As we moved into June, YIFA had lots of appointments in schools and nurseries across the city. As the C.I.R, it is one of my main responsibilities to run the so-called “Guest Teacher Programme”, where foreign residents go into schools to teach about their home country and culture. From the end of May through June I was joined on different days by volunteer teachers from nine different countries. It was a joy personally for me to meet and spend time with people from such diverse countries, and I could see what a positive experience it was for the children.
At Yasu Elementary School, following some introductory lessons I delivered about my own country, the U.K, I was subsequently joined by guest teachers from countries as diverse as Morocco, Bangladesh, India, Thailand, and China.
The first guest teacher, Sanaa, gave the students a short presentation about Morocco, before we practiced Arabic greetings, then finished the class by playing a game of UNO. The game of UNO was well-known by the students of course, but it was certainly their first time to play with the ‘Piacentine’ design playing cards common to Morocco. Once Sanaa told me about these cards, I was adamant that we should use them, and actually copied and cut up enough for the 70-strong group of children to break up into small groups and play. I think noticing even a small difference as the design of playing cards can open children’s eyes to differences around the world. I think the children realised that what is natural for them is not necessarily the case in other places.
As well as noting differences, in the schools I really want to discuss similarities between countries. A couple of days later, our next guest teacher, Tahsin, began her presentation by talking about the similarity between the Japanese and Bangladeshi flags, both dominated of course by the red sun in the centre. She then gave a wonderful PowerPoint presentation showing us the interesting and beautiful points of her country; a country the children weren’t able to find on the map at first, but knew all about by the end of the lesson!
I think there were two big things that the students will remember from Tahsin’s lesson. First, she brought a beautiful saree with her to show, and, as I helped her to unravel it, it stretched…and stretched…all the way across the width of the room. It was quite a sight to see the fabric pulled across its full eight metres! It apparently takes over an hour to fit a saree properly, but for the lesson, Tahsin let one lucky girl try it on and wrapped it around her one way or another within a couple of minutes. The second memorable point for the students was watching videos of sports popular to Bangladeshi people. It’s amazing to me that the children had never seen or heard of cricket—one of the most popular sports in the world—before having watched the video now, they’ll be able to explain a little about the sport from now on. Similarly, kabaddi, and its Bangladeshi variation played in schoolyards, hadudu, was something new for the students. I think by learning that there are different sports played around the world, the students get the idea that there are interesting and fun things to learn from foreign people. I hope this will help to give them the motivation to study foreign culture and language.
In the next class, Monika talked all about her home country of India. She really explained well about the size and importance of the country, and I think the students were left with a big impression of the cultural significance of Indian heritage. In keeping with this Monika gave us a wonderful demonstration of yoga, before we practiced some Hindi greetings. The students were fantastic with the greetings, always with a big smile, and the biggest smile was saved for Monika’s beautiful 2-year-old daughter, Arshi, who the female students were besotted with!
Ging, from Thailand, gave a fun quiz to the students by way of explaining about her country in comparison to Japan, before teaching us some greetings in Thai. We finished the lesson by playing janken in the Thai style—something that involves quickly winding up your hands before playing your weapon—and then led a fantastic game of the janken train game. Lines and lines of children crossed each other, playing janken, until there was the final play-off between the heads of two remaining lines…the winner of which was named champion. I’m sure the students enjoyed the game, and will have noted both the similarities and the differences inherent in the Thai and Japanese versions of the game.
Our last volunteer teacher to Yasu Elementary school was Yu from China. The main thing which struck me about her speech was the diversity that she spoke of within her country; there are so many ethnic groups, types of traditional clothing, and foods, and such various nature. I felt that we could have learned about China all day and barely scratched the surface of Chinese culture and history. I’m sure that the students were left with the same impression. Yu is an experienced teacher of Chinese, so she was very good at teaching some new words to the children with flashcards, before teaching numbers which we used to play a little game together.
Yu’s was a fun and engaging lesson, like all the lessons at Yasu Elementary School were. The lesson ended, as they all did, with a huge line of students waiting for the guest’s signature and for their own name to be written in the guest’s language. By the end of the two weeks that our classes stretched over, some students had collected their name written in the different scripts of English, Arabic, Bengali, Hindi, Thai and Chinese! Their interest in this took me somewhat by surprise, so I hadn’t prepared anything for them to keep the writings (they just had the guests write on their note paper). Next time I’ll prepare a nice sheet or book for the students to collect the writings in.
At the beginning of June we also had a request to go into Yasu Nursery School to teach about foreign countries. I have a lot of experience working in schools and with older learners, but teaching such small children was very new to me! (I do have little children of my own, but don’t ‘teach’ them!). We started the day in the main hall with an assembly of all the children and teachers where I, and my two guests, Monika (again!) and Jennifer (from the Philippines) gave a short self-introduction and pointed out our countries on the world map. I then gave a short quiz by way of introducing our countries to the children. I decided to keep it very simple, as the children were so young. First, I showed the differences in size between the countries, hoping that some children would take away the main idea that India is much bigger than Japan. I then looked at the different foods, vehicles and animals in our respective countries. I think the children were well engaged and excited with the content. The most fun came after the assembly though, as we three went off to separate classes to have play-time with the children. We variously played a limbo game, sang songs, danced to Baby Shark, read the Very Hungry Caterpillar, played with toys, and enjoyed a game of Duck, Duck, Goose. It was a really fun morning, and we were all suitably sweaty and exhausted by the end of it!
I had one other engagement at a private nursery in mid-June, but the main guest teacher event in the second half of the month was at Yasu Junior High School, where we had been requested to put a foreign speaker into each of the five 2nd year classes. The students were to watch our presentations, then report back to their classmates later, so I was very clear that I wanted people from various parts of the world. I eventually found volunteers from Italy (Alex), China (Yu), Cameroon (Damas) and Palestine (Mohammed). I think that was a good mixture of backgrounds and religions and I’m sure there was plenty for the students to discuss in the dotoku (morality) classes which followed our visit. I didn’t have the chance to see everybody’s speeches this time, as I was needed to give my own, but, having checked the PowerPoints everyone was using, I could see how interesting the content was going to be.
The lessons were comprised of, first, a 10-minute presentation by the guest, before answering the students’ pre-prepared questions. We were all agreed that the students had researched and thought out some very interesting questions. My first question concerned my thoughts on Brexit (AGAINST!) where I was able to lead a discussion on immigration and European history, before I moved onto questions about British weather, food and sport. Alex was given questions about crime-rates, Yu ones concerning pollution and Damas answered to do with safety. However, it was certainly Mohammed who faced the most challenging set of questions．His lesson had to deal with issues of war, Islam, law, prayer ritual and many more issues. He spoke very coherently and cleverly about the situation that Palestine has been forced into, whereby families are separated and Palestinian land has been taken away. I was just able to catch the last few minutes of his presentation which he ended on a hopeful point, discussing the high level of education in his country that should secure a good future for Palestinians. His was a lesson that I’m sure the students won’t forget anytime soon.
As we move into July, there are a couple of engagements in schools, but here at YIFA we are mainly looking forward to welcoming our friends from Michigan. A delegation from our sister-city of Clinton Township will be arriving on the 13th, and we have a jam-packed programme for them to enjoy while they are here. In the unlikely event that anyone has made it this far down the page, thank you for reading! I suppose my next post will be a reflection on this year’s sister-city programme at the end of the month.