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There’s Nothing New Under The Sun. It’s Never What You Do But How It’s Done.

Dear Ashida Sensei,
This one’s for you!
Thank you for reading my blogs. I miss you and I miss Japan very very much, too!

Yesterday, I received a jam-packed envelope containing letters from my ex Junior High School students in Japan. Ashida Sensei, thank you for initiating them. I have always admired you. You once told me that you teach because you feel an obligation to open your student’s minds to the outside world. At the time, I thought your statement was beautiful. Today, with the heartbreaking circumstances of our world, I understand it as incredibly necessary, too. Thank you for selflessly shaping our future. Funnily enough, lately I have been receiving some negative opinions (and unfortunately from those dear to me) about my work. The education of children is not adequately valued in our society. These attitudes have left me unhappy, thinking that perhaps I should have studied something different, something more reputable like medicine or law. Fortunately, other positive forces in my life have rescued me from the quicksand of such negative thoughts. One beautiful lady in particular pointed me to the following quote by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the eldest son of Bahá’u’lláh, the Prophet Founder of the Bahá’í Faith:

Among the greatest of all services that can possibly be rendered by man to Almighty God is the education and training of children… It is, however, very difficult to undertake this service, even harder to succeed in it. I hope that thou wilt acquit thyself well in this most important of tasks, and successfully carry the day, and become an ensign of God’s abounding Grace; that these children, reared one and all in the holy Teachings, will develop natures like unto the sweet airs that blow across the gardens of the All- Glorious, and will waft their fragrance around the world. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá: Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. pp. 133-134)

So, “the education and training of children” is not only the greatest service of all time but also one that is very difficult to do and to succeed in. Don’t get me wrong, I am not tooting my own horn. Rather, I wish to acknowledge the true importance of a teacher’s work.

I would like to finish with my favourite Japanese Proverb:

Better than a thousand days of diligent study is one day with a great teacher.
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The Best Book For ESL Teachers

I couldn’t yell it at my Japanese co-workers so I’m gonna write it here: people don’t learn a language through tests! I say this from experience. English is my second language. Until the age of 8.5 I could not speak a word of it. In fact, I loathed the damn gibberish I couldn’t decrypt. So much so, that I remember crying to my mother, to take me out of NZ and back to our home in Iran where were my close friends. And, look at me now! I run this silly blog where I write in English! I hold a University degree in English literature, and I spent a year and a half teaching the very language in Japan to hundreds of students. The secret? Learning through action. Through doing. Through activities and through games. Through entertainment! Through watching the TV show F.R.I.E.N.D.S. No one wants to practice grammar! Ain’t nobody got time for that (or the patience)! People want to converse, to do, and to connect. Which is why I LOVE this book right here. I’m writing a post because I want to personally recommend it to all of my friends. And no, I am not on commission.

So. Whether you’re a legit ESL teacher, a part-time tutor or a helpful friend wanting to teach your helpful friend some England, this light and thus easily carried book is full of fun games and activities to spice up your lessons. For more info click HERE or HERE.
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Time For An Apology

An apology and a thank you.

A big fat juicy thank you to my dear friend Yuka (first my older sister’s friend after doing a high-school exchange in rural New Zealand) for allowing me to stay.

I believe very few people can truly understand how happy I am to be here. Really, you may think me melodramatic or this an exaggeration, but I almost feel as if I’ve fled prison! My soul is rolling on the grass and my heart is breathing in mouthful after mouthful of fresh air.

Before beginning my apology, I’d like to say that no one forced me to sign up for the JET programme. As continuously reiterated to participants, each JET experience is different. This is because, as expected, the lifestyle and mannerisms of each student, school, Japanese teacher(s), contracting organisation and geographical location will differ – in both good and bad ways. Without getting into specifics, my experience happened to be extremely unpleasant (put politely). However, as you may have seen from my previous posts, I tried my best to make the most of it – my life. I made many friends of all ages and partook in various activities every-single-day. Again, no one forced me to stay, I could have left at any moment. However, I felt a strong responsibility to my students, colleagues and myself to see things through to the end. Even through the difficulties and even through the heartache. And though I made some unforgettable memories with my dear students and friends, I still finished my contract with a heart full of sadness. Sadness at mistreatment, of lack of apology and of prejudice. I felt disheartened because I felt I had so much to give. For goodness sakes, I was an ENGLISH major. English was my passion. English is my passion. Still, I was underutilised and unappreciated. I remember thinking to myself that if there’s one thing I’ve learnt from this experience, it’s to never ever be unproductive.

As for my apology, again, I would like to first thank Yuka. For in the mere three days that I have lived in Osaka, I have felt more good energy and positive vibes than I had for a year and four months. I had so many back-to-back negative experiences that I’d convinced myself I hated Japan. I couldn’t understand how others were having a pleasant time here. Weren’t they being stared at everywhere they weren’t? Wasn’t the doctor refusing to treat them because he or she didn’t speak English? Weren’t they turned away every time they went to class? Weren’t they frowned upon for wearing a singlet, riding a bike, having their hair out?

Osaka is a wonderful city. I mean, I have only experienced a small part of it but what I have seen emits great spirits. People are always out and about. They have blonde, purple and blue hair. They sport tattoos and piercings alongside formal and traditional attire. Mothers ride their bicycles in floral dresses as their loose hair dances out back and their front seated toddler watches in amusement. Business men carry stylish briefcases and smell like heaven and young girls are so damn fashionable they put me to shame.

I would like to apologise because I based my perception on a small minority of Japan. Even though I knew it couldn’t all be like this, I still couldn’t really believe it. Osaka or city-life, whatever it is, has changed my awareness. I am so glad I could/can experience this side of Japan. I’ve decided I could easily live in this city, forever.
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Pass The Kleenex: My Goodbye Ceremony

When I was a child, I believed anything was possible. That I was invincible and that anything I wanted would happen. As I grew older, my view of the world began to change. Doors closed in my face and life proved difficult to manage. But my parents and my faith pushed me to preserve. I chose not to give up. I crawled through the pain.

Today, I stand before you as your English teacher, delivering my goodbye speech in English. To think I once knew not a single word of the language proves in big capital alphabet that MIRACLES really can happen. And do. Over and over again. But here’s the catch. We must actively seek them. But where?

In the words of my favorite poet. “Do you know what you are? You are a manuscript of a divine letter. You are a mirror reflecting a noble face. This universe is not outside of you. Look inside yourself; everything that you want, you are already that.”

I am so glad I was your teacher. Please don’t forget me. I know that I will remember you all with fond memories forever. Believe me when I say, I love each and every one of you with my whole spirit.
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An Open Letter To The Mimasaka Board Of Education

To whom it may concern

I am writing this letter to let you know that I will be retiring from my position as Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) on July 22nd.

Please know that I have had the most negative experience here. The Mimasaka Board of Education has continuously surprised me with their unprofessionalism.

I have not recieved or been notified of important information. I was never invited to the ALT orientation or the ALT camp (both of where I would have had the opportunity to make foreign friends in my position and/or receive answers to my countless questions). When information has been given to me, it has been given to me late. For example, the forms for relocation were given to me well past their due date. My emails and phone-calls have gone unanswered. And time after time my supervisors have approached me with requests for large amounts of surprise payments due on the same day.

It is unfortunate that I will be leaving Mimasaka with a heart full of sadness. I have given all of my spirit and energy to my students and in return I have been faced with repetitive negligence.

As a guest in your country, you have made me feel incredibly unwelcome.

However; I am smarter than to judge the entire Japanese community by a small minority’s actions. As a full-blooded Iranian, I know the effects of such ignorance first-hand. I will not be a part of that blindness. For many people of your community have shown me more love and respect than some individuals of my home country and/or race ever have. If it were not for their kindness, I too would have broken my contract like my predecessor.

My wish today on Tanabata is that my successor will not have to go through the same unfair treatment and excruciating pain that I have.

Anisa Kazemi  
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Currently Out Of Order

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I learned some great lessons today. Mainly the importance of touch but also, gratitude, for the little things, which turn out to be the big things – something much has been said about and will undoubtedly continue to be talked and discussed, and love and how love is everything.

Long story short, I became very ill.Very quickly. I felt nauseous then vomited a lot (sorry), felt extremely weak and cold. My head hurt, my stomach hurt, I was dizzy and to top it all off, I started to panic. Panic and stress about what was happening to me but also where it was happening to me: rural japan, where I can’t speak the language, where the doctors terrify me and where I live alone, just me.

Next, I did two things. One, sent a simple message to my friend Yuko about having to cancel coffee and second, sleep. Or at least, made an attempt to sleep.

One hour later, the amount of time it takes me to drive to Yuko’s or from Yuko’s to me, I hear the doorbell ring. Ding dong! Here is Yuko, all flustered and worried (but still stunning, always stunning) with an armful of things. Water, fruit, cooked mixed rice and tofu amongst other things. We (her and her husband) are driving you to the hospital, come she says. Side note: Japan doesn’t have GPs, so everyone goes to “the hospital” for everything which on another note, has freaked me out plenty. Your daughter is in hospital?! WHY! You were in hospital this morning?! AH! Though in this case, I would have probably gone to a hospital anyhow seeing as it was Sunday and an emergency.

I was checked by the doctor, given a blood test (after four unsuccessful jabs to the hand and wrist) and hooked up to an IV for an hour. Now, I feel better. I have been given three days of rest but I cannot eat or even think about eating let alone cook/prepare it and blog about it. So my point in writing this post is this: that the entire time I lay on the hospital bed, staring at the ceiling with pain radiating through my entire existence, Yuko held my hand in hers. And rubbed my head and told me that everything was going to be okay. WOW how great it felt to be touched. In the midst of all the pain, the miscommunication and the homesickness, what I thought about was how lovely it was to have my hand in hers. Which brings me to the importance of touch. The great Leo Buscaglia once said, “too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around”. My life was turned around. Her touch gave me hope and serenity. Two powerful forces which allowed me to see, even amongst the difficulty, my life in all its love and blessings.

Next, I want to share a quote by Christopher Aiff, a quote I believe will be a good concluder for this speech:

“The decision to be positive is not one that disregards or belittles the sadness that exists. It is rather a conscious choice to focus on the good and to cultivate happiness–genuine happiness. Happiness is not a limited resource. And when we devote our energy and time to trivial matters, and choose to stress over things that ultimately are insignificant. From that point, we perpetuate our own sadness, and we lose sight of the things that really make us happy and rationalize our way out of doing amazing things.”

Which is how I can be happy. Happy alone – well, not really. Happy to be alive. Happy thinking of becoming healthy and happy for the adventure that awaits me post (and heck, during) sick leave. So dear reader, stay positive and TOUCH (me) hehe.

Hello Kitty Slippers And More

Yesterday I experienced my first Japanese JHS graduation ceremony and it was really interesting. Here are my thoughts:

What they wore:
So the students just wore their school uniforms with an identical pink corsage on the left chest. As for the teachers and parents, this is where things got interesting! So as per custom, everyone was dressed in formal black suits with white shirts and an elegant tie or corsage but the thing is, in Japan, people don’t wear shoes inside, they wear slippers. So here were 100+ adults in formal formal suits and Hello Kitty slippers. Or panda slippers. So so cute and strange and random. I wished so bad for another nonJapanese to have seen it with me! In addition to the black suits and corsages, all the women wore pearls. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the memo.

How it panned out:
I was there for the practise and planning of the whole thing so I know just HOW much effort went into it. So everything from the distance between the chairs to the carefully ironed table cloths to the immaculate bouquet displays were carefully organised prior to the event to be flawless. And I mean that in the strongest sense of the word. Just perfect.

This was also the case with everything else. So like, there was a lot of rehearsed marching. Both from the students and the staff. Everyone bowed, walked and conducted themselves in an identical manner. It was all just so so organised. Speaking of bowing, there was much of that. Almost too much. My back hurt. Without sounding rude or offensive, I think we must have looked like a room-full  of canaries. Again, super cute or kawaii. So it was really well done but in my opinion, a little too ordered. I wish there had been a little less stern faces, a little less seriousness and a little more smiling and jokes!
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