Missing the auditions for NASDA (the National Academy of Singing and Dramatic Art at Ara) was a gift in disguise for Alexander ‘Zander’ Hay. He enrolled instead in a Certificate of Japanese at Ara and discovered a love for the language, fortuitously matched by an aptitude for the language, which has resulted in a job at a university in Hiroshima.
After the Certificate in Japanese, Zander carried on to the Bachelor of Language in Japanese. The Ara programme places emphasis on speaking and hearing the language, along with writing and reading skills, and this is where Zander really excelled.
“Having dyspraxia, writing and reading are not my strong points but my skill set is in listening and talking. Because the classes at Ara are small there is a really great opportunity to talk with the teachers. In the third year, the class is taught in Japanese,” he says.
He kept his reading/writing skills up too and doesn’t deny that Japanese is challenging in this respect. “There are three alphabets in Japanese - the Hiragana, the Katakana and Kanji.” There are also three levels of formality for addressing different situations and people.
Despite the challenges, by the second year of his degree Zander was ready to live and study in Japan. He’d visited briefly before, while in high school, which was where he first became interested in all things Japanese, but now signed up to a six month exchange to Hiroshima University.
He made the most of his time there.
“While I was there studying, I studied Japanese. I did five courses in Japanese and two in English to promote cultural exchange. I learned about Japanese music and society issues in Japanese. I joined a jazz band at the university.
“I focus on phonetics, or pronunciation, and always try to improve. When you start off, you have to think about what you say, but now I am at the point where I don’t have to do that. My goal is: if I talk to someone on the phone, they will think I am Japanese.”
Zander is not far off that goal; particularly as Hiroshima University has now offered him a job, which he has gladly accepted. “The job I am doing in Japan is assisting in teaching English at high school, and I’m doing International relations interpreting and translating at the University. The contract is until March and hopefully it will extend to a five year contract after that.
“I like living in Japan because it so different. We in New Zealand are much more laid back than them.”
Before leaving for Japan, Zander found time to help out with the Totally Saiko Japanese school holiday programme at Ara.