Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Japan is my Second Home

Beyond the insanity of the last week because of nature's recent wrath here in Japan, it was a long week of goodbyes, speeches, and present giving-and-receiving for me. I swear, every vessel that can be used as a flower vase in my house is in service! It is nice to feel so loved by my students and colleagues. Teaching can have very, very strong emotional perks: One hundred and ninety 7th graders making a speech in English for me, giving me flowers, and clapping as I left the auditorium...200 or so 10th graders making a speech, giving me flowers, singing "Sing a Song" in English and then making a "canopy" of their arms above me as I left the multi-purpose room, in tears...and the same number of 8th graders doing something similar. I am happily drained of energy.

Yesterday was the "biggie" though: the all-school assembly in which five of us "leaving or retiring" teachers had to make a final farewell speech to everyone (1100 people). I often try to give speeches in both Japanese and English so that everyone can understand...but this year I barely had time to come up with a rough outline so I decided on English only. Since I am still recovering from a cold, I decided to make it short and sweet because I feared my voice wouldn't last. Well, listening to the other teachers' speeches-- luckily I was fourth!-- gave me better ideas...

I reminded students of all of the times we had studied the "What do you want to be when you grow up?" units, and how everyone always laughed when "teacher" or especially "English teacher" was mentioned...and then I talked about how I love teaching and that it is like opening a gift every year, and every day...you never know what it will be: sometimes it is a small thing (Oh- that girl couldn't pronounce that word last week...now she can!), and sometimes it is a big thing (Hey! I remember that girl hated English in the 8th grade...and now she is trying out for the prefectural speech contest!). I spoke about the various traits I loved in each of the groups I taught, and how I hoped for their continued success in English. I encouraged them to travel-- not just to experience the world, but to better understand their own country.

Then I lightened things up a bit (these ceremonies can be deadly serious!) and spoke about/sang the various sounds that will remind me of them and the school: our morning "quiet time" song, our school chime, the various songs I often heard at lunch-- I mentioned a few extremely popular Japanese band names and did a little imitation of Lady Gaga singing "Poker Face", which they loved-- and then I hummed the song that always plays at the end of the day : "What a friend we have in Jesus" (though only an instrumental version- I don't know if any of my students realize it isn't a Japanese song!).

That is when I switched gears and told them how much my family has been in contact with me since the earthquake and how much they want me "home." But, I told the students, I feel like I AM home, at least in my second home...and I just couldn't leave. I don't know if it was then when I started to cry or not, but that set off quite a few students, too! I have spent nearly half of my life here, how can I leave in a time of crisis? I can't.

Lastly, I talked about "Life=Change", a motto in my classes. I reminded them that one of the retiring teachers was born during the Second World War and that the head of our Board, who was sitting on the stage had lived through it. Then I talked about how proud I was that America, a country they fought that war with, had sent two huge ships full of food, blankets, kerosene, medicine and rescue helicopters just to help the Japanese people. Now THAT is change! I said that I hoped that they would find the good in every change in their lives.

At the very end, I sang a verse of our school song and a tiny bit of a beautiful song they sing here at our school festival which is full of reminiscences and hope at the same time. It is never easy to say goodbye, but this year was especially hard.

Several students ran up to me for a hug after the ceremony-- and this is a country that does not often show public displays of affection! I was so surprised by it I started crying all over again!

The link I am trying to include is to my latest photo book. This one is especially for my colleagues and students at Futaba Gakuen, but I hope everyone will enjoy it and that the love I have for this special place comes through the photos.

...details I want t...
By Jennifer Hansen