Interview by Peter Underwood
This month on Spotlight, the Queen of Apple Mountain herself, Alyssa Walker! A face you’ve undoubtedly seen at many events all over the prefecture (usually combining EofA charity work and hardcore partying). Let’s get to know the mind behind the person behind the EofA table.
Why did you choose to join JET?
For the point cards yo! I grew up in a heavily Asian area of California and have always wanted to come to Japan. I remember in 4th grade hanging out with my friend Kaede and her family, who had access to Japanese TV. After watching some very hilarious, confusing game shows and reading Peach Boy, I was hooked on Japan for life. Majoring in psychology in university, I became fascinated with how we as humans learn. This translated into multiple fields of research and topics of interest, including cross-cultural psych, human-computer interaction, neuroscience, educational methods and fundamentals, and much more. JET presented a perfect opportunity to combine my personal and professional interests; I could pursue my passions for travel, education, learning, cultural exchange, and public service all in one. I especially liked that the JET program employs ALTs as civil servants, allowing them to teach at a variety of schools and reach students who might not otherwise be exposed to English.
What do you hope to gain from your time on JET?
I hope to see the progress my students have made in their education, and even some of my fellow teachers in expanding their confidence at teaching English. I also hope to gain a better understanding of Japanese culture, community, and language so I can better communicate with and assist people in the future.
How long do you plan on staying in Japan?
I plan to stay in the JET program until August 2017. I’d love to live in a different part of Japan for a while to learn more about Japanese culture and history, but it will mostly likely be time for me to tackle the next challenge in another part of the world. But ya never know what the future holds.
What extracurricular activities/hobbies do you participate in?
Right now I’m practicing with a local Enburi club and learning three dances for the upcoming festivities. It’s been a great challenge and so much fun! Some of my students are actually in the club. They’re incredibly patient and silly–the best teachers. I started snowboarding last year and I am totally in love. Bring on the snow! In the warmer months I help teach and do general assistance at a local pottery studio. If anyone’s interested let me know!
What are you most proud of doing during your time in Japan?
It will sound strange at first, but one of my proudest moments was when I taught a 5th grade Japanese class. Now this 5th grade class is one of my biggest classes and has the toughest time focusing; they are very very energetic. I’d been working with them for about a year, with English classes only every other week, but they had come a long way and were all making huge improvements with listening. After a solid English class one day, two kids started fighting in the back. My JTE had to take them outside to take care of things, so I stayed with the class and we talked about Pokemon and played rock-paper-scissors. The bell rang for the next class. My JTE still wasn’t back, so I had the students sit down, do aisatsu, and start class. Next up for them was Japanese! I then proceeded to attempt to have a Japanese class–and just my luck, two random adults came in to observe it. I have enough Japanese to carry a basic conversation and reply to questions, but I would not say it’s a comfort zone for me. Luckily I had been studying a lot of kanji recently, so I decided we’d do a kanji puzzle and review activity until the teacher returned. I would name, explain, gesture, or draw a radical on the board, then choose 8 students to write kanji that included that radical and 8 to write the furigana for more practice, class participation, and so I could read it (haha). I explained pretty much everything in English except for when we were reading the kanji they wrote on the board. I was so proud of my students for remaining focused despite having the English teacher lead their Japanese class, and proud of myself for having the courage and confidence as a teacher to lead a class, last minute, on a subject I know little about, with the result of everyone learning and reviewing valuable content. My JTE didn’t end up returning until the last 5 minutes of class, where he was happily surprised to see all the students focused and all the kanji they had written.
What has been your best time so far as head of Everest of Apples?
Definitely meeting and engaging with so many different members of the community. I’m so grateful for the people I’ve met and those who have helped and supported us throughout the years. After becoming president and speaking to my coworkers, I learned another teacher helped EofA with events and translation work and even went with a previous president to Nepal several years ago. I have since re-recruited him to the team. And of course the skills auction at the SDC Pub Quiz Night. We have so many amazing talented and generous people. It was really fun to hear from you all!
What are some things you like about Japan?
I call ‘em the three C’s: community, culture, conbini!
Conbini are basically just the most amazing thing in the world and should exist everywhere. I love the different festivals, foods, practices, and traditions that come with the seasons. These elements make each season special and give me something to look forward to and cherish in each month. I also love how the community really comes together to clear ice from sidewalks, teach traditional dances, and ensure that children feel safe walking to and from school.
What are some things you like less about Japan?
The roads are one thing that could definitely use improvement. All the one-lane roads, or alleyways that you drive down, or corners you can’t see around. I’m used to them now, but they’re definitely frustrating and shocking at times.
What do you miss the most from your hometown/country?
My dad ❤ Ease of access to vegetarian foods in restaurants, restaurants that are open late on weeknights, ease of access to international foods both in the grocery store and at restaurants–basically lots of food haha.
What was it like growing up in your hometown?
Probably because of moving a lot, I’ve always held the philosophy that home is where the heart is. With the right people and right attitude, home is where you make it. I was lucky enough to spend the majority of my school life in the same school district, and that really became home for me. I grew up in Silicon Valley, California, home to Apple and a large number of leading tech companies. Because of the career opportunities, it’s quite a diverse area with a large Asian population. I had access to great sushi restaurants and Asian food markets growing up as well.
What are your family and siblings like?
My family is spread out on the west coast and mid-west of the US. No matter how long it’s been since we last saw each other or spoke, they’re all incredibly kind, friendly, and welcoming. But to talk about a few of my immediate family members… I’ve always said I’m the perfect combination of my parents. My mom is a real estate agent; she’s very extroverted and loquacious. When I was young, my mom was constantly meeting new clients. I often went to work with her, so I got a lot of practice talking to new people. As a computer engineer, my dad is very calculating and outgoing. My love for science and tech came from him, and in middle school we even built my first computer together. I also have the perfect cooler-older-brother who introduced me to all the best music growing up and is pursuing his passion in music as a professional harmonica player. My Aunt “Bean” (nickname) has always been a great friend and role model in my life. Stricken with wanderlust herself, she encouraged me to pursue my passion for travel, taking me on an adventure around Alaska when I was 13.
How do you feel about Aomori winters?
So very cold. Thank goodness for all the different types of heaters and heating implements. I’ve definitely been known to shake up some hokkairo in the teachers’ room to wrap in my scarf or stick to my back. But I’m also smitten with the beauty of snow-covered trees and can’t resist boarding down a nice snowy mountain.
Do winter sports or snuggle under a kotatsu? Winter sports!!
Watch Netflix or NHK? Netflix!
Meet Funasshi or Hello Kitty? HK all the way!
Get up early or sleep in? Early! I always feel better catching the sunrise and that crisp morning air.