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01: Sean O’Flanagan

■ Job Type:ALT  ■ Prefecture:Hokkaido  ■ Years on JET: 2004-2007

Sean O'Flanagan

Hi! I am Sean and I am an Assistant Language Teacher in Hokkaido. I am currently on my third year. I live with my wife Nancy and my son Keenan in a medium-sized city called Obihiro, about 2 hours by train East of Sapporo. My contracting organisation is the Government of Hokkaido. I am sort of a “one-shot” ALT and I am based out of the Tokachi District’s Board of Education. I have a mixed bag of five high schools, a high school for the mentally challenged and an elementary/junior high school for the hearing impaired. Two of my schools I see on a weekly basis and the others are peppered around the regular visits. Some schools I only visit four times a year. My smallest school has about 35 kids and the biggest has about a thousand students.

Sean O'Flanagan

Because of Hokkaido’s low population density there are a lot of small towns and villages dotting the countryside. That is where I come in. I travel to government administered schools and team-teach with other Japanese teachers of English. The One-Shot ALTs I know in Hokkaido are always on the road. Some days I commute 1 hour and a half outside the city to get to a school (I am the king of podcasts), others are a 15 minute bike ride.

The most rewarding aspect of my job is watching my students graduate. I am really looking forward to attending their graduations this year because I have taught them since they entered high school. I am so proud of each of them and how far they have come as individuals. Occasionally, I meet ex-students that have graduated and they still call me Sean-Sensei.

― Applying for the JET Programme ―

Sean O'Flanagan

After getting my piece of paper from the University of British Columbia, I thought I should put my East Asian Studies and Art History Majors to some use and live in Japan. I applied to JET twice. The first time, I got on the alternate list but took a promotion instead (huge mistake.) Three days later CLAIR phoned and told me a spot opened up! On a side note: if you are currently applying and do get on the alternate list, wait!

Hokkaido was my first pick when I applied. After burning out as corporate middle management and cashing out on stock options, my wife and I packed up again and traveled around Canada and Mexico for a couple of years before re-applying to JET in 2004. My wife and I entered this endeavour as a team. If we were going to live in Japan, it was going to be as a partnership. The last thing we wanted was Nancy to just “tag along” and piggyback on the opportunities (culturally, socially, financially, etc.) the JET Programme affords. Although my wife is a non-JET, she did find some part-time work in a suburb of Obihiro. In fact, her experience here in Japan has been as rewarding and as varied as mine. There was never any doubt in her mind about me re-contracting for a second or third year.

― Hokkaido’s Mystique ―

Sean O'Flanagan

Hokkaido is “the Alaska,” or for my fellow Canadians, “the Yukon,” of Japan. In fact, Hokkaido holds a special spot in the hearts of the Japanese. It is a place where everything is new and untouched, a place where you can enjoy nature. Every time I talk to Japanese people from down south (i.e. anyone not from Hokkaido) they let out the quintessential ii ne (How great!). Even fellow JET participants are always curious about life in Hokkaido. Hokkaido is known down South as a wild and unspoiled place with pleasantly warm summers and cold, snowy winters.

I had first heard of Hokkaido’s legendary powder snow as an employee for heli-skiing company in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Since then I had always wanted to visit Hokkaido. At times I wish I was placed on Honshu close to all the art and cultural treasures I studied in school. But the last few times I have been in Tokyo’s Shinjuku station – and it’s 34 C and 90% humidity – I could not stop thinking about being home. Obihiro has become just that for me: home. I could easily argue that I live in the prettiest region of Japan. I have lived in a lot of beautiful Canadian cities and I have visited a lot of countries, but something about Tokachi is very, very special.

― Starting a Family ―

Sean O'Flanagan

My wife and I have always been on the move. As a kid of a nomadic university professor, I learned to plant roots quickly (I moved to seven towns or cities by the time I was 16.) I think that has really helped me adjust to life in Japan. After about a year my wife and I were comfortable with our lives in Japan – so comfortable we planned on having a baby in Obihiro.

So, in June of this year our first child was born in Obihiro. Keenan is the poster child for the “internationalization” aspect of the JET Programme. He holds a ton of firsts. He was the first baby born to foreign parents in our hospital’s 40 year history. He was the first foreign baby born in our district in nine years (there are roughly 200,000 people in the district of Tokachi). His blue eyes and strawberry-blonde hair constantly elicit kawaii (Cute!) from both young and old people. Strangers will come up to us out of the blue and ask if they can touch him. Kids now do triple takes instead of double takes when they see a foreigner with a foreign baby. Some Japanese were shocked that Nancy would not go back to Canada to have him. I even have had to tell some Japanese that they live with me in Japan and not in Canada. He has definitely changed some people’s perceptions of foreigners. Keenan has also made me look at Japanese society from the point of view of a parent. There are a lot of universal truths to parenting.

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