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Yeo Sze En, Shin
Yeo Sze En, Shin
Declan: Thanks for the interview.
Shin: No problem.
Declan: When did you start studying at Yamasa?
Shin: Um. October 2003.
Declan: That was in the AIJP?
S: Yes.
DM: Which class were you in?
S: I started in J class.
DM: In the beginner curriculum?
S: Yes. When I started my placement was chapter 14 of the Minna no Nihongo text.
DM: What did you find difficult when you arrived in terms of the language?
S: Conversation. From chapter 15 onwards was largely revision for me, I understood much of the grammar, and often understood what was being said to me, but I couldn't reply or express myself.
DM: Was that frustrating? The revision aspect?
S: No not really. For me, getting the basics right is important and getting everything right made it a lot easier later. I think that if you don't master the basics then when when you move up into intermediate or higher levels you always end up getting lost. One if the things I like about Yamasa is that the teachers here really drill the basics into you and if you don't pass then you don't progress up to the higher levels. So it was good.

DM: What made you decide you wanted to study Japanese?
S: After university I was working for the Singapore Sports Council, and there was a Japan Exchange Program. We usually had senior citizens from Hiroshima come down to visit, and we couldn't communicate. They didn't speak any English or Chinese and we couldn't speak Japanese. So that was when I thought I'd try to learn a bit.
DM: So initially was it largely a work related thing?
S: In part, yes, but at the same time it was a hobby. Around that time in Singapore we had a big Japanese drama & J-Pop boom. The TV drama series were usually subtitled in English or dubbed into Mandarin, but if you had the option you could listen to Japanese only.

DM: What were some of the drama series you watched?
S: Tokyo Love Story, um, Long Vacation.
DM: The one with Yamaguchi Tomoko?
S: Yes, and Kimutaku.
DM: To be honest I only watched it to see Yamaguchi Tomoko and Matsu Takako. I assume you were more of a Kimutaku fan?
S: No, no. (laughing)
DM: I noticed you did Business Administration at N.U.S. But you are saying you didn't do any Japanese at the university?
S: No, I started as a beginner at the JCS Japanese Language School.
DM: What is the JCS?
S: Ahh its the Japan Cultural Society.
S: They offer courses, and so I did 3 to 4 years part-time with them.
DM: Thats a fair amount, but you arrived you started at Chapter 14?
S: Yes. The course at JCS was only one class a week, and so took about a year to cover about the equivalent of Minna no Nihongo I. But being part-time you just don't get the exposure you need. The curriculum at JCS is a bit different to here. At Yamasa we were learning the te-form in chapter 14, whereas in Singapore we did the dictionary form.
DM: I noticed on your application that after you finished working at the Singapore Sports Council you did a graduate diploma and then you went to work for Maersk. Thats a massive company. Did you get to use any of your Japanese while you were working there?
S: None actually. So it was pretty much just JCS, drama and soap opera.

DM: Why did you decide to come to Japan to study?
S: I guess sometime while I was working, I kind of felt that I was reaching some kind of saturation point where I wasn't making much progress with the language in Singapore. And I really needed to speak more. So I thought that maybe if I could study in Japan it would be a lot faster, and then I could maybe get a job using my Japanese.
DM: And that was when you started looking for a school?
S: Yes.
DM: How did you first find Yamasa?
S: I think it was through a search on Yahoo perhaps.
DM: So you came through the website online applications?
S: Yes.
DM: What factors lead you to decide to apply for this school?
S: Um. The website was pretty good. Especially when compared to other sites. And in particular the intensity of the program and the secure accommodations. Most other programs don't have any accommodation.
DM: Or no choices.
S: Yes, no choices and far away from the campus, if they have any.
DM: So you wired me all that tuition and came to Japan on the basis of a bunch of files reaching your geekbox from our servers in California?
S: Yes!
DM: I really should ask for a raise one of these days...
S: (laughing) ...well, there was always this nagging doubt in the back of my mind. Is this a real school? But, I checked out the accreditation listing with the Nisshinkyo and then when I went to a meeting of some people thinking of studying in Japan I met a guy who had previously studied at Yamasa, and so when he strongly recommended it that made up my mind to try to get into the course here.
DM: Did you have any deja vu type experiences when you arrived after reading the site?
S: Yes, especially with the apartment. It was exactly the same as the photos and the video files I saw, so you felt like you had been there before. There were no surprises. It was good, and it meant I could concentrate on studying straight away.

DM: Which accommodation are you staying in?
S: I'm in Yamasa Villa 1.
DM: Shared?
S: Until late December I was sharing with my sister. She came and studied too and then left after the Japanese Language Proficiency Test. I asked if I could stay in Yamasa Villa 1 in the room as a single occupant for the last 3 months of my stay and the housing office was eventually able to arrange it. I got lucky.
DM: Do you like the apartment?
S: Yeah its very comfortable.
DM: At the moment that building doesn't have internet access installed. Do you have a Yahoo BB line or something set up?
S: No I just use the Institute's computers in the labs instead.
DM: You didn't bring a laptop?
S: No.
DM: And Yamasa's PCs are sufficient?
S: Yes. I only do things like checking email, surfing the web a bit, typing my resume for job searches and things like that.

DM: What language did you speak with you sister in?
S: Usually English, sometimes some Mandarin.
DM: Did you go to English medium schools in Singapore?
S: Yeah. Um junior high school was English medium. High school was English medium but actually bilingual because it used to be a Mandarin school.
DM: So you were bilingual, or did you also know some Malay or Tamil?
S: Just English and Mandarin.

DM: OK. Now where was I? When you started in J class how many people were in your class?
S: Only 8. It was pretty good.
DM: Where were the other students from?
S: Um, 1 Korean, 1 Canadian, 1 Taiwanese, 1 from France, 2 Americans and another Singaporean.
DM: Another Singaporean? How did that happen.....
S: Its a small world.
DM: Did it surprise you that you had such a mix?
S: Yes. It was a good mix and a small class. We learned a lot pretty quickly.
DM: After J class, where were you placed?
S: From J class I went into I class. Then it was D, D, B and then into the Advanced curriculum.

DM: When did you start to feel comfortable with the language, confident with speaking?
S: My confidence was up when I finished the beginner curriculum, finished Minna no Nihongo II. That was in I class.
DM: Well when you finish Minna no Nihongo II you've pretty much covered about 80% of Japanese grammar.
S: Yeah. It was about 4 to 5 months. And then during the New Approach texts my confidence rose a lot. I guess about 8 months from the start. Sometime during the summer.
DM: I asked earlier about frustration. I notice a lot of the intermediate students, not only in the AIJP but also SILAC and the OCJS, many of them seem to go through a period of frustration where they can't feel they are making progress, even when others can see that they are. Did you experience any of that? Going from I class to D class is a bit of a jump.
S: Not so much. I was happy that I had the basics right. Good teachers too.
DM: So you always felt you were making progress?
S: Most of the time yeah. It seems like it.

DM: Now you did the Japanese Language Proficiency Test last month right?
S: Yep.
DM: Which level?
S: I tried for Level 1.
DM: Had you sat the test before?
S: I passed level 4 a few years ago. 2001 or 2002.
DM: Are you confident of getting a pass score in the mail next month?

(a sort of strangulated cry came out here)

DM: Maybe that wasn't such a good question to ask?
S: It was soooo hard.
DM: It does vary each year. The examiners tend to overshoot or undershoot.
S: It was tough.
DM: Was preparing for the test stressful?
S: Yes. And I was really unsure whether to go for Level 2 and make sure I got it, or try for Level 1.
DM: You were thinking of using Level 2 as a kind of suberedome for a job search?
S: Yeah. I spoke to Sakai-sensei a lot about it. She said that if really need the documentation for a job then obtaining Level 2 first and then 1 later was a sensible option, a conservative one of course. But then she also said that if you don't need it, then well you might as well try for Level 1, especially if you are within striking distance.
DM: Good advice in my opinion.
S: I guess so. Anyway I thought Level 2 might be too easy. Not much of a challenge.
DM: Any student in the AJSP should pass Level 2 fairly easily. You get beyond Level 2 equivalent before you even enter AJSP.
S: Yes, so it sort of appeared to be a bit of a waste.
DM: Well, even if you're not confident, hopefully it will be a pass. If not, well there is always next December.
S: Yes.

DM: You've been looking for jobs, did you also do any part-time jobs while you studied?
S: Yes I worked in McDonalds.
DM: Which one?
S: The one in the Seiyu.
DM: I've eaten over there.
S: Really?
DM: I should eat there less come to think of it. What were you doing at McDonalds?
S: Making burgers.
DM: Ah. Why did I ask? For how long?
S: It was about 9 or 10 months.
DM: Thats long enough I think.
S: Yes.
DM: How much do they pay? If I'm allowed to ask.
S: It was 750 yen per hour.
DM: That's not so bad for an arubaito. When I was in my "I don't speak English" mode as a student I washed dishes at Pony Belle for 660.
S: After 6 months they raised it to 775 yen.
DM: Luxury. Did you get any free food?
S: No. All they give you are a few discounts on drinks.
DM: Were all of your co-workers Japanese?
S: Yes. Mostly obaachan. Well not that old I guess, most would have been in their 40s.
DM: No young people?
S: Not many. Well there were but most of the young people were teenagers. High school students.
DM: Did you pick up much from listening all the time?
S: Yeah. A lot of informal speech. Which was good in a way. Its different from the structures we learn at school, but then without the grammar knowledge picked up in the AIJP I wouldn't have been able to deconstruct much of it.

DM: What else can I ask you while you are here? Is this your first time in Japan?
S: No I came here twice before. In 2001 I did a tour package. We did Osaka, Nara, Tokyo, Tokyo Disneyland, and we went to look at Mount Fuji.
DM: What time of year was that?
S: It was Spring but the cherry blossoms bloomed too late for me to see them.
DM: Happens. What about the second time?
S: I went to Tokyo in 2002, again in Spring. But that time the flowers bloomed too early so I missed them again.
DM: So you didn't see them until last spring in Okazaki?
S: Yes.
DM: Did you do the full hanami thing?
S: Yes. Only went at night though.
DM: Night is probably best in many ways. Up around Okazaki Castle?
S: Yeah. Went there with my classmates. It was really good.
DM: Okazaki is pretty good for hanami. All the sakura trees along the rivers. Good for hanabi too that area.
S: Yes hanami and hanabi. The hanabi last summer was just incredible.
DM: Did you do any other travelling?
S: I went to Osaka to go to USJ and some shopping. But we ran out of time for shopping so we went to Osaka again just for shopping.
DM: Where did you go?
S: Dotombori and the area near the main station.
DM: The Namba area?
S: Yes yes.
DM: What about Tokyo?
S: No I didn't go to Tokyo this time.

DM: Finally, what are some recommendations you might have for people in Singapore thinking about coming to Okazaki city?
S: Learn the hiragana and katakana before you come. Also never use Romaji.
DM: What about things such as clothing and so on?
S: Brings lots of winter clothing, or enough money to buy stuff here. Okazaki is not as cold as many other parts of Japan but it is still cold in mid-winter.
DM: Do they sell much winter clothing in Singapore?
S: Yes you can get cold weather gear.
DM: Too much airconditioning?
S: No no for people travelling.
DM: Is it cheaper to buy there than here?
S: About the same price I think. For thermal wear it is definitely cheaper to buy here.
DM: Only 7 more weeks to spring!
S: Yes. The sooner the better. (laughing)

DM: Ok, I think that is about it. Thank you very much for your time.
S: No problem.

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