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Some corner of a foreign field…
I finally had the chance to visit British Hills in Fukushima last weekend. If you are not aware of British Hills, it’s basically an ‘English village’ run by the Kanda Foreign Languages Group that doubles as a hotel and language training centre. They are located in the mountains of Fukushima, 25 minutes drive from the nearest convenience store!
The resort was running a special summer tour for teachers (basically a PR exercise) and I was able to join it alongside 28 other teachers. We spent about 24 hours there, arriving on Friday morning and leaving on Saturday morning. It was extremely interesting and worth doing if you are thinking about taking students there. The study visit costs about 12,000 yen, which basically covers the food and transport costs. Accommodation and lessons would be much more if you were paying (more on prices later).
Weirdly, we had British weather the whole time: misty and cool. The resort is in the mountains at 1000 metres altitude, so it’s much cooler than the surrounding area in summer. Apparently they get up to 2 metres of snow in the winter though!
The schedule for the visit
The event was extremely well run, and we had a number of the sales and management staff (including the President) come up from Tokyo to join in. To be honest, it was an extremely full schedule, and we felt a bit rushed. There was no time to walk around or relax on the tour.
The buildings and grounds at British Hills are probably the best thing about the place. The whole complex is beautiful and is very ‘English’ in a stereotypical way. Lots of lawns and Edwardian houses. It definitely fulfills its role as ‘an English village in Japan’.
The main building housing classrooms, the Refectory (dining hall), swimming pool, gym, etc.
The tea shop, which we didn’t have time to sit down in but looked good.
The dining hall, modeled on an Oxbridge college Hall.
One of the student dorm buildings.
A common room in one of the student dorms.
The tuck shop, which I was initially excited about, and then very disappointed with. None of the snacks are British!
During the tour we were able to attend or watch the following lessons:
- Introductory lesson/orientation (English)
- Tour of main building (English)
- Tour of dormitories and main student building (Armory) (Japanese)
- Information about B.H. study programs (Japanese)
- Survival English (English)
- Lesson Observations (2) (English)
- British Table Manners (Japanese)
- Calligraphy (English)
My impression of what we saw is that the Japanese orientations (PR pitches) were pretty good, the content lessons in English and Japanese were very good, and the language lessons in English were pretty poor. The lessons I saw (which I presume are the best lessons) struck me as something a first-year ALT might do. Lots of running but most students are not doing anything for most of the time. I was expecting much more and this was the most disappointing aspect of the visit, particularly as students pay 3000 each for these lessons, so with a full class of 20 you are paying 60,000 yen to have students do criss-cross for 90 minutes.
The calligraphy lesson we took was very good, as was the lecture on table manners. I imagine the cooking lessons would also be fun.
Based on what I saw, the language lessons are not worth doing, but the culture and craft ones might be.
We had three meals on site.
Lunch was fine. It was filling, hearty, inoffensive, and kind of British.
Dinner was excellent.
Breakfast was fine, buffet-style like a hotel. Not great quality but filling.
The staff were without exception all great. Friendly and welcoming, there was a really nice atmosphere throughout the site.
Some of the teaching staff.
Apparently there are twenty-three foreign teaching staff, and twenty other foreign staff on site. As the resort is open all year round, they presumably are working shifts and taking holidays. My impression is that there were not as many foreign staff as I was expecting. To be honest, they were kind of thin on the ground. British Hills, at least while I was there, did not deliver the kind of English immersion I was expecting.
The resort did have Japanese staff that were doing their best to interact with visitors in English, but the few interactions I witnessed seemed a bit forced and the resort staff’s English was not perfect, even when dealing with junior high school students. Of course, this would not be important outside of the context of an English immersion experience.
Overall though, the friendliness and warm atmosphere was a credit to the resort.
Prices and Location
Now this is the killer. The resort is located about 40 minutes drive from Shin-Shirakawa shinkansen station. The resort operates shuttles, but I’m not sure if you have to pay for them. From Sendai, it’s basically two hours door-to-door by shinkansen, or three and a half by coach.
The prices, both to stay and for lessons, seem a bit high to me. The resort has a high season (July to September) and a low season (the rest of the year). Prices are slightly lower in the low season. There are also different prices for schools, universities, individuals, and groups. It’s all very confusing.
My impression is that it will cost 15,000+ yen to stay and 3000-5000 yen per class per student. They seem to be empty in the winter, so it may be possible to negotiate a better deal then.
I was both impressed and unimpressed with British Hills. The facilities are amazing, the staff are really friendly, it’s inconvenient to get to, the prices are a bit too high for accommodation and ridiculous for lessons, and the language lesson quality is poor.
Overall I would not write it off, but you would have to be very careful when designing your program to make it worthwhile. I get the feeling their standard packages would be a poor value.
It was an interesting couple of days though. Thank you British Hills for the invitation and the hospitality, and hopefully I’ll have a chance to take some students there at some point.
Has anyone else visited British Hills? How was it?
Recently I have been doing these kinds of freestyle warmups with children’s classes. They are easy, fun, interactive, and break up a regular class well.
Start by introducing the language on the board. Then practice orally. Finally have students write their personalized version in their notebooks. The whole thing takes about ten minutes.
One thing that struck me at the time is that of the 50 finalists, not one was from Japan.
Japan has a huge number of passionate educators who deserve recognition. I would love to see some of them in the finalists for the 2016 Global Teacher Prize.
Teachers of children between 5 and 18 years are eligible, and the judges are looking for:
- Recognition of a teacher’s achievements in the classroom and beyond from pupils, colleagues, head-teachers or members of the wider community.
- Encouraging others to join the teaching profession. Contributing to public debates on the teaching profession, whether through writing articles, blogs, media participation, social media campaigns, events or conferences.
- Employing innovative and effective instructional practices and achieving demonstrable student learning outcomes in the classroom.
- Achieving demonstrable student learning outcomes in the classroom.
- Achievements in the community beyond the classroom that provide unique and distinguished models of excellence for the teaching profession and others.
- Ensuring children receive a values-based education that prepares them to be global citizens in a world where they will encounter people from many different religions, cultures and nationalities.
If you know a great teacher, why not nominate them for the ‘Nobel Prize of teaching’ here?
Wait, that was it?
As Trevor rightly pointed out in Part 1, applying for a visa as an English teacher doesn’t really involve sponsorship, but I wanted to keep the title the same for the second post. More accurately we could describe the process as ‘supplying the necessary documents to prove a viable job offer to a teacher applying for a Specialist in Humanities visa’.
Anyway, a few weeks ago I went to the immigration office with our prospective new teacher (not necessary, we just wanted someone there from the school in case there were any problems with the paperwork). We took the following paperwork with us:
From the school:
- copy of the school’s tax return (as it is a personal business)
- copy of the pamphlet
- explanation of the school
- copy of the teacher’s contract
- <we missed something>
From the teacher:
- zairyu card
- revenue stamps
- application form
We went straight to reception and talked to a very pleasant lady who checked our documents and gave us a number. After about half an hour a case officer called us up. She was unsmiling and serious until she looked at our application, then she relaxed and started smiling. I took that as a good sign.
First of all she said we were applying very early (six weeks before our new teacher’s current visa runs out) to which we replied of course that we wanted to make sure we could deal with any problems in good time.
It turns out we had forgotten to fill in the 3rd-4th pages of the application form (the school has to fill this in and stamp it), and the case officer also wanted a copy of our teacher’s current employment certificate (jirei). We could send both documents by post within the following couple of weeks. Then she said we could go.
And that was it. Very painless, even with us having messed up the paperwork.
Last week our teacher emailed me saying the notification postcard had arrived, and the visa could be collected on the first working day of August. A huge relief and a big milestone for our school: first teacher visa enabled!
Please post any questions or anecdotes in the comments below.
Joseph Poulshock has now written a great post on a high school student lesson he observed at SEG. I think it captures the atmosphere well, and is well worth a read.