unallersimple: (boat)
The graduation ceremony at my school was this weekend. I felt ok about deciding not to fly out there for it, as I think I kept telling myself that I could always change my mind and go to the airport any time I felt like it. Then it got to Thursday, and around 2pm I felt a sudden jolt of realisation and horror that unless I left for the airport right that second, I wouldn't make it in time! I felt sad, but as if she could read my mind, one of my ex-students happened to log into the book of face and we ended up chatting for about an hour. She did really well, replying quickly to everything in English. I still remember the day we met when we couldn't even say each others' names! She is one of the students graduating, so she asked me for a message to put in a card for the class, not knowing I'd already sent a card to the other ALT at Joshiko to give to them. Mwahaha!

Read my 2009 post about graduation here.

Last year graduation fell in one of my "journal death" periods so I never updated about apart from a brief mention in a mega catch up post 3 months later.

So "Let's celebrating!" with some photos and bits of random information from 2010.

^During special ceremonies like graduation, if students did not have perfectly black hair (be it dyed or naturally different) then the teachers busted out the spray. The first time I saw this I was so shocked. Can you imagine your school teachers marching you into the staff room and spraying your hair black!? Despite constant reminders of the rules there was always one or two people who got sprayed. The girl in the middle was usually one of them! Once I was talking about this with my Japanese friend from Tokyo and I asked her if she ever experienced this. She looked at me like I had three heads and said it was just my area of Japan where this happens. Curious, I asked other teachers and ALTs in Shimane about it. Turns out it's just my school that does this!

^ I was listed as one of the teachers in the yearbook. I felt like a real teacher when I saw that, and not just the clumsy ignorant foreigner. The photos of us all were taken when we first arrived, so we all look ridiculously young and new in them.

^ The gymnasium ready for graduation. The wooden floor is covered with strips of long, green plastic sheets to protect it from the chairs. You can see the flag of Japan on the stage, everyone stands up to sing the national anthem during the ceremony. If it all looks very perfectly straight, that's because the chairs were set out in lines using a tape measure!

So how do you survive a graduation ceremony?

* Bring your copy of the lyrics for the school song and national anthem.
Note how to pronounce any kanji you don't know.

* Get your students to help you practice the words beforehand.
It makes for great bonding time and they find your attempts to sing in Japanese very funny.

* Wear as many layers and kairo (little heat pads that you stick to your clothes) as you can.
That gym is COLD and the ceremony is LONG.

* By all means daydream through those everlasting speeches you can't understand, but always pay attention to the person calling orders through the mic. You will have to stand up, bow and sit down a lot on their command. Everyone will do this at the exact same time so don't be 5 seconds too slow because you weren't paying attention. Everyone will notice. Learn the key Japanese phrases and listen out for them. E.g rei = bow.

*Don't forget to run and help everyone once the ceremony is over.
All the decorations need taking down and all those chairs need putting away under the stage.

Finally drink well at the teacher's party afterward. You've earned it!



Mar. 7th, 2009 08:08 pm
unallersimple: (stars)
This week my Saturday was again lost to work but it wasn't so painful this time as today was one of the highlights of the school year. The third grade students were graduating.

I knew roughly what to expect during the actualy ceremony as I'd watched the students rehearse the day before. The poor things had to spend around two hours in the freezing cold gym in order to practice standing up, sitting down and bowing. I was surprised to see so much effort going into something I'd never really given any thought to, but again and again they were ordered to stand, sit and bow to make sure their movements were perfect and their timing precisely matched everyone else's. After this the whole grade then had to repeatedly walk in and out of the gym to practice the timing and pacing of their entrance and exit.

As if that wasn't enough the whole school then had to spend an hour and half practicing the entire ceremony with a forty minute long cleaning session afterwards! Normally cleaning time only lasts about ten minutes but with tomorrow being a special occasion involving important visitors everything had to be spotless. While cleaning I enjoyed going round and surprising students by telling them there is no high school graduation in the UK. They found this so strange, and I explained that the idea of having one is strange to me. In the UK we just finish our exams and get drunk go home!

Today I cycled in feeling a mix of pride and happiness for my students combined with sadness that they are leaving school. When I arrived there was an atmosphere of a big event happening. Parents were arriving and the four home room teachers of the third grade (that's y13 to us Brits) were wearing special traditional Japanese clothes. They looked absolutely stunning.

The graduation ceremony was attended by the mayor of Matsue and many other officials. I couldn't help but wonder how many ceremonies they have to sit through during this time of year. They must get so bored!
While I appreciate the ceremony is an important and meaningful event to the Japanese, it seemed slightly comedic to me at times. The gym was decorated in wall coverings that comprised of wide red and white stripes. While these are the colors of the Japanese flag, for Westerners it unfortunately brings up images of the circus. A surreal thing for me indeed. Also the students had to walk into the ceremony quite slowly, yet the school brass band were playing a really upbeat and fast instrumental that didn't match the occasion at all. During the actual ceremony a staff member using a microphone announced who will talk or what will happen next. Part of this role involves telling people when to stand, sit or applaud. Sometimes the graduating students were ordered to stand up, bow and sit down so many times it became an entertaining spectacle. Sometimes they were even told to stand up and bow again after just being ordered to sit! Teachers were also instructed to stand or sit at certain moments. This made me giggle when I forgot to pay attention and had to jump up suddenly after realising that all the other teachers on their feet.

Other parts of the ceremony were really moving though. The home room teachers could hardly read the names of their students for crying. In Japan the teacher plays a much bigger role in students' lives than in the UK. Students will form a really close bond with their teachers, especially their home room teachers who act as a parent, friend and general guidance counsellor. The teacher is the one who both the parents and students will turn to if there are any problems, so I can imagine it must be so hard for these teachers to lose their class at graduation. Another thing I noticed was that it's not so taboo for men to cry here, so they were all dabbing their eyes as well. As for the students, when it was time to sing the school songs many were crying so hard that they couldn't get any words at all! Many of them feel so sad high school has finished and like in the UK, most will be moving away from their home and their friends for further education in just two or three weeks time. (There is no 3-4 month holiday like in the US or UK, and the academic year is from April to the following March here.)

After the ceremony the students went back upstairs for their last homeroom class and after a while began to filter down in groups. It was sad, really sad, even to watch the students who I never taught say their goodbyes. (I only taught one out of the four classes that made up the third grade.) They were in tears getting their yearbooks signed and having photos taken with the teachers. When my students came to find me I couldn't help but cry too. They are such a special bunch and I'm so proud of them. They worked so hard. I'm going to miss them so much. We formed a close bond despite only having classes together for seven months. They were the first class I ever taught. I used to run some after school events for them and we always had such a laugh together. One student used to visit me in the teacher's room a few times a week for conversation practice. She had written me a letter with an absolutely beautiful message inside. I wish I had had the chance to teach her for longer.

Over the course of the afternoon the students began to drift home and by 3pm, only one or two were left. The school was so quiet. Classrooms eerily empty once all the doodles and messages had been wiped off the chalk boards. Empty lockers lined the hall.

As soon as I got home it was time to go again so I quickly changed clothes and cycled down to one of the hotels by Lake Shinji because it was time for one of the highlights of the teacher's year now; the post graduation drinking party! There were videos and slideshows, people stuffing faces and giving speeches, drinking, more drinking and a lot of silly drunken behaviour. Everyone letting their hair down after such a stressful few days getting everything ready for today. It was so funny to see how different everyone was acting compared to their usual behaviour at work!

What a day to remember.

unallersimple: (stars)
On Thursday (17th) my turn to graduate had arrived. While I was very excited I was also nervous but not sure why. All I had to do was walk on stage, shake hands with some important man (or King of UEA as he was affectionately dubbed because he sat on a throne on stage) and walk off again. No more than ten seconds. Easy, yes? No! What if I tripped?! Help!

When my sister arrived on campus she helped me get all robed up and presentable. After the over-priced university merchandise was purchased and photographs taken I spent the remaining time running around one of the university cafes taking silly photos with my course mates. It was great to see everyone again. Seeing them all robed up made me feel so proud of us all, we did it!

In the ceremany the graduands were seated at the back. Just before their names were being called out, they were ushered out the graduation hall, down the corridor, back in the hall through the front entrance and onto the stage. For the family and friends it looks like a never ending stream of people in comedy hats and gowns (Why do they make them so big!?). For the students at the back we get to watch people get up, walk out, walk back in then walk back to their seats. It's a very amusing -lets get everyone to walk in a big circle- way of doing things! After some boring speeches I got to see my friends collect their certificates as I'm a "W", so usually end up being the second to last to do anything that's done in alphabetical order. Whilst waiting I notice that the last chair on the row in front of me is empty. I also think about meeting my friends for the first time three years ago in the same room. I remember sitting in the same hall for my exams and wondering if I had passed or if I could ever finish this degree. We've all come so far.

Suddenly it's my turn to get up! My row stands and walks into the corridor. What the audience don't see is that before you go back in and on stage about four people hover over you and straighten up your hat and your sash (which for some reason is designed so it will never stay in place). I wish I could have had a purple or a green one rather than salmon pink. It's now my turn to walk up the steps onto the stage. I look over to the man stood to my left who's reading the names out...and realise he's not reading out mine!

Man: Rahmatul...
Moi: *Looks puzzled*
Man: *starts again, presumably concerned he's pronouncing it wrong after seeing my expression* Rahmatullah Wali!
Moi: *whispers* Erm, that's not my name!
Man: *looks panicked* Erm, what's your name?!
Moi: *learns over and whispers name*

The man then announces my name really loudly and I get a huge cheer from everyone in the audience, not just my family and friends like everyone else. It feels great! I walk forward to shake the king's hand and he tells me I received the biggest cheer in Development Studies. I beam with joy and walk off the stage. On the way back to my seat I see my friend Rachel sat on edge of her row laughing at me. I can't stop giggling myself. I don't mind that it happened at all, I think it's really funny and makes for a great story. I wonder who Ms Wali is and why she missed the ceremony though. I assume she was meant to have been sitting in the empty chair I noticed earlier.

Afterward there is much photo taking and hat throwing. Everyone who saw me found it hilarious to call me Rahmatullah instead of Lizzie.

^Me & the besties from Development Studies

^Awesome ex-housemates Mark and Yvette!

It was a great week, and the eventful graduation ceremonies continued when I went to Yvette's. Near the end of hers everybody was evacuated from the hall because of a suspected gas leak!



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