The song was written in Scotland years ago. The twenty five singers stand on a stage in the cafeteria of an inner city school on the west coast of Canada. Their ancestry is mostly Chinese and Filipino, though most were born in Canada. Half of the audience has just gotten off a bus, students from a private school in Japan on a five day tour of highlights in BC and the Rockies. The other faces watching have ancestry all over the world, but again, the majority were born in Canada.
Our students absolutely love this event. The Japanese students clap and cheer for the school choir as they wrap up “Loch Lomond”, they roar with appreciation when I speak a few words of Japanese in my introduction, or when my students present their speeches. But the best part is the cross cultural pairs . After the welcoming ceremony each Japanese student is paired with a Canadian student to guide them on a tour of the school, to go to class together and share lunch hour. Our students have been doing this cultural visit enough years that even before I tell them of the gift exchanging etiquette, they are already planning what they will give to their new Japanese friend. They walk to meet their partner with a combination of excitement and shyness, thinking, “Will they like me? Is my gift appropriate? Will we be able to talk?”.
The pairs quickly settle in to their tours and disappear into hallways and classrooms. Pairs start to clump into larger groups, and break off again. They are carrying each other’s gifts, talking excitedly, or walking quietly together. When the bell rings, they go to class together, relaxed and ready to learn more about each other.
At the end of the day every has what they hoped for. The Japanese students have been able to experience a Canadian classroom and show off some aspects of their own culture, my students have been able to experience a little of the Japanese culture that fascinates so many of them, and the Japanese school staff have been welcomed and given the chance to discuss education with a peer from across the world.