Thursday, 13 March 2014

What is this?

I've been running this blog for two years and only just realised I ought to explain it somewhere.

See, when I started writing this, I didn't expect anyone other than my immediate family and a couple of close friends to want to keep tabs on me. But that's grown into a rather bigger social circle over time, and also the occasional stranger, so... let's begin. I'll slot this in at the start of the blog for simplicity's sake, which is why if you're starting from the beginning, that "two years" business may not make sense... I wrote this in November 2016!

What's the point of A Shimmin Abroad?

In 2014 I was fed up of my job, and decided to leave. For slightly complicated reasons, I decided I would head to Japan for six months to become a full-time student of Japanese.

I'd spent quite a while researching this, including considering other options. My main concern was that I didn't want to go to Tokyo, which seemed to be incredibly busy and expensive. I'm a small-town boy as it is; that seemed like too much for me.

In the end, there only seemed to be two decent options. One was a place called Genki Japanese and Culture School, which... okay, that's a mildly cheesy name, but I can live with that. That's in Fukuoka, south Japan. The other was Hokkaido Japanese Language School, north Japan.

I was really tempted by Hokkaido, not least because it's temperate to cool up there, whereas most of Japan gets ferociously hot in summer, when I'd be going. But on further research, that school was aimed at short-term stays, whereas GenkiJACS seemed to offer more support for long-term stays.

This wasn't just an arbitrary decision; after all, you can in theory combine a lot of short-term courses into a solid long-term programme of study. However, I was more concerned about the social and pastoral side. If most students only come for a few weeks, I felt it would be hard to have a social life - and for six months, that seemed important. It would also be more likely that the same topics and activities kept coming up, since waves of new people would presumably tend to prioritise the same tourist activities and excursions. My hope was that a school with longer placements would help avoid this problem, as other long-term students would have done the obvious things and be willing to consider other options later in their course.

There were lots of questions I had about all this, but to a large extent they boiled down to: yes, but what's it actually like being a student at GenkiJACS Fukuoka? And I just couldn't find out.

There's plenty of information on the site, but I couldn't find anything there, or on the rest of the internet, that gave a sense of the experience I might expect. And for a big decision like this - leaving my job, going abroad for six months at enormous expense, and trying to do intensive study after ten years of employment while living in another country and mostly speaking that language - I wanted to make the most informed decision possible.

Also, I wouldn't be staying in the dorms at school like a lot of the students. That seemed to be more suited to the younger crowd, and I'd well outgrown that. A lot of the limited insight I could find was by people preparing for, at or fresh out of university, who spent a short time in a language school somewhere and lived in a dorm with other people of similar age and life experience. A lot like starting university, in fact. But that wouldn't be my experience at all.

In the end, I went for it. But having not been able to find that elusive "what is it actually like?" experience, I decided to write it myself. That's this blog.

What is actually in this blog?

Okay, so the blog is basically serving two masters. One, it's a reasonably faithful record of my experiences, impressions and observations of Fukuoka, Japan, being a full-time language student, GenkiJACS and associated stuff. Two, it's a way for my family and a few friends to know what I've been up to because I'll be away for a long time.

There is a certain amount of hedging between those two; it's not pure stream-of-consciousness. Some things I decided to keep to private emails, rather than letting the entire family know and potentially worrying them... And other things I didn't really want to share with the Internet, of course. But to a large extend this is accurate.

This does mean it is not a particularly focused blog, nor always a cheerful one. There's posts about class activities, sightseeing and studying in here. There's also some observations of daily life, my attempts to feed myself, and a running theme of bread-related complaints. At times it also gets quite gloomy as I talk about frustrations, loneliness and the other negative aspects of my experience.

That's the whole point though, to try and convey what it felt like to actually do this, and that means the little details and the everyday stuff, and the times when you wonder why you bothered and what the point of it all is, as well as shiny photos of looking at pretty shrines with glamorous people.

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