Wednesday, June 22, 2011

United by English in Japan: New Pakistani Students Come to GoChuu

Every Monday and Thursday at GoChuu, my middle school, we have morning meetings with the entire staff. My only participation comes when I stand with the rest of the staff and announce Ohayooo Gozaimasu, wishing everyone a good morning, then sit down and play a game of how much will Kate understand today. I average about 5-10% comprehension of what is actually said. I’ll work on it.

During a Thursday meeting a few weeks ago, it was our Vice Principal’s turn to stand and address the staff. He started saying words I recognized and I started to pay a little more attention. An essentially fluent english speaker, he came over to me after the meeting to see if I understood what he had said, shockingly I had.

Rainy day at GoChuu

We were getting two new students, sisters. One was a 1st grader (our 7th grade) the other was a 3rd grader (our 9th grade). Their mom was Japanese, their dad was Pakistani, they lived in Pakistan and were here at GoChuu only for 3 weeks. They were wearing their own school uniforms from school in Pakistan, and wouldn’t be eating school lunch. Their Japanese was at an elementary school level and they could only write and read hiragana, not the Chinese Kanji characters.

“Oh wow! That is so neat,” I said as the Vice Principal sat facing me, confirming these details of the meeting. Usually their is nothing that pertains to me enough to warrant a one on one conversation in order to confirm details. I was still a little confused as to why he was exactly telling me this.

“I think,” he said, “that they might speak english. I talked to them a little and they seemed to understand me. Maybe they’re fluent.”

“Oh really!?” I was thrilled. In his very Japanese way, he had just told me that they are fluent. It had been so long since I had talked to anyone under the age of 25 remotely fluently. I was surprised how excited I was to meet them. As he left, I quickly wiki-ed “Pakistan” and confirmed my suspicion that english was in fact that one of their national languages. Great!

During cleaning time I went with the vice principle to meet both girls. They were in fact fluent, and darling. Apparently the principle had told them that the school had a fluent english speaker, so the girls knew that I was around somewhere. Both had huge smiles as I walked in, “Hi!” I opened. “I’m Kate.” They beamed and introduced themselves. Misha, was more excited than her younger sister.
“It’s so nice to have a english conversation after a day of Japanese,” she confessed.
I chuckled, “You know what,” I kind of whispered, as the Japanese students watched in awe as we continued with our introduction, “it’s a treat for me too.” I smiled and she chuckled. “I just wanted to come say hi and see how your first day was going, pretty different huh?”

“Ummm, YEAH!” she confirmed.

I smiled. I can remember how shocked I was with everything that was different from American schools. I told both girls that if they had any questions about anything, as to why and how things were done at GoChuu to not hesitate to ask. Their were a few things I needed confirmed by Ian and Sinapi when I first came, so I can only image from a student’s point of view how different everything must be. Both girls said everyone was very nice and they were having a good first day.

I was trying not to completely favor Misha after we introduced ourselves, but it was such a treat to have natural speed conversation with someone. I had to make myself leave. “Alright my dear, enjoy cleaning time and I’ll see you later!” She gave me a look and I chuckled. Poor girl was on toilet duty on day one.

Throughout the week I would come talk to the girls if I was in their class doing a lesson, or say hi in the halls, but I never got a chance to talk to them for more than a few minutes. They were both very mature for their age and such sweet girls, I really wanted to know their story.

Last Monday I got my golden opportunity.

Again the Vice Principle came over to me to tell me that on this day, the 3rd graders were taking exams to prepare for High School and Misha was in the library just reading all day as she didn’t have to take them. He asked if I would do an advanced english lesson with her, or basically anything as she was just going to be sitting there. Sure! I jumped at the chance, I only had 2 lessons anyway.

I went to go visit her and she smiled and put down her book when she saw me. “Hey!” I opened, man it felt good to start a sentence with that, rather than Hello.

I chatted with her and it was decided that we would do some kind of advanced lesson, I asked if their was any other subject she liked, after all we had all day. She said math and chemistry. I went to research online. I found some simple math lessons that I figured she didn’t know how to do, but were simple enough to teach in one lesson, and printed those. I found a short story in english that I decided we could read and discuss. I grabbed a blank piece of paper and told her we were going to make a packet and this was a cover for her to decorate, basically buying me time to research a bit more online.

I came back to her with all kinds of handouts and chatted with her as she colored her cover. She was 14, her sister 12. Dad was from Pakistan, Mom from Japan. The girls went to school in English in Pakistan. They were Muslim, their mom had converted. Though told me they never wore head scarves. I was fascinated by the languages they spoke. Misha explained that at home they speak a mix of English, Japanese, and Urdu, though the girls speak only English to each other. I asked exactly why she was in Japan, as I couldn’t get quite a straight answer from any of the teachers, I figured they didn’t really know. Their dad did something with car sales, and they were here visiting him, apparently he lives here in Kamagaya a large majority of the time. Their school year in Pakistan was over and they were here in Japan in a Japanese school for a few weeks to simply better their Japanese.

Then we started discussing how different Japan was from where we were from. I was so interested. I knew how the adults and the working culture differed from the US but I wasn’t sure how the student culture differed.

Her first observation was that the kids didn’t gossip. “Didn’t you have like popular and nerdy kids at your school?” she asked, “Sure,” I offered, “doesn’t everyone?”

“No!” she yelled in shock. “They don’t! They are like, all so nice it’s weird.”
I chuckled. “Do you think that’s a good thing or a bad thing?” I asked. She thought, then confessed she didn’t know.

I know what she means though. The adults are so nice, but sometimes I wonder how sincere they are, or if it’s more about keeping the harmony of the situation. I’m betting on the latter.

“AND,” she went on, “they apologize for EVERYTHING!” I laughed again, knowing just what she means, and again we discussed their sincerity. But I explained to her that moving two inches out of the way for someone and apologizing, doesn’t exactly mean, I’m sorry, but rather acknowledging someones presence. Or at least that’s my theory. I told her, that when I went home after the earthquake, my mom told me that I said sorry too much. Which she thought was hysterical.

She then had another observation, that the kids, or girls in particular, didn’t seem to have really close friendships, citing that they were so formal with each other. She went on, “I mean when you’re with your friends do you apologize to them? Isn’t it implied that you wouldn’t do anything to like hurt them.” A very pointed observation I thought for a 14 year old. And one I agree with, but again that just isn’t their way of doing things. I told her the next theory that I’ve observed, that the Japanese people are very good at having designated roles for designated places.

For instance when they are at school, they are all business, no matter how close they are in reality. She thought about that one for awhile. “Well at least that’s how the teachers are,” I pondered, “when they are at school they are teachers at work, end of story. But outside of school they are just as causal as we are.”

I asked if their are any couples amongst the students. Again she went on to tell me that they don’t seem to have crushes or date or do anything like that. She couldn’t believe it. I asked if maybe their was, but they just didn’t show it at school, and she said she wasn’t sure. The dating life for people my age is pretty much the opposite of anything western and apparently Pakistani as well.

We did the work I printed, but talked most of the day about cultures and how they are different and the same and how we all seem to get things done just in different ways. We even talked about suicide bombers and she explained to me just how people are recruited to become a suicide bomber. We talked about Pakistani weddings, at which point she lit up, as she talked about her cousins weddings she went to. She told me about the current president of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, and how his wife, Benazir Bhutto, the previous President, was killed during her term. Apparently she was killed in a suicide bombing, then shot. And it is rumored that her husband, was involved to gain Presidency. Misha confessed she was devastated when the former president was killed as she had inspired Misha to gain an interest in politics. Oh, and apparently her son is hot, Misha gave me his name to google. Bilawal Bhutto who is at University in England, incase you're interested.

She was so darling and so bright. It was such a pleasure to spend the day with her, and we had, all in all, a very mature conversation. I was constantly forgetting she was only 14.

I asked her if she could choose to live wherever she wanted, where would she choose. Without missing a beat she answered, “Wherever Justin Bieber lives.”
And just like that, she was 14 again.

Learning something new everyday,

In other news: It has been extremely rainy and hot, a terrible combination. So I got myself a puzzle for all the time I was spending in doors. This is my latest accomplishment...
1,000 pieces baby

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