The (awesome, crazy, ‘ballin’) Life of an ESL Intern

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One of the main reasons that I wanted to come to Japan was the internship program offered through TUJ. Back in the winter, as I was trying to decide what to do with my summer but feeling trapped in the bleakness of one of the worst winters PA has ever seen, I got an email: “Up to $5000 Freeman Scholarship available for internship participants.” Well, if that number doesn’t pique interest, I don’t know what would. I started looking into the different internships available, and the moment I stumbled upon Kanagawa Sohgoh High School, I knew it would be a good fit. I want to teach English after I graduate, and what better way to see if that’s actually what I want than to intern in a high school English department?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne view of the high school, courtesy of Wikimedia

I am here in Japan because of this internship and the fact that I was fortunate enough to receive the Freeman Internship Scholarship. When I first boarded the 7:15 train and began my commute (yeah, THAT commute) in May, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Would I be responsible for a whole class? Would I be grading papers? I had no idea.Visions of rowdy classrooms full of 17-year-olds throwing paper at each other (my high school chem class) danced through my head. Turns out I had no reason to worry. My students, ranging through all three years of high school, are amazing and even the quiet ones participate and try to learn. The school itself is also vastly different from my small (*tiny*) high school, where there were roughly 230 other kids in the entire school, not just one grade. There are six languages available for study here: French, German, Korean, Spanish, Chinese, and, of course, English. There is a whole floor dedicated to art studies, and nine other floors containing everything from science labs to kitchens where students learn to cook. The students don’t wear uniforms, and once graduation credits are met, one can have as little or as much free time during the day as desired.

As an intern, however, my free time is limited. I arrive at 8:50am every Tuesday and Thursday and usually head to my first class at anywhere from 9-9:45, depending on the teacher’s request. The rest of the day, until 4th period begins at 2:50, is a flurry of going from classroom to classroom assisting in English teaching. In class, I usually read texts aloud for students to repeat chunk by chunk. I also explain vocabulary words and difficult concepts, initiate discussions, and assist with pronunciation. I’m happy to answer and ask questions and serve as a “native speaking” voice in the classroom to weigh in on words, phrases, and what Americans do and don’t say. After school, I assist the debate team on Tuesdays and help run “Chit Chat Club” on Thursdays, an organization where students can gather and have English conversations in a relaxed, informal setting. The debate team is prepping for their first competition, in which they will be arguing for and against the reinstatement of nuclear power in Japan. In Chit Chat Club, arguably my favorite part of Thursdays, students ask questions about American culture, we talk about our plans, weekends, likes and dislikes, and have had several excellent lessons on (appropriate) American slang. They eagerly learned phrases such as “see ya later,” “I’m a boss,” and “What’s up?” and I was astounded at the huge amount of slang and idioms we use every day without even realizing. How does one explain the subtle difference between “I’m a baller,” and “I’m a boss” or the intricacies of “It’s raining cats and dogs”? And “hot,” and “cool,” which should be antonyms, really mean just about the same thing. It’s baffling, but wickedly fun.

I realized I like teaching because it gives me a chance to interact with others and learn more about different cultures. It’s sweet, bad, ballin’, awesome, and cool, all at once. Norman Rockwell was a “sick” painter, but he wasn’t ill or diseased, as my Communication English II classes just learned in their lessons on the American icon. Pandas live in the wild, but the amount of money they cost to keep at a zoo? Now that‘s wild, according to what we just learned in Katayama Sensei’s class. And that is the crazy, beautiful, wicked, confusing language that I get to teach and re-examine every week.

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2 responses »

  1. Hello Margaret, I happened on to the Temple University website looking for Japanese school for my son Robert who is 16 and going to be a junior in Allen, TX high school. I was wondering if the Kanagawa High School where you are at excepts foreign students? Thank you.

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