A Dream Fulfilled
I took interest in Japan and its culture at a very young age, and this interest kept increasing as I was growing up.
In high school I realized that my biggest dream was to visit Japan, but not as a tourist. I wanted to experience true Japanese life, including the good and the bad. I did not want to just visit crowded temples and shrines in Kyoto and busy Akihabara in Tokyo. Therefore, I chose Japanese language and culture as my field of studies and, following my dream, I came here to the AIU as an exchange student.
Campus Life at AIU
At university I live in the dorms, I take lessons with Japanese classmates, join clubs and basically experience the college life of a regular Japanese student. But even with such an amazing opportunity like that, there were many things I thought I would not be able to try myself. And this is where I actually get to the activity I want to talk about!
AIU has an organization named RCOS (Research and Community Outreach Services) which provides many interesting activities every month.
Elementary School Visit
When I signed up to visit an elementary school I did not expect it to become one of my favorite memories so far! The thing is, I have seen Japanese elementary schools in documentaries and videos and I found them extremely cute. Especially at lunch time, when kids wear white cloaks, hats, and masks. They help with preparing the meal and with cleaning afterwards. That is something I could not experience in my country and since I was already a college student I gave up on hope to experience it in Japan.
As we arrived at the school, were offered amazing green tea and were allocated to classes, we found out that the kids we would be interacting with are only first graders which meant we did not come to teach English (as I foolishly assumed). My class was composed of 25 students aged from six to eight, a young teacher and me, the only exchange student. Most of the kids (who I expected to be really shy) were holding my hands, asking me tons of questions (which truly forced me to use as much of my poor two years’ worth of Japanese knowledge as well I could) and were helping with even the smallest tasks.
School Lunch Culture
Soon, lunch time came. All the kids pulled out their cloaks, hats, masks, chopsticks and tooth brushes. I was given a tiny table (well, tiny for a 172cm foreigner) and my small neighbor willingly showed me how to stand in line for each part of lunch (such as milk, soup, rice, etc.).
After saying “itadakimasu” we started to eat, or at least I tried to while answering the questions coming from all directions. Then we cleaned up the dishes and washed the milk box. Embarrassed, I had to explain to several kids that I did not bring the tooth brush since I am used to cleaning my teeth only twice a day.
I played many jan-ken-pon (rock-paper-scissors) games, introduced my country, played a bit more jan-ken-pon and, after taking picture, hugging, hand-shaking or giving high-five to each student, I left to return AIU.
This experience is simply so precious to me. Kind and energetic Japanese kids, busy lunch-break halls and clean milk boxes. This is how Japanese elementary schools will remain in my mind. And I am very grateful to AIU and RCOS because these are the memories I had never expected to make.