Today was my last day of classes and I had to give two speeches, both in Japanese, to address all the elementary school students and the high school students. I thought I would be able to keep myself pulled together during the speeches, but when I looked out at all the elementary school kids and their little faces looking up at me, it was so hard not to get choked up. It's hard to leave these kids I've taught for the past two years. It will be strange for a week to go by without walking around and hearing a little voice shout "Erin-Sensei!", accompanied by a big smile and wave. Each of the classes presented me with a gift of the kids' artwork and letters that are close to impossible for me to decipher between all the kanji, hirogana and katakana characters of the Japanese language. At the end of all our last classes, the students would either sing me a really adorable song or play their recorders for me and it was possibly the cutest thing I've ever seen - and Japan has what I would consider the lion's share of the world's cuteness.
I thought I had composed myself by the time I had arrived in the high school, but yikes. I was a sweaty, blubbering mess today. I had a lesson with the seniors in the high school and they all came together and sang "Hello Goodbye" for me and gave me messages each student had written. I've taught those kids throughout all their high school levels and I will really miss their humor and kindness.
One of my eikaiwa students and close friends has a son in that class and in his message he wrote "Dear Erin, thank you for teaching me English. It was nice of you to give me candy in English class. My mother owes you a great deal. Never forget Ojika!!" I started laughing like a crazy person at that message in the quiet teacher's room. I gave the kids candy a lot - just for prizes when we had games and at times, as a source of bribery to get them to talk.
After them, I had class with the 10th graders and they also sang me the song "Country Roads." I never thought a John Denver song would ever make me cry, but it made me feel nostalgic for both Ojika and rural Wisconsin. One of the students in my class is an amazing artist and he drew a picture of me for the cover of a booklet of messages from the students. I have no doubt that that kid is going to be a rock star in the world of illustration one day after he graduates from school.
In the afternoon, the students had their closing ceremony before summer vacation begins. I used the term "vacation" loosely because they still have classes in the morning and club activities - just a lighter version of the norm. After the band performed and the student council was handed over to the new class of students, I gave my goodbye speech and played a last game with the students. Here are the students singing the school song. I love this song. It ranks up there with the Mozambican national anthem. So pretty and catchy! Sorry about the weird video quality - but the sound is fine.
I also had going-away parties for my eikaiwa adult English group and my teachers the past couple of days. I LOVE my eikaiwa group. Such a wonderful group of women (and one man)! "Kind" is such a broad-sounding adjective but that is what everyone is. No matter who you are or where you come from, the people of small, rural Ojika are blaringly welcoming and kind. Here in Ojika, I have found sort of a second family in colleagues, students, students' families, and friends. Where else in the world can you walk down the road and every person driving past you in a car bows toward you to greet you? I think there is something special here, untouched by the fast-paced salaryman-type world that mainland Japan is. People talk to each other and know everyone. Life here is slower and more beautiful in my opinion.