Get to Know Your Professors: An Interview with Alun Davies

Interview by Shiori Hamasako

SH: Could you tell me a little bit about yourself?

AD:  My name is Alun Davies from England, the UK. I have been in Japan for 15 years working as an English teacher. I was an English teacher before in England, I was teaching for 4 and half years. I graduated university with a degree in Modern Languages: Russian and French. At the moment, I’m teaching English at Chukyo University.

SH: What made you decide to come and work in Japan?

Alun Davies teaches OC, Reading, Writing, and British Social History in Eibei

AD: Well, that is mostly because I was a language student, I was always interested in foreign culture, living and working abroad. I wanted to use my languages and wanted a new challenge. So I decided to come to Japan. The reason for Japan is because I have taught exchange students at my university before. They started new programs for exchange students from Tokyo. So Japan came to my mind for the first time.

Then when I thought about leaving England, I looked at a map. I thought about some countries, but why not Japan? I just thought it would be great!

SH: How do you like it here?

AD: The weather! That’s the first thing I love about Japan. They have the blue sky even in winter. My home town is the grey sky every day, and I didn’t like it. The weather is very important to me because it changes my mood. So I’m very happy with blue sky here.

Safety is also very important. I don’t have to worry about aggressions. When I’m in my home town, even just sitting at a restaurant, I would be careful not to look at people too much. If I do that, people would come and say, “What are you looking at?!” People can be very aggressive in England. But here, I can do people watching forever, and people may think I am strange, but they wouldn’t be aggressive. You might not understand, but to me, this is unbelievable thing.

Job. The job is always the key point of anyone’s life. My job mostly is very hard, but I was teaching in England too, so only thing that has changed is location. That is not a problem, and I enjoy teaching here.

SH: Do you remember the first lesson you did in Japan? What was it like?

AD: I never forget. It is only my nightmare story. My first students are junior high school students, and I had about 8 students sitting around the table. I thought it`s not gonna be a problem. Then I started the lesson with asking their name. – “Hello, what is your name?”…. Silence. I asked again, slowly this time. “What. Is. Your. Name?” …. Silence. Then I thought alright, I will ask the others. “Er.. do you have a hobby?”  He answered, No, and I said “Oh, no… alright…” and that lasted for 15 minutes! I began to feel that I’m getting in trouble. Thankfully, it got a little bit better, but that was my worst experience. Unforgettable.

SH: So what did you do to change the atmosphere?

AD: I had to change the way of teaching, very differently. I had to add more psychology interactions, to get rid of their shyness, and to make students relaxed. That is what I learned from that experience. And I also learned I never teach junior high again, I never will. (laughs)

SH: Do you find some differences between students in Japan and those in the other countries?

AD: Students in Japan are mostly more passive, and you have to decide if that is either positive passive or passive lazy, and that can be difficult. Also students are often lack of responsibilities with what they study.

SH: Oh you think so?

AD: Yes. In England, students take more responsibilities. If you give them something, they do it in a given time. But in Japan, I can never be really sure. So sometimes students — not all of them of course — lack responsibility for their own progress. Some students have a narrow view of leaning, how to learn. In England, leaning languages starts from communication, which is very different from Japan. Here, and in most Asian countries generally focus on grammar very strongly. It gives people a narrow view. Language is not such a narrow thing. Language has a purpose, and it is a means of communication. In an English communication class, students have to have a wide view of leaning, such as communications, opinions, feelings and emotions.

But also many students have remarkable communication skills. When I think about talking to some students, sometimes I forget that I’m actually talking to Japanese students. I’m not even conscious about talking down, or changing my language.  I’m not modifying words or not struggling to understand them. Then I think about when I was a student. There were not many students back home really could do that in a language classroom. But so many students I can think of could, and that is actually really amazing, at least compared to my experience.

Students often have a part time job. It can be a negative thing, but I respect that because I know they try to be independent. Some students have a lot of jobs, I know this guy working 50 hours a week and still does good job with his classes. I respect them because they study and work, which is not easy, I didn’t do that. It also shows they are not lazy, I said they were passive, but they are actually hard working. I really respect that.

Students are younger. They look younger, and Japanese have a younger culture.

SH: What do you mean by “younger culture”?

AD: It’s a “cute” culture, and that affects what happens in a class as well. For example, I have this story in my advanced communication class, which everyone in any level can take it as long as they enroll. One day, this student came to me and said “Is this what we call ‘advanced’ class? Why don’t we treat more serious topics, like politics, economics etc?” and I asked him “Well, but do you think your classmates will like those?” then he said “Ah..”

Teachers have to think about the general balance of a class, and young culture affects that too. Many Japanese students don’t like talking about economics and politics that much.

SH: What is your philosophy of teaching?

AD: Student-centered teaching. I think about everything I do based on the students’ point of view. I want students to work together as much as possible, so I am not going to stand and talk too much. Let them have interactions as much as possible, and let them make mistakes so that they can learn more. I want students to work hard and to be more passionate with their studies.

SH: Is there anything that you have struggled / struggle with now with while living in Japan?

AD: Language. To my shame, I am a language student, I’m still not great in Japanese. I tried to study hard but my job is very busy right now and I almost have no free space. So language is still a problem.

Price in Japan is unbelievable. I want to buy some apples but it’s like 250 yen for each (3 dollars), and I’m not paying that much for an apple!

The difference of the way of thinking. Again, the passiveness. I’m mostly in a classroom and I found that because of their passiveness, they often take double time to do something, compared with students in other countries. If something is too slow, it becomes boring for them. Maybe they are being more careful what they do, but that’s the example of the differences that can be negative.

SH: Have you experienced any culture shock?

AD: Yes. The cute culture. I still find it negative sometimes, but it’s better than the often too aggressive culture back home. Cute culture is at least not aggressive. Everyone is peaceful, and I like that. When I went to update my bank book, they asked me if I want to keep my card or change it into a cute one.  That would never happen in England. (laughs)

Eating noises. I never get used to it. I see one old guy with his tea, and I know he is gonna start. I try to be relaxed but when he starts sipping …. Ahh I can never be a fan of it.

Wearing Masks. I was surprised when I first saw it, but now I think that is very impressive. I once asked my students with a mask why he wore it. He said, “Because I don’t wanna give my cold to anyone.” I remember I was very impressed, that was very thoughtful, it’s almost too kind!

I actually wore it once because I have to make an effort, and it’s a nice gesture. I went to my music teacher, and I remember I was really self-conscious. I was walking on the streets, looking all the shop windows to see the reflection of myself. I looked at everybody else, but they weren’t looking at me. Of course they wouldn’t, they wear a mask, too. After that I got more relaxed and was very proud.

 SH: Are there some aspects of life here that you prefer in comparison to the way things happen in your home country?

AD: Everything is so clean, and I love that. Like streets, trains and bars.… that is amazing! Look at the streets, it’s very clean all the time. In England, it’s opposite.

People are more commonly respectful. It’s much more relaxing to do things in every situation. When you go shopping, services are very good, and very calm… but England is … very So-So. (laughs)

The transport system. I mean it’s wonderful, they are very clean, safe, and have bright lights.

SH: Are there some aspects of life here that you disapprove of in comparison to the way things happen in your home country?

AD: Sometimes things are too new in Japan. I love history, and old things. Like buildings in England, very dirty, and I love that! Things also change too quickly, like buildings, houses. I used to teach English at university in the countryside. They had lots of green and I loved it. But step by step, buildings are all around. Everything changes so quickly. How is it done? In England, things don’t change that much, and buildings stay for many many years.

Students think it’s okay to sleep in the class. Terrible. It’s never acceptable, how could they do that?

Noises. Japan is SO noisy everywhere! Like Yakiimo wagons, gas vans, they are around and around for 20 minutes! That drives me crazy. And the police sometimes stand on the corner and whistle forever! And barking dogs….  My worst. I love dogs, but in Japan it is very common to keep dogs outside, and they bark very loud.

Interviewed by Shiori Hamasako on June 29th, 2012