Kanagawa Prefectural Tsurumine High School

xii. Comments from ALTs & Exchange Students on Tsurumine

Dear Exchange Students,

 First of all, こんにちは and ようこそ to Tsurumine High School.
If you are reading this it means you haven't melted yet in the incredible humidity of a Japanese summer. When it feels like you're about to pass out in the heat, just get yourself to one of the omnipresent vending machines and knock back a bottle of Mr. Pocari's Sweat and you'll be fine.

 Over the next few days you will probably come across several examples of the legendary Japanese hospitality. I was blown away when I first arrived by the extraordinary lengths my hosts (and sometimes random strangers) would go to make things easier for me. You will experience this kindness first-hand too but don't worry, you won't have to go looking for it ― it'll find you!

 I came to Japan three years ago from Ireland and started working as an English teacher in Tsurumine almost a year ago but to be honest, it only feels like a couple of months. I'm not going to tell you what to expect from your stay in Chigasaki because you'll enjoy the experiences all the more if you discover them for yourself. I will however, fill you in on a few of the things that you might find surprising:

● You are likely to be asked lots of questions about food. Japanese people seem to be even more obsessed with food than Europeans are with sports or the weather
● It's alright for students to sleep during classes if they want to.  However, this   probably won't happen while you are there because they'll be too excited  about the prospect of a foreigner visiting their class
●  Football is called サッカー(soccer) in Japan. You will see David Beckham's face on so many posters, packaging etc that you'll start to wonder if he isn't Japanese. Many students will also have heard of the likes of Zidane and Rooney especially now that Euro 2004 has just finished. The matches were on in the middle of the night here. Maybe that's why so many of my students had bags under their eyes in June!
● There is a Japanese version of rock, paper, scissors called Janken which is used to settle all sorts of issues from which team a student plays for on the sports ground to whether or not a teacher gives homework to the class...yes,

 I'm joking about the homework but if you learn Janken you'll be an immediate hit.

 When people at home ask me what I do in Japan I sometimes tell them I'm supposed to teach English but that in fact I'm leaning it! By this I mean that Japanese high school students know way more about the rules of English grammar than I do (before coming to Japan I thought a clause was a person who lived at the North Pole) even though they've usually only been studying English since junior high school.

 However, while they are well versed in grammar and have a surprisingly large vocabulary, they are held back from using what they've learnt because there is no requirement in the high school syllabus for them to actually speak English. This situation is changing slowly and Tsurumine is more proactive than most schools in encouraging it's students to communicate through English. Nevertheless, don't be surprised if the students seem very hesitant when speaking the language. For your part, when you do speak to them in English, try to remember to speak a bit slower than usual.

 I'm sure you will observe many other school customs which are completely different from those in European schools. On the other hand, you might be surprised by how many aspects of Japanese school life are essentially very similar to school life in your own country. Making these observation is, after all, the whole point of taking part in this exchange programme.

 If you have any questions, any of the teachers will be more than happy to help you. Better still, ask the students and you'll really make their day. The Turumine students will want to practice their English on you and in return you too should avail of the opportunity to practice your 日本語. on them.

 If you happen to see a badge with キアロン written on it in the middle of a puddle on the classroom floor then you'll know the humidity finally got the better of me !!

 All the best and がんばってください

Ciaran MacCormaic
ALT (Assistant Language Teacher), from Aug.2004 to Jul. 2005
 Welcome to Tsurumine High School. The first thing I'd like to do is congratulate you all on being able to visit Tsurumine High School. Tsurumine is one of the higher ranked schools in the Kanagawa area and the students here are absolutely fantastic. Most of the students work very hard in order to earn good grades and prepare themselves for college entrance exams. It's very difficult to work as hard as they do in school and still have energy left for extracurricular activities, but I'm happy to say that many of the students have plenty of energy to spare and are also extremely active in school club activities of one sort or another.

 The school clubs at Tsurumine are very active, very fun, and feature an incredibly large variety. There are sports clubs. scholastic clubs, dance clubs, martial arts clubs, design, flower arrangement and many more. Some of them meet everyday of the week including Saturday. Some of them meet both in the afternoon and in the morning. Morning practice sessions are called "asaren." If this wasn't enough, after' school practices can last anywhere between an hour and a half to three hours. Tsurumine athletes definitely have stamina (except for occasionally when a victim of Asaren falls asleep in the middle of my class). I strongly encourage you to join in one or more of these clubs as they are not only fun, but also provide a wonderful opportunity to meet and interact with students in a social atmosphere.

 Tsurumine high school is also host to a number of very fun festivals (as are all Japanese high schools,...though I think Tsurumine’s are better than others....but of course, I'm biased). The most notable among Tsurumine's festivals are the Sports festival (体育祭 / たいいくさい) and the Culture festival (文化祭 / ぶんかさい). Unfortunately, the Sports festival takes place in June and the Culture festival takes place in late-September, which means you just missed the festivities by a month. For those of you who will be here for a while, however, it is something to look forward to for the future. I look forward to it too because the week before both festivals, classes are cancelled so students and teachers can concentrate on festival construction and preparation.

 Despite the fact that Tsurumine is a great school and the teachers and students here are very nice and very helpful, the overall quality of your experience here will naturally depend a great deal on the choices you make. Here's a small list of things you can do to make your stay here as fun and worthwhile as possible:

* Try to speak as much Japanese as you can. What better chance to practice Japanese than in a country that speaks it! Also, although many students may want to practice English, you risk alienating other students by speaking only in English. Some are a bit shy and reluctant to speak English, especially to a stranger, but if you try to speak a bit of Japanese as well, you show them that you're willing to meet them halfway.
* When speaking English with students (or teachers), speak slowly and clearly. Most students and teachers understand English fairly well when it's spoken to them so that they can understand it. By high school, students have already been studying English for a number of years, but may lack English communication skills despite their extensive knowledge of grammar and vocabulary.
* Be active and social! Try to participate in as many activities and clubs as you can. As I mentioned above, Tsurumine has an extremely large variety of very active clubs that you can participate in. If the students are preparing for a school festival or some kind of school competition, there is definitely a place for you among the bustling throng of students.
* Try not to "expect," Japanese life to be a certain way. Expectations can be very disappointing if reality can't live up to the expectation. Try to "expect" as little as possible and "appreciate" as much as possible. You will find that there will be numerous things that you will enjoy that you may never have thought would happen here.

 Once again, welcome to Tsurumine! Make the most of your visit while you're here. Good luck!

Shauna Okusako
ALT , from Aug.2005 to Jul.2006

Hello Readers,

 First thing's first, welcome to Tsurumine High School! You must be quite excited about beginning your adventure in Japan. Take this opportunity to soak up as much of this experience as you can. I hope that you're settled in and rested after that long flight. Suffering from a little jet lag is a small price to pay for all the fun you'll be having. Having a nice Japanese meal and a little green tea should set you straight.

 You've really lucked out being able to come to Tsurumine. In your time here, you'll notice how helpfu1 and outgoing everyone can be. Be warned though, the students are pretty sharp and hard working. You may have to dig in a little to keep up with their energy. My high school experience pales in comparison to what the students have got going on here. They're extremely active in clubs and school activities. Just recently, they had a big culture festival that left me in awe. In the days leading up to the festival, students were in full throttle carving statues out of Styrofoam, decorating hallways, and transforming classrooms into haunted houses. The artistic ability of the average Tsurumine student is quite high.

 Pretty soon, you'll be joining in on the fun. I'm sure the students will be more than anxious to talk to you, but my advice is to never hesitate and always make the first move. Some people are a bit shy when it comes to speaking a foreign language (me included) and it helps to break the ice with a friendly gesture. Even a smile and a nod can go a long way. There are many returnee students who can speak English fluently, and the average student's ability is a bit higher than most schools because of Tsurumine's strong approach to teaching foreign language. But keep it simple at first until you know the ability of the person you're talking to. By all means, utilize the Japanese that you've learned.

 A skill that you should never leave at your host family's house is your sense of observation. It has saved my neck more than once here, and gotten me into some pretty embarrassing situations when I neglected to use it. Take time to notice what other people around you are doing (and what they're not). It's inevitable to stumble a few times in a culture that you're unfamiliar with, but nevertheless, keep your eyes peeled and your chin up. It took a lot of guts for you to come over here, so take comfort in your bravery. In any case, an embarrassing moment will make a great story for your friends and family. (don't ask about my first onsen experience, please)

 I'm not sure how much time you'll have to explore the area, but there are plenty of cool things to check out. Chat up one of the students, or even the plethora of friendly teachers, to get the skinny on the local sites. Chigasaki has a great beach that I sometimes go to for a bit of sunshine and relaxation. There's a big surfing community here so you can often watch the locals try to tackle the waves. It's easy to find a good place to eat in Japan because everything is delicious. As long as you have an adventurous spirit, you'll find some of Japan's more unique cuisine quite tasty. There's a full spectrum of culinary delights to partake of, so for you who are a bit finicky, master your fear (blindfold optional) and dig in. You won't be disappointed. Let’s face it, experiencing Japan’s rich culture is why you came here in the first place, and food's only the tip of the iceberg.

 I'm sure many of you are well versed in some of the things to expect from your stay, but above all, keep an open mind. Personally, I've found much of the information in some of the so called ‘Japan Guides’ to be lacking in depth and on some occasions just plain wrong. You can make fast friends who will teach you about the real Japan during your stay. You're a kind of cultural ambassador as well, so you'll be sharing a lot of your world with them, too. International interest is definitely mutual.

 By the end of your time here, you'll probably find my ramblings useless and will hopefully be writing your own travel essay on the adventures to come. Take care and good luck!

Levi Hanson
ALT, from Sept. 2006 to Mar.2008


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