JETAA Singapore, New Friends and Reality Sinking In

COUNTDOWN: 63 days to lift-off.

So reality has begun to sink in that yes,
I’ll soon be off living in another country by myself.
There are so many uncertainties and adventures ahead…
I can’t express how nervous I am.
But, it’s also something that I’m glad I achieved.

On 29th May 2014 (last thursday), I finally met some people
from JETAA Singapore and fellow 2014 Singapore JETs at JCS.
And what a lovely bunch of people they are!

We had a lesson about weddings,
found out that one of our Sempais was getting married that week,
heard vows being spoken in Japanese,
learnt how expensive weddings could be,
talked about Chinese, Malay and Indian weddings and had so much fun.
It was wonderful to meet so many people, with varying Japanese abilities
and I learnt so much from everyone.

The kepoh in me was also very satisfied to FINALLY meet people.
On a more personal note,
it was great to know how everyone came from diverse backgrounds.
Having interacted with mostly theatre people for this long,
I’m psyched to finally expand the walls of my world through JET. : P

Photo Credit: Heng Kai Le from JETAA.

After starting this blog and a tumblr account after getting the results,
I’ve gotten to know so many people, my head spins just thinking about it.
(No idea how I’m going to remember and keep track of everyone)
It’s overwhelming and scary, but exciting all at the same time.
I keep realising how much more I have to learn. And I’m humbled.

Through the JETAA, I’ve also been assigned 2 buddies
(both weren’t placed in Toyama, but I’m plenty grateful for all the advice).
Exchanging e-mails with them calmed a lot of my frazzled nerves
and I’ve gotten a lot of really handy tips.
I’ve also (online)met some JET bloggers from Toyama and Singapore JET online,
and chatting with them has put me at ease.

The fears and questions haven’t disappeared.
I’m still terrified of what school I might get.
What if they hate me?
What if they don’t understand the concept of Vegetarianism?
What if there absolutely nothing for me in that place?
What if I fall really sick in the winter?
What if, what if and more what ifs.
But, life was never meant to be ruled by fear.

And it’s not just fears.
There’s so much excitement bubbling within me at this point.
A different landscape,
New language,
fresh challenges,
A chance at independence,
And a hope for doors to open in the future. 

So, come what may, I’ve resolved to take it as a learning experience.
And at least now, I feel a little bit more informed.   The Road Not Taken

But waw… this is really happening.

NOTE: An excerpt of this article has been published by  JETAA Singapore in their blog.

Thank you fabulous people!!

(http://jetaasg.wordpress.com)

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Interview Questions

These were my questions and answers for the JET interview:

First 5/6 questions were there to test my Japanese proficiency.
 I stumbled. A LOT.
And I kept asking the interviewer to repeat himself, although he didn’t seem to mind.

First I was shown 2 papers with pictures on them. A man with a name card and an empty speech bubble facing another 2 people. I was asked: What is he saying? 

I said: Hajimemashite, kore wa watashi no meishi desu. Yoroshiku onegaishimasu.

Second, I was shown a picture of a person saying a greeting in the night. What is he saying?
Konbanwa

Third, a lady accidentally bumps into another lady in the train. What does she say?
Sumimasen. Shitsureishimasu!

Then, he asked me “senshuu doyoubi nangatsu nan nichi desuka. Nani wo shimashitaka?”
I TOTALLY blanked out on the date thing cuz, on one hand, I had no idea what date Saturday had been and also cuz counting dates in Japanese under stress is not my forte…but I said I had been preparing for the interview all day. (they laughed at that.)

I was asked if I had any siblings
I said I had one younger brother who likes animals and works in the army now. I mentioned that he’s very annoying, but cute.

What sweet would you introduce to Japanese people?
I was like OMG!  Kueh Lapis! The interviewer had apparently never eaten Kueh and he asked me what it was, and I was like, “Jelly/mochi mitai na okashi desu!”

Srsly, Kueh lapis is amazing…..crap…I wanna eat Kueh now…. Q_Q

All this glorious Kueh.

Then he asked what flavour it had.
And I was like “Amai desu”.

The last question completely threw me off. It was something about children liking potato chips….and I was asked for a reason why…..
I stared blank at that one. TOTALLY didn’t know what to say about that one.


 

Then came the English section…this wasn’t TOO bad…

What do you know about the JET programme?
I’ve never been the best at memorising facts like that…but I said I knew it was under 3 Ministries, one of which was MEXT, and that I’d be a part of an international programme which people from around the world were in.

I think I tried to ham it up a little…but mostly it was me blurting whatever I could remember until the lady went, ok and asked me the next question.

What do you think it means to be an ALT?
Being an ALT means you’re an Assistant Language Teacher and it’s important to acknowledge that. I told them that I would work hard to support my Japanese Teacher of English with my talents and that I was very aware that I wasn’t the main teacher of the class.

What would you like to do Post-JET?
This was pretty simple, and I said I wanted to go into translation, Singapore-Japan ties in the arts, work with JCC/Japan Association. But I also said that I was keeping my options open based on what I experienced through the JET programme.

How would you incorporate drama into teaching English to the Students?
I talked about some drama games which would make learning English a more fun and relevant affair.

What if some of the students are uncooperative or don’t want to join in the games?
I mentioned that I’d had students in the past who were too shy or were un-cooperative, and I went on to say that I was perfectly fine with allowing students to sit out and just observe activities and take notes instead. The interviewers seemed a little surprised by my answer, but I went on to say how I’d had a girl in a primary school who at the start refused to say anything out loud. She’d only whisper to me, and even then, only if she had no choice. So I started with allowing her to write things down and then slowly built up her confidence.

I also told the teacher that I’d probably start off with simple pair exercised before asking students to stand up and present things by themselves, especially if I was given a class that was very shy. I also joked that I’d tell my students that I was hardly perfect with Japanese and that I too was learning together with them. 🙂

What if the teacher herself is resistant to some of your methods?

In the first place, I said I would like to discuss what expectations each teacher had of me before any work started. Having worked as an assistant director, I have the experience of working under various directors who all have different personalities and this applies for teachers as well. So I’d probably want to sort out all our expectations before plunging headfirst into the work itself.

Would you be open to organizing festivals?
YES! OF COURSE! ….but with the help and guidance of other teachers.

Would you be open to teaching fellow ALTs about drama games? How would you do that?
Cuz I generally like working with people and sharing skills and all that jazz, I said “Yes!”. I mentioned that I’d read the online copy of the activities compiled by JET participants over the years and stated that while I hadn’t memorised it, I’d love to read through it further and add on to it. And as for sharing this with fellow ALTs I said that I could always lead demonstrations with the help of other ALTs who might have similar set skills.

Your professor mentioned that you are “raised with sensitivities, politeness and elegance”. How would they help you in the job?
I’m hardly the most modest person, so on one hand I’m like, aww shucks. On the other hand I’m like…WHAT DO I SAY TO THAT???  So I thought for a while, and said that I was very aware of the fact that I’m going to another person’s home, so I’d do my very best to understand the customs/practices there and be a pleasant guest and not impose my views and thoughts on everyone around me. So by being such a person, I thought it would help me communicate better with my colleagues.

What is your impression of Japanese youngsters?
This was asked by the caucasian man, and it completely threw me off. I’d read articles about students and student life….but the only personal impression I had and still have of Japanese youngsters is those I met at Toho Gakuen.

At first, I said how I though the younger generation was more flexible that the older generation, but eventually went on to say that I felt like I was of the same generation as them and as such did not know if I could judge them.

I then told the man that I hoped I’d answered his question, but he didn’t reply.
O_O THAT was when the internal me was going…OH GOD…..HE HATES ME!!!

One thing you’d like to tell Japanese people about Singapore!
I truly do appreciate Singapore as a multi-cultural, multi-lingual, multi-everything country and I told them that I’d want to communicate this to my students. I said, I knew it sounded a little cheesy, but that it was one of the things I really loved about Singapore…other than the food!

The Japanese interviewer finally asked: you mentioned Sado Island in your application. Why Sado?
I’m not sure you want to read my answer to this question because I began fan-girling about the Island… :/
But in a nutshell I talked about the Noh theatre there, and Sado being an awesome place with lots of old culture…blah blah.

By the end of that, he was like…waw, you know more about Sado than most Japanese people and I was like…
ah haha….thanks!

He went on to ask: Sado is a small island and there may not be any openings there, would you be open to be posted to another part of Japan?
I was totally fine with this, and I said “It’s not that I don’t care about where I’m posted, and where I’m posted DOES matter to me. But I also think that no matter where I’m posted, there’ll be something different about the culture there. Cuz even within Tokyo there’s traditional Noh theatre on one hand and the Maid Cafes in Akihabara on the other hand…So I imagine that Japan must be a very culturally diverse country.”


And right after that, I wondered for a VERY long time if I’d said something stupid…if I shouldn’t have mentioned Maid Cafes of all things….If I’d sounded waaaaay too high on sugar…..

On hindsight, I’m really happy with the way I conducted myself at the interview. I didn’t lie about anything, I didn’t present myself as anyone other than myself and I managed to make them laugh and had some fun there myself. 😀

So yea, things turned out fine and I’m glad for it.

My Statement of Purpose

So before anyone goes on to read this, I’ll start off with a disclaimer. What worked for me, might not work for you. And for God’s sake, don’t plagiarise.

My essay is structured in the following way:

  1. Hook/Why Japan.
  2. What I’ve done with my life. (Japan focus)
  3. Language and it’s impact in my life.
  4. What I’ve done with my life. (Teaching focus)
  5. Conclusion. Tie up all points and state how my skills can be useful for JET.

This was a structure that worked for me, and may not work for others. Personally, I’m emotive when I write and was advised to name drop liberally. Much thanks goes to Amanda, Aubrey, Cher and Dad for proof reading it and giving me invaluable feedback.

The whole thing took up 2 pages, in Times New Roman. About font size, the advised me to use font size 12, but I cheated a little and made it 11.5 to sneak in a few more lines.


 

A Yagnya
Statement of Purpose

The slow Suriyashi (gliding steps) of Noh performers, who came to Singapore in the January of 2010, was my introduction to the elegant, meditative and distilled elements of Japan’s traditional arts. The intense performance that followed made me completely forget the hustle and bustle of the world outside. This moving experience etched itself into my mind so strongly that it compelled me to learn more about Japan.

While pursuing my Bachelor of Arts degree in Theatre and Performance at LASALLE College of the Arts, I did my thesis on differing Japanese theatre styles and as a directing student, looked to practitioners like Ōta Shōgo, Yukio Ninagawa and Hijikata Tatsumi for influences. I also trained in Noh under visiting lecturer Ms. Terai Chikage (daughter of Mr. Terai Sakae, Intangible Cultural Treasure) of the Kanze School of Noh and attended a Butoh workshop under Mr. Ohno Yoshito.
I came to understand the importance of language on my internship at Toho Gakuen College of Drama and Music (ex-president Yukio Ninagawa). At Toho, I learnt Kyogen under Zenchiku Juro Sensei (Human Intangible Cultural Property) and Nihon Buyo under Fujisaburo Fujima Sensei amongst other classes, all of which were conducted in Japanese. I was also lucky to meet Ms. Aoki Michiko, producer of the Ishinha Company, and we conversed deeply about Japan’s theatre, history and social issues. Under her, I also volunteered at an old age home to teach simple English to the elderly, which was a very satisfying and memorable experience.

At that time, I did not have any knowledge of polite or non-polite forms, or how to address superiors with more respect, or even proper grammar particles; but what amazes me even now is everyone’s eagerness to communicate. After graduation, I promptly started learning Japanese at the Bunka Language Private School with the intention of collaborating and communicating with Japanese artists in the future.
My love for Japan and theatre aside, I volunteered at a reading programme at the Changi-Simei Community Center, worked at the Metropolitan YMCA Childcare and Development Centre and taught drama as enrichment at Primary and Secondary schools since my secondary school days. In order to teach drama, I attended the Train-the-Trainer course under Mastereign Enrichment Group. Every experience has been enlightening in it’s own way and I’ve adopted the saying “Every student is different.” as my personal motto. Every student has a different way of learning. Through games, songs, drawing and simple writing exercises, I’ve learnt to engage various students and to celebrate their strong points.

Using my theatre education, with its collaborative, managerial and transferable skills, my experiences in teaching, and my understanding of Japanese language and culture, I hope to excite students into further learning English – not just as a subject in school but also as a lifelong mode of communication. As a Singaporean, I have come to understand the importance of English as an international language whether in business, culture or education. While my long-term ambitions are intercultural and multilingual, my immediate aim is to further embrace the Japanese language and culture and to continue learning. As many say: the best way to learn is to teach.


 

COMING SOON, TO THEATRES/// Interview Questions /// Special people/// Post-placement Hustle.

 

The Sorting Hat Chooses…….TOYAMA!

The fateful email finally arrived on 21st May, a sleepy Wednesday afternoon.
And it felt like the Sorting Hat was being placed over my head, deciding on where to put me.

I’d requested Niigata prefecture (Sado Island), Kyoto Prefecture and Gifu Prefecture as my 1st, 2nd and 3rd choice. Well, I didn’t get any of them and I suppose I should have felt some disappointment. But I’m a strong believer of “going with the flow” and “letting things take it’s natural course”.

Better be…….TOYAMA-KEN!

I won’t lie, I still don’t know enough about Toyama and if anyone reading this has any information at all, I’d be most grateful….BUT I made it a point to find at least 3 things that I’d look forward to about Toyama. And I am pretty excited to find out more.

3 awesome things about Toyama:

  • It’s got firefly squids that wash up on the beaches. Who doesn’t wanna see glowing sotongs?
  • Toyama is where Toga Village is, which is the home of Suzuki Tadashi’s Theatre Company. ERMAHGAH.
  • lots of snow. LOTS AND LOTS of snow. This is a muchly exciting thing for a person who’s been stuck in a tropical humid-land all her life.

UPDATE: http://en.rocketnews24.com/2013/06/10/places-you-simply-must-visit-toyama-edition/

So the great thing is there IS theatre in Toyama although most blogs/websites don’t mention this at all. In fact, I had no idea until I told an actress friend of mine (Steph-chan). She cursed me with a few choice words and then promptly informed me that that’s where Suzuki’s Theatre Company was based. Welll……what do you know…..going with the flow indeed. 🙂

To add on to this, I discovered that my Dad’s friend’s hometown is also in Toyama. So at least I can discuss Toyama with SOMEONE.

There also seems to be a heck ton of nature, surrounded by mountains, and facing the Sea of Japan. It’s also bordered by Niigata and Gifu, so I think they DID take my requests into account. Which means taking a day trip to Sado won’t be impossible.

So all in all, I guess I did get quite a good deal. And the more I find out about Toyama, the more I’m starting to look forward to the adventure ahead of me.

I don’t mean to say that it’s going to be perfect (cuz nothing is perfect)….but there’s something to be positive about. 😀

Online blogs have also been super useful in giving me tons of information from first hand experience. ESID (every situation is different) but some some are more different than others.  So I’ve got a good idea of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly, which is great.

Update on 25th May:
I got my package consisting of insurance, Japanese for JETs, JET Handbook and Placement Letter in the mail!
Will probably spend some time picking everything apart.

Now I’m waiting for my CO/BOE/Predecessor to contact me with more information about where I’ll live, where I’ll teach, etc. I’m also attempting to get in contact with more Singapore JETs and Toyama JETs…

Till then, I’ll go back to my world of theatre and translation. Cheers.

Godot, Results and back to Godot AGAIN.

2 months did not pass in the blink of an eye and I spent hours online, looking at blogs and vlogs hoping that someone would magically tell me I’d gotten the job. Of course this did not happen. And I really waited quite patiently even though some people said that they’d called the embassy to check when the results would be out after snapping under the pressure.

And then on April 1st, I snapped. I picked up the phone at 11 in the morning and called up the embassy to check if they knew when the results would be out. The man on the other end replied with “Sorry, no idea” and that was that.

I think I was april fooled. no seriously.

About 2 hours later, I got an e-mail from the Japanese Embassy’s Tina Chiang. I swear,  wanted to vomit my heart out.
But THEN I saw the first line of that amazing amazing, e-mail and I started to cry.

Dear Yagnya,

Congratulations! You have successfully passed the 2nd stage of the screening process for the 2014 JET Programme and are now on the final short-list for ALT candidates. 

How do you beat that? I ran to my mum, half crying, half laughing and broke the news. All she said was “if this is a joke, I’m going to kill you.” But it wasn’t. And that was that.

      I WAS GOING TO JAPAN!!!!!!!!!!!!! KOWABUNGA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!        

Now, you’d think THIS would leave me happy, but I had begun my NEXT wait. By the time May arrived all I could think was “WHERE AM I GONNA GO IN JAPAN?????” And I guess it didn’t help that people kept asking me where I’d go.
: P

I know I’m repeating this analogy waaay too much, but this whole process was really like Waiting for Godot. You wait, and wait and wait. Something comes to give you hope but you don’t know if “Godot” (whatever it represents) will arrive. But for a very long time, ever since I read the text, I always believed that Godot would surely come…..he’s just functioning on Standard Indian Time : D

In the next Instalment of Iggy in Japan:
The Sorting Hat Chooses…….TOYAMA! 

Of Waiting, Chinese New Year and Interviews.

And so the waiting began. If you’re anything like me, you’d have read all the gazillion other JET blogs and found that this job entails a hella lot of waiting. From the end of November 2013 to end of January 2014, I waited like Vladimir Estragon waited for Godot. And I don’t know how many times I must have googled “JET Programme Interview 2014” in vain.

So in case I haven’t made it clear enough, I WAITED. : /

Then, I got one of the most relieving e-mails I’d gotten in a long long time. On 21st Jan, I was just minding my own business when my handphone buzzed. The e-mail notification was from the embassy and my heart stopped and I saw I’d passed the first stage. Cue hell a lot of squealing to myself like a crazy person at home.

To clarify, I do theatre work/drama teaching on a freelance basis so I’m free when most people are busy and busy when most people are free. life.

Anyway, back to the JET story, I squealed and jumped around, called my dad, squealed at him, called my mum (who was in India at that time), squealed at her, squealed to all my friends….and eventually got tired of squealing and sat down and began googling “interview questions for JET Programme” and “Interview Attire, Japanese Job”, etc.

And then it hit me that I’d be interviewed on the day after the Chinese New Year break. So in other parts of the world where JET interviews are conducted this may not seem like such a bad thing, but here in Singapore, everything shuts down. Literally, everything.

And I suppose the thing that worried me the most was my appearance because, I’ve got hair with personality. If it could it would speak to people and wave. I’m also not used to formal attire. And my nails aren’t particularly amazing. Don’t get me wrong, I love the way I look and all, it’s just one of those professional look things that I tend to lack (it was pointed out to me back in College). So I went a little mad in the days that followed, getting interview-worthy clothes, getting my hair tamed, getting an over-expensive manicure : P

This was a real life-saver (thanks Shu An) cuz I ended up getting the donut to keep my hair in one place:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f0NI5W92vQ0

All this, while I researched potential questions and started talking to myself. Not that this was anything new.

One nice piece of advice I picked up from the net was that the interviewers wanted to see the person who submitted the paper application (could have been  Myargonauts Jason, who’s a must watch for anyone who’s going for this programme seriously). That was one thought that really helped. You were picked to be interviewed because they liked you on paper and want to see if you reflect what you submitted in real-life.

There was tons of advice online:
Be Genki!
Smile!
Be yourself!
What to say, what not to say!
ETC, ETC.

I ended reading a little bit about the Programme in case they asked me about it (which they did) and also read through my own application several times because a gazillion other blogs said they’d ask you about things your wrote (which they did).

So I my interview at the Japanese Embassy was at 3:10pm on 3rd Feb, so naturally, since I’m insanely paranoid (cuz who knows, there could be a snow storm in Singapore, right?) I ended up arriving at the embassy around 2:20pm.

I handed in my handphone at the reception area and walked in. There were several low sofas  facing each other  and a staircase that led up to several other rooms. I was told to wait at the sofa area… I’ll tell you now, sitting on that sofa wearing my skirt was super uncomfortable. : /

There was one other guy who was waiting for his turn and he soon got called in for his interview and then another guy came in to the waiting room as well and we started chatting a little which in a way got me to relax. And soon guy one had finished his interview and guy 2 went in for his. yea….I came 2 interviews early : P

And I was left to twiddle my thumbs while looking at the nice rock garden outside….and then finally I was called in for my interview at 3:20pm. And I found out that I was the last to be interviewed on the first day!

Some how, whatever nerves I had before ceased to exist once I entered the interview room. It was something like a meeting room and a panel of 3 interviewers sat facing me when I entered. 1 Caucasian man, 1 Singaporean lady and 1 Japanese man. I was asked to introduce myself and was asked what the A in my name stood for (Ananthanarayanan) and then the interview began.

I’ll make a separate post on WHAT I was grilled on, but for now I’ll just recount the overall experience.

First I had the Japanese section of the interview. This threw me off a little because all the other blogs I read said they asked the Japanese questions last. And I knew I tripped up here and there even on some of the simpler questions…

Then the English section of the interview started and even before I post the questions, I’ll just say that the most of the questions were based of what I’d written in my application and were asked to clarify what I meant or how I could elaborate on what I’d already said. So I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone got different questions with SOME “similar” questions.

Again, there were moments when a question caught me off-guard or when I knew I’d tripped a little, but I also remember smiling a lot, making eye contact a lot and being generally enthusiastic about wanting to be there. I also cracked a couple of jokes at my own expense which made them smile, which made ME smile.

And then before I knew it, I was done. And I was walking out going….that’s it? Did I say enough? Did I say too much?
And I was back to the waiting game. I assure you that sucked. But it helped that I was working on an amazing production which took my mind off things.

NEXT UP: Godot, Results and back to Godot AGAIN.

The Journey Begins

It all started way back in September 2013 when I saw that the applications for the 2014-2015 JET Programme were open. I slept on it, and overnight I decided I was going to apply for it. I’d done my exchange programme at Toho Gakuen College of Drama and Music back in June+July of 2011 and the desire to return to Japan never went down.

I guess I must have repeated the wish out loud a few times too many since my friends (Amanda and Cherilyn) told me to just “go for it” and stop “whining”. Still, if I went down this path, it would mean putting a pause to my theatre work here in Singapore for at least a year. So I was pretty worried. And my parents were more than pretty worried. So I went around for 2 days, talking to theatre colleagues, asking for advice…and the resounding response I got was to again “go for it” mostly because I was still young, and had nothing to lose and that theatre would always be here when I returned.

SO that was that. I started the long trek to fill out form after form and wrote my SOP and basically used everything I ever learnt in Career Management to fill up that application to what would be the start of one of the most nerve wrecking waits of my life. I’m not sure how many times I called up the embassy to clarify something or another, but I think by the end of it all, they’d come to know my name. : P

Anyhow, I managed to get 2 amazing recommendation letters. One from Aubrey Mellor, who had been my dean at Lasalle College of the Arts and the other from Nakaya-sensei from Bunka Language School. All in all, I sounded like an amazing person (which I like to think I am ;D)

Don’t know how many times I read/re-read/re-wrote my SOP, but I’m glad Amanda read it through and gave me the feedback that she did. And I frequented the neighbourhood photocopy shop (i dunno how many times), to the point that the photocopy guy knew what I was applying for by the end of it all and he wished me best of luck.

So by end November, a day before the deadline, I went directly to the Japanese Embassy and passed my application to them by hand (cuz i’m paranoid like that.)

I’ll detail out the first stage of application if anyone asks for it, but for now I’ll end the post here and continue the journey on the next post.