Interview with Jana Fadness from http://JanaFadness.com
Check out the video above for the interview, or read below for the full transcript.
Robbie: Hey everyone, Robbie here from LearnThatLanguageNow.com. I’d like to introduce Jana Fadness who writes for her blog over at JanaFadness.com. Jana is a world traveler, language extraordinaire who also happens to be a directionally challenged adventurer. She’s traveled to places such as Japan, Taiwan and more. She also speaks multiple languages including Japanese and French. She’s looking to make her living online and been through quite some interesting life experiences overseas. She’s taken her time to be here with us today to speak about her travels and give us some insights on her experiences traveling abroad alone. How are you today, Jana?
Jana: I’m good. How are you?
Robbie: I’m doing well. So, can you give us an overview of some of the languages you’ve learned, how you’ve learned them, maybe where you’ve learned them? Just give us a brief overview of everything you’ve done in the language learning world.
Jana: The first language that I seriously started to learn was Japanese and I started to learn that when I was around 13 years old because I was interested in anime and Sailor Moon and things like that. So, I went online and found some free web sites with free Japanese courses and started to learn and just became really interested in the language and it became more of wanting to learn the language for the sake of the language itself and so I studied Japanese for several years and later ended up living in Japan for a while. I’ve also studied French which I started learning in high school, just took regular French classes in high school. I also continued to take French classes in university and after that, I started to become more interested in it and continued to study on my own. I started reading a lot of books in French and things like that.
Then later on, I actually did end up spending almost a year living in Paris as an au pair which is like a nanny, living with a French family. I’ve also studied Mandarin Chinese which I started learning when I was in university also just because I was interested in Asian languages in general. I was interested in the Chinese characters because of the way they were related to Japanese, as well. So, I started learning Chinese on my own mostly online through some video courses I found and did that for a few months before I actually went to China for a semester. I studied there for 3 months through a program at my university.
Then after I graduated from university, I actually lived in Taiwan for 1 year and taught English there so I got to be conversationally fluent in Mandarin though I still need to work on it a little bit. I’ve also studied a few other languages. I’ve studied Russian which I started learning because a good friend of mine is from Russia. I got the opportunity to go and visit her in Russia once when I was in college. I just really liked it there and had a great experience so I wanted to start learning Russian. I’m still working on my Russian but I know it to maybe an intermediate level. I’ve also studied Spanish which I was exposed to a lot of Spanish growing up just because the area I live in, there are a lot of Mexican immigrants and we had a Spanish TV station in our area. I took a Spanish class in junior high school just because that was the only language that was available then. I’ve traveled to Spain a couple times. I know enough to at least be able to get by in Spanish though my Spanish is not that great. Those are the main languages that I’ve studied.
Robbie: That’s quite a few.
Robbie: Where would be the first place that you actually were abroad?
Jana: The first place I was abroad would be in Japan. I actually first went there the summer of my freshman year of university through an internship program with my school. I stayed there for 2 months living with a host family and teaching some English classes. So that was my first experience in another country.
Robbie: How long were you there for?
Jana: Two months.
Robbie: Two months. So, it just gave you kind of a little taste of Japan.
Jana: Yeah, yeah.
Robbie: What was that like after having studied Japanese since the age of 13?
Jana: It was probably one of the best experiences I’d ever had in my life up to that point. It was really great. The feeling of actually being able to use the language with people. It’s something I can’t describe but it’s just a really satisfying feeling.
Robbie: Nice, and I think you stayed with a host family?
Jana: I did, but it was interesting because the family I stayed with actually was Korean but they had lived in Japan for over 10 years and so they all spoke Japanese really fluently and their kids had actually grown up in Japan so their native language was more Japanese than Korean. They were Korean but they were kind of integrated into Japanese society. The mom would cook Korean food and things like that. She actually taught a Korean class once a week for these local women who wanted to learn Korean because they were interested in the Korean dramas which were really popular in Japan at the time. So, that was interesting.
Robbie: So it was almost a fusion of Korean and Japanese culture that you were getting there.
Jana: Yeah, yeah.
Robbie: That’s cool. So, what about after that? What was your next time abroad?
Jana: After that, I went to live in Taiwan. No, the next one after that was when I went to China to study there during my third year of college and I was there for just 3 months studying Chinese history and the Chinese language in Beijing.
Robbie: Did you take any classes of Chinese or did you study only by yourself?
Jana: I started learning by myself just for a few months and then when I went to China, I took classes there in Chinese.
Robbie: So, your university actually let you study abroad without having taken any language classes?
Jana: Yeah, yeah. There were people in the program who were complete beginners in Chinese and they started in beginner’s classes so you didn’t need to know any Chinese.
Robbie: You were there for how long?
Jana: For 3 months. For 1 semester.
Robbie: What was that like?
Jana: It was great. I really liked it. One of the best things about Beijing in my experience was the food because they had really good food that was really cheap. I remember spending $5 in total in one day for 3 meals. It was really good.
Robbie: So it’s the food there that really stood out for you.
Jana: Yeah, that was one of the things that stood out for me and I also got to travel to some interesting places outside of Beijing. I visited Xi’an which is where they have Terracotta soldiers. Those were really cool to see and I visited Shanghai. It was a lot of fun.
Robbie: Cool, then did you think your Chinese improved at all or what was that like?
Jana: Yeah, it did definitely improve. Every one who was in the program got partnered with a Chinese student at the university as a language exchange partner. I had a language exchange partner who I met with pretty frequently and I helped her with English and she helped me with Chinese. We went to the market and things like that. It was cool.
Robbie: That sounds like a good experience. So, what was your next time abroad after that?
Jana: After that, I graduated from university and I went to Taiwan for one year.
Robbie: So another Chinese speaking country, huh?
Jana: Yes, it’s also another Chinese speaking country.
Robbie: And you taught English there for how long?
Jana: For 1 year.
Robbie: What was your experience like there?
Jana: My experience there was kind of difficult to be honest because especially for the first 6 months. The contract I had for teaching English was really tough because I started teaching at Kindergarten at 9am in the morning and then in the afternoon, I would have to commute to another location where I would teach from the afternoon to sometimes until 9pm. So, it was this crazy really long split schedule. I also had to teach on Saturday mornings.
Robbie: That’s rough.
Jana: It was really rough and I just felt like I had no free time although Sunday was my only free day but by the time I got to Sunday I just felt so tired. I didn’t want to do anything. That was really tough. After the first 6 months there, I was able to stop teaching at the Kindergarten in the morning so I just taught the afternoon classes and it was a lot better after that.
Robbie: Now, were you able to get some more Chinese studying in? Or, were you too busy teaching English?
Jana: I didn’t make as much progress in Chinese as I had wanted to. Due to a lot of complicated reasons like personal things that happened, I actually ended up getting really depressed for a while there. I wasn’t really motivated to do much of anything. I actually ended up spending a lot of my time studying Japanese instead of Chinese because it was kind of an escape for me just thinking about going to Japan. So I ended up watching a lot of Japanese TV and spending a lot of time studying Japanese.
Robbie: So when you were in Taiwan, you actually already knew that you were going to be going to Japan.
Jana: Yeah, I did. The reason I went to Taiwan instead of going straight to Japan was because I knew that I was going to want to spend a lot of time in Japan and I wanted to take the chance to experience another country before I did that. It ended up not going as well just because I didn’t have a very good attitude about it.
Robbie: You think it was your attitude and not the crazy hours that they gave you?
Jana: Of course the crazy hours were also part of it but I think a part of it was my attitude, as well.
Robbie: What do you mean?
Jana: I think that I could have tried to see the more positive aspects of the situation instead of having a victim mentality and thinking that there was nothing I could do about it. Part of the problem was because I was working as an English teacher and all of my Taiwanese coworkers or at least most of them spoke English and would speak to me in English at the school which of course is only natural for them because it’s an English school but I started to feel kind of bitter about that like, oh, I’m here to learn Chinese but everyone speaks English to me and no, I can’t learn Chinese now because of this situation. I realize that it was silly because all I needed to do was to be more proactive about it and to take the initiative to speak Chinese. I think that my attitude was a lot of the problem.
Robbie: Okay, but at least you got your escape by studying Japanese in preparing for your trip to Japan.
Robbie: So, I guess that’s the next place you went to, right?
Jana: It is. Yeah.
Robbie: Did you go directly to Japan from Taiwan? Or, did you go back home for a while?
Jana: I went back home for 6 months and then I went to Japan.
Robbie: So going to Japan, you were also an English teacher, correct?
Jana: I was, yeah.
Robbie: How did that compare to being an English teacher in Taiwan?
Jana: It was a lot different because the first place I taught English in Japan was a very small, privately owned school that was in a rural area. All the classes were very small and I had a wide variety of students whereas in Taiwan, I was only teaching children and they’re usually pretty big classes. They had a very set curriculum with certain textbooks that were supposed to be taught in a certain way and things like that. But at the school in Japan, it was very flexible and I had students of all different ages and all different levels. The class sizes were usually very small so I was able to get to know the students better and I had a lot more freedom in choosing the materials that I used and my teaching methods. I enjoyed it a lot more.
Robbie: What about your personal life? Was it a lot better in terms of the hours and being able to explore Japan perhaps?
Jana: It was definitely better. I was a lot less stressed out. I had plenty of free time to do other things. It was good.
Robbie: What kinds of things did you do?
Jana: What other kinds of things did I do? I just spent time with friends and read books and watched TV and things like that. Nothing really special.
Robbie: Did you continue to study Japanese even while you were in Japan?
Jana: I don’t know if I would say that I studied studied but I used the language a lot.
Jana: Because once you get to a certain level in a language, you don’t really study anymore. You just kind of try to use the language as much as possible and as you do that, you learn a few new words and things like that but it’s a gradual process of polishing it. So, that’s where I was at at that point. I just tried to watch a lot of Japanese TV and read Japanese books and talk to people in Japanese.
Robbie: And you said you went out with your friends. Were these Japanese speaking friends or English speaking friends or both?
Jana: They were mostly Japanese friends and I actually had a Japanese boyfriend at the time so that probably helped a lot to improve my language skills quite a bit.
Robbie: Nice. So, it’s more not so much that you are sitting down with a textbook and trying to study hard but rather you’re being immersed in the language after having studied it for so many years.
Jana: Yeah, basically.
Robbie: That’s cool. So, how long were you in Japan for teaching English?
Jana: I was there for 3 years and so for 2 years I lived in a town called Maibashi which is in Gunma prefecture. It’s kind of central to Japan and it’s kind of a more rural area.
Robbie: What was it called?
Jana: The town is called Maibashi and the prefecture is called Gunma.
Jana: For my third year in Japan, I lived in Yokohama which is the second largest city next to Tokyo. There I taught at an all girls private high school which was quite an experience from teaching at the little English conversation school.
Robbie: What was it like teaching there?
Jana: It was very interesting. I was teaching the classes all by myself. There were usually something like 20 girls in a class. It was very challenging at times because a lot of the students were really not interested in learning English at all. They didn’t pay attention and would be talking to each other in Japanese through the whole class. So, sometimes it was very frustrating.
Robbie: I can imagine.
Jana: I also had some really great students who really wanted to learn and who I was really able to work with individually a lot and I saw a lot of progress with those students which was really neat. I was the only foreign teacher at this school but I was a full time of the staff so I participated in all the staff meetings and I had to do things like supervise detention and all that stuff. It was quite interesting. It was the full Japanese high school experience.
Robbie: That sounds great.
Robbie: So, how long were you in the countryside and how long were you in Yokohama for?
Jana: I lived in the countryside for 2 years and in Yokohama for 1 year.
Robbie: What kind of differences were there between living in the countryside and then moving to a bustling city like Yokohama?
Jana: There were a lot of differences. I actually turned out not to enjoy living in the city as much as I thought I would. I wanted to move to the city because I thought it would be more exciting and I could have more opportunities to meet people my own age and things like that. It was actually pretty stressful in a lot of ways. Especially because of the morning commute on the train. The trains are really, really crowded and all the people on the train look so tired and so depressed. You could just see on their faces that they’re not excited about their lives. It’s just the most depressing thing to be shoved into this crowded train with all these depressed looking people every morning. It wasn’t the greatest way to start the day.
Robbie: Yeah, I can imagine.
Jana: Even though there are a lot of people, it has a kind of an impersonal feel to it. People don’t tend to approach you and start conversations with you as much as they would in a more rural area.
Robbie: So, you actually had people coming up to you and speaking to you when you were in the countryside?
Jana: Well, it’s not so much that people were coming up and speaking to me. I guess it’s just people are more approachable in general. There’s just a general atmosphere that people are a little more friendly in the countryside.
Robbie: I see. Were there any similarities that you could see between both the countryside and the city for Japan maybe as a whole?
Jana: Well, they’re all Japanese. I don’t really know. They’re all Japanese so there are some similarities of course.
Robbie: Like what are some of the maybe Japanese cultural lessons that you learned that differ from, say, living in America or living in some other western country?
Jana: There are a lot of things that are different but one example is in Japan, it’s tradition whenever you travel to another place, whenever you have taken a few days off to go to somewhere, it’s tradition that you bring back some sort of souvenir and not only for your family and friends but also for your coworkers. So, when I was working at the high school, whenever there was some sort of vacation and everyone had a few days off, when we came back, we would all get these little things on our desks from everyone who had gone somewhere and brought back souvenirs. All the tourist destinations at the souvenir shops, they have these packaged souvenirs you can buy to give to your coworkers. People seemed to prefer the store bought, nicely packaged things rather than something that is hand-made. That’s kind of interesting.
Robbie: Yeah, I also remember reading in your blog that you said you felt more comfortable in Japan than you did in the United States in some ways. Could you talk about that a little bit?
Jana: Yeah. I felt more comfortable in a lot of ways just because my personality tends to be a little more introverted and reserved maybe it’s hard to tell right now because I’m talking a lot in this interview. I’m a pretty quiet person in general. I don’t tend to speak unless spoken to and I don’t tend to show a lot of emotion or a lot of excitement in most situations so growing up in the US was kind of hard for me sometimes because people would always say, well, why don’t you smile more? Why don’t you talk more? Why do you seem so bored all the time? Sometimes people would even think that I was rude or that I was stuck up or selfish just because I wasn’t very talkative. I wasn’t very outgoing. So, that was really difficult but I never got that kind of reaction in Japan because there it’s more of the norm to be a little more reserved and to kind of keep to yourself.
Robbie: So they’re more accepting of just being quiet and sort of not really trying to be so extroverted perhaps.
Jana: Yeah, definitely.
Robbie: That’s cool. So, you also said that you lived in France, right?
Jana: I did. Yeah, I lived there for 10 months.
Robbie: Was that after you were in Japan?
Jana: It was. Yeah.
Robbie: Is that the next destination that you went to?
Jana: Yeah, I guess it is. In between I traveled briefly to a couple of other places but France was the next country that I lived in for a long period of time.
Robbie: Where did you travel to?
Jana: I forgot to mention to you earlier that before I went to China with the university, I went to Russia. When I went to visit my Russian friend for just 10 days, I stayed there. While I was living in Japan, at one point, I traveled to Thailand for a couple weeks.
Robbie: A couple weeks, that must have been a nice vacation.
Jana: Yeah, it was cool.
Robbie: So, you went to France as your next destination after Japan, right? And you didn’t teach English this time, correct?
Jana: Right, right.
Robbie: You were an au pair.
Jana: I was an au pair, yeah.
Robbie: And how did that go?
Jana: It was a really good experience. I had a great host family and got along with them really well. Also, I made some friends there with other au pairs from different countries so it was a good experience. I enjoyed it a lot.
Robbie: Did you like it better or worse than teaching English?
Jana: I don’t know. That’s hard to say. If we’re just talking about the job experience of teaching English versus being an au pair, I would say I enjoyed being an au pair more. But, if it’s about the place of Japan versus France, I would say I enjoy living in Japan more.
Robbie: Why is that?
Jana: Just because I feel, it’s hard to explain, but it’s just kind of an intangible thing that I just feel more at home in Japan and I always felt that way but there’s a combination of factors that go into any situation like that. It’s not just about the place you are. It’s also about your work situation and the people who you spend your time with and all these things affect the way you feel about your situation and so it’s not just about the place but, yeah, it’s hard to compare things like that.
Robbie: So after France, you went back home I assume?
Jana: Yeah. I did.
Robbie: Then where did you go from there?
Jana: Well, that was fairly recently so after France I came home and stayed for about 6 months because I decided to work on a music project.
Robbie: That’s right. Tell us a little more about that.
Jana: Yeah, I write music. I play the piano and the ukelele and so I decided I wanted to record some songs because my Dad actually owns a recording studio and I decided to stay home for a while and work on that. I recorded a CD which was a lot of fun. After I finished that, I had pretty much run out of money because I hadn’t made any money in France as an au pair. I needed to continue making payments on my student loans since I was still in debt from university. So, after that, I decided to get another job teaching English and so I went to Taiwan to start doing that but to make a long story short, I actually ended up getting fired from that job after just 2 weeks there.
Robbie: After just 2 weeks?
Robbie: That sounds pretty rough.
Jana: Yeah, it was pretty rough. Their reason for firing me was that they thought I wasn’t passionate enough about teaching English.
Robbie: That seems strange.
Jana: Yeah, it was a little strange and I disagreed a little bit with the way they did things but there was nothing I could do about it and they had made their decision. At first I was going to look for another job teaching English in Taiwan but after I thought about it for a while, I kind of realized that that wasn’t what I really wanted to be doing. So I could take this as an opportunity to just go off and do what I really wanted to do. I decided I wanted to try to find a way to make a living for myself online instead of working for other people. That’s what I’m trying to do right now and I’m back in the US now trying to do that.
Robbie: How’s that going for you so far?
Jana: Well, it’s going okay. I’m still looking for some different things to do. I’ve started to make a little bit of money doing some freelance translation from Japanese to English. I’m looking on finding other streams of income, other things that I can do.
Robbie: Yeah, definitely. So what do you plan on doing if you’re able to get these streams of income, do you want to go back to Japan or Taiwan or what would your dream be?
Jana: Well, I’m not sure exactly. It’s kind of up in the air at this point. It gets complicated as far as if I were going to live in Japan because of visa issues. I can’t really live there in the long term unless I get a job there. I’m not sure exactly where I’m going to live or anything like that. That’s not decided. It’s just kind of going to see how I feel and see what happens.
Robbie: Would you want to visit Japan at least?
Jana: Oh, definitely. Yes, Japan is definitely a part of my life and the language is a part of my life so I’ll definitely be going back there.
Robbie: The last question I’ll ask you is, why you call yourself a directionally challenged adventurer in your blog title.
Jana: The title, if you look at my blog, you’ll see that the title is actually in both Japanese and in English. So the title of my blog comes from a Japanese word called houkouonchi which means directionally challenged person basically. So, I first learned this word when I first went to Japan and as soon as I learned this word I was like, wow, this is going to be really useful word because I get lost really easily and so I thought I can use this word and tell people that I’m houkouonchi so you have to make sure to explain everything to me so I don’t get lost. So, I just thought it was kind of a catchy motto or slogan: Adventures of the directionally challenged.
Robbie: Did the word actually come into use while you were in Japan?
Jana: It did, it did, yeah. If you look at my about page on my blog, I tell the whole story of how I use that word with my host family. I actually got lost a few times and had to explain to them that. But anyway, on the blog, I have expanded the meaning of directionally challenged to also refer to just the concept of going with the flow in life and seeing life as an adventure, not worrying so much about having a specific plan for how you’re going to do things.
Robbie: Well, that’s great. Thank you for your time, Jana. We can read more about you at janafadness.com, right?
Jana: You can, yeah.
Robbie: Alright, thank you.
Jana: Thank you.
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