Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Life in Transition

The end of the school year is quickly approaching and with it comes the departure of many students and families. When you live a life in transition, these goodbyes are never easy and even the youngest students feel the pain of saying goodbye to things that are familiar and the fear of entering into the unknown. After discovering the author, Allen Say, I decided to use his books to talk with my students about the experience of living a life in transition.

Allen Say is a Japanese-American. He was born in Japan and moved to America later in his childhood. Most of his stories are fictionalized accounts of his family's life between two cultures and they have provided my students and I with a lot of fodder for conversations about transition. We have talked about appreciating the good things that we enjoy about each of the countries that we may call "home." We have talked about the feelings we may have as we transition - anything from excitement to fear and confusion and about what we can do to make transition easier.
Today we read How My Parents Learned to Eat which was written by Ina Friedman and illustrated by Allen Say. It is a story about an American sailor who falls in love with a Japanese girl but they never have dinner together because each one is afraid of eating in front of the other. Neither knows how to use the other's eating utensils but they never talk about it. When the sailor receives the news that his ship will be leaving, he decides that it is time to learn to eat with chopsticks so that he can have dinner with his girlfriend. At the same time, his girlfriend seeks the help of her uncle, who spent time in England, for lessons on how to eat with a fork. This leads to a very humourous ending where the girlfriend discovers that the British and the Americans don't use forks in the same way. My kids thoroughly enjoyed this book. One of them responded with a cross-cultural experience of her own which follows.
The first day I was in Niger I was really excited to learn everything they did in their culture. The thing I was most excited about was to learn to eat with my hands. Then I asked my mom if someone could teach me how to eat with my hands. But my mom said no because she said that we weren't going to have their culture even when we lived in Niger because we were leaving back to ________ in 2 years so then I didn't think about it anymore but I'm still wondering how they eat with their hands.

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