Now in its third year, the International Understanding Festival, sponsored by the Seika town office and Seika Global Network, is a chance for people to come and learn about all the different international events and activities in Seika. It serves both as a review of last year’s activities as well as a preview of what’s to come. And this year’s International Understanding Festival, held on April 17th in the Seika Exchange Hall, was chock full of information.
Seeing as education is obviously the most important thing out there, the event started off with a presentation by a teacher from Seihoku Elementary on their international activities. Starting this month, English classes have become mandatory for all kids in grades 5 and 6 (ages 10-12). To prepare the kids for this, the folks at Seihoku Elementary have been holding occasional English classes combined with courses on International Understanding to get the kids ready for the switch. Although I have not seen the English courses in action, I was the one teaching the International Understanding course and I can say that most of the kids were really open to learning more about foreign cultures and languages. Japan occasionally catches flak for not having the greatest English abilities or teaching, but the desire to learn is definitely there, so I can only hope that starting the kids off early will help them be more excited about learning English.
Next up was the Seika West Middle School International club who, with the help of yours truly, presented on Seika’s sister city, Norman, Oklahoma. The kids had worked long and hard on the presentation, and they had even given precious hours of their spring break to help out, so it was good to see it go off well. Although we covered a lot of aspects of Norman’s history and famous things in Norman, we also got to tackle stuff like what Norman kids eat for school lunch. People were more than a little surprised to see tacos, pizza, and sloppy joes on the menu.
Following this was a speech by a young Miss Cho, a participant in the 9th Foreigner Message Contest. The person originally scheduled couldn’t make it, and Cho was nice and brave enough to step forward and give a speech on short notice. Discussing cultural differences between Japan and China, Cho focused on the differences in public transport, and trains in particular. I did chuckle when she mentioned all the times she had gotten on a train going the wrong way, or overslept and missed her stop, as I have far too many of those same experiences. Most impressive though, is how far her Japanese has come in just a few months. Having met her when she first came to Japan and listening to her speech now, it is mind-blowing how much she has improved. At this rate she’ll pass me up in a few months, so it’s time to take drastic measures, i.e., actually studying again.
After Miss Cho was a speech from a Mrs. Hasegawa, who raised her children in America, and put forth that there were some things that Japanese could learn from the American system. Not having kids of my own on which to judge, I can’t say which country has a better system, but it was nice to see someone so open-minded about such a serious topic as child rearing. It reminds us that both countries still have a lot to teach each other.
By now though people were getting restless, and about ready to move onto something besides speeches. Thankfully the folks at Seika Global Net had planned a fun activity. By taking classic Japanese songs like “Sakura” and giving everyone the English lyrics, we had a good old fashioned sing along. Unfortunately, as the sole native English speaker, this meant I also had to lead everyone in song, which is just below flamenco dancing on the list of things I never want to do in front of a crowd. Still though, it was fun, we got to sing in Chinese too, and no one seemed to mind that I sounded like a tone-deaf badger.
The event was capped off with representatives from Seika Global Net explaining all the fun things they do throughout the year, which include hiking tours, Japanese lessons, and even the chance to farm your own vegetables. Hopefully everyone who came learned about the opportunities for international exchange here in Seika and decide to come out for more events during the year!