Tales from an ALT: International Student Visits

What’s up y’all,
It’s your friendly neighbourhood Gaijin here! A few weeks ago, my school hosted 17 American Junior High School students for 5 days to allow the American students to shadow and observe the culture of Japanese Junior High School life.  These international students had been learning Japanese for about 8 years. In return, the Junior High Schools in my area will send chaperones and a few students to their school in late July. My experience summed up into a little ball is this – It was very refreshing to see the current youth and communicate with a fresh group of native English speakers, but American Grade 8’s can be quite a handful sometimes. I now see why my grade 8 elementary school teacher chose to teach Kindergarteners after X years of teaching grade 8. North American Grade 8’s go everywhere unless you tell them not to, they will try everything with their bright faces of exploration. I must say though, being an adult this leads to quite a headache sometimes. “STOP running!”, “Stay in your seat!”, or “Guys, be quiet please.” All of these were used multiple times with the International students. Nonetheless, I remember being that age – reckless and all, at the end of the day I can say they are all fantastic students. It was nice to see this, as Japanese Junior High School students are quite disciplined and obedient. They tend not to be as rowdy and uncontrollable. If you haven’t read my article on some of the differences between Japanese and Canadian students please check it out, Canadian and American students don’t seem that different in my opinion.

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Now, the difference between this post and my previous one is that the behaviours I will discuss in this article today were observed by seeing Japanese and American students side-by-side. The other article contained personal observations and accumulations of my experience as a Canadian student and how I have seen Japanese students behave. These articles may be similar, but are definitely quite different.


The American students were able to partake in preparing their own Kyuushoku for lunch. Now, normally the classes have specific people assigned to a specific food item that day such as Ibuki and Shouma serve the soup and rice, respectively. The American students prepared their own lunches for themselves and luckily they were able to take as much or as little as they wanted. Therefore some food was left over, which the chaperones and I had to try and finish as we wanted to honour the attitude of Mottainai – not wasting food. Some of the kids would not take milk because they did not want it, I just gave it to them and told them to give it to another Japanese student in their class. I completely forgot having the ability to pick how much food you wanted was a luxury that Japanese students do not have in Junior High School (JHS). I guess it’s something that I wouldn’t have taken for granted if I was at their age, however I don’t think they really got to observe this ‘don’t waste anything’ tradition as they only ate lunch with us for one day.

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Sorry, not sorry!

Now American students are super energetic and willing to do or try anything! I personally love that attitude, or their confidence that they carry in their abilities. I once asked my Japanese students if they thought they would win their “Culture Festival’s Singing Competition,” they responded to me with a look of dismay and an awful silence. There was a rare occurrence with the Exchange students. It was kind of abrupt when one of the American students just began gloating about his insane volleyball ability, even though it was actually an extremely talented female American student on his team who was racking up a majority of the points. Though it was nice seeing someone with an extreme amount of confidence in Japan, in Japanese culture it’s generally custom to reject praise when received from others. So it was extremely refreshing to see his fierce spirit of determination and boastfulness. Even though my initial reaction was slightly negative towards it, after reflecting – it was great seeing a student exploding with shining confidence. I miss this attitude sometimes.

Discipline is lovely.

It’s been a while since I told a student not to do something, and then they just go ahead a do it anyway. Normally, when I tell a Japanese student not to run around in the class and halls they will follow my instructions. However, when I told the American students the same thing, I turned my back to realize they were gone a few seconds later to run in the halls. This was just one examples of many where I found that my Japanese students were much more well behaved than the American students at times. It’s not necessarily a bad thing as we come from different cultures. It was funny though how everyday after supervising the American Junior High School students, I sat down with my hands holding my head due to a giant headache. Japan’s society is very heavy on rules and order, so sometimes if you don’t fall in line there are many consequences one may face. Even speaking respectfully to elders is sometimes not enforced, we use the reasoning “Oh, they’re just kids that’s all,” as an explanation for our poor behaviour at that age. In Japan, I don’t believe kids get that benefit. Though it would be nice if they did at times, I feel it’s unnecessary to scold a kid because he can’t properly say the obscene amount of Keigo necessary to enter the staff office (After the 5th time perhaps, it is appropriate). I guess that’s why I’m a foreigner eh.

Image result for Discipline

All in all, what I was able to gain from these students visiting my Junior High School was more about the differences of our cultures. Just as the students learned about Japanese culture, I was able to observe the international interaction between American and Japanese culture. It was a very unique experience. I hope I was able to provide the students with as good of an experience as they have showed me. The headaches did seem worth it to me, if the International students had a good time. I will be more than elated to welcome the next group of International Exchange Students – however, in 1 year!

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