Omiya English Camp, Day 1

This was the second year that I volunteered at Omiya High School’s mandatory first years’ English Camp.

6:15 Andy picks me up from my apartment.  Andy, Lindsay, Jon, and I get cozy in the car and complain about how early it is.

7:15ish After a quick 7/11 run, we arrive at the Ikime Culture Center.  The Ikime Culture Center is located right next to a large burial mounds site.  There are still some active dig sites amongst the mounds, so they are still digging up interesting things.

8:30ish Opening Ceremony: The ALTs were brought in and matched with our groups for the camp.  My group was from the homeroom with stronger English, which was a nice change from last year.  I also had one student from who was from Omiya’s actual debate team.  She remembered me from the debate contest when I judged her team in the final round.  I was not sure if she was going to hold that against me (they came in second place).

9:00-10:30 After the opening ceremony was done, we broke into our groups for introductions.  The students then made posters all about us to present to the group.  I wish I had thought to take a picture of the Jodi poster.  (I was trying not to look at my phone when the students were nearby.)

The title said, “Who is Jodi?” which was a rather deep and philosophical way to start the presentation.  The entire poster was decorated as an American flag with the factoids written on the stripes.  They also did a little drawing of the Arch with a smaller picture of the Statue of Liberty for comparison.  They also acted out being the Arch and the Statue of Liberty during the presentation that happened later.  Overall their English was great, but there was one notable mistake.  Instead of saying that my father was a drummer, they said that my husband was a drummer.  All the other ALTs laughed while the students looked confused.

10:45 The students broke into 4 person debate teams.  The topic was, “Japan should accept more refugees.”  Though the debates were pretty rough (in terms of weak arguments and language ability) it was far above what I could ever hope from my own students.  There were one or two members from the school’s debate team in the camp and the difference was clear.

Thankfully the debate was a shortened version of the official format.  Each match was only 20 minutes long.  Though it is interesting to see what the students come up with for arguments, listening to match after match is mentally draining.

12:30 Lunch time!  I had to bring my own lunch, dinner, and lunch, so the students had fun asking what I had packed and what kinds of food I ate.

13:15 We went for a “hike” (short walk) to the nearby burial mounds.  We were running a little behind from the debates and lunch, so we did not have much time to explore.  I still think the students had a good time. I got to talk with my students about a variety of topics and make them laugh.

The highlight of the walk was when Carmen (an ALT at a super-science school, a school with a leading science program) found a small frog.  The found it while moving some rocks around and could not replace the rocks without squishing it.  To move it to safety, she picked it up.  She then spent about 10 minutes giving a field school-type lesson to the students about how to deal with frogs they encountered in the wild.  She went over the fact that the frogs should only be touched as an absolute last resort and other important facts.

The students stood around and listened, absolutely engrossed in her lesson.  Meanwhile, I just watched and smiled.  It was a really cool learning moment and I was happy to be able to listen.  Once the “lesson” was over, I corralled my group and we started to head back since we were almost out of time.  As we walked away, one of the boys asked, “Who is that?”

I said her name, told a bit about her, and said she was good crazy.  I have to emphasize the good when I say crazy.  In the US we sometime say crazy as incredible, unbelievable, or with affection in our voices.  In Japan, however, crazy is only thought to mean bad or somehow broken.  That is why I was careful to explain what good crazy could mean.  I defined it as always full of energy, always moving, and always sprouting interesting factoids.  (I later explained this Carmen as a heads up in case she heard students calling her crazy.  She said she approved of this moniker.)

14:15 After our walk it was time for the debate final.  One of the teams from my group (the team with the girl from the debate team) was in the final.  The judges’ vote was nearly unanimous, though we were not allowed to announce the results until the closing ceremony the following day.

15:10 Once the debates were over, it was time for the skits.  The theme was, “Christmas Magic,” and each team was given a prop.  The team I was helping chose a giant ribbon as their prop.  I sat back and let the students write most of the skit.  They had a lot of ideas, but were having trouble settling on any.  Once it was clear that we were going to run out of time, I tried to provide a little assistance, just enough to get things going.  With a bit of prompting, the students created a great skit.  I tried to take a lesser role, since the ALTs had to be in the skit, but did not have to be a major player.  However, the students insisted I have a bigger part.

In the end, I became a reindeer.

16:30 Dinner preparation and eating.

19:30 After dinner, it was time for performances.  Here’s how our skit went:

Narrator: Tonight is December 24th. Tonight is Christmas Eve. Santa and a reindeer are fighting.
Santa: I know you ate my cake! I was looking forward to eating it!
Reindeer: No no no. I didn’t eat it. I don’t even like chocolate cake!
-Reindeer starts to walk away-
Santa: Ah, ok…..wait! How did you know it was chocolate cake?
-Santa grabs the reindeer’s arm. Realizing she’s in trouble, the reindeer lashes out and punches (all pretend fighting, of course) Santa. The two begin fighting.-
Other reindeer: FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT!
-Santa and reindeer’s noises fade out-
Narrator: A fairy flies by and sees the fight. They need to end the fight, but they can’t end it on their own. So the fairy goes off to find help. After looking, the fairy sees a many standing nearby.
Fairy: You have to help me! Use this and make them stop fighting!
Man: I need to use this…-reindeers make music that signals that he has just realized what he is holding- this RIBBON?
Narrator: So the man went to where the two were fighting.
Man: Stop! -He holds up the ribbon- Don’t you know what this is?
-The reindeers and Santa drop to their knees, bowing in respect at the symbol of power-
Man: The children need you. You can’t waste time fighting. You must work together!
Narrator: They became friends from then.
-Santa and reindeer stand up and shake hands then quickly get off the stage while the Man lies down and pretends to be asleep for a second before “waking up.”-
Man: That was a strange dream….What’s this? Is this…that ribbon? It’s Christmas magic!

The end.

We won first prize for that.

21:30 We finished the day a little early, so everyone had about an hour of free time to just socialize before it was time for the students’ lights out.

22:00 Lights out for the students. Five of the female ALTs hid in our assigned room and played a game for an hour before everyone was too tired to continue.  Then it was lights out for the ALTs as well.

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