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July 19, 2011 / Karen Hill Anton

My son’s life as a so-called alien

Mario and elementary school classmate

(July 9, 1998)

I remember my son Mario saying to me last year, “You should just know how great my school life was.”

“Yes, I know,” I responded, as in “I know you were generally eager to go to school, enjoyed your activities, liked your teachers, had lots of friends.” Mario said: “No. You should really know.”

He’s right of course, I observed something he experienced.

Now 17, Mario is old enough to look back, young enough to remember. Here’s a glimpse of his school life taken from an essay he wrote.

“At my elementary school the only other kid at school who was a foreigner was my sister. I made tons of friends, after they knew I was no different than other Japanese kids. They treated me like a regular friend, not an American friend.

“I was always the loud one in class, making jokes and talking. But my teachers always loved me and I thought they treated me the same as the other students. But when I look back now, I feel the teachers must have been trying their best to treat me the same as the other kids.

“One time when I was in second grade, my friends Akuta, Ono and I made our teacher really upset and she told us, “You guys are making too much noise. Leave the room now!”

“At first we stood outside the classroom, but then we decided to go to Akuta’s house. When we got there we didn’t really have anything to do, so we grabbed an ice cream from the refrigerator and then headed back to school.

“While walking back we saw our teacher running towards us. “I was looking for you everywhere! I was so worried. Please don’t do that again!” She was crying. That made us know that our teacher really cared about us and loved us.

“I never felt left out in class and was never bullied. I went through my first year in elementary school just fine. Second grade was a little different because we started really learning stuff.

“Third grade was a big year for me because my parents decided to move [from the city of Hamamatsu] to build a house in the country [Tenryu].

“When we moved, my sister and I went for a stroll in the new neighborhood. While we walked around I could tell everybody was looking at us. We weren’t surprised because we expected that people had never seen kids that look like us. We made friends, and we never had to introduce ourselves first because they always came and asked us to be friends.

“I still remember my first day at my new school. I met the principal and then went to my new class. The kids looked at me like I was some kind of alien. Their eyes and mouths were wide open. After I introduced myself they looked a little more comfortable with the Alien.

“I heard kids whispering ‘You go talk to him. No, you go. I’m scared!” As always, it didn’t take a long time for the kids to come up and talk to me. After the first one came, then everybody came up to me and said, “What’s up!”

“We had to wear an ugly uniform and the school also had a lot of weird rules. For example, we had to walk around barefoot — that was supposed to make us strong and keep us from catching a cold. Also, during the winter, the teacher recommended that we wear only short sleeves, along the same idea as going barefoot.

“I liked my new school but I missed my old friends, especially Kyohei. He lived next door and we used to play outside after school all the time. We never got bored. We’d play until it got so dark we couldn’t see each other. After we moved to Tenryu, he often came to visit and stay overnight.

“My junior high school was only 10 minutes away from the elementary school and all my classmates went to the same school, it wasn’t a big difference.

“But the teachers were different. At first, they acted nervous about teaching me, but after they got used to it, they treated me like a regular Japanese seventh-grader.

“It was probably hard to teach my English class, because I noticed every mistake the teacher made and my pronunciation was better (but of course I never corrected the teacher). By the middle of the year the teacher started to relax and would ask me questions like “Mario, how do you spell …?”

“When I got to eighth grade I started thinking about going to America for high school. When I was in sixth grade, my second sister Mie had gone to America. This whole thing of going to boarding school in America started with my eldest sister, Nanao. In her case it was more like my parents coerced her, but Mie really wanted to go.

“By ninth grade I started to realize that I only had a few months to be with my friends. I knew I was going to miss everything about school:  classes, hanging out, school lunch, sports club, cleaning detail, riding my bike to and from school with my friends. And of course, those kids who had first seen me as an alien were now my tightest buddies.”

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© Karen Hill Anton and Crossing Cultures, 1990-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Karen Hill Anton and Crossing Cultures with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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