It can be said that positive cultural exchange has become an important and necessary part of our increasingly globalized society. Methods of cultural exchange could include living with the Totonac people in various parts of Mexico, traveling through the mountains of Thailand to learn about various traditions, or simply touching the lives of others as you travel through life.
As an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) working in a Japanese junior high school, my options are much more limited. However, there are still many creative methods that can allow me to facilitate positive cultural exchange. After some discussion with my trainers, I realized that different types of popular food from my country could serve as clear and interesting examples of cultural differences.
One day, I talked to my students about Canadian food during lunch break, and learned that they have only ever heard about the compatibility of maple syrup with pancakes. Our group began to grow as the conversation went on, and even the homeroom teacher started to show interest. Just before the bell rang, she asked me if I could bring some Canadian style pancakes to school to share with the students.
I should mention here that I bring my own lunch because my junior high school does not provide school lunches. Also, being able to bring pancakes to school is an incredibly rare opportunity that might not be accepted in other schools. Because of the rarity, I knew I had to make it count.
After school, I met with the homeroom teacher and spoke to her about how I could share more with the students in a meaningful and organized manner. Together, we came up with a plan to introduce the Canadian style pancakes, where we could briefly talk about various Japanese and Canadian eating habits, and then have students play rock paper scissors to decide who gets to have a piece.
Advice and support from my trainers and my homeroom teacher allowed me to use pancakes as a tool for positive cultural exchange. Lunchtime led to incredible dialogue about foods around the world, English pronunciations of different foods, and also cultural aspects that can be found in Japanese bentos.
This is a very unique example that may be difficult to use in other schools, but I have also heard of numerous alternatives. I asked some of my colleagues at ALTIA CENTRAL for their opinions, and here are some of our favorite methods to make cultural exchange interesting.
One is to use video clips of uncommon sports in Japan like ice hockey, maybe while also bringing in your favorite team’s uniform to school. Another would be to go all out on decorations and activities during popular holidays like Halloween and Christmas. Also, playing games that we remember and enjoy from our own childhood back home – such as “I spy with my little eye” or “Double Dutch” – could be quite effective.
There are many other examples of facilitating positive cultural exchange in Japanese public schools, and it may be worthwhile to give some of them a shot. Just remember that every school is different, so adjustments may be necessary to ensure that things run smoothly within school rules.
Try something new with your students. The results can certainly be sweet!