Tuesday, September 9, 2008

White Lily Kindergarten

CARL here, aka the ENGLISH Intern...

I started a new job on Monday 1st September as the ‘Happy Gaijin’ at a local kindergarten. The kindergarten is private and pretty exclusive, it looks like the owner has invested a lot of money simply into the building; at a rough count I would say that it has 200 students, from 3 years old.

Arakawa Sensei has a branch dojo here twice a week, which I think is very brave. In his own words, he says that he can teach the kids a new technique one week and they have forgotten it by the next. But I think the karate training they are getting is giving them a great start in life, and no doubt some of these kids will become international superstars of karate in 20 years or so. They definitely have a great teacher so there could even be a few future Olympians amongst them!

Monday was a pretty easy morning. I arrived a little early for work so I spent a little time reading a short story to a group of kids. For the rest of the morning I shadowed a Japanese teacher and rode one of the buses to pick up the kids; we went all over Sugito and Miyashiro (one of the towns next to Sugito). It was a pretty good set up, the kids and their parents are all waiting at a pre-designated spot for the bus. We pull up and the Japanese sensei and I jump out and greet the parents and the kids, I end up repeating ‘Hello’ and ‘Good Morning’ about 100 times on the morning. When we got back to the kindergarten, the Japanese sensei and I got out of the bus. Then the kids say ‘good morning’ to me and ‘ohayo gozaimasu’ to the Japanese sensei as they get off. They are then led in to the school yard and I board the bus again for round two.

I managed to scare 4 kids and 2 parents into crying during my bus tour. This is a new personal best for me, ok so the parents didn’t actually cry! But they did look terrified at the idea of their only child getting on a bus with a big scary gaijin!

Most of the morning was spent on the bus, but when I got back I helped to get all the kids sorted into lines by class. This was pretty easy because each class has its own coloured hat. The kindergarten boss gave a short speech over a microphone and introduced everyone (including me). Then I was called up to give a short speech, something which I certainly wasn’t expecting. I’ve been here for a few months now, so I’m pretty comfortable with my self-intro in Japanese BUT I’m here to help the kids learn English so I’m not allowed to use Japanese. I was stumped! I think I managed to mumble a few things like ‘Hello’ in a really happy gaijin voice, which all the kids happily shouted back, and then I think I told them my name and that I was happy to meet them. All the kids bowed and I walked away a little embarrassed. After that, we all marched (no really!) back to our respective classrooms where I got to put a sticker in all the kids attendance books and then helped get the kids changed for running practise. After a little bit of running it was my home time so I had to leave them all.

I arrived a little early on Tuesday morning and there was a group of kids sitting on the floor of the main office. I said hello to them all, and got the loud ‘hello’ back and then some of the kids started saying lots of things to me in Japanese. I countered this by getting some flashcards out of my bag and started playing some colour and animal games. I was doing this until it was time for me to board the bus. The bus ride was the same as Monday, though I only made 3 kids cry and no parents so I’m putting this one down as a ‘good day’. Afterwards I played some English flashcard games with a class of 20 cute little 4 year olds until my home time.

The job is really fun and really easy; it’s just about having a good time with the kids and helping out where necessary. I think the fact that I only speak English is secondary to the fact that I look different to everyone else there. I am a white guy, and for most of the kids I’m probably the first white guy they’ve ever met. This makes some of the kids (and parents) a little nervous but I think it’s great that the kindergarten is taking steps to overcome this before it develops into a strong prejudice against westerners.

Some of these 3 and 4 year old kids will become leaders in the business and political world when they get older. It’s therefore very important that they don’t have any prejudice towards westerners if Japan is going to secure its place in the 21st century. If the kids can have a good time with the ‘gaijin’, then they will get used to the idea of people being different. Perhaps more important, they will realise that us gaijin aren’t really scary at all, just ugly!

(Richard here, Arakawa Sensei calls this making sure the kids don't develop a 'gaijin allergy')


NOTE - Pictures taken from www.flickr.com (I didn't think it would be a great idea to walk around the kindergarten with a camera!)

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