It’s my last weekend teaching English in the intensive immersion program at the International University of Japan and I’m scrambling to complete my grade reports, finish last-minute shopping, clean my flat, eat my food, wash my clothes, and tender my farewells before another lovely summer term here in the hinterlands of Niigata Prefecture is “in the can,” as I say. But before I head to the next adventure (more about that in a minute), I wanted to share a few pictures about this summer and the wonderful students and fellow faculty who have populated it.
First up is a shot of the bucolic countryside that surrounds our campus. We are near Mt. Hakkai and an associated range of the Japanese “Alps” that even in the heat and humidity always manages to look serene and cool:
The result of all this beautiful nature is….wildlife! While bears and strange blond monkeys are reputed to live high in the hills (and the monkeys apparently enjoy the local hot springs in the winter months), I haven’t seen much besides hawks, crows, little lizards and frogs, and lots and lots of bugs. The cicadas are throbbing as I write this (look away, J), and the campus often yields creature species I simply haven’t ever laid eyes on before. Here’s one critter that greeted me as I headed into the cafeteria for lunch last week:
It’s only about three inches in length (including those “antlers”) but still a bit of a surprise.
In addition to tropical weather, summer in this part of the world is the time for some of Japan’s best…watermelon. These come in two styles. There are Type A melons, absolute geometric perfection, and they go for a king’s ransom (perfection in Japan is a high virtue). And then there are the Type B melons, slightly misshapen, perhaps a microscopic nick or pit here or there. They run for about USD 6-10 a head. And finally, if you happen to walk down the right rutted path at the right time of day and find a friendly farmer, they might be…free. Here are some charming prospects in a local farmer’s market:
…and even more fun, a shot of one of the watermelon feeds that happens intermittently at IUJ when one of the faculty stumbles across a big one at a reasonable price. Chilled and sliced on a steamy afternoon….mmmm…nothing better…
I’ve spoken about this before, but I need to give a shout out to my students this summer and the last two summers, amazing young men and women from developing countries — many of whom leave jobs and families and even small children — who come to study with us for the summer and then go on to master’s programs at graduate schools in Tokyo. These young professionals are in the banking and financial services sector and are chosen by the International Monetary Fund for mid-career fellowships. As I mentioned when I posted this picture on Facebook, if anyone is going to save the world, it’s going to be these folks, individuals tasked with try to adjust entire sections of a country’s economy in order to create more opportunities for their compatriots And yet, as individuals, they are just wonderful human beings – smart, funny, compassionate, engaged, and basically a teacher’s dream. The group below hails from Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Uzbekistan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Mongolia, and Myanmar:
Fortunately, life isn’t all teaching…some faculty are generous enough to offer extra activities to get out out and about. For the last three years, I’ve shocked myself by joining a dance empowerment/quasi “Zumba” class offered by a fellow faculty member who is so gifted…she gets me to jump around and sweat in the heat. Here’s a shot of some of the intrepid students and teachers who don’t mind making utter fools of themselves to get the endorphins flowing:
Also on the non-academic side of life, this year I did something new. Normally, the oral communications teachers (I am “Text Skills,” doncha know?) dress in traditional Japanese costumes for one of the summer social events, but this year I was convinced to join in as well (I didn’t think there would be anything…long enough for me). So thanks to a lovely student who loaned some of us her mother and grandmother’s yukatas (summer cotton kimonos), here I am with another faculty member being suited up in full glory:
Together with my fellow faculty colleagues, we make a charming intercultural array. Even the instructors are diverse, hailing from England, the US, Canada, and Australia. One was born in Uganda, another in Spain, and a third has a Filipino background. So we truly are “international.”
But of course we can’t keep this level of control and sobriety…for very long. The venue for this particular even happens to be a brewery…and we were treated well to a lovely buffet and a lavish amount of the local swill. The resulting shot strips away the masks of propriety:
…but at least I managed to avoid the karaoke this year…
I leave here this coming Wednesday and head to Tokyo, where (wonder of wonders) T will join me for a week of excursion around Japan. The goal is to spend some time in with some friends here and there and then enjoy a long weekend in Kyoto, the former capital of Japan and home to Buddhist temples, imperial palaces, and traditional geishas. I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, thanks for reading, and Kampai!