Onuma Elementary School on the island of Hokkaido

The Art of Conversation – Japanese Skype Night

My class is never for a loss for words.  They participate all the time in class, they ask great questions, they encourage one another, they laugh with one another, they support one another.  However, on a balmly Thursday evening in early December in Room 305B, an incredible conversation took place.  After much planning, our Skype Night with our Japanese Pen Friends was to take place.  I would need to get my students to come back to school at night, since our Penfriends in Onuma Elementary School are 14 hours ahead of us.   So, 7:00 p.m. on a Thursday night in Concord, was 9:00 a.m. in Onuma on the island of Hokkaido in Japan.  Food is always a great enticement, and my great room parents set up a dinner consisting of pizza, jasmine rice (thanks Mrs. Pettyjohn), salad with ginger dressing, other little Japanese finger foods, and one of the students made sushi.  It was a festive event and around 6:45 p.m., we headed up to our classroom to get ready for the evening.   I had been out sick all week, and wrote out a script for each student to say.  My great sub practiced it with the students.  What’s the big deal about having to practice what to say?  There was a catch – my students would speak to their penfriends in Japanese and the penfriends would speak to my students in English.  I was nervous, because my ability to speak Japanese is very basic.  Yukie is a polished English speaker and writer.  After not seeing my students for a week, I was worried if they understood what to say.  We would soon find out.

When we arrived upstairs, I already had a message from Bobby, a CCHS grad and now the CIR in Nanae that they were looking forward to speaking with us.  Quickly, I texted him back to say we were getting ready, and we would text him when we were ready to receive the Skype call.  I was nervous, what if it didn’t work and I had a room full of students and their parents, what if the students couldn’t be understood and I didn’t write the sentences correctly in Japanese?  I gave Bobby the “thumbs up” and suddenly, Bobby appeared on the screen.  Suddenly, I became so excited to see Yukie, the teacher I had met in the summer of 2008, appear on the computer screen.  We exchanged our greetings and arranged our students in the order to greet themselves.  The penfriends held signs with their names on one side and a picture of what they liked on the other side.  It was incredible to hear them say, Hello, my name is , I like, and finally, “I’m happy to be your friend.”  My students responded with Ohayo Gozaimasu, O genki desu ka?, Watashi was ocha ga suki desu, and finally, Nanae tomadachi, sayonara.   As I scanned the room, I could see several parents getting teary eyes.  My tech specialist buddy was beaming, as was Mrs. Pettyjohn, who had traveled to Japan with me during that summer.  My principal stood speechless in the back of the room, observing the special magic that was occurring.  After greeting one another, our penfriends sang “Jingle Bells” in Japanese.  We then sang our Thoreau School song, followed by our penfriends singing a popular children’s song in Japanese.  We then sang a verse of “Why Don’t You Walk a Mile in My Shoes?” Yukie’s students then sang their school song.

The formal part of our conversation was done, but the non-verbal part of the conversation just began..  Both sets of students enthusiastically waved to one another, smiling and laughing together across the world.  It was hard to disconnect our call, but when we did I told the students how wonderful an experience that had been, and true to the song “Walk a Mile in My Shoes”, that perhaps their world will not be such a diplomatic mess because they have friends around the world.  I distributed the “funny erasers” that our penfriends had sent us and said Good Night to everyone.  After the room was quiet, Ms. Howard and I shook our heads at yet another incredible evening with this class.

I will be posting the students’ and parents’ reactions to this night in our next post.  What an experience!

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