31 July, 2014

Differences in Education Systems

Being Australians in Japan with four out of the five us involved in an American-style international school, educational differences are pretty much in our face all the time. Therefore I found this an interesting article. It is written by a Japanese person who went to college in the US. She's identified three main points of difference between Japan and the US educational systems, all of which are interesting. 

However the last, "You actually have to attend class" doesn't correlate with the tertiary Australian scene. In the US, I learned on Sunday, they take attendance at lectures. They don't in Australia, at least I don't think it is common. That doesn't mean you don't need to work hard, though!

Interaction differences
But what's most fascinating is a fundamental difference she's pointed out between western and eastern (to generalise) education. In the west we're encouraged to ask questions, and to participate. We're also required to do lots of presentations and group work. In the "east" the opposite is true. 

I noticed the difference when at the World Occupational Therapy Congress last month, the Asian presenters generally had pretty poor presentation skills (and poor English). That's not to say that all non-Asians were fantastic (powerpoint presentations were more often bad than good no matter who presented), but it was clear that Westerners had had more practise in doing up-front presentations.

Another thing that seemed to stick out to me was that many Japanese research projects were focused on very detailed data analysis, but many non-Asian research included broader questions that weren't so easily analysed. I wonder if that is another difference? I don't have anything to back up that thought, except for the understanding that in Japan and other Asian educational systems, rote learning is of high importance. In Western cultures, there is a greater emphasis on process, rather than regurgitation. Related? Perhaps.

Differences between US and Australian systems?
People sometimes ask us about differences between the US and Australian systems. There are lots of small differences, vocabulary, for example, and the way the calendar is set up. But there are probably more similarities than differences, especially as compared to Asian vs Western styles.

A few superficial differences we've noticed in our switch back this time are:

  • shorter day (our boys are at school for about an hour less in Australia)
  • more subjects available in high school (though this might be a function of CAJ being a smallish school)
  • uniforms (of course!)
  • campuses are much more outside in Australia (a climate thing, lockers are on verandahs here, at CAJ they are inside where it is often heated or cooled)
Occasionally during this transition our boys are trying to compare cultures and decide whether one particularly thing, place, institution, or custom is better than another, my answer generally is, "It's different, not better or worse." That's the best perspective to take when in the midst of cultural adjustment.

But still, it's interesting to compare.

30 July, 2014

Cheapest flight ever

Recently we visited a new shop in Australia, Daiso. This is a very familiar place to us, what we call a "100 yen shop" in Japan. 

David's comment after a stroll through was, 
"That's the cheapest flight I've ever taken. Everything is the same as in a Daiso shop in Japan."
The one thing that isn't the same is the price. 105 yen (which is what you actually pay, after tax, or is it 108 yen now that consumer tax has increased...) equals about AU$1.09. But the price is more than double that at the Australian Daiso. Good thing we checked out the signs!

29 July, 2014

Forever Changed

Recently on Facebook I saw a link to this article about how living overseas forever changes you. It isn't written from a Christian mission perspective (i.e. that we are doing what we do overseas because we believe God has called us to do that). Nevertheless, it has some great points that people who look at our lives from a home base of Australia might miss. 
In many ways CAJ is our boys' "home", the place they
feel most comfortable in outside of the house we're
living in. It's also the place they feel homesick for when
we're away. They don't feel homesick for Australia (al-
though they do miss some things about Australia).

Here are some ideas in the article that struck me particularly strongly:

  • Adrenaline becomes a part of your life.
    • It's true. Always facing big changes, new people and places, stimulates a surge of adrenaline.
  • Addictive.
    • This goes with the previous one. You get somewhat addicted to the adrenaline. Always looking to the "next thing", the next move, the next big change, etc. But also the challenge of surviving in a place where you don't entirely fit. There is an addictiveness to that.

  • Courage is overrated.
    • So often people say, "I couldn't do what you do." Sometimes the pop on the end, "You're so courageous." Most missionaries would beg to differ on this final point. The truth is that we've been called to do this, but also enabled. God provides all we need and only calls us because this is something he's prepared for us to do. Yes, it takes some courage to step out, but you soon realise that God is under you, holding you, and He's gone before you, preparing the way ahead.
  • Holding your tongue because your don't want to overwhelm others.
    • I'm facing this a lot at present, particularly in a group situation. Joining in a group conversation that isn't about me (sounds terrible, doesn't it?) is an exercise in holding my tongue at the moment. It's so easy to dominate a conversation with stories from my life overseas, but it's not particularly others-focused. Different if they're asking me about it, of course, but I can't allow myself to dominate. People soon lose interest, anyway, if I do this.
  • Home is more about memories and people than things that are replaceable.
    • Indeed. We're having more and more difficulty defining "home". The boys are definitely calling Japan home. But it's complicated, I tend to avoid the word, except as referring to the house I'm living in. We moved "back to Australia", not "home" last month.
    • As we move around (and we haven't actually moved as much as many have), we tend to realise that people and memories are far more important than things we can buy. This comes from living in a small, rented house on a missionary budget too. We throw things out faster than many who have larger houses that they've lived in for many years.
  • Asking for help is inevitable, and not so abhorrent.
    • You learn to cope with being more dependent and asking for help. Living in a culture where you aren't a native speaker and the culture is so very different from your own means to get along you need to relax in your independent spirit and ask for help.
  • Normal, what's normal?
    • Not much, in the end. 
And most of all: 
  • Changed irreversibly.
Does any of this make sense? Does it help you make some sense of our lives?

28 July, 2014

Big Weekend

It was a crazy weekend. Full of good and important things, but crazy.

Saturday morning we left at 10 to take the boys to a wrestling practise/mock tournament on the north side of Brisbane (we're on the west side of Brisbane). It went about two hours longer than a usual Saturday training, but all the boys got two opportunities to try out their skills in mock matches.

Of course we've seen our eldest wrestle many times now, but this was the first opportunity for the younger two. The big surprise for us was how surprised the coaches were at our boys' skills, especially our youngest. The state coach came over and made some surprising predictions. They couldn't believe the boys had only been training for a few weeks.

Out of the six matches our boys were involved in, they won five and the sixth was a close match too. Our eldest won against someone who was 10kg heavier than him and a bit older. Our younger two surprised us at their application of skills that they've mostly only seen and the speed at which they worked. Although it is true that they've been well coached at home by their big brother as they've wrestled in our tiny Japanese lounge room over the last three years.

New niece
Just before midnight on Thursday night my youngest sister gave birth to her third child and first girl. This is the first time either of my sisters has given birth while we've been in the country. It was a great joy to go and visit them in hospital yesterday evening. My parents now have two grand-daughters, to balance out their seven grandsons!

After visiting my sister and newborn niece, we found our way to a concert. Almost accidentally I found out a month or so ago that one of our boys' favourite musicians. Sons of Korah, would be performing live in Brisbane, so I bought tickets, not knowing how busy this day would end up being. It was refreshing to sit and listen to Sons of Korah in concert for a couple of hours last night. We also bought some more of their CDs. Hopefully this will increase the number of songs we repeatedly hear our boys playing in their rooms.

Sons of Korah is an Australian based band devoted to giving a fresh voice to the biblical psalms.

On Sunday morning we went to church, our home church. It was our fourth Sunday in a row there, and we're starting to feel more at home. What's been interesting is that our two older boys have expressed their joy at being in an English speaking service, and have been very engaged with the sermons.

University Open Day
After church we stayed only long enough to snaffle some morning tea and then headed off to the city to a university open day (Queensland University of Technology). It is a campus I've never been on. Despite being in the middle of the city it is surprisingly beautiful campus. It does help that they share a boundary with the Botanical Gardens and there is no fence.

We split up, with David taking our eldest to a Engineering seminar and one about course fees. I took the younger two, acquired a couple of free helium balloons, and we headed to the Art Museum to a very clever competition. They'd concocted a pretend art heist and we had to figure out who we thought had done it via various clues they provided. This proved a bit educational as I had to explain to my 9 and 11 year olds what "motive, means, and opportunity" meant.

After that we had a bit of a chat to an engineering club who make a small race car to enter into an annual competition in Victoria. Then we shot off into the park, for some much needed play-time for the boys.

Then we headed home, weary!

A half an hour later my other sister dropped in for a short while on the way back to her home in Toowoomba. She'd been visiting the newborn too. Wow, so much family! It's probably difficult for you to understand if you've always lived close to family, but we've gotten used to not seeing our family very often. Suddenly we're seeing them more often and that takes some adjusting too!

SO, that was our weekend. Phew! Lots of "play" and fun, but exhausting too.

25 July, 2014

Many thanks

We're coming to the end of the boys' first full week of school in Australia. We have many things to be thankful for. Here are just a few:

The two younger boys seem to have friends at school that they're enjoying. Our youngest has a friend there who's been asking for four years, "When will he be back?" This is a wonderful answer to prayer. 

This is usually what we see when we step outside our house
our house in Japan. Vastly different from what we see now in
Australia (see photos below).
Our middle son is continuing to learn percussion here and has joined the senior primary band. Yesterday he practised with them for the first time. Yesterday afternoon the first thing he said to me when I saw him after school was, "Band was a blast!"  This is huge, for our most change resistant child. So thankful. 

Along our riding journey to school we pass a paddock
with two horses.
Our eldest has started guitar lessons at school and seems to be enjoying picking up that. In fact as I type I hear strumming and plucking. Wonderful! This is something he's been interested in for over a year, but no teacher was available in Japan. This is a great opportunity for him, especially as at least two of his mates in Japan are really into guitar. 

We've ridden to school four out of five days. It is a 7 km round trip that includes hills, David
Part of the path we ride along.

and I take it in turns to ride with the boys. We're still working out some challenges on this front, but in general it is such a great way to enjoy our Australian surroundings. We ride through some bush on our way and it is a balm to our concrete-jungle-weary hearts. Good for our fitness too. We're certainly not used to hills, Tokyo is built on the largest plain in Japan and is generally pretty flat. 

The house is working out pretty well. Our eldest said the other day he prefers it to our Japan house. We're still getting used to the relatively vast yard we have, but are sure we're really going to appreciate it, even if we aren't the best gardeners. Just the serenity of the area is soothing and the many birds we hear is lovely. 

The routine of going to wrestling half an hour away is taking some getting used to, but all the boys are enjoying it and are being well challenged.

There are more, but that will do for today. What are you thankful for this week?

24 July, 2014

Unsettled but excited

We're at a point in our settling that we look pretty settled physically. We have pretty much everything we need (though a new laptop is definitely in the works next month, this one is getting decrepit). We're slowly getting into something of a routine. Our boys have now been at school for a full week. We have emerged from the franticness of initial settling and now have enough time to start planning ahead in more detail.

Unsettled inside
But we still feel unsettled inside. Little things, like getting used to new bikes, a new kitchen,  new routines, new vacuum cleaner, bigger shops that we have to drive to, school uniforms that need to be washed (and some ironed), riding as a group to and from school etc.

And bigger things like quietly struggling with the question, "What is our role for this year in Australia?" 

David is used to a rigidly structured school day, but now he doesn't have that. That's a big thing for him to get used to. Us both, actually. Little things that were previous pretty set like, who washes up the breakfast dishes or hangs out the clothes, need to be decided.

I'm used to sending everyone off to school and having the day to myself, without having someone else around to coordinate with, that includes who has the car. We're also used to being pretty independent because most of our daily tasks didn't require the car, so it didn't matter if I was going to do the shopping or to have coffee with a friend, or to a Bible study, as long as I was home by about 4 to let the boys into the house. It didn't matter if the boys had something before or after school, they could get themselves there and back independently.

My during-school hours over the last four years has included a lot of time at the computer doing various editing projects. While I'm very glad I've got someone else doing the magazine editing job (especially considering the internet challenges we've faced), it is still a change in my daily routine, especially noticeable now that the boys are at school.

But excited about the possibilities
There are, however, many possibilities and plans coming up that make it easier to cope with the unsettledness. 

One of these is pure play! Though I guess you could call it good parenting too. Today I booked plane tickets for our eldest son to go to Melbourne to compete at the Australian National Youth Wrestling Championships in September. David and I have decided to both go (we're travelling down on our wedding anniversary). That's exciting and I'm really looking forward to it.

Other future things to work toward and look forward to include visits to churches and other groups and times with friends over the coming months. For example, I'm having lunch with a dear childhood friend tomorrow. (Read here: I'm hugging myself with joy!)

So if we can just walk gently through this period of unsettledness we'll eventually come out the other side.

23 July, 2014

Two Random Surprises

Here are a couple of random things that have come up in these early days back in Australia.

Not much starts on time in Australia. We've not noticed that before, but have been a bit shocked with our punctual Japanese hats still on!

Japanese accent? 
Someone new I met the other day pondered why we didn't have japanese accents. I pointed out that we really did, when we spoke Japanese words like kimono or origami. Or when we say place names like Tokyo or Sapporo.

But in general we haven't picked up Japanese accents in our English (although you might here some Japanese expressions come out occasionally). This comic video might explain why:

By the way, good internet is still a couple of weeks away, sorry for my lack of blogging, it's not easy to get the basics done online, let alone blog posting!

19 July, 2014


For weeks (months?) prior to leaving Japan I felt hungry. I finally figured out it wasn't hunger but really stress doing a number on my stomach.

That symptom is mostly gone now. But I have to continue to remind myself that I need time to recover from all the stress and change. 

Indeed there is still evidence of stress. Difficulty concentrating at times and a tendency drift off into daydreams. Deep desire to slept late and escape into books, electronic games, and TV. Difficulty making decisions at times (and we've had to make a lot). 

I have to remind myself that it's not just the adults struggling with this either. The boys don't have our level of responsibility, but they have less control over what's happening and certainly have felt the stress. 

Though starting school this week has been a strss, it's also been a relief because it gives their lives structure. But there was strss in the unknowns of changing schools, so many  questions we had no answer to. Therefore it's something of a relief to have something more tangible to deal with. 

But starting school also means less sleep, and sleep is something we've all been needing more of in recent weeks. 

So, two weeks since we got back to Brisbane and nearly three weeks since we left Japan, we're getting settled but we're not done yet. It will take a good while longer than just a few weeks. But essentially because we're only here for a year our roots will remain in Tokyo. We are unpacked, but I suspect "home" will remain Tokyo in our minds. It's complicated. 

16 July, 2014

School starting

School starts tomorrow. Mixed emotions for the boys here.

One said,
"The first day is the hardest."
He's had a few "first days" and hates new situations.

Another hates the uniform. I'm not kidding and though most Australians will belittle this, it's not a small matter for him. He is quite sensitive to how clothes feel on his body and the uniform and leather shoes feel all wrong. He ended up in tears when we tried the uniforms on prior to buying them. He's been rather difficult to get along with recently and it certainly is tomorrow that's on his mind. He'll get somewhat used to the uniform, I'm sure, but it won't be easy.

They are jumping into the half-way through the school year. Please pray that this will go well, and especially that they'll form good friendships quickly. Pray that they'll be able to pick up the threads of friendships they had last time they were at this school (four years ago), as well as make new friends.

15 July, 2014

More re-entry shock stories

Where are all the people? 
This is both a stress and a joy. A stress, because the Japanese part of us panics when we don't see enough people at an event. In Japan that usually means we've made a mistake and come at the wrong time or on the wrong day. A joy because it is wonderful to go to an event where we aren't in the midst of a crowd, even without trying.

Why is the iron so hot?
The voltage in Japan (100V)  is less than half of Australia's 230V. That means not only that we can't use Australian appliances there without a transformer, but that appliances like irons aren't so hot. It is a shock to come back here and find that I don't need to put the iron on maximum to iron most things.

Why isn't it turning on?
This got David and I early on, but the boys have taken longer to figure it out. Power points (power outlets) have on and off switches here, they don't in Japan. So we've all plugged things in and expected them to work without turning them on at the wall. Whoops.

What size are my kids, for that matter, what size am I?
In Japan many clothes are measured by cm. So, for children, it is pretty close to their height. My middle son wears Size 140 at the moment and his younger brother 130. Shoes are the same: the actual length of your foot is pretty much your shoe size.

Not so in Australia. I feel like a bit of a fool not knowing what size clothes my kids wear!

Additionally, in Japan I've gotten used to having to look at L or XL size clothes just so that I don't have a skin-tight clothing experience. A friend we met in Cairns was shocked at that, I could even prove it because the t-shirt I was wearing at the time had an XL label on it! But here...the other day I was even called "Petite" by someone at church!

How do you cook with an electric stove instead of gas?
I've cooked with gas stoves-tops for 12 out of the last 14 years. It takes some adjustment to move back to the steadier, yet slower electric stove.

What's my PIN number?
This was a huge concern during our week in Cairns. A few times we had to ask to sign for our credit card purchases instead of using pin numbers because our pins were refused. In Japan we almost always use cash and had therefore forgotten our pin numbers.

How fast can I drive?
Cars are allowed to drive so much faster here. Actually it is safe to drive much faster here, as the roads are wider, there are less obstacles, pedestrians, and cyclists. But it is hard to remember that the roads around our suburb aren't rural roads where you can drive 100km/hr. It isn't easy to keep our eyes open to see the seemingly random changes in speed designations here. In Japan it isn't hard to stay under the limit on most roads because of the above mentioned obstacles to driving fast. I'd be surprised if we don't cop a fine sometime soon!

What month is it again?
Yep, got that seasonal confusion happening. Catch me quickly and ask what month it is and I'll probably have to think for a bit.

It doesn't help when we're filling out forms that ask questions like, "When will your son finish primary school?" This is our middle son who graduated from US Elementary School last month. This week he starts Grade 6 at an Australian primary school. We found out last week that his grade is the transition grade for this school and that from January he'll be considered a "Secondary School Student". David and I were Primary School students until the end of Grade 7 and then moved on to High School. Confusing: yes, even more so when  combined with the sort of change we've just made.

I'm sure there will continue to be more of these...

13 July, 2014

What was in our suitcases?

Some people who've never made a move like we've just done have asked me what we brought to Australia. Here's a glimpse:

  • Clothes (but not our warmest winter gear, or our oldest stuff)
  • Some shoes
  • Personal/educational documents 
  • Some toys and other precious things the boys wanted to bring
  • Copies of recent publications I've worked on
  • Computers, cameras, and other electronic devices
  • Board games and other small games
  • Medication (not a lot)
  • A few small household things we know we probably won't find in Australia
  • School year books
  • Some books we want to leave in Australia (notably, the Billabong series)
What was not in our luggage:

  • Food (to avoid declaring anything at customs, and Australian customs are particularly strict)
  • Furniture (too expensive to bring this)
  • Appliances other than the above mentioned electronic devices (voltage is different)
  • Kitchen stuff

12 July, 2014

Re-entry shock tales

Some of you may be interested to hear of the things that shock us in this time of re-entering our "home" culture. You might be surprised at how many there are. 

This evening, for example, we were driving a road that we know pretty well, when suddenly it split and the half we were on took a dive under a bridge. We thought we were headed in the wrong direction. No one had told us that that particularly intersection had been radically altered.

Early reentry shock last week involved impressions like how much space Australia has, so many parks, so much space between houses and the road and each other. We continue to be amazed at this. But I have to admit I don't miss hearing my neighbour in the shower, or the guy a couple of houses down blowing his nose just as we went to bed.

Sizes of containers at the store: eg last night my husband was shocked at the frozen veggie packets. They're usually about 250-400g in Japan. Here the norm seems to be around 1kg. Our boys are getting used to pouring 3L bottles of milk again, after doing 1L cartons for the last four years. 

Accent is another shock. This is slowly wearing off, but most Aussies sound to broad to the outside ear! Our boys' accents are fluxing and changing too. I wonder how foreign they'll sound to their classmates when they get there. 

I have a subtle feeling that people might or might not be staring at us. They often do in Japan (very subtly). Question is, if they are staring here, why?

My middle son and I had to answer this question at the optometrists yesterday: "So what's it like living in Japan?" We were speechless for a time until my 11 y.o. finally manage to spluttter out, "Lots of people!"

McDonalds menu here is so different to that of Japan's. It's so much more complicated. My first attempt at ordering I had an impatient cashier who didn't get that I wanted a wrap with salad and no fries or drink. Her terminology was confusing and her manner not that helpful. 

Japan is terribly organised and rules orientated. Australia seems a little lackadaisical after that. In some ways that is refreshing, like being able to chat with the drugs inspector at Cairns about snorkelling on the reef. In other ways, like when we needed assistance with the assembly of a new bike and being told we have to wait till next Tuesday (the only day this store does bike assembly), was a bit of a shock. 

We asked at the boys' new school where we would park bikes, as we're intending to get the boys to ride to school as much as possible. The admin lady had to make enquiries about this. Another lady said she doesn't know of any primary kids who've ever ridden to the school (Grades 1-7)!

We found that driving home at 7.30 on a work evening, there were very few cars on the road. This afternoon we drove right across the bottom part of Brisbane (from the east coast to home in the east of Ipswich) it only took 45 minutes! Where is everybody?

We've also rediscovered that driving in Australia is much easier than driving in Japan. The roads are wider, meaning we're not dodging power poles (which are often on the thinner roads in Japan), or pedestrians,or cyclists, or dumpsters, or even other cars. Many local roads in Japan are only just wide enough for two cars to pass if the above common obstacles are absent. But you still have to slow right down to avoid scraping side mirrors. Intersections on these skinny roads often require careful manoeuvring, not a straight-through drive. Being able to drive almost into the centre of town (about 26 km away) in only 30 minutes (encountering less than a dozen traffic lights) is no less than a miracle!

The stories will keep coming. Stay tuned!

11 July, 2014

Back, but still settling

I really don't cope well with breaks from blogging. That's why I tend to write everyday, except on holidays in in exceptional circumstances like we've just had: moving internationally and then having almost no internet access. Thankfully, though, that is over now, and I can get back into stride and have a writing outlet.

Here's what's happened recently (it's felt like about a month since we left Japan, even though it is only 12 days):

Arrived in Cairns, Australia: 30 June
Played around in Cairns, got mobile phones (US=cell phones), made "new" friends, went on a trip to the outer reef, went snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef etc.
Flew to Brisbane, Australia and moved into our new house: 5 July.

We've spent all the days since then doing "settling" things, like
  • completing steps to enroll in our local school
  • unpacking boxes
  • shopping for needed items
  • joining the Lang Park PCYC on Monday night so the boys can do wrestling
  • organising getting the right sized fridge/freezer combo.
  • unpacking boxes
  • working on getting internet (a complex and confusing business)
  • reorganising stuff we got out of boxes
  • phoning important agencies to notify them we're in the country again and changing our address with them
  • figuring out which of the eight bikes we've received fits our family and actually works (turned out only three of the eight) and buying necessary bike-type items (helmets, locks, new bikes etc).
  • receiving more stuff (mattresses, more couches, printers) and rearranging the house again to fit them
  • reconnecting with the library (oh joy!!!)
  • partying with friends over the football on Wednesday night
  • buying more food (daily, it seems)
  • trying to figure out how the TV works (we couldn't get all the channels at first)
And so on! Settling is very unsettling. There is so much to get used to, everywhere we turn. As on of our son's commented about just the school uniform shopping this morning,
"There's just too much to get used to."
And indeed sometimes it feels that way. At other times it just feels wonderful to be here. Then something happens and we wish we were back in Japan where life was pretty comfortable and predictable.

School starts next Thursday (17th), then I suppose we'll start to get more into a routine. Perhaps our days will start to feel normal sometime after that.

PS I've been trying for a couple of hours, off and on, now to upload photos for this post from my new phone, but failed. Sorry. You'll have to wait as we dash off to yet another shopping centre for optometrist appointments, and other random shopping.

07 July, 2014

Blogging slow down

We've been in Brisbane two days now and we're gradually getting unpacked and sorting things out. It's going to take a while to feel at home, though.

One of the best things is the trampoline that a friend brought over yesterday and helped us assemble on our front lawn. The happy giggles I've been listening to all afternoon are wonderful.

The difficult thing is that we might not have internet access at home for a month or more. Hence the title of this post. I'm not sure how I'm going to cope with that, having previously done almost all our communications and many other things via email and the internet. I'm just glad that I took the trouble to hand the magazine over fully to someone else before we left Japan.

So many things to blog about and limited access! I might just have to make a special effort to tell you about the boys starting wrestling tonight...stay tuned.