Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Letters for Japan

Aka Creativity Part 2

March was possibly the worst month for Japan ever (Well, maybe next to August 1945). Not only did they get struck by one of the largest earthquakes in recorded history, but on top of that a tsunami. Oh, and nuclear plant failures and ensuing radiation leaks that are still causing problems nearly a month later. Mother nature really outdid herself this time. No pun intended, but this was natural disaster overkill!

Now initially, I didn't think there was a whole lot I could do to help Japan. After all, I am just a lowly, still mostly-broke recent college graduate who has no time off and/or money to offer to the thousands of people in need in Japan. But then my friend Danyell found this. 3000 letters for Japan. A Canadian expat working in central Japan decided to start collecting friendly and supportive letters for the children most affected by the disasters in the Sendai region of Japan. Aka the nicest idea in the history of the world. My co-workers and I decided to partake immediately.

While writing nice things to the newly-orphaned and impovershed Japanese children whose lives have just been ripped apart was a no-brainer for us Waegooks (especially those of us with creativity-promoting agendas), this proved to be more than a little challenging for my students. Namely because my students "hate Japan."

How my 11 to 13 year old students have come to hate another country so much that their first response to my explaining what a horrible situation it must be over there is simply "Good," is puzzling to me. Let's just say that South Korea and Japan have a touchy past and in lieu of going into an entire spiel about Japanese colonialism on the Korean peninsula, understand that Japan was historically not very friendly to Korea. Like taking artifacts, victimizing women, renaming historic buildings, and oppressing the Korean people kind of not friendly. Japan has since tried making amends and apologizing profusely to the ROK (Not so much to the crazies up north), and the two countries have drastically improved their relations, even cooperating enough to joint host the 2002 FIFA World Cup. Yet, there are still points of contention between the two nations, the most vehement according to my kids being the territorial dispute of Dok-do Island.

Ohmygoodness Dok-do Island... Technically known as the Liancourt Rocks, Dok-do is a tiny island located in the East Sea between Japan and Korea. When I say tiny, I mean tiny. Like 46.32 acres tiny. As in smaller than most farms. According to my ever-trusty Wikipedia, Dok-Do Island has all of 2 residents (along with a couple dozen Korean police officers). It has some natural resources, yes, but in the big scheme of the universe, Dok-do Island isn't a big deal. Talk to any of my students, though, and you'll get a completely different story. Teacher, I can't write this letter! Why not? Because I hate Japan. Dok-do Island is OUR island!

And once again, my job turned into a game of distinctions. You do not hate Japan. You disapprove of their government's past actions (in terms of colonialism) and it's current policy on the Liancourt Rocks dispute. Even then, the territorial ownership of the island really doesn't affect you in the least. You will probably never go there. In contrast, you would probably like actual Japanese people. They like computer games and cartoons and hate going to English Academy just as much as you do. Same same. So suck it up and write a friendly letter to a Japanese student, not to their government. Go.

(As a side note, I don't know exactly who's to blame for my students so fiercely hating another group of people at such a young age, but kind of like the 2% of people perpetuating the "debate" that global warming is phony, please stop perpetuating hating another country just because of a disagreement about a dinky little island. It doesn't really matter, and teaching 11 year old children to hate anyone is wrong.)

So with that little misunderstanding taken care of, we got creative. After collecting and editing their draft letters (to fix spelling and X out anything pertaining to the word "Dok-do"), we spent full class periods Tuesday and Wednesday decorating our letters. This was our first craft project in a long time, and my students didn't disappoint. They colored, cut, folded, glittered, you name it. Although some of my kids finished in 15 minutes and spent the rest of the time bored, most of my students really enjoyed having time in class to just be creative. In all, I collected over 75 letters, and here are just a few of my favorites :)

Creativity is still awesome. So are my kids.

- Christine -

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