I’ve been meaning to write this post for weeks, but I got caught up in job hunting/thesis writing/motherhood activities that I hardly slept in April. But whoever said adulting was easy?
The other day, I met a new student from Kenya just freshly arrived in Japan. I miss the energy I had when I was in my 20s. She reminded me of me, freshly faced, curious and mad at the way English is “murdered” on a daily basis in Japan. I have now grown immune to it, but newcomers to Japan always complain about how English is butchered here, how the ls turn into rs.. things I don’t even notice anymore.
That got me thinking about the first part-time job I ever had in Japan. See, I got one of the best scholarships in Japan, the MEXT Scholarship. So I didn’t have to work part time;
the money is exactly enough to ensure we live just above the poverty line here. If you are single and childless, it is more than sufficient. But I have a son and I like traveling; so I am always in need of more money (I hope there will come a day when I can say that I now have enough money).
Before I brought Jeremy to Japan; I had a lot of free time in the evenings and weekends. Since I couldn’t speak any Japanese, and being a native-level English speaker, teaching English was the one job I thought I could do well. I have taught kids of all ages, from babies to elementary school kids. I have also taught some old ladies (retirement age) who were really more interested in socializing than in learning the proper tenses. After almost a year of teaching a few hours each week, I realized that I was not really good at teaching English. Just because one is a native speaker of a language doesn’t make one a good teacher in said language. After years of studying it in school, we intuitively know what sounds correct but we can’t explain why, we have forgotten the rules behind the grammar.
After I brought Jeremy over, my evenings and weekends were no longer free. I tried bringing J along with me to my English-teaching gigs, but he ended up disrupting the classes too much. The children would get excited upon seeing him and would lose focus and I couldn’t get him to sit still. So I finally quit teaching English. In any case, I had started taking a few classes in JAIST because I needed about 10 credits to graduate. I had coursework on top of research on top of taking care of J.
We finally settled into some kind of routine by the end of my first year in October of 2016. I had got all the required credits, and had finished a minor research project that is also a requirement for the PhD. I wasn’t sure what my main research topic was at that time.. so it was a time of confusion that is quite common when one is doing a PhD. While I figured out what my research topic was going to be, I decided to take up a job at a 7-11 convenience store; it would be a chance to improve my Japanese, I thought.
Since there is no babysitting service and I have no other family in Japan, I could only work at the “combini” during the week when Jeremy was in the nursery school. I did about 8 hours a week (4 hrs on Mondays, and 4 hours on Thursdays) for about 9 months.
This was my first time working at a min. wage job. It was really tiring, being on your feet for 4 hours without a break. I know people who did 8hr shifts with only 35 minute breaks, and I wondered how they did it. While the money wasn’t all that, I liked the work environment – the manager/owner is really kind. Did my Japanese improve in that time? Well, not really. Besides learning a very fixed set of vocabulary “irasshaimase, arigatou gozaimasu” and counting large figures of money in Japanese, nothing much had changed. My conversational skills didn’t improve because there was no time for idle chatter in the combini, it was busy all the time. I would get home and have no energy left to carry out research for the rest of the day.
I did eventually figure out what my thesis was going to be about though; and then I got really busy writing it up and coding the prototype. So I had to quit the convenience store job, even though we tried a once a week, 4hr shift. It just wasn’t working for me.
TA/LA and IT Helpdesk
I still need(ed) extra money for my many travel plans, so again I was on the hunt for part time jobs that would not tire me out :). I have done some temporary jobs in JAIST that include TA/LA jobs in my lab, such controlling the camera during class recordings (many classes are taped so anyone can access them later). Three times, I have been a TA for an intensive English course. But these are always seasonal and it depends on whether my schedule is free at the time.
Eventually, I got a job at the IT Helpdesk. I really like it there. You choose your own hours from a common calendar. Some days are not so busy and I can actually do some literature reading or write up; and some days are hectic but most problems are usually resolved by restarting the computers causing the trouble. Since I am busy with the thesis now, I’ve reduced my hours there to 4hrs a week. It keeps me grounded – a chance to interact with people outside my lab environment.