So last week was the graduation ceremony here for the 3rd grade students. It was, as per usual, a freezing cold ceremony coupled with a last moment of seriousness for these students. In Japan the graduating students do not get dressed up, in fact they can't even wear a headband or paint their nails. Heaven Forbid.
Anyways after an hour of speech and bowing the students filed out to a lot of clapping and were finally free! They went to their respective homerooms and received their graduation papers and that is when the fun begins. Most students here spend time participating in club activities, and the younger club members welcome the graduating seniors with gifts, cheers and excitement. There is a lot of yelling and screaming and general merriment and it rocks. The students don't know at that point if they have been accepted to a university yet, but for the first time in almost their entire lives they are free from the rigorous structure of the Japanese school system. They are almost carefree!! I met one student who told me of his plan to attend a university in Florida! I love that even in the smallest town, in the least populated prefecture there are students who can see beyond their piece of the world.
Following the graduation the school goes into lock down mode for two days as entrance exams are administered. Then the marking follows. During this time teachers are not allowed to use their cellphones or internet at work (seriously) and we spent Friday afternoon marking for 5.5 hours straight. I worked a 12 hour day and remembered why I never want to be a nurse and work such crap shifts :) It was an alright experience, and I was honoured to be included as the ALT is almost never included. However I made a few mistakes and had a teacher comment that, "you must be tired". Kind of embarrassing, however I tried my best. This Monday we have to triple check all the tests once again, and then the results are submitted to the board of education. I love being included, but I am not sad to be finished with marking. Some of the mistakes they are willing to ignore are baffling to me. I am only the expert when they want, so sometimes the English is less than perfect.
This weekend was a relaxing one after all the marking madness. I had a dinner with CJ and Ryan on Saturday night, went jogging, stocked up on fresh food for the week and shared a coffee date with Mercedes this afternoon. I had a scone and latte, and with the sun pouring in I felt truly relaxed and ready to embrace the last 5 months here. It is hard to say bye, hard to face the reality of returning home to the unknown. However I also realize that I have been so blessed these past two years. I get to teach full time, live in an exciting part of the world and travel consistently. What a cool life.