Japan Travel: A Meaningful Excursion

October 6, 2015
Japan Travel: A Meaningful Excursion

In my three year career as a teacher, I have organised three major excursions.

This excursion is a little different.

This excursion has a much deeper connection for me because this excursion is to Japan, a country that I love and have visited in numbers speeding towards double digits. Four students is a very small group to take overseas on an excursion but it is not a surprising number for us considering our school has less than 100 students from kindergarten to year 12.

It is because I have seen these outstanding young women grow with the help of each other and through their own merits that I want to see them have the experience of travelling together.

Travelling overseas with a school group is an incredibly time-consuming and labour intensive process for the teacher involved, so my decision to apply for approval for this excursion was not based on a whim. The group that I intend on taking with me is comprised of four incredibly fantastic young women: Courtney, Tahlia, Madi and Mali. I’ve taught them English for three years and in the last two, Japanese as an elective. Lessons with these students have been a combination of hard work, belly-deep laughter and embarrassing cooking lessons in which they’ve learned that I am not the most competent person in a kitchen.

When I first arrived at Menindee Central School, Tahlia was a shy little thing in Year 7. She didn’t really stand out among her more rowdy peers and getting her to talk when others could hear was a chore. Courtney was a little less shy in answering questions but even she was occasionally lost in the raucous. When these two girls chose to take Japanese as an elective in Year 9, they proved to be willing learners and slowly but surely and with humour to help along the way, they’ve become confident enough to speak Japanese despite any mistakes they might make. I’m incredibly proud of their achievements.

Mali has always had a sense of confidence that no doubt comes from having such large family around her all the time. In class, Mali will lead discussions and make some of the most amusing comments that bring the rest of the class to laughter. Madi comes out of her shell in Japanese classes with a sarcastic comment or three, and demolishes any lesson I give her.

Japan Travel: A Meaningful Excursion

It is because I have seen these outstanding young women grow with the help of each other and through their own merits that I want to see them have the experience of travelling together. Travel is a life-changing adventure and together I believe these girls could learn so much about themselves, Japan, the language and life in general. It is because of this belief that I began to plan this excursion without even knowing if we could finance it or if it would get approved.

Luckily, the plan was approved. Our visit will coincide with the flowering of the sakura (Cherry blossom) trees. These flowering trees capture the ephemeral nature of life. Immortalised in song, dance and poetry throughout Japanese history, the cherry blossom season brings tourists and locals alike out into the natural space to gaze in awe and appreciation at these short-lived blossoms. For my students, this will be their first time seeing such an iconic sight.

We have several days in Kyoto and it is my intention to celebrate the season with a traditional hanami (flower viewing) party, alcohol not included. The flower-viewing party is a staple of Japanese culture in the spring months. Companies will send their juniors out to the parks to secure the best locations for the company party while small groups of friends might camp out for hours, sharing food, passing around drinks and enjoying each others’ company under a canopy of delicate flowers. Early April is by far one of the prettiest times to visit Japan.

Our base of operations will be Osaka, which is a great place for any foodie to visit. Between the city’s specialty, okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake) and the street vendors who sell delicious takoyaki (Octopus dumplings), you will never be left wanting. If however, neither of these fine foods are to your taste then there are innumerable restaurants, cafes and street vendors who will have something that you’ll be salivating over. I’ve roamed the streets of Osaka and I feel confident in my knowledge of where Osaka’s best and most quirky places to dine are. My students better be prepared because I’ve got some pretty unusual culinary delights planned for them. To be honest though, I don’t think they will be arguing much; Courtney and Mali have already decided that they will try every new food in sight.

Japan Travel: A Meaningful Excursion

Now, there is something I haven’t told you yet.

This is an excursion with a difference not only because I want to share with my students the feeling I get when I stand on a bridge, see the cherry blossoms float down from the branches and hear the cacophony of the modern world behind me. It is an excursion with a difference because I’m inviting you to be a part of it.
It wasn’t until after an Online Collaboration workshop that I really started to get excited because during this workshop I’d come up with a plan to overcome the largest roadblock for this trip – money. We will be fundraising locally but in such a small town, you can’t always ask people to empty their pockets; times are tough enough as it is.

Collaboration is all about getting people to come together to work towards a single goal, right? So, why not get the whole online community involved to help us achieve our goal? And so that is what we’ve done.

Travel is a life-changing adventure and together I believe these girls could learn so much about themselves, Japan, the language and life in general.

We’ve started our own blog, MCSinJapan, to document our journey and to give the girls a chance to share their experiences through their writing. Using Pozible, an Australian web-based crowdfunding platform, we will be offering rewards to people who are kind enough to donate towards our excursion. And finally, we have received the support of Pink Pangea who will be hosting some of our writings.

The journey has barely even begun. I only got approval for this excursion a short time ago but already I feel such an overwhelming sense of privilege. I feel privileged to be teaching my four students, each of whom are ready to put in the hard yards. I feel privileged to be working with teachers and parents who are encouraging and supportive of my crazy, over-enthusiastic and terribly involved plans. Finally, I feel privileged to be collaborating with the Pink Pangea team who didn’t say no to an out-of-the-blue appeal for support.

So here is to seeing four girls experience Japan for the first time thanks to the generosity of the online travelling community. Cheers to each and every one of you for making this an excursion with a difference!

If you would like to donate and be rewarded for your kindness then please head over to our Pozible page.


Japan Travel: A Meaningful Excursion 

About Amelia Yarwood

Amelia Yarwood is a secondary school English and Japanese teacher in a remote Australian community. Amelia’s hair changes colour more often then you wash your bedsheets but somehow she still manages to keep her hair on her head.

Currently working with my student on the MCSinJapan project. Please help four young women to achieve their travel goals at http://pozi.be/mcsinjapan

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