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September 2 , 2002 continued: First Day of Classes

My desk at the high school office.
So that takes me to yesterday—the first day of classes. I arrive early, sweating in my suit. It's 7:30 and 85 degrees. No ocean breeze yesterday morning. We have a lengthy teachers meeting where I understand absolutely nothing. It's interesting to be blissfully unaware of everything going on around you. I figure they'll tell me what I need to know. Then the entire school changes into athletic gear—we are cleaning the grounds. I am assigned to sweep the front walk and then help kids weed. I have been assigned a surly bunch of male seniors who are more interested in tormenting wildlife than cleaning. My language abilities curtailed, my supervision skills are limited.

After cleaning, we change back into formal attire and have the opening ceremony for the second term. I am introduced by the principal, who tells the students all that I am about to say. I give my speech, the students bow, and there are many, many, more speeches. The principal goes on for 20 minutes—I can tell at points he is waxing poetic—the students are wilting. Two girls pass out. More speeches, more bowing. Then—uniform checks! They are quite thorough: length of skirt or pants, style of socks and shoes, hair length, nail care, and eyebrow grooming. When all offenses are marked in the roster, we break into class level for more meetings. I am informed that all teachers will be making a speech. Including me. I wonder how long they've known this without my supervisor telling me. Oh yeah—in Japanese—in 5 minutes. Impromptu speeches are one thing; impromptu speeches in a language you don't speak are another. So, my supervisor helps me write 3 short sentences. I recite them to the students, they bow, and then each teacher gives inspiring diatribes for 3-5 minutes. I felt a bit underprepared.

The rest of the day held my first lesson, (that went well, but I was a bit flustered after all that activity), and more cleaning. More sweeping, more surly senior boys.

It's an exciting time here in Naru. Next week we don't have classes so students can prepare for Sports Day, an athletic festival next Saturday. I am participating in Sports day on the blue team's dance troupe. Me and 30 Japanese high school students bopping around to J-pop. If you could see me now!

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2002 North Country Public Radio, St. Lawrence University, Canton, New York 13617-1475