It’s been almost two weeks since I arrived in Japan, and my third season living and working here is well underway. Although much is familiar, a couple significant factors are quite different, making this a new and unique experience.
First, I’m living in a different area (south of Tokyo instead of north, like I did my first two terms). I live in Kawasaki City, Kanagawa, which is not far from one of my favorite places, Yokohama. (On a clear day, from a tall perch, the landmark buildings there can be seen.) It’s a 20-minute walk to the train station, through a densely populated neighborhood. There are a few cafes, grocery, convenience and 100-yen stores (similar to Western “dollar” stores, but these have a much better variety). I live in a basic, but cozy, Leopalace apartment. (Leopalace is the name of the chain of apartments that are assigned to Westgate teachers.) The ones I’ve lived in have the same floor plan and I’m completely content with them. It makes moving in easy, since I know exactly where I’m going to put everything.
Standard-issue Leopalace apartment building.
View along the river, across the road from my apartment.
Although the building isn’t in the most scenic of locations, it’s right across the road from a path that runs along a river (not in view in the photo below). There are many cyclists and runners and it I’m happy to have such a convenient and protected place to run. No more crossing busy roads and dodging traffic on my morning runs.
Sunset in Kawasaki City. My running path.
Second, my work situation has changed. This term I’m a Senior Instructor, which means I work in the Westgate office in Tokyo doing a variety of tasks, one of which will be helping with curriculum development. Also, if a teacher is sick, injured or has to leave, then I (or one of six other SI’s) will be available to fill in for that class. There are 61 universities that contract with Westgate, and we could potentially cover for any of those schools.
Of the 61 schools, 15 are part of WG’s Accredited Program (the rest are part of the Extra-Curricular Program*) and several of these accredited-program schools have strict rules regarding attendance and administering exams. One of these is Kanagawa University in Yokohama, where there are 13 regular instructors. Peter, another SI, and I spent two days there, along with the other teachers, getting oriented, meeting school officials and learning about the very detailed procedure for checking roll and giving exams.
KU’s Westgate instructors during a planning session.
Planning session in the English lounge at KU.
From 7:30-8:30, I’m on-call at home. If I’m needed to cover a class, someone from Westgate will call, telling me which school I need to go to, as well as the lesson I’ll need to teach (there will be a notebook in the classroom or staff office with the lesson plans). If I don’t get a call by 8:30, then I immediately go to the WG office (which takes one hour and 20 minutes from my apartment to travel to).
The Accredited programs began this week, and in one month the Extra Curricular programs will start. Although I could be called any day, other SI’s have told me that it’s likely we won’t get called much until the EC programs start. There are so many more teachers involved and a higher possibility for absences.
Pros and Cons
I like knowing what to expect for the day, so being on-call could be a challenge for me. I’ll have to negotiate train routes that I’ve never been on before and be ready to teach a lesson that I can’t really prepare for since I won’t know when I’m actually going to teach. On the flip side, I think getting to visit new schools and seeing different parts of the city will be great.
Scott (from Canada) and Peter (Australia), fellow SI’s. (Her bag says Q-Pot Cafe. I have no idea.)
When I work at the office, I’m generally going to be glued to a computer all day. But the content could be interesting and the people I’m working with are smart, interesting and easy to be with. I admire and respect the Westgate staff and I’ve been looking forward to working more closely with them through this arrangement.
And the dress code is one I’m already used to and think should be adopted in Western cultures: not just suggested, but required – slippers!
Adhering to the strict dress code.
As in all homes and some restaurants, it’s Japanese custom to remove your shoes before entering. At the Westgate office we remove our shoes just inside the door and borrow slippers that are provided. It’s a practice that adds a layer of calm in a very busy working environment.
And that is the plan laid out for me for the next three and a half months! I know I’ll be preoccupied with work during the week, but the weekends will be mine for continuing my exploration of Tokyo.
*The main difference between the Accredited and Extra-Curricular programs is that students in the Accredited program are taking the WG English class as part of their regular coursework, they receive a grade and the class is required for their degree program. With the Extra-Curricular program, the students pay an additional fee to take the course, they do not receive a grade and the class is not required.