Amanda Marie May
'09 B.A., English
Educating in the land of the rising sun
Having been inspired to work overseas through her exposure to international students during a graduate assistantship, Amanda finds great enjoyment as a neitibu no sensei (native teacher) of the English language. “The opportunity to test my own limits and to grow in ways that I could not do in an environment where I spoke the native language has been incredible,” notes Amanda.
In September 2012, she began working at Kintetsunara School, located in the Nara Prefecture of Japan, approximately 3 hours from Tokyo by bullet train (6.5 hours by car). The largest eikaiwa (English Conversation School) in Japan, Kintetsunara School and its parent entity AEON Corporation, an innovator in the field of English education in Japan, offer both classroom and internet options to study and master the language.
Amanda’s daily duties are varied. On any given day, she may be preparing lesson plans and teaching children and adults, providing student care in the form of counseling, administering check tests for the self-study program, generating ideas during business meetings, and proofreading materials printed in English. “Our range of student goals is much broader in an English conversation school than at a university,” she points out. “Whereas most students in university have the objective of obtaining a degree, some of the students who enroll at AEON are retirees looking for a new hobby or housewives who want to communicate with foreigners while traveling abroad. In some ways, this makes teaching more difficult, but it also makes things more interesting.”
Nicknamed “Majime” which means diligent by one of her students, Amanda who was a tutor stateside, indicates the students she teaches in Japan generally have a high respect for their teachers. “At the same time, they expect us to know everything there is to know about the English language, and like many students in American universities, they sometimes expect there to be a black and white answer to a question, when in truth, there are many gray areas to the language.”
Adjusting to the Japanese culture has been a tremendous experience for Amanda. While the language barrier was “super challenging,” the aspects she has found most enjoyable are Nara’s mountains, the blending of Japanese culture amongst modern urban settings, and of course, the food. “Sushi is amazing here! I’m pretty sure I will never eat sushi in America ever again.”
Other changes the native Michigander became accustomed to include driving on the left side of the road; frequenting tiny grocery stores with fresh, delicious, albeit astronomically-priced produce; being away from her family and friends stateside; encountering at times a “1950s view of women’s role in society;” and smaller living spaces. “My apartment is like a studio,” she quips. “The kitchen offers a sink, a stove, and nothing else – not even counter space. The bedding is also worth noting, as most people find this aspect pretty uncomfortable. Oh yes, and my air conditioner and heater turn off automatically after 3 hours, which makes for some very uncomfortable winter and summer mornings!”
Throughout her first year, the erstwhile educator has retained her trademark positive attitude. “I wouldn’t trade one minute of my experience for anything different. I only wish I could interact more with the people.” Taking the steps needed to accomplish this goal, she is currently enrolled in Japanese classes.
A voracious reader who also enjoys listening to music, and knitting, Amanda also spends a lot of time writing short stories, “and trying to get them published in various places.” Once she has mastered the Japanese language, her goal is to read writer Haruki Murakami’s works in his native language.
“Lourdes enabled me to build critical thinking and analytical skills that high school failed to provide. Having first attended a larger university, Lourdes’ small class sizes and supportive student services provided the individualized attention I sought. I was proud to work for the WIN Center for Academic Success (now the Academic Support Center) as an academic coach, structured learning assistance (SLA) coach, and writing tutor. I feel that the professional experience was invaluable in obtaining a graduate assistantship and later my position working abroad,” says Amanda.
Amanda has begun to journal and blog about her experiences and share more about Japan for those in the Western world. To read some of her musings, visit www. facebook.com/sologaijin.wordpress.com/. One of her long-term goals is to work in a writing or tutoring center at a university. “During my graduate assistantship, I was inspired to broaden my cultural experience because of all the international students I worked with and tutored. My goal in coming to Japan was to better relate to and assist these students.”
Her second long-term goal might be a bit lofty– “getting my name on a bookshelf somewhere.” However, the English graduate is positive it will occur. Until then, she says, “my plan is to just see where the journey takes me without letting any good opportunities pass me by, and keep having fun teaching my students.