Sometimes, just as the frustration is beginning to rise and you’re losing patience or tolerance, the universe sends you a little sign that there is still some good left in whatever crummy situation you are in. I had one such moment last week. I was at work, bogged down by marking and test preparations, recovering from a nasty cold, tired as all hell because the nasty cold wouldn’t allow me to sleep the night before and constantly staring at the clock to see that lovely moment when I could run home to the comfort of my bed. Then I got a letter from a student.
She is one of the few students who makes an effort to converse beyond “hi Sasha” in the hallways. She gave me the letter to thank me for the key chain I had brought back from Singapore for her (and two other students) to congratulate them on their constant effort to speak English outside of class. I mean, that is such a rare thing that I figured I should reward them.
That little letter really reminded me of why I am here which is largely to foster appreciation and understanding of foreign cultures. Beyond that, I am also here to be the approachable foreigner, the bridge between the Japanese world and all that is outside it. I was so happy when I got that letter, because it was another move in the direction of positive interaction.
Impressive English aside, I loved her genuine curiosity in my travels. It went beyond “do you like Singapore?”. She wanted to know about the food and recommendations for places to visit. She told me about things she had read about the country and asked me whether they were true or not. If you’re not an ALT in Japan this might all seem trivial, but believe me, such inquisitiveness and desire for knowledge from a student, especially regarding a place OUTSIDE of Japan (more so, one that is not the great US of A), was refreshing. It reminded me that one of my responsibilities here is to open the minds of my students to the world outside of this box they are in. To let them ask questions, to let them actually think of questions to ask, to give them answers and expose them to aspects of foreign culture that their own society often doesn’t. You’d be surprised at the number of Japanese people who have no interest in the world outside Japan.
Needless to say, the letter was the highlight of my week. I wonder what small joys will come my way this week. Have a great week folks!