Why Learning a Second (Third, Fourth…) Language Matters

Every teacher knows the pain of trying to convince a student that “yes, you will use this after you graduate” and “yes, it does matter that you learn the material”. Yet, with stacks of papers to mark, assemblies to attend, meetings to lead, and club sports to oversee, we sometimes lose sight of why we teach what we teach. Psh. English. Who cares, right?

With all the bureaucracy I’ve been drowning in lately, I definitely started losing touch with why studying English matters. A common complaint I hear from fellow coworkers is that students don’t use English outside of class and won’t use English after they graduate. They complain that students only go through the motions of learning English because it’s a graduation requirement to have taken and passed English in high school (and, for the record, a passing mark is anything above 30%).

So why teach English to a largely homogenous island nation… particularly out in the rice fields and up in the mountain side, where it takes enough effort to travel to talk to your nearest neighbor, let alone go anywhere to speak a foreign language?

Why should anyone have to learn a foreign language if they don’t plan on ever using the language?

Here’s why: because learning a foreign language helps foster compassion.


Plan 10 Steps Ahead, Take One at a Time.

Today is sure to be one to remember. This past weekend, Iwaki experienced the worst blizzard it's seen in 40 years--which, OK, isn't saying much, considering Iwaki is the San Diego of the Tohoku area. Oh, and the accuracy of my weather data only extends to my friend's dad who has lived in Iwaki his whole life and has never seen so much snow.

I'm headed to the Land Down Under in T-12 hours. Because I'm stingy with my paid days off, I went to work today and will zip straight to the airport as soon as the last bell of the day rings. I had little choice but to bring everything with me to work, despite the fact that today's local temperature is about 5°C whereas highs in Perth, Australia are around 30°C. What's more, city buses either weren't running today or were running terribly late. I asked one of the students at the bus stop how long she had been waiting for a bus: 30 minutes! On normal days, city buses are so punctual that you can arrive at a bus stop the minute that the bus is scheduled to come, and it will swoop by to pick you up in 0-5 minutes. The waiting girl went on to tell me that a bus hadn't come in the past hour and a half... which of course, made me seriously question her sanity for continuing to wait at that stop.

The people of Iwaki have been so comically thrown off of their daily routine for these past three days. Traffic was at a standstill this morning as, to my knowledge, our city doesn't even own snow plows. Yesterday, obaachans and ojiichans (elderly ladies and men) gingerly swept and pushed snow off of their driveways using dustpans and garden shovels; this morning, adults running late to work scraped ice off of their windshields with gloved hands and credit cards and kids sloshed their way to school in sopping wet Chuck Taylor Converse shoes.

Of course, I wasn't much better than anyone else. I trekked for 40 minutes to work carrying my 15-kg pack. 

I've got a hundred and one things on my mind as I tie up loose ends at home and at work on top of wondering if I'll make it to Tokyo -> Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia -> Perth, Australia -> Outback -> Sydney and back again in one piece. At the same time, I'm getting to be a lot calmer than I used to be the more I set off for new places. As much as I try to plan everything in life 10 steps ahead, I can only take one at a time and respond to one obstacle at a time. I've got my passport, boarding passes, credit card, cash, clean underwear, and journal. Everything else, I'll just have to figure out along the way.

It'll be my first time landing and roaming about a country where I don't know a single soul. As usual, though, I know I'll come back having made a few new friends and memories to last a lifetime. Here's hoping for a thousand things to write about, too.

And to not get bitten by a giant spider or large, wild reptile or mammal.

Punched by a kangaroo, at worst. But nothing more extreme than that.

Oh my gosh, I totally hope I get boxed by a kangaroo.

Here I come, Oz!


A Lonely, Snowy, and Flowery Kind of Post

View today from my office window: fresh blossoms on the windowsill and a flurry of fat snowflakes cloak bare cherry trees across the school parking lot.
Loneliness is a shape-shifting beast that creeps up on you and settles in wherever you are, whomever you’re with. When I packed my bags to trot across the globe, I did not intend on collecting as many variations of this creature as the world has to offer--in fact, I think I was trying to escape a kind of loneliness that had caught up with me at home. I failed in my flight. By now, I’ve gotten acquainted with at least a few different shades and dialects of loneliness.

First, there’s the kind of loneliness when you’re walking through a bustling market, a busy school building, or a crowded street and everyone you pass stops to say hello, how are you, something-something-something, something-else-you-didn’t-catch, and one-more-thing-you-didn’t-understand. This kind of loneliness is tricky because you’re surrounded by kindness. People smile or bow or hug you or “cheek-to-cheek” kiss you or give you food, but all you can think of are your mom’s warm words of reassurance, your dad’s rough hugs, your sister’s inside jokes, or your other sister’s long, winding stories.