This summer, I decided to start my summer vacation a little different than usual. Every year, the Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs) in Hokkaido put on an English camp for junior high school and high school students. The camp is entirely conducted in English, and organized by foreign staff, giving 50 students in Hokkaido an opportunity to experience other cultures and put to practice all the English that they’ve learned.
The camp is called the Hokkaido English Challenge (HEC). It starts with a competitive round of video interviews, where applicants answer a series of questions, testing their English comprehension and communication. Yakumo had one short listed student from Nodaoi Junior High School, who demonstrated her passion for English beautifully.
I joined some of the nearby ALTs in driving up to Higashikagura, where the camp is held. One member of our team was the camp’s head chef, so we had to make a stop at Costco for some bulk ingredients. Unfortunately, with four adults and everyone’s luggage in a car that fits five people, we had a difficult challenge trying to fit everything and everyone in the car. Our success in getting everything in is a testament to our amazing tetris skills.
After running a few more errands and dropping the food off in the kitchen, we finally arrived at our destination, lit a few celebratory sparklers, and headed to bed for some much needed sleep.
The next day, the students were scheduled to arrive. My main responsibility was as a team leader for four junior high school students, four high school students, and a junior leader, alongside my trusty partner Kevin. My other responsibility was the ice breaker activities, with a fellow Canadian ALT, Cheri. As the ice breakers would be the first activities of camp, we were hoping to make the students feel welcome, comfortable with each other, and excited for camp. Though the rain clouds were heavy and threatening, we made it through our ice breaker games without getting too wet, and by the end, everyone was familiar with their team members.
The rest of the day and the next day weren’t quite as lucky with the weather. It rained quite a bit, so there was a lot of time spent under the tents writing letters in English, and learning English games. This proved to be a meaningful bonding time, and was valuable for bringing each other together. Gradually as the camp went on, the sun came around and we were able to do all our outdoor activities as planned.
Playing Bananagrams under the tent
The camp is filled with all kinds of exciting English adventures, including a scavenger hunt, dance party, campfire, plays, crazy Olympics, capture the flag, and much more. The students were involved in cultural activities that they would normally only get to try if they went overseas. Also, they got to try a wide variety of international foods. They spent five days communicating in English, making everlasting memories and solidifying their knowledge that their English studies were not all for naught. They all have the ability to communicate anything they want or need in English.
Some of the pictures from my team's scavenger hunt
One of the monsters in the monster hunt
Riding the monorail
HEC spelled with lights at the dance party
School dances are a common tradition in western schools, from elementary school through high school. HEC students learned some English songs and dances before enjoying an evening of dance with a wide variety of English and Japanese popular music.
After singing English campfire songs together, we roasted marshmallows on the fire and made s'mores, arguably the most popular sweet in the western campfire culture.
An abridge overview of the menu
After five days of non-stop bonding and English, we had to say our farewells to teary-eyed students whose only hope was to stay a little longer, and come back next year. Though the camp usually only accepts about 6 students from the previous year’s camp to act as junior leaders, nearly every student at camp signed up hoping to be picked as a junior leader for next year. It was a very moving and life-changing experience for everyone involved. I hope the camp continues to flourish and get the recognition that it deserves.