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Japan Days 3 & 4 - The Universal Languages of Children

The universal languages are the same whether you are in Japan or Oklahoma.
by Michelle Sutherlin Modified: July 9, 2014 at 9:06 am •  Published: July 9, 2014

ODAWARA, Japan - As I walked into the eighth-grade classroom, "Let It Go," was playing in Japanese over a boom box. Fellow teacher Calypso Gilstrap and I were met with stares from about 30 boys and girls wearing white uniforms.

The students were in their English class, much like students will take a foreign language class in the states. However, English is a required course for all Japanese students.

After the song finished, and while the students were still staring at us, the Japanese man who was the teacher introduced us to the students. Then he handed us the lyrics to the "Frozen" hit and asked us to sing along.

So I did, of course. And I went back to me musical theater roots (I was in the school musical "Grease" my senior year of high school) and decided to perform the song that has transfixed people across the globe.

When I started singing big and acting out the words, the students weren't sure what to do at first. Then they started giggling, then laughing. Before it was over, all the students were singing and laughing and having a great time. We sang the song three times before the day was complete at Jounon Junior High School in Odawara, Japan.

We also played charades and a card game. The students had a great time learning English, and I had an even better time playing the games with them.

As a part of the Hitachi Teacher Exchange Program, I am one of three educators from the Norman Public Schools who was selected to travel to Japan to grow a better cultural understanding of our friends here. Ellen Kraft, Calypso Gilstrap and our host Jeannie Green-LaCroix from Hitachi and I visited schools for two days, the highlight of our trip.

We visited Hayakawa Elementary and Sakawa Elementary Tuesday and we went to Izumi Junior High and Jounon Junior High Wednesday. Elementary schools are first through sixth grades and junior high schools are seventh through ninth grades.

There are many things I could write about our visit to these schools, but what struck me the most is that children are children no matter where you are in the world.

There are many universal languages spoken that I have discovered on this trip. A warm greeting of "hello" even when we attempted to say "konnichi wa" (hello in Japanese) was spoken from nearly every child we met at these schools.

Another universal similarity is the way a child smiles. Their innocence shows through and sometimes, maybe a little bit of mischief does, too. Children were genuinely happy everywhere we went. I will write more about the differences and similarities of the schools in another entry, but I will say briefly that the children in Japan go to school in what I would say are more difficult circumstances.

With humidity at or near 100 percent in August, the children had no air conditioning. Sweating was just a way of life. Oscillating fans were bolted from the ceiling upside down and were the only form of cooling to be found.

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by Michelle Sutherlin
NewsOK Contributor
Michelle Sutherlin is a middle school counselor in Norman, OK, who works with students ages 11-15 daily. She is also a mom to two boys, Ryan (12) and Will (9). She and her husband have been married for 16 years. She loves middle school students so...
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