6 Months in Tsukumi

What does 6 months living away from home in a country where you can’t speak or understand the language look like? I promise to film it in landscape from now on.

At first it was really exciting and nerve-wracking.

I had never lived away from home before for longer than 3 months.

Would I be able to cook and clean for myself?

Turns out, with the magic of the internet and some passive observing of mom’s cooking, I can replicate edible dishes. I also learned that living in your own filth got pretty gross really fast and I was fine cleaning up after myself. I learned the convenience of grocery store sushi, steamed vegetables and pan sheet oven dishes. I enjoyed experimenting with different ingredients. Some things tasted awful, some things turned out alright!

Would I struggle because I didn’t know the language?

Hell ya. Everyday interactions became so complicated. I was intimidated if they asked me anything at the convenient store. Using the washing machine and A/C proved to be more difficult than I thought it would be. My supervisor doesn’t speak a lick of English, so we had to communicate through Google Translate. I would be so tired at the end of the day because I would spend hours learning the Japanese alphabet and new vocabulary along with hearing and seeing Japanese all day. But, it got better. I’m nowhere near fluent in Japanese, but I can sometimes build context based on a few nouns and verbs. I paid attention to how the students were learning English and reversed it to me learning Japanese. I tried to read the handouts that they were given and sometimes one of my English Teachers would make me read the Japanese out to a student during pair work. I joined a volleyball team that consisted of my students’ parents and because they didn’t speak English, it also forced me to work on understanding and speaking. I still have a hella long way to go, but I’m happy with any progress.

Was I lonely or bored?

Yup and yup. The first few months were awful. I was so used to living with 3 other people (mom, dad, brother) and my cat. It was really easy in Toronto to hang out with friends downtown or go to the local climbing gym and interact with people. Just coming out of university, I was so hard-wired to be constantly busy and occupying myself. Now, I found myself faced with a lot of time but with nowhere to go or not many people to hang out with. I’m super glad that I have a neighbour and there are a few other English speakers here but there’s only so much time I can spend with them. But as time went on, I learned how to keep myself occupied. I read many books, caught up on TV shows, painted, studied various topics and also just learned how to relax and do nothing. Also, I can finally sleep without feeling guilty for not completing an assignment or problem set. Doing nothing is something I hadn’t done successfully in years.

What’s the job like?

So I’m an Assistant Language teacher (ALT), which means I’m supporting a Japanese teacher who teaches English. I’m mostly there for help with pronunciation and editing the student’s compositions. I only teach at 2 Junior High schools which include the equivalent grades of 7 to 9. One of my schools only has 4 classes so the max amount of classes I can have at that school is 4 in a day, yet we have 6 periods. I spend the other 2 periods making a lesson plan out of my own initiative (or if my English teacher asks), reading or making an English poster. At my second school, which is much bigger, sometimes I have all 6 periods, sometimes I have 1. It depends on what the school activities are for the day.

Am I staying another year?

No, I decided not to re-contract. I love the students, but I decided that there are other things I want to try in my life. Tsukumi is a really beautiful place, but I find myself a little bit inactive both mentally and physically. It’s a challenge simply living here, but I would prefer a more challenging line of work. I’ll be back in Toronto sometime late August, early September. I haven’t figured out what I’d like to do next, but I’m exploring options. Some options in the short-term I’ve looked into are: completing a thru-hike, going back to school for something, working odd jobs in a different country. If anyone has any suggestions or leads, I’m open to thinking about it.

Things I’m looking forward to in the next 6 months

  • Seeing the winter sakura (and spring sakura) in the upcoming weeks
  • Mom and dad visiting at the end of the month
  • Spring Break at the end of March with Nikola – strongly leaning towards visiting South Korea
  • Sarah visiting during Golden Week
  • Hiking more mountains and beach hopping when the weather gets warmer
  • Olympics in August

Cheers to the next 6 months!

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