Sunday, February 19, 2006

English Camp

It's nine o'clock on Sunday night as I start to write this.
I'm sorry, there are no pictures yet, and they may not come for a week; I still need to take 15 shots before I can develop the roll.

I have just come back from church following this weekend's Tokushima Kita High School "English Day 3," the English Camp. Sixty of that school's first and second year students (grade ten and eleven)– mostly first years– get to do debates, go to workshops, and hang out six-on-one with the ten ALTs (like me).

The weekend is one insane blur now, even though it just ended. I did it last year, too and loved it. This year was no disappointment.

The situation is perfect for me. Somehow it allows me to totally relax and show my unusual side. All weekend long. And instead of being criticised for it, everybody loves me! All of my random beatboxing, odd voices, interjectory odd sounds, startling by jumping out from behind stuff, sliding down bannisters, and general hyperactivity are fine, even enjoyed!

The breakdown:
Thankfully, I did get a full 9 hours of sleep on friday night, so I had enough energy to be alive, but I was still a full 15 minutes late for the appointed gathering time, but it wasn't a problem. I was early enough before the official start. We got to meet our groups right away. They were to come and find us after our brief self introductions. The first to come find me was Kanako, the one second year student in my group. She reminded me of one of my students at Kami-chu in my first year. She has this distinct way of talking that has a paced, slow deliberacy about it. The rest of the group came up shortly after; Kei, Yukari, Sayaka, Haruka, and Izumi: a bunch of shy but very smiley first year girls. They were mega shy at first, and it was a challenge to think of good questions to get them to talk and to feel comfortable. Yukari was the most helpful (or maybe the most awake? +_+) at that point, and really was trying her best. Izumi, a slight and quiet girl with glasses seemed reeeally tired. Haruka ("Spring-scent") was quiet but maintained a really warm smile. Kei looked on with intelligent eyes. Sayaka reminds me of one of my current grade eight girls, Miku. They are both tiny, lithe, high-energy girls that have jarring high excited laughs.

They were a cute bunch. It was a little intimidating for them due to being separated from their close friends. All the cliques had been chopped up and scattered amongst the ten groups. While of course I agree that it was the best and necessary thing to do, it did take away that security of being with a friend that can give the girls a lot of their boldness.
It was fun. I got them to write down their first name kanji, and only one of them thought their kanji had any meaning at all. That's interesting for me, because my image of Japanese names is of deep and visible meaning seen in the name. Like naming your kid Victoria or Angela.

I rode on the bus in the aisle seat between the four second year lads. They could (and maybe have?) made a band. Tetsuro plays bass (and he looks like a bass player, too!), Koji plays the drums (aka Yamaji, but don't call him that), Shota sings (and has a girlfriend, shhh!) and Kurisu plays the lead guitar. Fun, cool guys. Tetsuro's was the only name I could still remember from having met him before.
Hanging out with them sometimes reminded me of when Gary Schellenberg used to come by Tec-Voc to have lunch with Jared and me. We talked about music and stuff, pulled out our ipods and looked through them and stuff, it was magnificent.

As soon as we got into the room Mark Fennely, a cool prof from Shikoku University who has been here since the beginnings of the JET program, did the first debate session. It was much the same as the one he did last year, but that's not surprising considering how fabulously he's done it. If we were ever going to try to do debate stuff at my school, I would steal everything from his workshops. First he got them to formulate opinions and then go around the room seeing how many people agreed and disagreed. One of my girls went with "Matthew is better than Mark," and given that our group as number two was right near the front, Mark saw it almost right away. ^_^ It became a running gag for the duration of the camp! An opinion that has a near even split between agree and disagree is good topic for debate. Then it was on to finding reasons to support the opinions. Mark had a few karuta (card slapping?) games to reinforce.

After that was lunch, and I sat with my group and tried to get to know them more again. They were opening up more by this point and were asking me a lot of questions, too. Go girls!

Following lunch the crowd of kids was split in half for intonation and skit workshops. The one I was in was with one of the other Professors from Shikoku U, Robert Luxton (who looked and sounded like a Canadian Nathan Lane). He got the kids to act out the first scene from "Star Taxi," and doing it from memory, using lots of fun big gestures and tough-guy/cool-guy voice making. Then everyone performed for everyone at the end.

After a break with the chowing down of snacks and sugary beverages to make the kids wired was the first ALT conducted workshop. Jim, Sarah, and I were a workshop group, and at my suggestion we had prepared to do the same game I did last year: The Psychiatrist Game! If you have ever been subjected to this game, I promise you the version we did had way more variety and was way more accessible to ESL kids. If you don't know the game, the next time we are at a party together, I'll gladly subject you to it! ^_~

Another snack-break and it was into the second intonation workshop for me and the same group of kids. This time it was the third Shikoku U English prof, Robert Miller leading the kids through jazz chants, rhythmic tongue twisters, and We Will Rock You to get the kids accustomed to syllables and compressing words like native speakers. Good stuff and diverting.

The place we were staying was quite a big facility, and there were two or more other groups there at the same time. There was a crowd of soccer boys (who some of the Kita HS girls were eyeing and blushing at all through dinner that first day) and a smaller group in traditional samurai-like clothing. The conjecture is that they were practicing iaido, which is a kill-on-the-draw sword martial art. Is it a subgroup of kendo, or a group distinct on its own? I don't know. So anyways, before dinner all the kids from all the groups staying there had to go out on one of the big concrete areas for a ceremony and lecturing and so forth. Free time for the ALTs, so they showed us where our rooms were and some people went to walk at the beach (still too cold to swim, it had snowed in places that morning I hear).

After dinner the kids got to use the sento/onsen (public bath) for their evening baths, and the ALTs had more free time. The last scheduled event was Free Talking with ALTs (like me) for an hour. We split up into our base groups first and chatted for the first half hour. I took this chance when there were no other kids around to give the girls some of the mix CDs I'd made to give away on the weekend.
When it was becoming evident that my girls were just not energetic enough to get really animated, I went into crazy story telling mode, drawing pictures of the mohawk I had for three months at the end of university, telling about my high school long hair, my brother's many year mohawk which eventually reached 30 cm in length, and my sister's tri-hawk and the hairstylist's reaction. I also told about this past winter vacation and my principal's reaction to my hair suddenly going green. Maybe that was boring to read just now, because the fun is in the voices and actions.

Just when they were really starting to open up, and we were having a bunch of fun, Audrey (the MC, I guess?) called out that the ALTs had to switch groups. Boo. But it was fun, too of course. I was rotated into a group where every girl's name started with M. (By the way, in 57 kids there were only 9 boys). Joanna's group. I don't remember what we talked about, really, as they were way more lively and conversation went all over. At some point I overheard Jonny talking to my girls and finding out that one of them really liked to draw. My internal monologue suddenly piped up with, "What? Aaargh! Did I totally miss asking what they love to do or something? How could I have not found that out after a full day already! I suck! Crap! Let's do better!" But I guess that's beside the point. The point is that once again, we got cut off by Audrey announcing it was time for all the kids to go to bed, for the ALTs and teachers to have their chance at the bath facilities, and also that there was to be an "evening meeting" for the teachers and ALTs in Room 6 following their soaking in the tubs. Evening meeting = staff party.

I was the last of the ALTs to leave the room, drifting from student group to student group. (So much fun) Then it was onwards to the bath, where I was the last to arrive and with the last three in leaving. Then to the party, which was really chill. Just sitting aroung munching on snacks, drinking cola juice or beer, and chatting. At first it was pretty split between ALTs and Japanese teachers, but then when a bunch of people left we pushed a bunch of tables closer and things got better. We talked a lot about Kita High's politics and stuff that frustrates them about their unorthodox principal. They have got to be some of the hardest-working English teachers in the prefecture. I would love to team-teach with Mr. Kitamura, Mr. Tada, or Ms. Tanaka. I imagine class would be fantastic. They are the kind of people I could play off of really well I think. And working with a hard worker makes me really want to tow the line. But even if I was at that school, since they have nine or ten classes of each grade, I would only ever be in a given class once in a while, which blows. And I have strong doubts that my Japanese would have improved so much as it has, had I been there. And of course my view of the school is warped because all the students I have met from it are the ones who are really keen on English.

Being in the last three to leave the room, and heading back, I noted that most of the students still seemed to be up... that was between one and two, I think.

At around five I was awoken by the shocking dryness of our heated room, and arising to turn the heat off, I also went to the washroom. The House of Youth, the complex where all this was happening, has a lot of it's functions on motion sensor. Of course there are the urinals, faucets and hand dryers as like anywhere, but the creepy one is the lights. When you walk around at night in the dark halls they blink on before and behind you like you are in a science fiction movie. Even in the bathroom. So in I walk, on with the lights, I make use of the urinal, and upon washing my hands I hear one of the toilets flush and out walks Dennis, saying, "Hey man, thanks for turning the lights back on."

So then back to sleep and before I woke I had a dream that I was lying on a bed next to an open door with a lot of my former students walking past in the adjoining hall. Then the current principal of Kamikatsu JHS comes in and with sing-song voice informing me in English that it is morning and time to get up, he picks up my matress and rolls me off of it onto the floor. At about this point I wake up, before my alarm, with less than six hours of sleep, and with full knowledge that I will be getting no more. Pack up the bed and onwards to breakfast.

At this point my antics had gained me some celebrity, I guess, because when I sat down on one side of a group of girls with my breakfast, they had a minor freak-out. It was like "Yay!" + "Really? With us?" + *Squeal!*
And for some reason, Sayaka who is in my group was among them and reacting just as strongly. An impromptu survey revealed that none had slept more than three hours. Ha. Fenn (Mark) was sitting on the other side of the group and kept encouraging them to ask me questions like if I have a girlfriend and so forth. I was funny and pretty fun. I said that I liked taller girls, throwing out a number: 162 cm. One of the girls got really excited and was like, "I'm 161 cm!" I got her to stand up and as I suspected it was not that she was tall, but that my ballpark number had been too low. Oops. (>_> ;;) For the record I think I tend to go for girls in the 167-177 cm range. Uhh, that's perhaps 5'"6 to 5'10 for you folk back home. So I also got to explain that I would only date a Christian girl and why.

Not that it seemed to dissuade them much.

There was a bedroom cleanup time this morning and then the second workshop. Snacks, and then the second debate. My girls really shone in that second stage of debates. There were several games where all then groups were competing, and with only my restating of some questions they were able to come up with great retorts and rebuttals for the reasons in the Jeopardy like game. I think they tied for second with another team. There were no prizes or anything, just points to make everyone competitive. I wanted them to win! Maybe they weren't as desperate to compete and win as I was, but they responded fantastically to just a little nudging, and when they saw that they had the capacity to do well, they really got into it. Who says a little competition is a bad thing, eh?

And then, in the proper debate they were all-stars. Out of three topics, they chose to debate "Living alone is better than living with your family." Haruka, Kei, and Kanako took the family side, and Yukari, Izumi, and Sayaka took the alone side. Everyone suggested good and bad points for each alone and with family which we all wrote down, and then in the debate challenge (which I had to score and pick a winning side), they were brilliant. They had no rebuttals planned so they had to make them up on the fly and they would whisper into teammates ears to get them to make it stronger. Izumi at one point rebutted a rebuttle because she didn't want their team to be sissy and always accept the shut-down. You go girl! It was really fun to watch them debate, and I wished that we had longer because they were on a real roll. But the session was well overtime as it was when it ended, so no dice. The hard part was scoring. I had to go with family in the end, because they had made so many of the alone arguments look irrelevant so seemingly effortlessly. But it was really close.

Then a truncated lunch followed but MASSIVE INSANE SOCIAL SESSION where everyone milled about like mad in the main room exchanging cards and chatting and taking photos and so forth. You gotta know I loved it. And I still would have loved it even if I weren't such a center of attention, though of course that didn't hurt! (^ – ^)

Then our last round of workshop, getting the fourth group. The high point was probably group three, but that was maybe because two of the guys in the group had done it the previous year, so explaining it and getting it moving took way less effort, and there were at least two guys willing to give it a try right from the get-go. In some of the more shy and quiet groups we'd had to let girls be pairs of psychiatrists in order to get anyone to try. It worked pretty well though. Jim will probably take the cards from me before I leave so he can do it again next year. I guess that means he enjoyed the event enough to have already decided to come back again.

Then while the students cleaned up we had the onerous task of picking just one student from our base groups who had been the MVP for the weekend. I was pleased with how well all of my girls had participated. Yukari, Sayaka, and Kanako had all been markedly more outgoing, and between the latter two it was really hard to decide. I ended up picking Sayaka because she had been more carefree and energetic, as well as being helpful and encouraging to the other members of the group. It was such a tough choice though.

Then was the awards ceremony, and more free time to mill about and take photos and in general delay leaving as long as possible.

In the parking lot I declared Bus #2 as the crazy bus. Jim, Dennis, and I joined the nine boys in the back which like a train we set in a big U-shape. Of course everyone forward of that was female. As soon as the bus was in motion I called to one of the teachers at the front of the bus, asking if like last year we were able to sing karaoke on the bus. Lo and behold the bus was once again equipped with a karaoke machine, and moments later I was singing the worst rendition of "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" that I have ever had the displeasure and shame of being heard to perform. And then the hour plus ride back was consumed with singing, finishing with the back half of the bus waiting parked in the parking lot while Shota, Kurisu, and myself finished singing "Chiisana Koi no Uta" by Mongol 800. At some point on the latter half of the drive Bus #1 had stopped right behind us at a light, and looking into it we could see that nearly everyone was sound asleep. We waved at them as long as we were stopped but only one person ever noticed and waved back.Truly, I say to you were the crazy bus, and it was good.

One of my now obvious subconscious goals was to talk to absolutely everybody. Let's see how I did:

Okay, so I printed 80 cards to begin with. 11 were somewhat botched and only to be used in emergency. Of the remaining 67, One I gave to a teacher, one I gave to a guy at church afterwards, I have seven left in hand, and I gave one student two because he lost the first. That means cards given to 57 students. And there were 57 kids signed up to go, with two or three absent at the roll call. But maybe they still made it before the buses left. That means I may very well have accomplished my goal of talking to every single kid! This could also mean my reckoning is off! (O_o) (Of course the workshops don't count.) Every time I gave a card away I tried to take time to talk a little to the person to whom I gave it. All the students made cards to give away and I have 46 of those, so at BARE MINIMUM I had at least a chat with at least 80% of the kids there. Tetsuro and Koji, two of the guys I talked to a bunch didn't have cards to give (slackers! ^_^).

So, for anyone who wasn't there, skip this next bit, cos I doubt you'll care. By group, the people who gave me cards were:
My girls! All! -- Kei, Haruka, Sayaka (MVP), Izumi, Yukari B, Kanako!
1: Brian's All?-- Yu, Mizuki N (MVP), Ayumi F, Mizuki M, Nami
3: Martin's -- Yuka M* Saki, Kuribo (MVP), Yukari, Akane H,
4: Joanna's All!-- Maiko, Mina, Mana, Minami (MVP), Mari O
5: Dennis' -- Yuki A, Ayumi T, Jun (MVP)
6: Jonny's -- Yuka K, Taro, Kurisu (MVP), Tomoe
7: Sara's -- Shohei (MVP), Nodoka, Nami Y, Takeuchi
8: Christine's -- Natsumi S, Yukiko (MVP?), Shota, Yayoi
9: Jim's -- Ayumi O, Hitomi, Koichi, Natsumi K, Ayaka
10: Tom's -- Yuka N, Kayoko, Makiko, Soma
...and Sayuri, who didn't give her last name on her card, so I have no idea which group she was in.

1: Murakami? 3. Wasa, Hama? 5. Yasukawa, Otsuka? 6. Kawano, Kawanabe 7. Okita, Kono 8. Kanno, Inoue 9. Tetsuro (MVP), Takeda 10. Koji (MVP)
^^^ So if any of you student read this, and I didn't get a chance to talk to you much, I'm sorry! I'll try harder next time!
(If someone emails me first names, misgroupings, or MVP corrections, I'll fix them!)

If there was one frustrating thing this weekend, saying it might offend a couple ALTs. Please don't take offense!

I was definitely frustrated whenever at mealtimes an ALT sat directly across from me or directly beside me, not placing themselves in a group of kids. It's one thing if they feel they need a break from the effort of conversing to (at times, quite shy) students, but really, do you need to deprive them of these few relaxed hours they have where they can just chat with an interested foreigner? Go sit with the other ALTs who are sitting together and not with students. Like, really. I did not appreciate having my attention so misdirected. But how do you say that to a person. "Hey, don't sit by me, I don't want to be talking to you right now." It only happened twice, but in only four meals, that's 50%. Granted I was(/we were?) still able to give a bunch of attention to the kids, but just not nearly as much as if we'd sat farther apart. Part of it was my own fault, too. Both times I ended up in there much earlier than a great number of the students. If I were to do it again, I would make a point of coming in with the last quarter of the students so that I could find some place right in their midst.
But aside from that, no real complaints that I can think of.

Anyways, so somehow I get to be the superstar, the celebrity, the popular guy at this event, even though I was so not that when I was in high school. Perhaps someone else can give their thoughts as to why it happens. It happened last year and it happened again this year. Here are my theories as to why. It could be one or all or a combo, I don't know:
1. I have this image of the kids being the English superstars of Tokushima. That affects the way I interact with them, and that attitude somehow makes them feel great around me.
2. Like any camp away from the norm, and like any student, I feel free to step away from the constraints I put on myself or have put on me in normal life, and feel totally at ease with acting totally wild. And kids love wild.
3. Acting wild is also being totally into the event, totally following along with whoever is speaking an loudly supporting them. This translates to leadership for the kids, and so then the popularity I get may not be unlike the popularity given to a group's natural leader. If so, it's fun to take that role once in a while.
4. Well, my parents said when I was a toddler I had no idea what to do with toys. And only when my younger brother came along and played with them did I finally understand what they were for and start playing. Since then, my maturity may have been fractured such that while part of me has matured to act like an adult, there is another part of me that is still just a teenager.
5. The taking time to talk to everyone and joke around with them and startle them and play with them even though I've never seen them makes them feel like I am their friend right away.
6. I'm just devilishly handsome and undeniably cool; so every girl wants to be with me and every guy wants to be like me.
7. It's an unexplainable phenomenon that is landed upon by either outstanding random chance or divine appointment, but either way we should hardly expect it to continue.
8. I'm out of my mind, I was neither popular nor well liked. In fact being so raving mad and delusional, I don't realise that I was never even at any "English Camp" to begin with.

Okay, now for my favorite moment/quotes of the weekend:
Two girls (Kanako and Mina) chanting in unison, "Matthew I'm crazy about you!"
One girl to my left in the psychiatrist game, in answer to a question, "I want to be older so that I could marry Matthew."
Shota still shivering and laughing a minute after I startled him and several others in a the hall, "Now I have make good memories!"[sic]
Girl at breakfast, "I'm 161 cm!"

==I feel really bad that I don't remember more of the names for various faces...==
It is after two on Monday morning as I finish writing this. I'll post it when I get to school tomorrow.


At 8:11 p.m. PST, Anonymous 野中宏一郎 said...


At 9:16 p.m. PST, Blogger Fletcher said...

実は、そういう顔文字はカナダでも使えてるんだから、日本に限らない。あの小さい方 :) よりあの丸い方 (^_^) が好きので使います。

At 5:15 p.m. PST, Blogger Tom said...

That is an awesome story! It's good to hear about you revelling in your element.

At 8:18 p.m. PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would never have guessed that these 5 specific words would define my kids. Craziness, hard rock , and party animal!. Just think if I had played soft , soothing classical music while you were in the womb how different you might all have become. But NO! I played Degarmo and Key, Larry Norman, Rez Band, and Led Zeppelin at loud levels. I still remember one crazy family of rafters descending on poor unsuspecting rafters drenching them with pails of water. My fond memories are of retreat weekends with young adults and old- just going from game to game to game and meetings till Sunday came. Being who you are crestes an atmosphere that encourages the students to also let go and be who they are; and in Japan that probably doesn't happen a lot. Dad

At 7:47 p.m. PST, Blogger Fletcher said...

I don't know that if I were to pick five words to describe myself whether those would be among them... but I suppose I couldn't say they don't apply to me.


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