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Janet Cook

Teacher/Bird Enthusiast
Bavaria, Germany

Why did you leave Japan to move to Germany?

We left Japan because my husband's job there ended.  Sadness.  We came to Germany because I got a job teaching computer science at an American Army Post in Ansbach, Bavaria.  The transition was rough.  We had to spend the entire summer in the States waiting for the new paperwork and we did not like the stress of living in Southern California (Except for getting to go to Disneyland!  That was great!).  We miss our friends in Japan, of course, but we don't miss Japan itself so much because Germany is just like Japan only with wider roads and faster cars.  And our house here is HUGE with a big fenced-in yard and well-insulated with central heating -- something you don't find in Japan.  We had not worked very hard at learning German because we all go to American schools and everyone here (all the Germans) speak enough English that we get along quite well without it.  We are trying, though, to learn some now that things are settling down after the move.

What did you enjoy most about the countries you visited?

Of all the places we've visited so far, I'd most like to live in Peru.  Although it's the least developed, it's also where I think we could be the most help.  Of the fun places to be, I'd say Thailand was the most fun, but I wouldn't want to live there.  Japan is probably the prettiest and Germany the easiest.  Germany is too cool.  It's like living in a fairy tale -- castles and forests and rivers.  The houses look just like the houses first graders draw -- peaked roofs, square windows, chimneys, etc.  The people are VERY friendly and helpful and we love it a lot.  The euro is their new money and having the EU makes traveling easy -- no border checks or need to use passports or change money.

What is your current job in Germany?

My job is just a regular teaching job in a regular school.  We have about 300 students in a middle/high school with grades 7-12.  I teach the high school students Office 2000 (for personal use and for MOS certification) and computer repair (preparing them for A+ certification).  I also supervise all the distance learning students taking AP [Advanced Placement] and programming classes.  Since our school is so small, they take them online with students from other small schools on military bases.  I also teach early morning seminary class to the high school kids in our church.

What is your typical day or week like?

Our typical day this year will be up at 5:30 to get ready for school.  Leave the house at 6:40.  Arrive at the chapel on base at 6:55.  Start seminary class at 7:00.  Finish that and head to the high school at 7:45.  Arrive there at 7:55.  Send my 11 year old to the elementary school next door.  Log on to the computer and get messages.  School starts at 8:20.  I'll have either two Computer Applications (Office 2000) classes or one Computer AP class and one website design class in the mornings.

We have ABAB block scheduling.  That means we have four 90-min. classes each day and alternate them -- four on A days and four on B days.  We have a snack break between the morning classes and a break for lunch around 11:30.  Then I have a free period for planning classes, grading, meeting with the other computer teachers, etc.  From 1:30 to 3:00 is the last class, either computer repair or "seminar" which is a study hall/homework help/make up missed tests/etc. class.  On A days, my 13 year old will homeschool her core subjects with a friend at their house.  On B days, she'll come to school with me and take her electives.  On B days, we'll have either computer club or Future Business Leaders of America meetings after school.

Everyday, they'll sell snacks after school to raise money for the clubs.  That, of course, means I have to shop for supplies every week at the commissary.  Great fun.

How does the climate differ between California, Peru, Colorado, Japan and Germany?  What is the best part about each place?

The climate differs by location, not by country.  Where we lived in California, by San Francisco, it is mostly a reasonable temperature -- not too hot, not too cold, some rain.  Where we lived in northern Japan and here in Southern Germany, it is almost identical weather -- around 0 degrees C in winter with moderate snow (more in Japan than here) and 80s or so in the summer (except this year, of course, in which the temps are record-breaking highs -- lucky us!).  Peru depended on which area -- in the coastal plain, it's hot and NEVER rains (except in extreme El Nino years) and in the mountains it's much cooler and rainier, but never snowed, even though we lived at 3500 m, because it is too close to the equator.  Colorado, near Denver, was the worst -- VERY cold in the winter (although warmer than Minot, North Dakota), very hot in the summer, and WINDY (although Bavaria has some wind and definitely changeable weather -- we've had three separate thunderstorms separated by bright sun twice in one day this summer!).

What was your most memorable experience about your time in Japan?

The last Golden Week vacation there, we took a birdwatching trip with the Hachinohe Bird Watching Club.  There were about 15 of us and they showed us the entire state of Aomori!  Several of them are professional wildlife photographers and they created a CD of the trip and presented it to us as a going away gift.  Second to that was standing 100 meters from Ususan (a live volcano in southern Hokkaido) watching it spit out smoke, steam and rocks in a minor eruption!

How well has your family retained Japanese?  How many languages can you converse in now?

We can still speak and read it ok, but we're slow to remember how to write.  We have lots of Pokemon and Kirby (Nintendo characters) DVDs, manga (cartoon books), and games in Japanese for the kids to practice on.  I'm better at Spanish than German or Japanese and it works now -- people in Italy can understand my Spanish and I their Italian! :-)

Did your daughters find it difficult to adapt to a new language and a new culture?  If you ask them what the best and worst part about moving from one country to another, what do they say?

Danielle says: The hardest part of moving was basically the thought of leaving Japan because it's really cool.  We went to all the trouble of learning the language and culture and now we had to learn a new one.  The best part was being able to start fresh -- learn new things and get new friends, besides the fact that it's really, really pretty here.  I like Japan better because the people are nicer and I know the language and Pokemon is popular there and I'm more used to it.  I liked Japanese school much better than American school, the kids are nicer.  The worst part of moving is the thought beforehand, the typical "Change is awful" idea.

Marie says: Yes, I like Japanese school better than American.  The only bad thing about Japanese school was you had to clean the school, but in American school, the kids fight more and use worse language and the teachers aren't as helpful.  The worst parts of moving was the summer in the United States and not understanding German after learning Japanese.  The best part was having movie theaters with big screens and English language movies.

How did the attacks of September 11th and the unrest in the Middle East affect you as Americans living overseas?  Do you feel any less safe now?

We actually feel safer here than we ever did in the States.  We live in a rural area with lots of very friendly Germans around who like Americans.  In Japan, when the attacks occurred, we got only help and support from the Japanese (and likewise here with the war in Iraq).  People were very sympathetic.  The increased security has been a pain, but we can deal with it.  The only thing the Japanese and Germans don't like is when the Americans go off doing things without UN approval (bombing Afghanistan/invading Iraq).  They all felt the need to do something, but felt that since the Americans were so gung-ho about having the UN in the first place, they ought to at least work thru the proper channels.  Both the Japanese and American military people help both as friends and at the job by stepping in to do the work of the soldiers who are deployed.  So even though their countries don't actually send people to the front, they replace the people who are sent so it's easier for both the families of the deployed military people and the workplace.

Do you continue to do birdwatching in Germany?  If so, what is the biggest difference between the types of birds you see in Germany and the ones you saw in Japan or other places in the world?

YES!  Germany and Japan share most the same birds since they're on the same basic continent and same climate.  The biggest difference is Germany has storks (on rooftops! our local stork's live cam!) and Japan has cranes -- same basic family, but slightly different.  The biggest sadness is hummingbirds are only a "New World" bird, but Germany makes up for it by having a daytime moth, the "Hummingbird Hawk moth" that's very similar -- hovers, flies backwards and forwards, and has a long proboscis similar to the hummingbird beak.  It's really cool and very common.  Also Germany has LOTS more birds and our house has a HUGE yard with tons of plants and trees so we easily can have 50 birds of a dozen varieties just in our yard at any time of the day.  It's great!

When you were a little girl, did you travel or move about a lot?  If yes, where did you live/travel.  If no, did travel or living overseas ever interest you?

No, no.  We took annual vacations, but to the same beach cottage 'til I was five.  Then to the same campground in Yosemite (by the way, THE most beautiful place in the world!) 'til I was 10.  Then to the same trailer park in the mountains near LA 'til I was about 20.  We took one long trip to Canada and another to Yellowstone.  However, after my mission in Peru, I realized there was a big world out there and wanted to see more.

What was your first overseas experience like?  How old were you?

I was 25-27 when I lived in Peru.  I was a Mormon missionary and lived with Peruvian families.  At that time, Peru did not allow American imports, so everything we had was local.  Very different from now!  I loved learning the language (Spanish is the EASIEST language in the world for an American) and the culture and being with the people.  They are very loving and caring people.  Even if they have nothing (and their nothing is a LOT less than a typical North American's nothing) they will share and help others.

When you were a little girl, what did you dream to become when you grew up?  How old were you when you decided to teach?

I always planned to be a middle school math teacher 'til I got into college and found out how many math classes I had to take to get a math degree.  I actually entered college as a physics major because I thought it was fun.  Then I switched to animal science and finally to microbiology and became a clinical laboratory (hospital lab) scientist.  I enjoyed that until AIDS became so prevalent that working in the lab was dangerous, so I took a 50% cut in pay and became a science teacher.

What were your favorite subjects in school as a child?

My favorite subjects were math and music.  My school had a great TAG [Talented and Gifted] program and we had a special class that had only students who liked math.  We did math everyday for about two hours and loved it.  Almost everyone in the class was also in the band and/or orchestra.  My favorite teachers were the band director and my sixth grade teacher, Mr. Battelle, who was also my softball coach.

What were your least favorite or most difficult subjects?  Did this change for you through the years?

Least favorite??  Hmmm, the year of repeating algebra because my high school required all freshmen to take algebra (they've since changed) and sophomore honors English, because the teacher was more into "express your feelings about this through art" than I was.  Now, my hardest thing is programming.  I just haven't been able to 'get' JAVA.

What has been your most unusual experience related to cultural differences in any place you lived?

Danielle: The Japanese bowing to everyone and their dog.  Actually, everything is unusual 'til you get used to it.

Marie: Having to wear a gold hat to school in the first grade. [Mom: all first graders wear gold hats so they're easily seen by motorists. Japanese kids are really small! :-) ]

Janet: Japanese graveyards.  They have family plots and each person is marked with a board giving their name and personal information.  The gravestone tells about the family rather than a person.  Graveyards are very well kept and plots may be hundreds of years old (here in Germany, too).  Also the AGE of everything.  'Old' in California is the Gold Rush.  'Old' in Japan or Germany is 500-1000 years.  Every building in our downtown area is at least 300 years old.  This town has been in Bavaria for 250 years, but southern Bavarians (near Munich) don't consider 'Northerners' REAL Bavarians.

Do you have any advice for children who might find themselves moving to live in a different country?

Relax.  Enjoy yourself.  Get out and do things.  Use the Internet to find activities, museums, and amusement places near you and go there.  Attend festivals and other local events.  EVERYONE outside English-speaking countries wants to learn English, so expect to find lots of kids who want to talk to you and practice their English.  Don't be offended if they ask personal questions or use the wrong words.  Before you leave learn as much as you can about the new place and share it with your parents.  Join a church or other special interest group to make friends quickly.

What advice do you have for their parents to make the transitions easier?

Relax.  Enjoy yourself.  Get out and do things.  Use the Internet to find activities, museums, and amusement places near you and go there.  Attend festivals and other local events. EVERYONE outside English-speaking countries wants to learn English, so expect to find lots of kids who want to talk to you and practice their English.  Don't be offended if they ask personal questions or use the wrong words.  Before you leave learn as much as you can about the new place and share it with your kids.  Help them realize that life won't end because they're moving.  Help them stay in touch with their old friends by having them gather their names, addresses, and e-mail addresses.  Have a going away party and a welcome to the new place party.  Invite kids in their new class and/or church group.  Join a church or other special interest group to make friends quickly.  Try and find a house that is in an area with kids your kids' ages.  Get a tutor or friend that will help the family learn the new language and customs.  We hired a housekeeper/homework helper that worked with all of us, translated school papers, taught us to cook Japanese food, taught us how to shop, etc.  We haven't had that in Germany and we miss it!  However our landlords here are wonderful and friendly and invite us to local things and explain what's going on.

How long before you move again?

A long, long time, we hope.  We'd like to stay here about 10 years.

Where do you think "home" is?

Southern California -- that's where we're from and our moms still live there.

Do you have any advice for students?

Study hard, learn foreign languages, travel and talk to others outside your area as much as you can.  Become a world citizen, but be proud of your own country.

Janet's Biography
Her Interview from Japan (8 July 2001)

- 19 August 2003


Last Updated:
8 January 2015

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