It’s school visit season again! I usually give presentations to 5th and 6th grade students. I’ve perhaps learned more over this process than the students have…

Seeing as I am a CIR (Coordinator for International Relations) rather than an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher), my “regular” schools are the ones I only go to once a year or so. Rather than teaching English, I give presentations about the US culture in Japanese. This is so that everyone can understand clearly, but as you can see, misunderstandings sometimes arise anyway. Sometimes it’s a very brief presentation amidst five presentations about different countries and then I never see those kids again, sometimes the kids do research and I get to watch their presentations later (and correct them if necessary), sometimes the kids prepare fully rehearsed welcome presentations about their city and neighborhood and Japanese culture. Technically I can be called to a school any time of year, but autumn is usually when there is the most flexibility in the academic year to fit in some extra study about other cultures, or a day to hang out and play with the CIRs.

In a ten minute presentation to elementary school students I usually focus on basic facts about the US (as compared to Japan), geography, famous places and scenery, sports, and food—everyone loves to hear about food culture! If I have extra time or if the teachers have special requests I may add other topics, like more about my hometown or weather or wild animals or what US public elementary schools are like, or we play a bilingual version of Simon Says. I’ve only gone to a few junior high and high schools, but sometimes the teachers have heard that I was homeschooled and specifically request presentations about this, and the teachers tend to listen in with the most interest (though sleeping in and wearing pajamas all day and going to theme parks on weekdays always gets an “ii na~” out of the students, too). It’s so much easier to present about vastly different topics like that when you are able to devote the majority of a presentation to it, as it gives you a chance to give it more context and to clear up misunderstandings before they even arise.

I hope, anyway. Sometimes you only learn what leads to over-generalizations and misunderstandings after inviting them. It’s a learning process for everyone.

Sometimes, I give presentations specifically about Matsue’s Friendship City, New Orleans, and the chef and owner of Greens Baby (a social space with worldwide taste) teaches the kids to make gumbo (or at least, chop and saute the holy creole trinity of vegetables to add to the base he’s already prepared). One of my favorite school visits was one of these gumbo classes for the special ed kids, where they were really engaged in the presentation and asked all sorts of questions, and wrote very passionate thank you letters to me later. I went back a few weeks later to their school-wide concert, where they performed “When The Saints Go Marching In” and gave a little poster-board presentation to their entire school about New Orleans.

They nailed it.

I was so proud that I got a little choked up.