Monday, May 1, 2017

Save Japanese at CHS

For those of you who don't know, I only made the alternate list for JET, so I am pursuing my Master of Arts in secondary education this summer. My focus will be English, but I intend to gain certification in Japanese as well, after I compete my initial graduate program. However, with the Japanese program under the axe at my alma mater, my first task is to preserve that program, to ensure the school district as a whole doesn't lose this unique and valuable option for foreign language instruction.

If you think this is a worthy cause, I invite you to copy this letter or write your own to Mat-Su Borough School District Superintendent Dr. Monica Goyette and/or School Board President Dr. Donna Dearman at and

Here is the letter...

Dear Dr. Monica Goyette:

It has come to my attention that the Mat-Su Borough School District has not budgeted for a half- or full-time Japanese language teaching position at Colony High School for the 2017-2018 school year. This concerns me for several reasons.

As a graduate of Colony High School and its Japanese program, I know the value of Mr. Shunji Ninoyu’s teaching of the language and culture of Japan. Back then, students were required to take 2 years of foreign language in order to graduate. I chose Japanese, as a freshman in 2006, for two reasons: I had picked up a few Japanese words and phrases from self-study, and the language was an interesting alternative to the stock French and Spanish offered at most high schools.  (According to a 2011 study by the Center for Applied Linguistics in Washington, D.C., Spanish and French are the most-offered languages in U.S. secondary schools that offer foreign language instruction at 93 and 46 percent, respectively. Japanese, by contrast, is only taught at 3 percent of those schools that offer foreign language.​)

I continued to take Japanese as a sophomore, learning as much of the culture as Ninoyu-sensei could offer through traditional songs and holiday celebrations. I was inducted into the Japanese National Honor Society at the end of that year, along with about 15 other students.

As a junior I participated in a supervised “independent study” of Japanese 3 with three or four other students, during Ninoyu-sensei’s lunch hour – he was that dedicated to our continued education. That year we all participated in the state Japanese declamation contest at UAA, something I would not have done without the Japanese program and Ninoyu-sensei’s encouragement. Since no fourth-year Japanese course was offered my senior year, I chose to be an aide for Ninoyu-sensei’s Japanese 1 class.

Something I didn’t expect to learn in Japanese class was tolerance and understanding of a foreign culture – not of Japan, but of a particular group of young people my friends and I once cruelly referred to as “manfres” (pronounced MAN-fers), short for “manga freaks.” Manga is a kind of Japanese comic often read by or associated (in America) with a certain brand of misfits – students with brightly colored hair or “weird” clothes and accessories such as furry tails or plush keychains of cartoon characters. I avoided many of these students until I took Japanese. In that class, I befriended many students I would not have come into contact with otherwise. I stopped using the word my friends and I had invented, and learned to be kinder to people, even if I thought their hobbies were a bit obsessive. Japanese class, I think, also became a safe place for those students to talk about their interests without fear of ridicule, something that is still too uncommon in public schools.

Beyond Colony, I had similar, and even greater, experiences. In the fall of 2010, I entered Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota, where I ultimately graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in English and Japanese Studies (two separate majors). I had only intended to minor in Japanese at Gustavus, but the thirst for knowledge that Ninoyu-sensei had instilled in me was not easily quenched. I found myself signing up for classes on Japan in every field – religion, philosophy, literature and history – and as a senior spent a semester at Kansai Gaidai, an international university in Osaka, Japan. It was possibly the most exciting and educational semester of my college career.

Now, as a substitute teacher and aspiring full-time educator, I realize that it is more important than ever to support the program that I hope to have the chance to lead or support as a teacher in the Mat-Su Borough. Not only because I would love to teach Japanese or see it taught at my alma mater, but because the Valley now has two Japanese sister cities to foster relationships with beyond the schools. With the ink practically still wet on the signed agreement between Wasilla and Uchiko, and Palmer celebrating its 37th year in relationship with Saroma, the Valley’s connections to Japan are growing. It would be a shame to halt that growth now. Palmer High only recently reinstated its Japanese program after a seven-year hiatus, and Wasilla is only supporting one Japanese 1 class and one Japanese 2 class this year. Losing Japanese at Colony would only make the programs at other schools more tenuous, a travesty that could affect the quality of our relationship with Uchiko and Saroma as a community. These relationships cannot thrive without student interest, and it is difficult to generate and sustain student interest without a program in place where higher level students can recruit newcomers by vouching for it with their own personal experiences.

I understand that my mere enjoyment of Japanese at Colony and beyond may not be enough to convince the powers that be of the value of the program, which is why I am collecting the signatures of people who echo my statements in this letter. I have also encouraged my former classmates to send you copies of this letter or their own messages in support of the Japanese program at CHS.

I hope that this district, with its strong emphasis on student choice,​ will see how important this program is and consider retaining a Japanese teaching position at Colony High School.


Caitlin Skvorc

Substitute teacher


Sunday, January 15, 2017


A word I learned from "Heroes" that I didn't know the meaning of until I went to Japan...but very appropriate now, since I have my JET interview! It's set for Friday, Feb. 10, about a month from today.

I started reading up on the interview process, looking for tips and such, and got a little nervous/intimidated again about what I need to know...not that I'm not a good interview (almost 3 years as a journalist, I better be good), but that my world knowledge and improvisation skills are not up to snuff, and that my Japanese language ability is not where it should be.

Ah well. Stay tuned for results! First week of April, they said.

Can I get a 頑張ろう (gan-ba-ROH)?

Saturday, December 3, 2016


Heyyyyyyyyyy everyone!

It's been a super long time, I know. BUT. I applied for an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) position with the Japanese Exchange Teaching (JET) Program last month (actually October but the application period closed Nov. 18) and I'm hoping to have an interview with someone in Anchorage in January. I'd be placed/selected in April (hoping for someplace with snow like Hokkaido or Niigata) and off to Japan at the end of July/beginning of August.

If I do end up going, rest assured this blog will once again be buzzing with all things Japanese!

呼応運を祈ってください! (このフレーズは日本人が使っているのですか?)

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Overdue and the Not-Yet

I don't usually like to write new posts without first skimming over my last one or two, but as I am not currently connected to the internet and I think I've put this off long enough, this is where we're are.


It's been over a month now since I left Japan, and I feel like I've met even more people with connections to Japan (whether or not those connections are directly helpful to me), and plenty of people that are pushing me to go back soon (especially with JET), or get in touch with so-and-so. Maybe it's just the fact that my final semester of college is rocketing towards me so I'm feeling the pressure about jobs, but I'm actually feeling pretty content with not planning ahead. I took some “talent” survey/quiz/whatchamacallit online through my school the other day, and when I showed it to my dad, he proceeded to go through it “with” me, aloud, in detail, saying things like “I think this fits” or “That [score] should probably be lower.” It was harder to listen to than I expected, with all my insecurities exposed (which sounds a little dramatic, I know, right?)—kind of like standing in front of my dad in the living room, in a bikini, in winter and having him point out all the parts of me that could indeed “use a little work”. Maybe not quite that uncomfortable, but I assume you get the idea.

Now, it's not like I didn't agree with those statements too, but to have some actually discussing them with me, that was a little weird. And I realize that that is what my future employers are going to do, so I kind of have to get over it. Or work at Sportsman's all my life (which I don't want to do for even close to that length of time), or become a hikikomori.

But the point, I guess, is that I'm content, right now. I know my spiritual life could be better, I know I could procrastinate less on job searching (really just finishing ONE application right now—I mean really, how hard is that?!) and thesis-researching (THAT is actually starting to freak me out...because I feel like the topics are endless), but part of me just thinks 'hey, that's all my life is going to be after this semester (and a wedding and potentially a play-writing workshop): worrying about how much I need to not procrastinate'....I guess. The thing is, I want to enjoy my last “break”. Because when June hits, the “real world” is here, and I have to start taking more risks, I decided. Like, if I really want to get back to Japan, to better my language skills and see my friends again (before some of them potentially forget who I am, [sad face]), I have to do it. And it's the same with writing, but of course now that I've definitely got [self-diagnosed] senioritis, it's freaking me out. I wonder if I can really do it. If I can stop talking about, stop just thinking about my stories and their potential, and WRITE.

As I said though, in this moment, I am content. Sitting on the couch of one of my best friend's from high school, after a night out with her friends to watch her star in Gravidity (a play) and later eat milkshakes and all number of greasy foods at Denny's until midnight (they have class today, ha), I'm really appreciating all the different groups of people I know (and like). I mean, it's really crazy to me, how many people I love, and generally love to be around. People all over the country, and quickly the world. It's sad and wonderful and frightening and exciting all at the same time. So I need to quit worrying, haha.

I know that sometimes, you just need to take things day by day, but I know I also need to talk to God more, to be in the Word, really in it, a lot more.

To all my friends in Japan, I miss you, and love you, and I'll be back :) The same goes for the rest of my friends and family all over the U.S., we'll be in touch.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


I know I should have posted this like, last week--it will be two weeks tomorrow since my last post--but, well, you know finals and such. So when I opened this up and saw "overwhelmed" as the title of the most recent post, I had to laugh--I just finished singing/playing "God I Look to You" by Brian and Jenn Johnson, and the first verse goes like this:

God I look to You, I won't be overwhelmed
Give me vision to see things like You do
God I look to You, You're where my help comes from
Give me wisdom; You know just what to do.

But are we really all that surprised? He knows us better than we know ourselves. Not only that, but

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
                         2 Corinthians 12:9

My grace is sufficient for you. My grace is sufficient for you.

And on that note, I'd like to jump into what I wrote a few days ago (with a tiny bit of editing)...

It's been almost 2 weeks now since I last blogged, and it feels like even longer, for all that's happened; not for the passage of time, because of course it flew by. We all knew this time would come. My two Japanese tests are finished, I turned in my two page paper, and now all I have planned are last-minute lunches and dinners with people I don't see very often. All I have to do now is close my Japanese bank account, sign out of KG, and finish packing (although I'm almost there--I started like over a week ago, actually). I guess I'm not as worried now about whether or not [the important] people will remember me (given their responses to my letters and the absolutely wonderful party my church friends threw me on Sunday) but I do wonder (worry? yeah, sorry) about what the future holds. I will come back. I'm sure of it. But will I live here? I don't think I can do that. It's so different. I don't know enough. In fact I think I'm scared to think I could do it. But there are a lot of people I care about here. A LOT. And I don't really know where I belong, or more specifically, with whom? And I'm not just talking about marriage.

Right now I do kind of just want to focus on getting home. Getting to America, even. Seeing Erin, having Christmas with Mom and Dad, skiing, getting jury duty over with, graduating, seeing Erin's baby (which, by the way, is going to be the most adorable baby ever in the clothes I bought for him today, which I also got for 200 yen off, probably because I spoke to the little shop owner in Japanese and told her about my sister). There's still a lot between me now and me next June, if you know what I mean. I know there's no way I'm going to make it through life, let alone the next six months, without God, but right now I do not feel focused on him. Some of you may say that's understandable, but it's really not. God is who I am supposed to be living for. Am I afraid to hear what He has to say, like before I went to Rwanda (or decided to go, really)? America is home, ...but. 

Listening to everyone on Sunday was so hard. One friend thinking she's not worthy of His Love. I get that. I've been there. And when it's not you, you're incredulous as to how the person could have been so misled. But it's a lie we all tell ourselves, that we are not worth God's "time." Ha. What a ridiculous concept. As if time were something God had to worry about saving. I mean, He freakin' made it, right? Then another friend, and...I forget the other guy's name, talking about all the seemingly little mistakes that can actually hurt people. Every second, every word, counts, and when I hear so many people from this church share this testimonies that, honestly, I don't think many American people would think of telling; I feel like a lot of the adult Japanese people I've met (out of college), maybe especially in church, pay such attention to detail in God's word that it's scary. I mean, so convicting it's good, I just see how short I've fallen of the glory of God. But I've never felt unloved there. I've never felt it was all gloom and doom and 'look what you're doing wrong'. There's just so much love there, at this Osaka church.

The worst part though--when I say listening to everyone was hard--was having 9 precious people (plus a 7-yr-old I just met) throw me this party. 7 people (plus the 7-yr old), told me something special in Japanese, and it kills me to say I didn't understand all of it. I understood most of what everyone said, I think, based on context and what I myself remembered about our relationship. Maybe I understood more of what two of them said because I am closer to them, and another girl because we have about the same level of speaking Japanese, I think, but...Idk. It's amazing what God can do with emotion when words and linguistic understanding fail. Now I only hope that they will be able to understand my true feelings and see my true 心 through the letter I wrote; in knowing that they know me better through that, I feel like I can really move forward with studying Japanese. とりあえず...ただそれぞれ人に愛しよう。Kinkakuji, Nara, Kobe, all blends together in the face of this. Cake and sushi and okonomiyaki shared with precious people. A failed skit, lots of giggling, coffee, and conversations about art and faith with another precious person. Talking to my host family (which I do wish I'd had the courage to do more of). Realizing my スピパ really isn't that bad if he's with another Japanese person he knows. All these things made my semester. I don't have any regrets, but I do wish I had taken more pictures of food :) Even Fuji and Tokyo, two big names on my list...I can live without. Onsen too, believe it or not.

But hey. I'm still here. We're not done yet. And here are some highlights from the last two weeks :)

Calligraphy. First time. Orange swirly means you did it right :)

Kinkakuji. Secret: the original was actually burned down by a monk in training, and was not gold.

The Daibutsu (Huge Buddha) at Todaiji in Nara; his hand is about as tall as me.

View of Nara, which Google edited poorly...

Deer (shika). If you know anything about Nara...

Chinatown (chugo[ku]kai) in Kobe

View from the Port Tower in Kobe

Doin' that thing we do, 3 floor of the Port Tower, I think. That's plexiglass we're standing on, I think.

Port Tower at night

Illumination (luminari), basically the reason we went to Kobe.

Different structure

And then a parting verse that a friend from church "spoke" (wrote) over me:

There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off.
                                                                                                                Proverbs 23:18

See you soon, America.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


Lots of papers. Homework. Studying. Packing. Readjusting.

There's a lot to do in the next two weeks. So much that I think I need to spend every spare moment working on projects and such. And I'm starting to feel like I can't do it all. Like it's too much. And I know I need to rely on God, but it's like I can't stop thinking of my to-do list long enough to hear what he's saying, to register anything on that level.

But I have some things to say. I felt about to burst and now I have to be upfront about my anxieties.

This is the issue: I wonder if anyone will remember me. It's one thing to stay Facebook friends. It's one thing to remember a face, a name...a foreign country. But what does it mean to really remember someone? Did I really make an impact on anyone here, so much that they will miss me as much as I feel like I will miss them, will remember me as clearly as I think I will remember them?

There are a few Japanese people at Kansai Gaidai that I don't want to forget me. I don't think they can know me any better than I know them, which is not a lot, but I have this fear that they won't remember me at all. How many foreigners will my current Japanese friends come into contact before I return to Japan? How can I arrange to see someone the next time I go to Japan when we really know nothing about each other, I just have this idea that next time, next time I will know more Japanese or pick it up more quickly and we can actually become friends because we can talk about things like our true worries and emotions and thoughts that I have not been able to express by this point? How can I possibly make it clear to all these people that do really love them, even the ones I didn't talk to much?

This comes from my volleyball team, of course. One person I am particularly fond of rode the same train as me on the way home today. We talked about school and traveling and jobs as we have before, but it kills me that we couldn't say more. It kills me. I am feeling so smothered by my inability to communicate the closeness I feel toward people, something that I think comes from the sheer fact that we are on the same team. There is something really special about playing sports with the same people roughly every week--you don't have to really understand the words that are being said. It almost seems mystical to me now, the power of this team ethic or whatever it is that is able to form such strong bonds without knowing someone's "personal life", as it were.

But do any of them feel this way? Do they wonder if they have impacted me? Will we ever understand each other's motivations for becoming "friends" this semester? I hate to use quotation marks there but with some people I honestly don't know--will they miss me, will they remember? It's one thing to be wondering about whether people remember you after you're dead--especially as a writer--but what about now? I haven't even graduated college yet! And to be having to deal with 4 paper assignments, a Japanese skit, 2 Japanese finals plus an oral exam and a kanji quiz, and still having readings to do....while juggling such complex LIFE's too much. I can't do it. And I know who can. But this doesn't stop me thinking about this most important question (to me) at the moment: will they remember? Do they wonder the same about me? Are there people I am interested in that are disinterested in me the way I have been with my speaking partner, blaming not the communication barrier but assuming he's just 'not my type of person'? I mean SHIT what do I do with that?

I just...I just need help. I don't know how to cope. I'm not ready to leave Japan. I'm ready to go home not ready to leave Japan. How is that possible? God I pray that they remember. That we remember. That this isn't the end. Please. I can't handle that. I'll miss them so much.

Sometimes I just want to jump up and hug people. I might even do it, although a lot of Japanese people probably don't respond to that very well. I just feel like it's the only way to get my message across at this point. But will it even do that?

Monday, November 25, 2013

A Poem

...for your reflection while you wait for a "real" post from me. Written by my college poetry professor, previously published through Holy Cow press a few years back, now posted on Writer's Almanac for the poem of the day on Nov. 25. I haven't visited the site in months, and I hardly think it's coincidence that I happened upon this poem now, when it's starting to sink in that I am indeed leaving Japan in less than 3 weeks.

What the Heart Cannot Forget

Everything remembers something. The rock, its fiery bed,
cooling and fissuring into cracked pieces, the rub
of watery fingers along its edge.

The cloud remembers being elephant, camel, giraffe,
remembers being a veil over the face of the sun,
gathering itself together for the fall.

The turtle remembers the sea, sliding over and under
its belly, remembers legs like wings, escaping down
the sand under the beaks of savage birds.

The tree remembers the story of each ring, the years
of drought, the floods, the way things came
walking slowly towards it long ago.

And the skin remembers its scars, and the bone aches
where it was broken. The feet remember the dance,
and the arms remember lifting up the child.

The heart remembers everything it loved and gave away,
everything it lost and found again, and everyone
it loved, the heart cannot forget.