Reaching across the world: virtual lesson between Ireland and Japan

Last week I had the privilege of teaching four classes of Japanese junior high school students in Hyogo, Japan. Their teacher, Nanae, is my friend of 15 years. We first met in Ireland, where we studied together at University of Ulster and we have been like sisters ever since. Back then, she came to my home and met my family in Donegal, and I promised her that one day I would also visit her hometown in Japan. Which I did. I went to Japan in 2016, and I stayed there for four years teaching English. I came back to Ireland in May 2020 in the middle of the pandemic and I began teaching online.

When Nanae found out that I was teaching English online, she jumped at the chance of inviting me to join their classroom virtually on the big screen. Why hadn't we thought of this before?!

So last week, I dragged myself out of bed at 3:30am to begin teaching at 4:30am, four times! (5 if you include the test call that we did). I have to admit that it was difficult getting up while it was still dark and everyone still asleep, that is on this side of the world. Of course, over in Japan, it was lunchtime and the kids were busy getting ready for their lesson with me. And my sleepiness soon disappeared when I saw the bright eyes and happy faces of the wonderful students from this Junior High School in Hyogo.

We started off with me doing a presentation about Ireland. I showed them my own pictures of our nature and landscape, the green fields and beaches, animals, food, drink and family events. I played some traditional Irish music and showed them clips of GAA games, including Michael Murphy's goal in the first few minutes of the All Ireland Final in 2012.

I explained what our flag meant: how the green represents Catholics, the orange Protestants, and the white being the peace between the two, long may it continue. I showed them the Claddagh ring (including my own), which is the symbol of love. I explained the meaning of the shamrock and how St. Patrick used it to explain Christianity and the Holy Trinity to the Irish people in the 5th century.  I talked about the Irish pub; a place to meet people, enjoy music, dance and craic as well as of course, Guinness, which is very popular in Japan. There are also many Irish pubs in Japan, and I worked in one when I lived there. It was an amazing, special and unique place. Unfortunately Covid 19 and all the lockdowns in Ireland have affected the culture of the Irish pub and it's hard to know how things will go in the future when the restrictions lift. 

Then we had Question Time, and there were many questions. 

So what do Japanese junior high school students want to know about Ireland?

Well here is one of their questions. 

Have you ever seen a fairy?

Next, they performed a beautiful old Japanese story for me called the Umbrella Jizo.The Jizo is said to be the guardian of children. The children told me the story of how a poor old man who had nothing was walking through Jizo pass on a cold and snowy night. He saw that one of the jizo did not have an umbrella and so he gave his own hat to it, to protect it from the weather. The next morning, the old man and his wife woke up to a feast of food and they were not poor anymore. As the students said, this story tells of the importance of kindness. 

I then told them an Irish fairytale called Oisín and Tír na nÓg, (the land of eternal youthwhich which is about a warrior called Oisin from long long ago, before the time of St. Patrick, who got carried off on a white horse across the water with a beautiful woman called Niamh Chinn Óir (Niamh of the Golden Hair).  

It was a busy hour's lesson and they finished off with a sweet message to the people of Ireland. 

Thank you so much to these fantastic students. Thank you for watching my presentation, for asking me great questions and for your wonderful performances.  It was a pleasure to meet you and teach you. Take care, work hard in your studies and keep speaking English. As your teacher, Nanae-san says, the world is your oyster, embrace and explore  it. I hope to teach you again soon and to meet you in person some day :) 

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