International exchange and the school environment
How old were you when you first met a foreigner? Where were you then? In my case, born in 1958, I didn't meet a foreigner until 1974, and that was an American teacher who took the English conversation class at my high school. Thinking back, there was absolutely no chance of running into a foreigner in the course of your everyday life then, unless you count the television or the radio. These days, there is far more opportunity to make contact with foreigners from a young age, with more parents being posted abroad and more foreigners coming to Japan for work or study, while television and many other media also regularly feature foreigners. For me, I had the chance to spend weekends with an American household staying in Japan around the time when I graduated from university. As if to make up for my lack of experience in that area to date, when I completed my training at the Institute for International Studies and Training (IIST), I spent the next 10 years making business trips abroad for one or two weeks almost every month, visiting around 20 countries. Living in Frankfurt , Germany in 1990-91, I experienced German reunification firsthand, and was still posted there when the first Gulf War began. I did business and stayed in various countries, looking at Japan from the outside. I would memorize at least greetings in the local language and try to use them. Now I look back at that intense experience with nostalgia. During my stint abroad, I even led a team of Beaver Scouts (the 5-6 year old level of the Boy Scouts organization), and found myself sending postcards to 10 or so small boys when I went somewhere abroad on business. One mother later thanked me profusely for this. It was apparently the first time that her child had received mail from overseas, and the postcard had become a personal treasure! Traveling around so much, meeting foreigners became part of my everyday life. However, I wonder how much chance children really have to meet foreigners, in their school environment or elsewhere. Could it be that there aren't many chances at all? Is it only a personal prejudice that I would like to give children the opportunity to experience the wonder of contact with abroad from when they are young and most receptive? In the future, I would like to provide the chance for as many children as possible to open their eyes to the world beyond Japan so that they can ultimately take wing as citizens of the world. Here I would like to offer a few examples of this kind of project.
As an ongoing project organized by the Tokyo Kunitachi Shiroume Rotary Club1(International Rotary Area 2750) in Kunitachi City, Tokyo, a report is created on youth exchange activities2 for first-year Kunitachi No. 2 Junior High School students that are supported by the club in connection with the wider learning program stipulated in the new Ministry of Education guidelines. The activity program is in its third year, with the content improving every year. The club has also been able to provide support for special classes for sixth-year students at Kunitachi No. 4 Elementary School. The current report looks at the dispatch of 11 students from 10 countries on 11 November 2003 .
Elementary school program: Kunitachi No. 4 Elementary School
Around 80 sixth-year students welcomed the foreign students in the gymnasium with a song. The students introduced themselves. The PTA helped out with interpreting as discussion groups were formed around each foreign student. The Japanese students started with the questions that they had prepared, and while all the students were a little nervous, the sessions went smoothly and pleasantly. This was followed by games such as drop-the-handkerchief, paper-scissors-stone and musical chairs, which gave the students a chance to mix closely. The foreign students also experienced their first school meal. The next day, the Japanese students wrote down their impressions of the time they had spent together with their foreign friends and sent these to the foreign students as thank-you letters. The event allowed rich and satisfying exchange between children around the same age group.
Junior high school program: Kunitachi No. 2 Junior High School
Two foreign students were assigned to each of the five first-year classes (around 200 students), and spent around 30 minutes each describing their countries' customs, school life, and leisure time. They spoke in Japanese and used slide shows as well as local currency, clothing and small items which they had brought with them. The presentations using computer slideshows were particularly effective in helping to understand the various countries. The foreign students felt a sense of responsibility as youth goodwill ambassadors for their countries, and it proved to be a wonderful exchange opportunity. The Japanese students studied about the foreign students' countries beforehand, including geography, history and customs, and Q&A sessions enabled them to receive firsthand explanations that deepened their knowledge both vividly and directly, something that isn't possible in the usual classroom situation. The Japanese students then introduced Japan , using handmade paper cutouts, pictures and dolls to describe traditional events such as New Year and the Dolls' Festival. Finally, as the school choir competition had just finished, the Japanese students sang the harmonies that they had practiced. The foreign students were all deeply impressed and the memory of this event apparently remained strongly in their minds even weeks later. After class, many of the Japanese students didn't want to say goodbye, and ran after their foreign friends as far as the school gates.
In a mere two hours, children of the same age were able to get to know each other, become friends, and deepen their understanding of international exchange with other countries. With the children showing an interest in the various countries and commenting that they wanted to visit and make friends there, you could see their dreams widening right in front of your eyes. It would be wonderful indeed if such a small effort at the grassroots level became a major cornerstone for international exchange of the future.
1. Rotary Club: An international volunteer group created in the United States in 1905. Some 1.23 million members are now registered around the world, including 110,000 in Japan belonging to 2,332 clubs (as at the end of October 2003).
2. Youth exchange activities: Area 2750, which covers half the Tokyo metropolitan area (90 clubs and around 5,300 members), brings around 13 high school students to Japan every year to stay with the families of Rotary Club members and attend local schools. Thirteen Japanese students are also sent abroad every year as goodwill ambassadors.
Institute for International Studies and Training (IIST)
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