOL- I like apples

Karatsu Kunchi 2013

Karatsu Kunchi 2013

The Hi, Friends DVDs have copies of all the flashcards you will need for each chapter so don’t worry too much about looking up your own- if you would rather have different sets though the students love it when you draw them yourself, get them to draw them or there are some good sites for free downloads such as MES English.

So, practice the new words (fruits, animals, food and sports) first. Then introduce “I like apples” by talking and showing what you like; they will pick it up fairly quickly. It’s good to have the HRT give an example as well. Practice the phrase with some volunteers and then play the Keyword Game to hammer it in.

Two other games I like to do for this topic are:

  1. Line Race– it’s a good idea before you start to have the students pick their favourite thing from the flash cards. Then have a column stand up for a demonstration. The student at the front says, “I like blah blah” to the student behind them. That student turns to the student behind them and says, “I like blah blah” all the way to the back. When the last student says, “I like blah blah” they all sit down. It’s a race to see which column can sit down first.
    If there are uneven numbers of students in each column, try to spread them out so it’s even or have the front student of a shorter column run to the back and say their sentence again then crouch down.
    To start them off, I say, “I like blah blah” to the first students.
    To keep them moving, have the students shuffle around at the end of each round.
    It’s hard to keep an eye on who was the first in bigger classes so try to select a top three and give them claps and maybe avoid giving stickers.
  2. Memory game– get the students into lunch groups. The students decide an order within their groups. Student 1 starts, “I like A.” The second student says, “I like A and B.” The third student says, “I like AB and C,” etc. This teaches the students ‘and’ and gets them to use more of the vocabulary instead of just their favourite flash card.

So the Japanese don’t really use plurals for stuff. “I like a dog” and “I like dogs” are said the same way, “犬が好き” (ペラペラJapanese speakers, please correct me if that’s incorrect!!) so the concept of ‘s’ is new to them. Some people feel it might be less daunting for the students if they just skip over it in younger classes but… it’s not as hard for fifth graders to grasp as you might think.

I just explain it as it’s not just this apple I like, I like any apple I eat so with fruits we need to use ‘s’. Even if they don’t fully understand that, they get, “One apple, no ‘s’, two apples, ‘s’ yes!” When practicing the new words for this topic, I practice singular and plural with them and they do get it even if they don’t always remember to use it when speaking themselves. For sports and the food/ drink names, I just say we don’t need to use ‘s’ because it’s a group name and they’re cool with it. So even though I can’t give them a technical or full explanation of the grammar, I found a way to teach them it anyway and it works pretty well and I think it really gives them an advantage when relearning everything in JHS.

Emily x

ELEMENTARY SCHOOL- Counting from 1-20

The flower of Nanayama

The flower of Nanayama

I made a worksheet based on some of the activities from the Hi, Friends textbook: introducing numbers

Practice 1-10. They usually know these so it won’t take long. There was a counting song on the old textbook CD (Eigo Noto) that is fun to use as it involves gestures. Once they get the hang of it, try challenging them to sing it faster and faster then really slowly.

The left side of the worksheet is a very simple janken game that they will love and want to play again (hence the two grids). They find a partner, play janken and if they win they write a circle and if they lose they write a cross. They play janken 10 times then sit down once they’ve finished. Use the phrase “How many circlescrosses?” when having them call out their totals.

Practice 11-20. This will take a while- I really try to work on the ‘n’ sound and make sure they get 12 and 20 right (for some reason they usually get those confused the most!). Practice them a lot. Try counting from 1-20 as a group then have them count one by one.

Next, play the janken pyramid bingo game on the worksheet. They write numbers at random from 1-20, they find a partner and janken, winner gets to choose and say the number they want to circle. If the loser has the same number, they get to circle it, too, then usually I will give stickers to the first 10 students who fill in their entire pyramid. Yay!

That’ll probably be more than enough for one lesson.

Emily x

ELEMENTARY SCHOOL- How are you?

Ogi lantern festival, Saga

Ogi lantern festival, Saga

I like to teach them six responses with flashcards:

How are you?

  1. I’m fine/good! (they usually translate this as 元気 so “good” or “great” might be better than “fine”.)
  2. I’m happy!
  3. I’m sad.
  4. I’m angry!
  5. I’m sleepy.
  6. I’m hungry!

**For new words, apparently the maximum they can easily remember is 9 but if you’re teaching fruits or colors they usually already know a lot of the words so you can practice a lot more.**

We practice the phrases by throwing Samurai-chan around then play the keyword game.

THE KEYWORD GAME

Pair game. Students turn their tables so they are facing each other with one eraser between them.

From the words you have just practiced, put a star or marker on one of the flashcards. This flashcard is the keyword.

Have the students put their hands on their heads and get them to repeat after you:

“I’m fine.”        “I’m fine!” *clap clap*

“I’m angry.”    “I’m angry!” *clap clap*

When you say the keyword (e.g. “I’m happy!”) the students don’t have to repeat, they just lunge for the eraser! The student who gets the eraser receives one point!

Change the keyword and repeat!

**If you want there to be clear winners, play the keyword an odd number of times. If you have a confident class, get a student to do your part for a round and you can play against their partner.**

There are a few other activities I like to do including this BINGO gameHow are you Bingo! Assign each student an emotion, they find a partner, play Rock, Paper, Scissors, winner asks the loser “How are you?” and the loser answers with their assigned emotion and the winner can write down the loser’s name on their worksheet. Aim is to see how many names they can get.

Emily x

Elementary School- cram time!

Children's Day in Saga

Children’s Day in Saga

For the first time on JET, I have felt the time limit. It never really worried me before but suddenly I have a whole textbook to get through and only 10 lessons to do it! Argh!

So, as we’re going to be bombing through the rest of the textbook, I wanted to make sure all my Year 5 are up to speed with what we have studied so far.

We have covered: self introductions, feelings, numbers (1-20), likes and dislikes, interviews and lots of cultural stuff (Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas etc) so for a review lesson, I put together some old games they have played before onto a worksheet and they completed each challenge in groups and it worked really well.

This is the worksheet: Mini Quiz- Yr5 review

And then there’s my Year 6. I was going to make a similar review game but they really are behind and also a little low level in English so I just want them to have high speed fun times until they graduate and have all the joy sucked out of them in JHS. I don’t know what happens over those two weeks between Year 6 and Year 7 but suddenly all the enthusiasm just vanishes.

Anyway, so I only just started “I want to go to Italy” at the beginning of this term so I have had to cram four lessons into two for each topic. *Should* be fine…

For I want to go to Italy, we played the interview game in the textbook and a janken bingo game with a world map worksheet which really interests the kids. They react well to the UK being in the centre and finding and colour coding all the countries we’ve studied. Then I gave each student a country, they played janken and the loser had to say “I want to go to *allotted country*” and the winner could check it off their sheet.

This is the bingo worksheet: Map and flash cards

Before, I’ve had them make quizzes and present their 行きたいcountry but there isn’t time this year, sadly :( Don’t know how I managed to lose track of time.

Anyway, yeah, just a brief check in and worksheet share!

Emily x

Gingerism

Being a ginge myself, I was bound to write about this and post it somewhere at some point.

Just a few bits and pieces that have been hanging around in my brain recently…

If you have red hair, don’t lay into other redheads. I read some comments on YouTube (yes, I know, never read the comments) and one thread that stuck in my mind started with a young boy ranting about how ginger discrimination is mean and the jokes are mean etc. One reply told him that bullying happens and “to man the f*ck up” and another reply was from another redhead telling him to get over it, “I’m ginger and I find ginger jokes hilarious.”

Firstly, ginger jokes are not funny. They don’t make any sense. I hate being pressured to laugh at them because if I don’t then it means that I’m the idiot who can’t take a joke. Which, to anyone who knows me, is ridiculous because I laugh all the time.

(Alright, maybe the short tempered jokes catch me out sometimes because I certainly have the stereotypical temper!)

Secondly, laughing along with everyone else is a very good way of protecting yourself. I did that for a bit, too. But that doesn’t make other bullied gingers’ feelings invalid. The jokes suck and there is nothing worse than being singled out and laughed at.

Everyone knows how that feels, of course. We all experience it at some point.

Which is why this incredible poem exists.

These lines from the poem are what this blog is thinking around:

are they just the background noise

of a soundtrack stuck on repeat

when people say things like

kids can be cruel?

They can. And it can really mess up people’s lives. So how do we make bullying stop?

It’s probably all to do with retraining our brains. We shouldn’t be thinking of ways to cope with bullying but rather ways to stop bullying from happening in the first place. Actually, that’s the same pattern as the rape awareness campaigns that are going on at the moment.

Don’t get raped.

-Don’t rape.

Avoid being bullied.

-Don’t bully.

Close to every day that I was at secondary school, someone called me, “Ginger pubes”. Of course, it was just a joke. Like how people call each other “Dick” or “Bitch” or the c word, you know, funny, light-hearted, just joking around.

Sorry, sarcasm is the lowest form of wit but how would you feel if you heard a 14 year old girl being called, “Ginger pubes”? Isn’t it crude and isn’t it sexualising? Even if the insult came from another 14 year old, does that mean it should be seen as just “kids can be cruel”? Kids grow up. Some of them carry on with bullying because why would they stop? Society has learnt to accept it  as something that happens which ensures that it will always continue to happen.

There are people who actually appear to really dislike “gingers” and feel like it’s OK to think and speak about it like that’s acceptable. This documentary comes across a particularly great example of an actual person who actually thinks that if someone has ginger hair, they are disgusting.

When people have tried to comfort me in the face of being bullied for having ginger hair some say, “Well, you’re hair isn’t really ginger anyway, it’s more of a strawberry blonde”.

It’s ginger. The fact that I have ginger hair isn’t the issue. The issue is that is that people think that ginger hair is like a disease or weakness, anything that means that somehow makes the redheaded person inferior.

Other people have said, “Just dye it.”

The easy option is to cave in to this silly prejudice and do what you can to match what society perceives as normal.

The hard option is standing your ground.

You don’t have to argue or fight but it is OK if bullying upsets you. It’s not a sign of weakness, especially when you’re a child. It’s OK to get fed up with the same old jokes when you’re an adult, too. There’s only so much “you have no soul” you can pretend to laugh at.

Oh yeah, so South Park. When all the Kick a Ginger day and gingers are soulless stuff started up, all I could think was how everyone had missed the point. A lot of people miss the point with South Park.

For example, they discover in South Park that the cure for AIDS is to inject people with money. Has there been a rise in money injecting? Noooo, because it’s obviously not going to cure AIDS, it’s meant to be a hilarious joke.

Now apply the same reasoning to the ginger episode and we’re done.

But I don’t have the answers for what we should do to combat discrimination.

When I was bullied at school I got angry which ended up helping bullies isolate me. I called another kid ginger. I pretended like the jokes were funny and I made them, too. It made me strong in a lot of ways; I have never dyed my hair and the jokes don’t get in my way. But it has also left me insecure, anxious, paranoid and with very low self esteem. And that was just a bit of name calling and alienation. Imagine how physically abused as well as mentally abused children turn out. If they seem to have grown up into well-rounded individuals, think of what they had to go through to get there. When we’re children, we have no experience around what is happening to us that we then spend the rest of our lives reflecting on. Some of us couldn’t just man up because what the hell does that even mean to a child who is constantly bullied and hated and never given a chance to prove themselves? It wouldn’t have mattered whether I manned up or not, I would have still been the verbal punch bag and kids would have still pressed my eyes closed just to laugh at my ginger eyelashes. Isn’t that ridiculous? I can hardly believe that it happened myself!

Actually, the person who dealt with bullying the best was my best friend at secondary school. She defended me but in a way that was quick-witted without being aggressive.

Like, say we were fighting for animal rights, I’d be the one all red in the face and saying, “How do you guys sleep at night? You’re cruel and don’t deserve to live, rawr!”

Whereas she would say, “Well, we all know that animal abuse is bad so how do we stop it from happening?” She would say it better though, with a few jokes and no one would feel attacked but she would win them round to her way of thinking anyway.

Basically, don’t give up fighting against discrimination but remember that discrimination is all that it is. Not truth, not acceptable, not clever or amusing. Discriminating.

Emily x