Monday, December 22, 2008


Sawatdeeka from Thailand! I made it safely on Saturday afternoon, spent the evening shopping and exploring a little in Bangkok and then headed on a long van ride to Sangklaburi in western Thailand. Yesterday we spent most of the day in the van and then settled in to our house boat that we are staying in. It's just a big floating house on a beautiful lake surrounded by trees, mountains, and jungle-esque sights. It's amazing. It's sorta like camping though because we are just sleeping on really small mats on the floor and it's essentially just outside on the lake. It reminds me of my many years spent at summer camp on Lake Shetek. The people on the trip are very awesome, I'm excited to get to know them more as the week goes on.

Today we spent our first day volunteering, and honestly I am wiped tonight. I am exhausted from basically being a human jungle gym. We had environmental day today and everyone joined in to pick up the trash around the town. There was ALOT of trash everywhere; people aren't very educated here about things like that. The children are amazing, very animated and really seem to just want some love - they come up and hold your hand, cuddle up next to your body. They got a kick out of all my piercings, and I think they thought my nose ring was a sticker and kept trying to pick it off. Overall it was a good day. I was a little nervous early on in the day cuz I don't work much with younger kids, but it all ended up well in the end.

This afternoon we got a tour of the children's home (separate from the school). The woman who runs the home explained a lot of things to us, and it's pretty crazy how fortunate we are just listening to some of her stories. The home doesn't have near enough money to meet the needs of the community, and more and more people are spilling over the border from Burma which is right where I am, basically on the border. Some parents just drop their kids off at the home because they don't want them, some are too sick to care for them because of HIV and some just don't have parents.

I am using the internet cafe, so I really can't type much more tonight and I just want to get some sleep, but I thought this would be the best way to let everyone know I was here, safe, and how things were going! I hope all is well at home, wish I could be there for the holidays with you. Love you lots and can't wait til I talk to you again!


Friday, December 19, 2008


I'm headed to Thailand in about 30 minutes!! Can't wait! Even though I have been a bit stressed these last few weeks with trying to get everything planned, I am now very excited to just get there and enjoy! I'll be there til January 10th -- until then the best way to get a hold of me will probably be email. If you leave me a message on Skype, I am not sure if I will be able to check it or not, sorry! I will have my cell phone for emergencies, but it will be expensive.

Merry Christmas everyone! Enjoy your time with family and friends! And Happy New Year!

Love y'all!


Monday, December 15, 2008

Proud Auntie

I am the proud Auntie Ashley of Avery Elise Janssen, born on December 12. She weighs 7 lbs 2 oz and is 20 inches long, although I am sure not for long!!! I have only gotten to see her in pictures, but can't wait to go home and hold her!! When I go home in August she'll be about 8 months old and ready to play with her auntie! Congratulations to the proud parents and garndparents :) I know she will be loved a lot until I get there to give her my love too!!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Christmas Spirit

Dion and I decided to get into the Christmas spirit! We're both leaving Fujinomiya this coming weekend, so we made some Christmas cookies to celebrate! Actually Dion was a bit more of a scrooge, but he got into the spirit after I made him! HaHa.

I am going to give the cookies out to a few of the teachers, my international exchange partner, and bring them to my Eikaiwa class Christmas party on Tuesday. The week is going to fly by I know, since I am leaving on Friday!! Merry Christmas everyone!

Just some Saturday night nabe...

Saturday night I spent with two girls from my conversation class, Risa and Nami and Nami's husband. Again, we had nabe, but this time with a kimchee soup, which is actually Korean and a little spicy. It was some good eats! I had a good time with the group and am inviting them over in January for some Mexican!

Nami and her husband

Kimchee nabe with cabbage, leeks, pork, chicken, tofu, and shrimp balls.

Risa and Me

Friday Fun

Friday was quite a lazy day for me. I was on a little bit of an emotional rollercoaster last week, so this is how I cured myself at school on Friday:

Reading the new Nicholas Sparks' book that Jess sent me while drinking my Mango Blend from the vending machine at school (which as become sort of a habit lately) and writing in my awesome new journal that Jess sent me and drinking coffee. It was glorious. Friday night I went to a Christmas party with some of the ladies from my adult conversation class. It was nice to meet some new people and we had some good conversation with the help of our electronic translators.

The picture is Japanese nabe - this one has a lot of mushrooms - but basically it's whatever vegetables you choose and whatever flavor soup you want to boil it in. Then you toss in some meat - this one had some pork and some shrimp and let it simmer on the table in front of you 'til it's finished!

Overall, it was a great Friday! I hope there are many more to come!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Good Day

Today was a good day. Nothing huge happened, it was just good all around. I got a lot of stuff done at school today for the committee I am on for the Team Teaching Magazine in Shizuoka and started working on some articles I want to send in for our Shizuoka ALT newspaper. I worked on researching hostels to stay in for Thailand and talked to my teachers about some stuff I have been putting off. Overall, just a good, productive day, almost free of boredom :) Then when I got home I caught the delivery man just in time to get A PACKAGE! My Texas roomie and friend Jessica sent me a care package with books, pictures, a journal, a UTEP t-shirt, some cool pens and markers, etc. It really made my night. And I got a Christmas E-card from my Aunt Ann back in Minnesota that made me feel warm and fuzzy and all those good holiday feelings. I made some really good pasta for dinner and watched a lot of Army Wives, the latest tv series I have been watching (it's from Lifetime and pretty darn sappy, but I love it!) and capped my night off with a talk with my ALT friends Jenny and Luther. I hope tomorrow is just as good!

December?! 4 months in Japan passed!

Hey Everyone! I haven't updated for a bit now, but things are going really well.

School has slowed down, but I have found time to study Japanese, watch some American TV, and continue working on my Thailand travel plans this past week. I also am helping correct/put comments on some senior's translations in preparation for their college entrance exams. It seems exhausting to me how much they study. I found out today that the girl I practiced interviewing for a month didn't get into the university she wanted. She was trying for early admittance and studied so hard...and didn't make it. I swore someone who was that dedicated to studying would get in anywhere. I feel really bad for her - she seemed pulled together when she told me, but I am sure there were tears shed over the weekend (considering my girl students were crying over losing a game of handball on Sports Day!). I hope it doesn't dampen her spirits toward English! Today, I also stepped in for another English teacher and had a whole room of students for myself....I didn't actually have to teach, just hand back tests and supervise, but it was awesome having the room of students to myself :D Something that doesn't happen very often since I am an assistant teacher. It was proof to me of how dedicated my students are - here's how it went.

I walked into a room of talking students since it was in between classes, but I smiled, waved and said, "hello" and I got 40 students in unison saying "hello" back to me - unplanned, but just so ingrained into their heads to respond all together! I explained that I was going to hand back the tests and again, all in unison was "okay!" I talked some more and when I paused "okay" and when I asked if they understood "yes!" Seriously. All in unison. So I handed back their tests and told them they could study whatever they wanted for 15 minutes (it was a short period, really meant only for handing back their final exams for semester 2). If you did this in America, you would have 40 students standing up, walking around, talking, pulling out their cell phones and iPods, and frankly, just NOT doing what they are supposed to (yes, this is from experience!). Especially when their real teacher wasn't there to see them. But was hard core silence for the next 15 minutes until I walked out the door. And this is them AFTER final exams are over and they just have "supplementary lessons." Oh my. It was culture shock, I didn't know what to do!

Outside of school, things are looking good too. Teaching this conversation class is really opening doors for me and I am so thankful for it! Tonight after class we did our weekly ritual of going to Doutor Coffee (a chain coffee shop, not quite as popular as Starbucks haha). The first week I went we only stayed til 10, but lately it's been almost 11. It's good conversation and extra practice for the people in the class, and just nice for me to get to know Japanese people since I spend a lot more time with other American teachers than I do Japanese people sometimes. Also, I'm going to a Christmas party with a few of the people from the class on Friday which will help me meet even more Japanese people and on Saturday me and two of the girls from the class are getting together for dinner. We're meeting at one of their houses and having, nabe, a Japanese hot pot mix of vegetables and meat, usually cooked on the table right in front of you. I really like the two girls from the class and have been wanting to get together with them, so I'm extra excited for this. I am hoping to make them friends even after the class is over! Next class session I am going to try to take a few classes even though they are in Japanese. I think it will be good for my Japanese and for meeting people, and just be fun! I'm thinking of pottery and Japanese flower arrangement :D

This week I also start with Spanish Club. Thursday I'm meeting a group of people to practice speaking Spanish! I haven't spoken Spanish really since I arrived, so 4 months later I am going to be a little rusty!!! But I am glad for the opportunity to meet with other people and there will be some native Spanish speakers there as well, which will be really awesome. We're only meeting once a month and I think I will miss next month in January, so I need to make the best of this time!

So almost this whole entry has been me telling you about my future, not my past...oops! Sorry! Not a lot has happened the last few weeks. I continue to meet with my international exchange partner about once every two weeks and this past week I met his girlfriend. We all went out to dinner and it was nice. He had to act as translator a little bit, but I got to use a bit of Japanese and it was just really fun to talk with her! Other than that, the highlight of my weekend was going to onsen. I got to go to the baths at night, which was pretty cool - created a nice, relaxing atmosphere and it was good to catch up with the girls again. Me, Kelly and Andrea have become onsen buddies, heading there about once a month to unwind. It's nice girl time and really nice relaxation sitting in hot baths and saunas and massage chairs all day! We concluded our time with spicy ramen and gyoza. MMMMMM gyoza, the best discovery I have made in Japanese food thus far!

Alright, it's getting late, I really should get to bed! Hope everyone is geared up for the holidays!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Protestors Leaving Bangkok Airport!

So I have been a bit worried the last few days that my Thailand trip was going to have to be cancelled because of the protest at the Bangkok airports. A lot of progress was made today, and the Prime Minister was forced out of office and the protestors have said they will leave the airport on Wednesday. I'm soooo happy and glad that it won't ruin my Christmas plans. I'm sad I won't be at home with my family, but I would have been even more sad if I had to change my plans to volunteer and travel in December and January! So, it looks like the plan is still on! I will be volunteering at Baan Unrak (House of Joy) Children's Home from December 21-December 28 and then traveling until the 10th of January.

You can read about Baan Unrak here:

You can see pictures of my most recent trip to Nikko (North of Tokyo) here:

In other news, I am still loving my adult conversation class. I have been going out for coffee with them each week after class as well, and one of them invited me to a Christmas Party with some friends next week.

I have been trying to study Japanese a lot this week...I feel like I am not moving very quickly. But I have started to try using it more in every day life. It's easy to just not ask questions and not say it's what I have been doing for a few months now. So I am working on using Japanese whenever I can...using it is the only way I'll get better, right?! I tell my students that, so I am trying to do the same thing. We'll see how it works out.

I am also starting/joining a Spanish conversation club. Me and another teacher here thought it would be a good thing to get together once a month to practice speaking Spanish, so we don't lose our speaking abilities while we are here. I'm looking forward to it, although a little nervous that I've gone rusty. But, we're all in the same boat, so it will be nice to have somewhere to practice. This starts next week! Que Bueno!

My car is officially registered with a "Fuji-san" number. I guess recently the prefecture starting giving out license plates for the Fuji area. Previously, everyone in this area had license plates from Numazu, the nearest bigger city. So apparently it is a big deal to have a Fuji-san number and more than a few people have commented on it....never knew a license plate could be so exciting :) Still working on getting a picture of me in my car, Nicole. I usually drive it at night when I am with other people and it would be difficult to take a picture of myself in the car :D It's a sight to see however when you cram 4 people into the car! The trunk is bigger than the backseat...doesn't make a lot of sense! Having a car has really helped me to settle in. I don't have to worry about spending hours biking and walking each day and am able to get groceries at the larger grocery store, and buy things for my apartment (like big trash cans! I only had little tiny bathroom sized ones before!) and not have to worry about rain!

Mount Fuji has be beautiful lately. The snow on top is here to stay, and it's interesting to see each day whether there is more or less snow. Also, I can see it almost every day now, as opposed to the once every two weeks during the summer time cloudiness.

The cold weather is setting in. I am running heaters most of the time when I am at home now. But I am also a bit of a baby I think. I freeze at school though, I need to invest in some long underwear but Uniqlo was out of XL's when I was there the other day. Molly suggested hitting up the men's section, so I'll have to go look there soon! I bought a long sleeved undershirt there the other day though (XL of course) and the sleeves only go halfway between my wrist and elbow. Maybe the men's undershirts will fit better...but I have a feeling the sleeves will still be short!

All of the students I tutored for their English Proficiency Test passed! I'm proud of them! Now, I'm just waiting to hear about my last student. I worked with her for almost a month, so I really hope that she passed her interview questions for getting into college. There's so much pressure here and she worked with me every day all for 2 interview questions "What is your city like?" and "How close do you live to Mt. Fuji?" (but she didn't know the questions before going). That's a lot of work for two questions. I'm crossing my fingers for her!

I hope all is well in Minnesota. Keep enjoying the central heat for me!