Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Freshman Retreat

Asia University takes the freshman class to Kinugawa, a small town in the foothills of the mountains outside of Tokyo, for a retreat. The purpose is to let the approximately 500 students in the law and international relations faculties get to know each other, met some of the faculty, and ask questions about the school and classes. We all went in 13 coach buses, but for comparison, it is 2.75 hours away by train. It is a two-nighter for the students and some staff and faculty, but for the 13 CELE faculty, it was just an overnighter.

As we left Tokyo and passed through the countryside, it was interesting to look out the window. Otherwise, the trip was hellish because of the three upperclass team leaders who took turns yelling into the microphone attached to the bus PA system. They were trying to keep the students energized by playing quiz games and other ice breakers. If it hadn't been for my mp3 music player, I think I would have gone insane.

For lunch, we stopped at a rest area where everyone was handed a 'bento' box - a pre-prepared box of sushi and other tasty foods. The photo here is not of my bento but of a friend's who had to buy a vegetarian one from a stand.

Once, at the hotel, we quickly checked in and then had to go meet a group of students with their assigned Japanese faculty leader. We were to introduce ourselves, practice some English, and explain to them about Freshman English and its requirements. A few students were able to communicate a little in English, but for the majority of them, this was the first time interacting with an English-speaking foreigner. The video at the end of the blog captures only a little bit of the experience.

After that, we were free to have dinner at the buffet. There was a wide variety of interesting food but nothing inspired. In fact, the only thing I went back for seconds for was the pizza!

Back in the room, we had a few beers from the hotel room fridge while sitting at the low table on the tatami mats. We were staying with the law faculty, and they generously offered to pay for the fridge contents. After we finished with our fridge, we raided some of the other teachers' fridge. Then, the seven other CELE teachers who were staying at a nearby hotel that was not quite as nice came on over to join us. We had a very nice time relaxing, telling stories, and getting to know each other.

Around midnight, everybody left, and Russell and I decided to go to the 'onsen' for a late night soak. An onsen is a Japanese hot springs bath and is a wonderful thing. Somewhat similar to the banyas we experienced in Kazakhstan, you start out by sitting on a small plastic stool in front of hot and cold water taps and bath away. Then, you saunter over to the clear pools of hot water and gingerly lower yourself in. Oww... Ohh... Ahhhhhhhh...

We couldn't go to the outdoor pool as it was closed. Luckily (or perhaps unluckily because it made for a tiring day) my roommate starting snoring at 5:30 AM, so it was easy to get up and go for an early morning onsen. I sat there in the steaming water with the chill air on my head and shoulders, looking up at the mountains and listening to the bird chirps. Not a bad cure for a hangover. Click on this link to see a photo of a similar outdoor onsen pool.

Another uninspired buffet of breakfast food but decent coffee helped, as well. I especially enjoyed the seaweed medly that I had with my eggs and sausage (see photo)!

The midmorning was take up with more speechs for the students about school stuff, and then a form of a job fair where the different faculties set up tables and answered questions from students. I think the reason we had student come up to us was because some of the International Office staff made them. However, they were quite brave and tried to talk to us about Freshman English. As there were not enough students for all of us CELE people, I volunteered to walk out in to the room and accost poor unexpecting students and viciously force them to speak English with me. Oh, it was glorious to watch them squirm...

Then it was lunch time, and we were free to leave. A very comfortable train ride through the country eventually got us to the bustle and noise of the city.

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