OSCA Japan 2013

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Ancient temples and shrines set within a backdrop of bright neon city lights; men and women in the traditional summer clothing of yukatas boarding a bullet train; relaxing in a traditional Japanese garden with the latest hit manga series - Japan really is an eclectic mix of old and new with hyper-modern urban spaces bursting with colourful traditions. OSCA Japan gives you the opportunity to immerse yourself fully in such a fascinating yet conflicting culture.

Basic details

In 2013, we were a group of 7 teachers and 1 director based in Kobe. OSCA Japan is unlike any of the other camps as each teacher is assigned a different schedule with various schools and universities. Although you are often teaching with one or two of the other teachers, there are some weeks where you can be the only OSCA teacher based in a particular school or university. In addition to this, your accommodation also varies from living with host families to student accommodation to a hotel, depending on your particular teaching stream.

Some find this aspect of OSCA Japan daunting and although having to be independent in a country where you can't speak the language or read most of the signs can be a challenge at first, you quickly adapt. Also, you are made to feel so welcome everywhere you go (it's true, Japanese people are incredible hosts – I got treated to Kobe beef and some amazing sushi restaurants!) so it's easy to settle in.

Teaching in Japan

After an introductory few days of welcome parties, sightseeing, meetings with our schools and universities and a crash course from our director in navigating the three (!) train lines in the city, we began teaching.

This is by far the highlight of the stay: seeing the students flourish and gain confidence in their ability to communicate in English as a result of your lessons is truly rewarding. It is amazing to be a part of such a transformation and after a few days the students can often be unrecognisable from the shy, hesitant group who turned up on the first day of your lessons.

That's not to say the teaching isn't challenging as you are often without TAs in your class so everything is up to you. Yet you also are able to learn from your students. Whether it's being taught Japanese games, practising a J-pop dance or being taken to Purikuras (photo booths), you can gain a better understanding of Japanese culture. But most importantly, you can enjoy each other's company and many students end up becoming great friends with the OSCA teachers.

The following is my teaching schedule from OSCA Japan 2013:

Kobe Gakuin University High School

I was one of three OSCA teachers who taught 16-17-year-olds here for a week and a half. The days were regular school hours and a total of 30 students were divided into three smaller groups for morning classes rotating around the three teachers. Then the afternoons were for fun, big group activities. The school asked that the students gave a performance at the end of the week so we divided the students into three groups and helped each group create plays based on the theme of pirates. They performed these at the end of the week to an audience; it was a proud moment seeing them say their lines in English with such confidence! We also enjoyed a day out with the students on our last day and had a barbecue by the beach which was organised by the school.

Each teacher does a homestay with a student. The families look after you so well and go out of their way to make you feel at home as much as possible. They plan lots of activities for you, from visiting nearby cities such as Nara or Kyoto at the weekend to after school shopping trips to learning traditional Japanese dancing.

Kobe College

The three of us then moved to teach at a high-achieving all-female university where we lived with 15 students in a scenic American-style house on campus. We were given freedom to choose our schedule and activities on this residential camp, as long as we helped the girls prepare their presentations on an aspect of Japanese culture which they would give on the last day. They also had to speak English at all times (they are really hard working and even texted each other in English!) so it's an excellent opportunity for them to improve their language skills in a few days.

Their English was very advanced so we gave discussion classes in the morning on anything from women's rights to politics to cultural stereotypes. In the afternoons we then helped the girls with their presentations and gave classes on public speaking, for example. In the evenings we planned activities such as karaoke and the students took us to see an amazing fireworks display one evening.

Again, the students were great hosts and cooked dinner for us every evening (we showed our thanks by doing the washing up when they would let us!). It's really good fun and very comfortable living in a house with the students. You get to know them all really well and we made great friends here!

Kobe Shinwa Women's University

I then taught on my own for a week, staying with one of my student's family. I had one class of 10 female students with varying abilities from basic to intermediate. The mornings until the early afternoon consisted of classes and then the students had often planned activities for me. These ranged from attempting to teach me shodo (Japanese calligraphy) to taking me into the centre of Kobe for lunch followed by shopping. This was a great opportunity for the girls to practise speaking English outside a formal classroom setting.

Although it was initially intimidating teaching on my own, it was easy to adapt. The girls grew in confidence so much; by the end of the week all of them had come out of their shells and I got to know each of their personalities so well. Again, my host family was fantastic - my student's father was a karate teacher so I went to karate lessons most evenings with the family!

Kobe University

For my last week I teamed up with one OSCA teacher to join four other OSCA teachers who had been giving lessons at Kobe University for one week already. Although we joined this teaching programme halfway through, we settled in easily as their English was quite advanced and we taught lessons to 5 groups of 10 or so students. In the afternoons we then had activities that were planned by the students such as a visit to the aquarium and a trip to the beach.

During this week, the two of us who joined the camp later stayed with different host families while the other four teachers stayed in a hotel in Kobe. My host family was fantastic and in the evenings I hung out with them, often chatting until late with my host family mum over some green tea. Throughout the whole camp we met up with the other OSCA teachers most weeks to laugh off our teaching faux pas. We often went to an izakaya (Japanese pub) for some sake tasting or caught up with each other at a karaoke party and one evening, for example, we went to watch a baseball game to cheer on our local team, the Hanshin Tigers.

Post teaching

I had an incredible time teaching and loved Japan so much that I went travelling for a month after the camp finished, even staying with some of my host families again when I visited cities that were near Kobe. Many teachers visited places such as Tokyo, Sapporo, Hiroshima, Osaka; a brave few also climbed Mount Fuji while others flew to Malaysia and Korea. This was an amazing way to end what had been a fantastic teaching experience in Japan - I cannot recommend OSCA highly enough.