This January I had the privilege to escort six students from Saroma, Japan, to my hometown of Palmer, Alaska. Saroma Town employs me as their Assistant English Teacher, one of the requirements for the position being roots in Palmer. I grew up in Palmer and graduated from Palmer High School in 2002, eventually finding my way to Saroma in 2008 after a degree in linguistics and a one-year stint on the JET Programme in Niigata.
It’s now my third year in Saroma. Every year, there are mutual exchanges at both the junior high and high school level, and each year I have helped to prepare the students for their experience. This year the exchange groups went to Colony Middle School and Palmer High School. We hold about 10 to 12 predeparture classes at the Town Hall, teaching basic English conversation skills, helping to prepare them for cultural differences, and teaching about Alaska and Palmer in general. They also spend a large portion of the time creating a poster presentation in English about some aspect of Saroma or Japan that they then present while in Palmer.
This year, as in past years, the groups from the high school and the junior high were both small, so it was decided that they would be sent together. This year, though, I was lucky enough to be chosen as one of the chaperones for the group. As such, I had the pleasure and privilege of not only preparing the students for the exchange, but supporting them and guiding them while in Palmer. To tell you the truth, I was not entirely sure of myself in this regard. While there was another chaperone from the high school, I still felt responsible for the six students who were travelling, particularly the junior high students, whose maturity levels were quite different from the two high school students (who had both been to Palmer once before).
However, I somehow managed to get everyone from Hokkaido to Palmer and back, without any serious problems, crying fits, bouts of homesickness, huge misunderstandings, illnesses or disastrous scheduling errors. All of the students and the other chaperone seemed to have a fantastic time in Palmer, and didn’t seem too concerned about getting back to Japan. I too enjoyed myself, although I was busier than I could have expected, playing sort of a double-agent role as ambassador both from and to Palmer and Saroma. Let’s just say that the students were not the only participants on this trip who experienced new challenges and developed new skills. ♦
Greeted upon arrival with a handmade sign in Anchorage by CMS Principal McMahon.
The view from CMS on our first day in town. The winds were brutal, but the skies were clear.
A welcome poster for the JHS group.
Giving my Saroma presentation to a community group in Palmer.
Everyone on the freezing bus to Talkeetna!
Our mature and dependable high school contingent.
Arrival at Pioneer Peak Elementary with SJHS students and Hatcher.
Singing do-re-mi to the kindergarten at Pioneer Peak.
The group of volunteers who do so much to support the exchange programs.
Lastly, a video of us ice skating at the Palmer Ice Arena. I think everyone makes an appearance.