Richard Portelli - 2015 Program Participant

Game at the Sapporo dome in Japan

Sitting in the danger zone at Sapporo dome - lots and lots of foul balls come this way, so bring a helmet or sit elsewhere, the choice is yours!

Why did you decide to enroll in a Japanese language school? 

I already live in Sapporo and had been going to another school. However, my previous school was a huge help in teaching me beginner Japanese but I was struggling to connect everything I had learnt, the teachers changed, and it was no longer working for me. I needed to find a school that not only suited my needs but also fitted around my work schedule.

Why did you choose Hokkaido Japanese Language School? 

This school was recommended to me by a friend. She had learnt a lot in such a short time, I was impressed. She spoke and sounded like a native, using fillers correctly and was able to express herself her opinions. Something I still could not do. After talking with her more about the depth of the course and the materials used I knew that this would be the course for me.

As a resident of Sapporo, what is your favorite part about the school’s location? 

The location is close to the city's subways lines, major bus routes, and the main station. It is also super close to my own work, which means I do not have to go out of my way to attend lessons.

TV tower in Sapporo, Japan

The pride and joy of Sapporo - the Eiffel, er no wait, The TV TOWER!

What makes the school unique? 

Everyone at the school is really attentive. The course itself has been structured around my needs. We make use of different materials and do not rely on one particular textbook (there is no one size fits all approach). I love studying, so I'm given lots of homework too, again paying attention to the requirements of the students.

How supportive is the staff at Hokkaido? 

The local staff are amazing. They speak both Japanese and English, so if you cannot get your idea across then you can explain in English, but that's not the point! The point is to use Japanese! Joking aside, the staff are really prompt and understanding; this really helps build on the relaxing atmosphere within the school. There's a study space within the school that can be used outside of teaching hours, so even if I'm not learning Japanese on that day, I can show up and use the books they have in their library; no problems! Even ask about things I'm struggling with to the other teachers!

What kind of cultural challenges have you faced in Japan?

For a person coming on a short stay (less than 12 weeks) I would say the challenges would not be as noticeable, it's more like a holiday coupled with language learning to enhance your stay.

I'm married to a Japanese national so my challenges will be different and be somewhat diffused because I have a spouse who understands me. Any problems I do have, I have my wife (to ask or argue with!), so my experiences have been different to those who come here alone.

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently? 

Started here sooner. I had an opportunity at the start of 2014 to study here but naively turned it down.

What should every participant know about your school before arrival?

Maybe as goofy as this comes across, don’t worry about anything! The staff at the school are amazing and will help you with any situation you face. Both during weeknights and weekends, they often arrange meet ups and so you never are alone while you are here. I guess the best piece of advice would to come here prepared to meet a lot of good fun people.

What is a typical day like for you in Japan? 

Jump out of bed. Eat sushi and drink some coffee. Get to school. Spend the fastest hours of my life talking in and about Japanese, from topics such as hobbies and families to the economic policies and future of Japan. Do some shadowing and receive the next week's homework. Go home, do homework, wait for the next lesson, and repeat.

A street in Sapporo, Japan

The sun rises very early in the summer. This was taken at 03:30AM! (Yes AM, that’s not a typo)

What do you enjoy doing on your free time? 

Talking and interacting with the staff, whether we are at the school or out having dinner. The school is really good socially and there are always events to meet other students as well as Japanese friends of the school so to practice, practice, practice Japanese!

What type of accommodation does Hokkaido offer students?

I lived here prior to joining the school, so I sourced my own accommodation. From talking to the other students they really liked the options available as well as the quality of the accommodation. The homestay families are amazing and welcoming to everyone. They really are like having a family away from home and will do anything for you.

How has attending Hokkaido Japanese Language School impacted your life? 

I still attend the school and “home” is Sapporo. The program is helping me lots. My speaking has improved and I no longer feel that I need my wife with me when dealing with day to day life. I definitely feel more confident and most importantly, my progress has been noticed by those who I work with!

How has studying Japanese impacted your career goals?

It`s definitely opened a lot of goals for me. I live and work in Japan, so studying Japanese at this school has been a huge help. I've already been promoted at work and am working on a community project in which I'm reliant on communicating in Japanese. My teacher is a great help as he has helped me prepare for all manner of work related tasks!

Inside the Hokkaido Historical Village in Sapporo, Japan

This is the Hokkaido Historical Village, for those UK folk who have been to the Black Country museum it’s like that, but in Japanese! This museum is staffed by very knowledgeable volunteers and is well worth the visit.

If you could study another language abroad, where would you go and what would you study?

I used to speak German really well so I would either go to Berlin or Munich (I've visited both and enjoyed my time there), or I would go to Spain to enjoy the food and the sun.

What do you think the biggest benefit of learning a language abroad is?

Definitely the immersion that comes with being in the country. Unlike being in England, where for example everything naturally is in English, in Japan there's a lot more Japanese in comparison. It then becomes a fun problem solving exercise. When I was studying Japanese I would close my textbook and go outside. Perhaps I go to order a food at a restaurant and I hear something I haven't studied. I can then find out and so the next time I'm ready to answer the question or even ask my own. Being in Japan really assists the language learning process, if you are actively engaged in it. Learning by osmosis just doesn't happen!