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Student Interview: York Schneider-May
Declan: Thanks for participating in the interview.
York: No problem.
Declan: So today is your last day, and you have just finished a program of private lessons.
York: Yes. Unfortunately.
Declan: Sad to see you go. Though there is always next year. How times have you come to Aichi?
York: It is my 3rd time, and my 3rd time studying Japanese in Japan.
Dec: OK. Well let’s start. Where are you from?
YSM: I live in Frankfurt in Germany.
Dec: How long does it take to get from home to here?
YSM: Door to door I would say about 15 hours. Maybe a little more because of Customs and Immigration. I came via Narita this time.
Dec: Some of our customers fly in via Narita or Osaka and some arrive via Nagoya. Was arriving at Narita mainly due to cost or connections?
YSM: Mainly due to costs. This time it was cheaper to fly via Paris and Narita. There was a good deal available.
Dec: Your program was completely customized, how many teachers did you interact with each week?
YSM: 4 teachers each week.
Dec: How were your teachers? What was the experience like?
YSM: They were very committed, very different and diverse. A good mixture. All obviously very experienced. Also they were well connected and organized. Each teacher knew about the progress I had made with other teachers the previous days.
Dec: In your case was a textbook used or was it more of a conversation style lesson?
YSM: A bit of both. We often used Minna no Nihongo as a base, but they also used tailor made working materials whenever they saw fit. Whenever I had knowledge gaps they were immediately discovered (laughter) and worked on.
Dec: Do you feel you made progress? Are you more confident speaking for example?
YSM: Yes definitely. Although I know I’m still a beginner, I’m not afraid to go shopping, travel, make bookings and reservations in Japanese.
Dec: Were all of your lessons conducted only in Japanese?
YSM: Almost. More than 90%. To speed things up I sometimes I asked for a quick explanation of a grammar point.
Dec: In German or English?
YSM: One of my teachers could speak German with a Bavarian accent, but whenever I did ask for clarifications I asked in English. Everything was in Japanese unless I initiated otherwise.
Dec: And your studies of Japanese are from personal interest, not for work etc right?
Dec: You did a number of weekend trips while you were here.
YSM: 4 trips
Dec: What places did you enjoy the most? What were some of the best memories?
YSM: The trip into the forests was great. Being in a remote area. Seeing a part of Japan which I would never otherwise have been able to set foot in. I loved the scenery, and the sake brewery.
YSM: I really liked the sake brewery. And to able to buy high quality sake at a fair value, a fair price. Not at a duty free.
YSM: That hidden valley was wonderful. And the campsite with the treehouses too. I wish I could take part in your trip there during the summer.
Dec: There is always next year.
YSM: (laughing) Yes.
Dec: How did you enjoy Kyoto?
YSM: I liked being able to get the shopping done in the morning while it was raining. I bought some gifts at Eirakuya, and Kawaramachi was interesting. Also the hike through the Higashiyama forest. Anyone can go Kyoto but I would have no idea where to find these kind of places, and the explanations were good. I loved the sakura as well.
Dec: And the festival at Inuyama?
YSM: Was great.
Dec: Not just the craft beer and sausages?
YSM: (laughing) Was really good. It is a bit like the sake. I like Japanese beer, but we can only buy the major brands in Germany. Kirin and so on.
Dec: Mount Fuji and the Bat Cave?
YSM: Yes. When we were heading up there I was a bit worried, especially when the weather wasn’t cooperating.
Dec: A hailstorm and then some April snow.
YSM: At first the weather was a bit depressing and it was colder than I expected. I liked that you had a good knowledge of the local area and could make unplanned changes to the schedule. Make suggestions of sites to see out of the blue. And when the weather became clear we had a perfect view of a snow-capped volcano.
Dec: Did you do any independent travel?
YSM: I went to Tokoname by myself, and even though I’d been there before could have used some help from someone with local knowledge to help make connections. I managed OK though thanks to the lessons.
Dec: You stayed in a homestay this time. Was this your first time in a homestay?
YSM: I stayed with a host family in England for a month about 25 years ago. This was my first in Japan.
Dec: I remember before you arrived that you were worried about your height. Being too tall for a homestay. How tall are you?
YSM: 195cm. I had no problems.
Dec: Any food problems?
YSM: No. Not at all. Food was great. My main worry was that I might inadvertently say or do something offensive or be misunderstood.
Dec: Did you sleep in a bed or futon?
Dec: Futon wasn’t too short?
YSM: Futon was OK.
Dec: How did you commute to school each day?
YSM: By train from Kita-Okazaki on the Aikan line. 3 stations from here. On the first day the father of my host family even went with me to the station 1st day and helped me buy commuting tickets. And wrote notes for what to ask at the stations. I’m pretty confident I’d have managed anyway, but it was nice of him.
Dec: Did staying in a homestay help with your studies?
YSM: Yes it helps very much with the language. It gives me a much clearer idea of what I should learn in order to effectively communicate with people. Because for example the use of futsukei, the plain form, I never used in Germany but it is used quite a lot here.
Dec: Would you stay in a homestay next time or in an apartment?
YSM: Perhaps a homestay. I do like some independence, but they were so kind. It would be great if I could communicate more. They are nice people.
Dec: What are your plans now?
YSM: Next is Tokyo. I’ll be there 4 nights, then back to Germany.
Dec: And your Tokyo “to do list” is?
YSM: I’ll be meeting a friend I met last year in Okazaki. A foreign friend, and then having dinner with a Japanese friend.
Dec: Will Tokyo be mainly sightseeing or catching up with people?
YSM: Bit of both. And some final omiyage shopping.
Dec: When you get home is it straight back to work?
YSM: Yes straight back to work. I arrive in Frankfurt Saturday afternoon and then start again Monday morning.
Dec: Busy man. Any advice for busy people studying Japanese who want to come to Japan?
YSM: Just do it. My shortest trip to Japan was 1 week, but even then it was very much worth it.
Dec: Anything else?
YSM: If you are on a tight budget, spend the money on lessons and not expensive accommodation.
Dec: OK. Thank you and safe travels.