From: Peter Rivard
Date: Tue Apr 1, 2003 10:39:46 PM Japan
To: Newsletter
Subject: Another year over, and a new one...

Hi, all,

       Well, another school year is over for me. This time was a little less sad than last year--for whatever reason I didn't get as close to this class at Manyo as I did the last one, although there were some great kids in it whom I already miss seeing every day; I've become friends with a group of slightly wild boys over the last 8 months, and as with every class, this group had some great, funny, lively girls. I was closer to the graduating class at Go-chu, just because it's so small (26 kids) and I've known them for so long. I said my good-byes at Go-chu a few days before graduation, since I have to go to Manyo, my base school, for all big events. That was harrowing. The one guy I couldn't stand in his first year ended up being a kid I really liked and respected by the time he graduated, and it was a bit sad to say goodbye to him. I'd put a lot of effort into encouraging him, first in the area he was comfortable in (sports) then in English, and he'd eventually started to come around by putting more effort into his English work and out-of-class communication. The other kid I'd been trying hard to encourage, Mayuko (I've mentioned her before [here and here]--this one is really taking a piece of my heart with her when she goes), came close to crying as we were saying good-bye, and if she had I'm not sure I wouldn't have responded the same way. A few of the other girls I enjoy talking to all the time were oh-so-slightly misty-eyed as we said good-bye. Of course the boys were more stoic.
       Next year, if I'm in Japan at this time, I'll do everything I can to get to Go-chu for the graduation ceremony; the class that will be graduating then is by far the group I've gotten closest to (I started teaching them when they were still in elementary school; a bunch of monkeys but really enthusiastic and sweet kids). It will be a tough call, since I've gotten really close to quite a few Manyo students who'll be graduating the same day. My other favorite class is the third grade at my small elementary school--I'd love to come back in a few years and see what kind of teenagers they turn into.
       So, after graduation was sumo, then the four-day (three-night) High School English Seminar at the Rokuroshi center high up in the mountains above Ono City. That was fantastic. I met the bus by the train station in Fukui and settled into an empty seat, introducing myself to the kids around me. Before long, Shiori, the girl across the aisle asked me, "Were you a teacher at Manyo?" I'd thought she looked familiar. It turned out the girl next to me, Yoshiko, was also a former student. The world gets even smaller: Yoshiko was the co-creator, along with Junka, of a really cute pumpkin that still hangs on the wall of my apartment (here and here). When I got to the center, I found out Shiori was in my group of seven students (six girls and a boy). Over the next four days, we prepared for and participated in a debate and prepared a bit of entertainment for the going away party. We ate together, talked together, joked together, even explored a melting ski slope full of poo together (either the cows from barn on the next ridge really get around or the wild boar hereabouts are much bigger than I'd thought). It's amazing how close you can get to a group of kids in just four days--I'm sure for them the experience was even more intense because they had to speak more English than they ever had before in their lives (and probably more than they ever will again, unless they spend some serious time abroad). I was amazed at how well they could communicate in English--they were fantastic. You can see pictures of them on the page I set up for some of our pictures; some of them were pretty shy, but quite sweet. The boy was pretty quiet--he didn't show much interest until the end--he looks like the big strong type but I think he was nervous about his English, intimidated by the girls, and didn't know what to make of my attempts to draw him into conversation. Of the girls, Shiori, my former student, and Yuriko spent a lot of time talking to me--usually, mostly Yuriko and I talking, with frequent attempts to include Shiori. We must have had four or five hours of solid conversation over the four days--she certainly got her money's worth of English practice! I really enjoyed it, too. Another girl, Itsumi, had been studying English since she was five and had almost perfect pronunciation and rhythm, but she was shy and didn't seem any better able to communicate than the others, although they all admired how wonderful she sounded. Another girl, Yuki, was also great at English, and she had a strange affect that always made me think she was about to ask a question. She'd just look at me for a long time with her head tilted, then when I'd give her a "well, go ahead" look, she'd look at me even more quizzically. Finally, I started making faces and teasing her about it, and of course then she'd look at me even more to make me laugh, and I'd imitate her to make her laugh. But she could also communicate pretty well by talking. During the debate, she, Yuriko, and Asuka turned out to be really on top of things. Asuka, our group's fashion plate (and a truly beautiful girl with a very interesting face--see where she's identified by name in the group pictures, and look at her face, third from right, in the dining room picture; when I saw the pictures, I realized her panties were on display to the audience throughout the debate--I took the liberty of Photoshopping some shadow up her skirt before posting the picture) was shy at first but turned out to be a bit of a natural leader; I also had a lot of fun teasing her. Kanae, also a little quiet, wrote an amazingly good speech for the debate, and after the seminar ended sent me a really sweet email. I really came to like these kids! "Kids" is a little misleading, as about half the group is seventeen and the rest sixteen.
       After the debate, we had to plan an activity to entertain the entire camp for a few minutes during the farewell party; Asuka finally came through with a great idea, sort of find-and-follow-the-hidden-clues game, but we needed more time than we had allotted to complete the plan (as did every other group--half the camp was up late practicing). Our brief 11 pm meeting ended up going until 1 am, especially since we were all exhausted already and we had a hard time sticking to the topic--but it was a lot of fun. The same night, we had had a dance after dinner, which was also a lot of fun. I got to know a lot of the kids from other groups, and I managed to get most of my own kids to overcome their shyness on the dance floor (though I literally had to chase down and seize Yuki, who had thought it was a good idea to run away from me when I asked her to dance!). Kanae and Itsumi seemed so shy about it that I didn't think it would be good to goof around with them the way I had with Yuki, and they eventually escaped and probably spent the night talking in their room.
       Some of the other girls weren't at all shy, though. Hip-hop style "dirty dancing" has hit Fukui (though break dancing is still big with some kids), and though the girls mostly danced with each other and kept a bit of a gap between them when they danced, a couple of the wilder girls didn't "mind the gap" when they danced with me. Rubbing crotches with high school girls isn't really in my usual gameplan, so I was taken a bit aback. But otherwise the dance was a lot of fun. After I got back from my 1 am meeting with my group, I joined with some of the other teachers to try to decide on goofy awards to give out to kids. All but two of the awards were named on the spot, but there were two special award certificates that had been printed out in advance (but for the winners' names), as they have been given out at all high school English camps for the last two and a half years and seem likely to go on forever: The Peter Rivard Lord of the Dance™ and The Peter Rivard Dancing Queen™ awards. As it happens, some of the JETs who've given out these awards at past camps don't even know who I am except through these awards. Let's just say that at my first camp, almost three years ago, I most certainly had my groove on. After that very languid meeting (and thank you to whoever thought to bring the wine; a lot of the time we could think of an award and a recipient, but not the kid's name, so we had to find the group leader and go through the list of names so we wouldn't have to announce in front of everyone that the Peter Rivard Dancing Queen™ award goes to Victoria's Secret Girl or the Peter Rivard Lord of the Dance™ to Hairboy), I dropped into the hot baths at about three and just floated all my troubles and tired muscles away.
       Victoria's Secret Girl (one of the most enthusiastic dirty dancers) got her name when she confirmed that most of her oh-so-stylish wardrobe did in fact come from a Victoria's Secret shop she visited in the States; I'm not sure if any of us addressed her that way, but she wouldn't have minded. My favorite kid was a crazy girl who danced about as geekily as I did (my reputation not withstanding) but would go out into the middle of a circle of kids just after the breakdancers or VS Girl had left and try to do whatever they had done, intentionally messing it up--I love kids who can make fun of themselves, and I especially admire a kid with the confidence to enjoy making a spectacle of herself being goofy. Kaori Crazy Girl, do you have an older sister?

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