I honestly didn’t know what to expect when I went to the elementary school today. A little interaction, some fear probably is what I thought. I’m a whole different kind of person compared to a Japanese person so it’s hard to tell how Japanese kids will react. When we were sitting and the kids started to file in, I realized that our audience was a whole lot bigger than I had imagined. They also were all small and cute.
When we performed the Japan medley we usually perform at the Arigatou events, the kids reacted so strongly it was hard not to put my all into it. When we did the bread song, “alele”, Thomas had a fun time instructing the kids, and they matched his enthusiasm. It was fun to see their reactions and see them sing along with the songs we prepared. When we finished and we were left with just the 6th graders, it was fun to meet all of them and hear their reaction to our countries. The kids were a little shocked that American football stadiums are so big. One kid even knew the Golden Gate Bridge. It was kind of hard to talk fast about the country, sign our names and give them a sticker.
After we did that game with the 6th graders, we visited classes. It is so hard to say what class I liked most because all of the kids were so sweet and friendly. In the 1st grade class, we made paper snowflakes, which I was so relieved because I’m horrible at origami. The kids gave us their snowflakes as a present – so cute! However, as we went through 2nd, 3rd, 4th grade, I realized this was the case for all of these classes. They gave us little presents like pictures or origami animals. I had them all sign one so I could try to remember their adorable generosity in the future.
Sitting in the classes with four other people with you is much less intimidating. Plus, all the kids – plus the teachers – were super, super nice. I had lunch with Juuso (a WCI counselor) in 5th grade, and some of the girls were impressed with my multiple ear piercings and my heart tattoo. Even the 5th grade boys were willing to talk with me, which previously wasn’t really the case. It was nice to get to know them a little. Then, when we got to have free time with the kids outside or recess as we call it in the US, a lot of the kids wanted to play with us. One little 2nd grader grabbed my hand though, and led me around the large playground with a friend. They both chatted with me despite my broken Japanese, and gained other girls who joined the conversation of what Disney princess they liked and if I could understand Japanese or if they could understand English. When they said goodbye to me when the bell rang and ran towards the middle, they kept looking back so it made me want to run in with them and just stay. Maybe stay forever.
When I made it back to the library where we had breaks, we arranged ourselves to talk with the teachers. The teachers were all very nice and were super impressed with Juuso’s and Isak’s Japanese proficiency. It was a little funny because if Isak spoke Japanese, he translated what he just said into English for me. It was interesting to hear the discussion about diversity, English and bilingualism, how school systems work not only in Japan but also the U.S., Sweden and Finland, and learn a little more about the teachers who help mold those sweet kids into fully functioning members of society. Overall, it was a wonderful experience, and I was very tempted to volunteer as an ALT for free. I hope that everyone from WCI gets to experience this kind of school.
Whitney Herbert (USA)