When I actually found out who the student was, I was really surprised because he’s such a well-behaved kid. I’ve talked to him on several occasions and he’s one of those children who had the fortune of living in the United States for long enough that his English sounds really natural. To be bilingual at such a young age is a gift that I wish I had. Truth be told, this kid has the best English ability in the entire school (even if you include the teachers). However, there are so many differences between the Japanese culture and the American one. That’s a big change for a child.
Curious, I asked the teacher why he was so upset.
Apparently, adjusting to the Japanese school system after having spent the majority of his time in an American one, hasn’t been very easy. The repetitiveness of the Japanese school system is really having an effect. The amount of drilling that the kids have to do over and over again, is a far cry different from the American school system. I guess it makes sense though. In the U.S. even if you drill the alphabet to death, it’s only 26 letters, right? Just as an example, the second graders have 160 kanji to learn, which have multiple readings and can be a challenge for even an adult to write (a non-Japanese adult). The student is in a higher grade level, so I would imagine he has so many kanji to practice and study everyday.
Another issue has been the uniforms. In Japan, many students wear their bright colored caps without issue, without complaint because it’s all they’ve ever known. They started elementary school wearing these, and it continues all the way through. However, if you were a student brought up in the American public school system, wearing the bright colored hats and uniforms can seem a bit restrictive, even a little uncomfortable. I always wondered how Japan gets so many of its grade schoolers to wear the bright caps. I would always think that there’s no way that could happen in an American public school.
I can’t say that I blame the student for being frustrated. It’s like going from a more relaxed public code to a stricter one. I would imagine he must be feeling a little bit boxed in. Well maybe I shouldn’t say strict. The teachers are quite nice, but there is a lot more protocol associated with a Japanese elementary school than I remember with a US one.
I wonder which transition would be harder for a child to make: going from the Japanese school system to the American public school system? Or going from the American public school system to the Japanese one? I’m sure we could argue both sides. What do you think?