12 September, 2016

Encounters of the multicultural kind at school

We have a senior this year. That means we confront a number of cultural issues at school. Some, but not all, are specific to the school. Some are American, some have significant Asian influences. But it remains that this is the first time we've done this, so there are new experiences in the pipeline.

Here are some that we know of:

Graduation (of course). This I've written about this on my blog a few times as a spectator, but this year we get to experience it as parents. It is quite American, closer to what an Australian experiences at university, not high school.

Senior photos. This is also a big deal and is happening this week. They dress up in formal clothes (provided by the photographer) and have individual photos, having booked an individual sitting time. This photo goes into the yearbook. We were offered a variety of deluxe sittings, and one with additionally outfits, which all cost more, of course.

Working for the senior trip. The seniors go to Thailand in March where they do some physical work to help tribal people in the north of the country. The CAJ handbook describes it as "a service trip in the spring to another Asian country as part of their global issues class". In order to do so they are required to work 25 hours in the next six months doing things like selling food at sporting events (called Concessions, see here for an explanation).

Senior talent show A fundraiser for the above trip. It is taken very seriously and students audition for it. As a result the standard is very high and the show enjoyable.

Pre-graduation parents and senior banquet This is a bit like an Australian "formal", but seniors don't go as couples (though I guess some may). Parents go with their students. I'm pretty sure that the student's organised our own formal, but this is something parents organise.

Graduation after-party This has become a tradition in recent years where most of the students are taken a couple of hours east to the Pacific Ocean and they watch the sun rise, then they come back. This is also organised by the parents.

Today I ended up at a meeting that talked about the last two of these things. We talked over lunch, but it was complicated. We have cross-cultural issues. American school, multiple cultures within the student/parent body, and school-specific traditions. At this gathering today we had a lot of Japanese mums and some bicultural mums (either married to Americans or have spent a number of their years overseas) and four Westerners (two Americans, me, and someone from the UK). Japanese do meetings differently to Westerners. An additional difficulty is a lack of a clear leader willing to take on responsibility for organising stuff. It took several hours and I'm still not clear on what exactly we achieved except that I volunteered to write an email!

I'm not good at meetings and meetings like this I really stink at. It was hard to hold my tongue. I'm also not good at organising events, so you might wonder how come I stuck around. I think it basically comes down to knowing that this needs to happen and volunteers are needed. With the "wrong" volunteers it could rocket out of control into something very expensive: in a financial and time sense. So by choosing to be involved, hopefully I can help keep things reasonable. We'll see how that pans out.

We've been through a "graduation" once before with this class, in eighth grade (graduation from middle school). It was challenging too (read my blog post about that event here).

The multicultural (as opposed to bi-cultural) layers that we live with on a day-to-day basis makes things interesting, that's for sure!

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