“I Like Basketball and Tomatoes. See You!”
I was an ALT in Otsu City, Shiga Prefecture, Japan (Lansing’s sister city) through the JET Program from 2006 – 2009. I taught in public junior high and elementary schools.
It’s hard to pinpoint a favorite memory. I have many. I’ll begin with a work-related memory and see where it leads us.
Along with the goal of making English lessons visually easier for students to understand (which was related to my concentration in university), I often used music in the classroom (I’m an acoustic guitarist/singer-songwriter). The usual activity was to take a song like Stand By Me or Change the World, print out the lyrics, and omit some of the words. The students would listen to the song and fill in the blanks while I played it on the guitar. The activity was fun, but I wanted students to hear vocabulary they were currently learning. Eventually, I developed an interactive album called The Moon Through My Window, which includes original songs, worksheets, and vocabulary lists. While writing the songs, I made sure to include vocabulary my students were learning at that time.
We did the activity the same way. The students would listen and fill in the worksheets as I played the songs for them, and then check their answers. I could tell the students were excited to hear familiar vocabulary, even if they couldn’t understand the full meaning of each song. Several teachers in Shiga Prefecture still use the album. You can find it here: (http://www.themoonthroughmywindow.com) Or you can use it for free here: (http://www.themoonthroughmywindow.com/learn.html)
Another great work-related memory was when I had the junior high school ichinensei Skype my parents. Each of them had a script of three or four sentences they created. So my parents got to hear nearly 300 students say things like Hello! My name is Sayaka. I like basketball and tomatoes. See you! My parents loved every minute of it, and so did the kids. It wasn’t really about performing the sentences correctly. It was about putting the kids in a real-life interaction with people from another country. That felt good.
Oddly enough, a great memory from my days on the JET Program came much later, in May of this year. In 2006, during my first year as a JET, one of my ichinensei students was so fascinated with the guitar that she asked me if I would give her a few lessons. I do a lot of percussion on the guitar while playing, and showed her some techniques on how to do it. We got in touch at some point through Facebook after I had gone home. She was living in Spain and practicing flamenco guitar! I wished her a happy birthday on Facebook in May, and she replied with:
“Hello Mike.. my teacher who changed my life completely… after almost 10 years since we have met and I thought ‘I want to play like you’ in front of your performance, I am working as the guitarist abroad.. one thing which is incredible. Thank you so much for your lesson in the junior high school. Please contact me if you have time. have a lovely days!”
That, alone, made me feel like I had made a difference. I guess you could say this memory represents one of the most valuable lessons I learned, although it didn’t show itself until after the program. It’s also something I would recommend JETs remember, particularly those who wonder if they are making a difference; that what you do now matters. There are students who listen to you and are inspired by you even if you don’t realize it now. Even the kids in some of your most difficult classes may surprise you in ten years with how much you influenced their life decisions after they graduated from high school. Keep that in mind every time you walk into the classroom.
Like many of you, I have countless memories outside of work. I didn’t travel outside of Japan while on the JET Program (other than to go home), but resolved to travel within Japan as much as possible. I have too many experiences to list them all here, but the most notable were when I traveled by myself. When it was available, I purchased the Jyuuhachi Kippu, which allowed me to ride the local trains for as far as I wanted within a five-day period. On one trip, I was able to visit both Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I believe trips like this are best taken alone, at least the first time, and would give others the same advice. I learn something new about myself every time I travel alone, but it was particularly true in this case.
Adulting (Post JET)
Currently, I work for my family’s company, Friedland Industries, Inc. Friedland is a scrap-processing & recycling company with a history on the same corner in Lansing, Michigan since 1886 (long before the word recycling was around or became fashionable). I’m part of the fourth generation. We process for recycling all ferrous & non-ferrous metals, paper, various plastics, and we are a mass collector of electronic scrap. We are the middle process of what has to happen to commodities, like steel and aluminum, before they can be melted down and turned into something new. I’m an account representative, PR/marketing/social media specialist, legislative liaison, and educator, among other things.
My favorite aspect, though, is educating the public on the economic realities of recycling, and how it needs to be done cost-effectively in order to work correctly. One of the ways we do this is through providing tours of our facility to college students for their environmental science classes. Another way is through a two-minute radio segment we host called Scraponomics™: Understanding the Fundamental Economics of Recycling. You can find it here: (http://scraponomics.com)
I’ve recently started a podcast and newsletter called The Family Business Experience, where I interview people from other family businesses. I try to extract information about what makes their business the success that it is; what are the services they use that they’ve found helpful, what are their passions outside of work, what are the most influential books they’ve read that they would recommend to others, and how do they balance work with their other passions in life? The goal is to give readers and listeners hidden gems of advice they can use in their own businesses or for their own personal endeavors. You can find The Family Business Experience here: (https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/family-business-experience/id1037575196?mt=2)
And, I’ve never stopped playing music. You can find my music here: