Thursday, July 10, 2008

Prepare to be humbled...

I visited the Fukui Prefectural School for the Blind (called "Mougakko" locally) with a group of fellow JETs earlier this week. I volunteered for the visit day expecting to have a pleasant experience, thinking that perhaps I'd help a couple of students practice their English or maybe learn a bit about Braille. But that’s not what happened.

Instead, I was humbled. The students were absolutely brilliant, overwhelmingly kind, and extremely gifted learners. Oh yeah -- and they’re all vision impaired.

While I’ve stumbled over learning basic Japanese for the past year, these Mougakko students have mastered both English and Japanese, along with the Braille systems for both languages, which makes them essentially quadro-lingual. (Is that even a word? I bet the Mougakko kids could tell me.) Perhaps polyglot superstudents is a more appropriate description.

Here's how the day went down: we started with a tour of the school’s massage facilities (many students study massage in addition to the standard curriculum, preparing for future careers as masseuses). Next, we were spectators at a game of “blind volleyball,” which is absolutely grueling when compared to the beach variety (it is played on the floor and involves blocking the ball by listening for it). We then toured facilities for music and art classes, subjects that are apparently these students’ fortes, judging from the amazing ceramics on display and the awesome piano solo from one of the students.

But it was the Braille that blew me away: students demonstrated how they use adapted computers to type in English, Japanese, and Braille, and then gave us old-school, six-keyed Braille typewriters to try it ourselves.

It took me about 30 minutes to figure out how to write my own name (which, you may recall, has exactly four letters -- not that difficult). But 14-year-old "K", our Mougakko-student-turned-Braille-sensei, demonstrated infinite patience. He checked my Braille by running his nimble fingers quickly over the sentences I'd attempted to type: "My name is Sara." "I like sushi." "Braille is hard." K even played it cool when suggesting corrections for my error-ridden phrases.

Yessir, K and his pals are truly superstudents. But they were so unassuming, you’d never suspect it. Once you get past the whole I-know-four-languages-and-could-probably-play-piano-at-Carnegie-if-I-wanted-to thing, they’re really just regular kids. This was evident when we went on a tour of Mougakko’s cafeteria and asked students about the food.

“It’s so-so,” they admitted with a grin.

One 17-year-old boy told us about his heartbreaking struggle to ask a female Mougakko student out on a date.

“She said ‘no,’” he sighed. “Girls are weird.”

“Keep trying,” we reassured him. “Girls are complicated.”

So, the next time I whine about not being able to read kanji at the grocery store, the memory of these Mougakko kids will keep my linguistic self-pity in check.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way.


Sara Paxton said...

Wow, this is awesome. That must have been a great experience. Can't wait to see you!

Blooming Rose said...

Hi Sara , I am interested in JET program. I would like to know more about your personal experiences and your guidance. I apologize for a sudden message. You can send me a message.

Warm Regards

Naresh (25 year old male, India)