Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Sun Academy Evaluation

I'll keep this short and simple so it's easy for future Light Fellows to read and refer to.

* You really get to know all the kids in your program since they're all from Yale.
* You meet a bunch of cool Japanese kids through the buddy system. If you make an effort to meet them, your Japanese will improve a lot.
* Tokyo is an amazing city to be in. So much to do and see.
* The events that the teachers arrange are hit-or-miss, but there are some very very awesome ones, like when we got to meet Masi Oka (!) and the producer of Spirited Away, who happened to be one of the buddies' dads!
* The reading materials are great--your reading skills will really improve
* At least in my case, the host family system worked out really really well in my favor--it seemed to be rather hit or miss for most of the students though. Regardless, having a host family means you'll have someone to talk to every day in Japanese. Definitely take advantage of dinner conversations.
* Friday debates with the buddies are interesting discussions with the buddies that are very good for your conversational and debate skills.
* Kajikawa-sensei is great, very understanding, and very willing to listen to your suggestions for improvement. If you're unhappy about class, be sure to talk to her about it, because she will be sure to take your suggestions into account and adjust accordingly. She's also great to talk to if you have problems with your host family or anything in general in Japan.

* Disorganization. This was my biggest gripe with Sun Academy. There were a lot of times that I was unsure where the class was heading and what exactly we were aiming to learn. I think it'd be much better if the teachers made a very set schedule with clear goals. Also, there really should be a bound book (apart from Sura-Sura for second year, third year was just a bundle of papers and one bound book of kanji) because we often received papers and then lost them in the huge pile that we amassed, making it really hard to find out what to study.
* Not enough drilling of grammar in third-year. I felt that we only vaguely understood most of the grammar and didn't get enough practice actually using it. It would be nice to spend some time actually practicing it (there was one particularly Friday where we did do a lot of practice with it and that was really helpful).
* Too much busywork as homework. I felt that a lot of the homework involved summary, which I don't think is the most helpful skill. Reading comprehension questions that involve extraction or inferring would be more helpful than summary. Also, I think essays every few days would be more helpful than reading comprehension based on summary.
* Too much reading in class. Each day was pretty much spent rereading what we should have already read for homework. Although 予習 (studying in advance) was encouraged, I felt the teachers did not enforce it enough. Moving at a faster pace would make a clear message that you can't just fool around and not study beforehand, such that most students would actually take the 予習 more seriously. Instead of reading in class, it would be more effective in my opinion to maybe summarize the reading through speaking rather than rereading and then to discuss or debate the reading or issues related to the reading.
* In summary, my biggest problem with the program was the disorganization and the heavy focus on reading. In my opinion, an organized schedule and bound book and focusing on speaking and grammar in class while leaving reading and writing for home would be infinitely more effective.

All-in-all though, I would still recommend Sun Academy in the hopes that under Kajikawa sensei's direction, the program will continue to improve since it's still young!

Goodbye Gaijin!

And finally we come to the last post! To sum up, this summer was nothing short of the most amazing summer I've had. I think the fact that there were fewer students in Sun Academy this year (only 14), due to the earthquake, meant that all of us Yale students bonded a lot. We hung out all the time and had crazy adventures every weekend. Our small number also made it so that we were able to hang out with the buddies in pretty equal proportions, making for a fun bonding experience. Not only that, but my host family was absolutely amazing--as I've raved about how awesome they were ad nauseum already, I won't bore you with more ;). Lastly, to be able to meet up with the Japanese friends I made at Sogang and to speak to them in Japanese was just a really unreal experience. Thank you Light Fellowship for making this happen! :)

The last week was a scramble to study for the final while writing our speeches and also making time to meet friends for the last time. On Monday, to show Kristi a "real" Tokyo experience, we decided to make a trip back to Akihabara to take purikura pictures (those photo booths that photoshop your pupils to look huge, plump up your lips, and lessen your facial hair if you're Gabe hahaha) and play in some of the arcades.
Tuesday involved Eunbi and me meeting my Korean friend who'd been living in Japan for five years and eating ox tongue for the first time, a pretty delicious meal.
Wednesday, I met up with Kumiko who I studied with at Sogang and walked around the National Palace, which was surprisingly deserted. Funny enough, despite being Japanese, both Kumiko and Chihiro had never gone to the national palace. I guess it's like how most New Yorkers have not gone to the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty! That week was also particularly sweltering (every day was upwards of 35 degrees Celsius, which is over 100F), making for a very sweaty, but rewarding walk around the palace grounds.
More hilarious Engrish.

We then met up with Rewon at Shimbashi and headed off to Odaiba, where we met up with Chihiro at her workplace and ate at a pirate restaurant. Quite the experience, and oh-so gaijinrashii (foreigner-like). For some reason, the waiters there yelled "adios!" when you were done eating.
Not so sure pirates used chopsticks...
I had a short lunch with Yoshiko (another Sogang buddy) on Thursday before heading home to study (or nap) and write my speech. Finally, the long-awaited weekend arrived after a grueling 3 hour exam!
I met up with Kana to head to Odaiba again, since she had never been there before (being a native of Kagawa, in Shikoku). We had a yummy lunch and walked around the area, failing to find the beach however, but taking a picture in front of a small replica of the Statue of Liberty! As dinner approached, we headed back to Nippori to meet up with Yoshiko and then with the rest of the Sun Academy-ers (except for a few who couldn't make it) for a dinner at my host family's house.

When we got to my house, even I was surprised to see the humongous banquet that my host mother had laid out. Absolutely incredible and delicious! Not only that, but she had even made a Yale cake by hand! Amazing is the only word I can use to describe it.

After a short session of gaming on my host brother's Wii, everyone then disbanded to write their speeches.

The next day, after everyone finally made it through their speeches, we were finally done with Sun Academy! We had a dinner at a delicious Chinese restaurant (it'd been a while since I'd eaten jellyfish) and gave a tearful goodbye to our teachers.
Haruka's dad shows us 合気道 aikido.
A party ensued with Gabe's family and brother in his brother's very cool apartment. There was plenty of talking and general festivities. I have to say, Gabe's 4 year old host sister Emily is one of the cutest little kids I've ever seen! She was so adorable and fun to play with, not to mention Gabe's host parents were so awesome and fun to talk to as well. I'm gonna miss them as well!
Finally, after pulling an all-nighter with the crew and some of the Japanese buddies, we all said our tearful goodbyes, hugged, and went our separate ways. Luckily, I'll see most everyone back at Yale, but to Rewon, Eunbi, and Michael, have an amazing year, and to Ruth, an amazing semester! I'm gonna miss those kids, especially since I'll be graduating this year! Alas, all good things come to an end (泣).
The next day was spent talking to my host mom for five hours--she's just so full of energy and so fun to talk to!
I packed after a delicious dinner of my favorite--sashimi--and headed off to Korea for a week, which was spent catching up with several friends who I had met in Korea, and finally I came back to Japan for one night (because of an overnight layover) to have dinner with my host parents. I packed, went to sleep for the last time in that pink house, and went with my host parents to Narita, where they saw me off, yet another tearful goodbye (泣).

From one set of parents to another, I finally met my parents back in JFK and went home after this amazing trip that went by in a blink and yet felt like an eternity! And thus ends my sublime stay in Tokyo.

Monday, August 22, 2011

A Very Not-Tokyo Experience

No cell phone service? No internet? No people? Cool weather? Ten hours of sleep each night?

This basically sums up our relaxing trip to Nagano 長野, which you may recall as the location of the 1998 Winter Olympics. After a long week in school, Eunbi, Rewon, and I were ready to take a trip to my host family's aunt's country house in Tateshina Kougen 蓼科高原, a plateau about 1,600 meters above sea level meaning an escape from the sweltering humidity and heat of Tokyo.
After about a four hour cramped ride (the three of us did not fit horribly well in the narrow back seat of my host mom's BMW), we finally arrived and met my host mother's bubbly aunt Hiroko, her husband Shogen, and my host mother's other aunt Junko. After a short tour of the outside of their house, a woodsy area with wood arrangements of animals made by Hiroko and various interesting looking fungi, the three of them prepared a delicious salad and various tempura made from some of the plants from the surrounding area for dinner.
One of the wood arrangements made by aunt Hiroko--an いのしし boar (like from Princess Mononoke!)
Again on the theme of close-up pictures of bugs.
We followed up by going to aunt Junko's personal onsen (not many people get hot mountain spring water pumped directly into their homes...) and relaxing for a bit, before trying some of the really delicious beer aunt Junko had bought and also the シソ shiso juice (apparently "perilla" or "beefsteak plant"), a red drink that was deliciously fruity, that she had made while having a discussion with her about her interesting travels around the world.
The next morning, we had one of the more American breakfasts I'd had in Japan. We then headed off to a lake and took a little swan boat out on to the water, which we had a strong craving to jump into just to cool off and swim. Unfortunately, that wouldn't have been very pleasant for the rest of the day that we would be soaking wet. Instead, we sat back, dipped our feet in the water, and enjoyed the serene scenery of the surrounding area, which is a sea resort in the winter.
After that relaxing stint, we went to make soba! Which was one of the coolest experiences I had in Japan. We had to pound the dough and make it soft enough to eat, and then cut it up into thin pieces. Unfortunately, we cut them rather thick so the end result turned out more like udon than soba...but it was still delicious regardless :D.

We gorged ourselves on our homemade soba and then proceeded to check out a nearby waterfall and then the river that it led into. We walked around the river and I made the best decision of my life--to hand my camera, wallet, cell phone, and overshirt to Eunbi, because very shortly after, I stepped on what I thought was a shallow part of the river, and ended up falling into the river completely! And this happened not just once but about embarrassing, but refreshing! Might as well have gone for that swim earlier!

We then went to relax at an onsen, where there was one outdoor portion that had some mineral water or something of the sort (the water wasn't see through). Funnily enough, Rewon and I soon noticed that across from that part, there was a trail where people were walking down. If they had turned their head to their right, they would have just seen a bunch of naked men chilling in an onsen. What??? Did they not think about the placement of this onsen haha? We almost wanted to call out "Oi!" (Japanese for hey!) just to see what their reaction would be!

I changed back into my wet pants (very unpleasant after a relaxing dip in the onsen) and we had a delicious assortment of different foods. Exhausted from the day, we were pretty much ready to go to bed by 8PM (very college-rashikunai), but decided we should probably stay up a bit longer. So we played a bit of the guitar, learning a bit from aunt Hiroko (who can apparently play the guitar, saxophone, and piano!) and trying to pull off playing and singing "Hey There Delilah." Our night ended with a ridiculous game of Jenga where we piled up the blocks in any way we wanted, and we retired by 10ish.
We began heading back to Tokyo by 10:30AMish but didn't get back until the late late hour of 6:30PM. Wow, traffic into Tokyo on Sunday is bad! Granted, we did take some pit stops. Overall, the weekend was super relaxing and a great escape from the bustling life of Tokyo! We finished off the Sunday by meeting up with the other Sun Academy-ers and the HIF kids who were down in Tokyo to visit, and then celebrating our (almost) last meeting with Chihiro.
At the "Alice" karaoke place, this was the "Little Mermaid" floor.
Joining the HIF kids in karaoke!
As a side note, Rewon and I also had a personal tutoring session with Yonehara-sensei this week because the other 3-nensei-ers were off doing an internship at Kikkoman. Needless to say, learning with only two people is amazing and we were able to practice our Japanese so much, even afterwards as she took us out for a delicious meal of monjya (Tokyo version of okonomiyaki) in Tsukishima 月島 mmm!

The process of monjya
Followed by a yummy red bean dessert.
Yonehara-sensei and Rewon.