On Tuesdays, I teach a class of high school students who just returned from a monthlong home stay in Australia.
“How was your home stay?” I asked them.
“OK,” one girl said while looking down at the ground.
“Boring,” said another.
“I had a vegetarian family,” another said, clearly disappointed.
“All my family ate was chicken and beef,” grumbled another.
“My host brother was noisy and annoying,” said one girl.
“I had to go to church every Sunday,” said another.
“My family was messy,” said another.
“My host mother was only 23 years old!” said the little plump girl.
“No Hello Kitty,” said another (Oh, horror!).
“The shops closed at 5:30 p.m.,” said another girl (Horror of all horrors!).
“I didn’t get to see a kangaroo or a koala,” said the last girl.
At this last statement, my heart sank. Maybe they had made a mistake. Maybe instead of going Down Under they went to hell instead?
The classroom we were in had been decorated by the students themselves, with photos and Aussie English written on pieces of colorful paper taped up on the walls. “Hey mate!” said one sign. “Yummy!” said another. “Good girl!” said another, along with the Japanese explanation: This seems to be something said when you finish all your dinner.
“What about school?” I asked. The students perked up.
“Australian students are allowed to have notebook computers and calculators in class,” said one girl.
“The teachers were very funny,” said another. “Australian students have art class.”
“The math class was easy,” noted one student.
“Australian students hardly study,” observed another. “But there are no club activities after school, so there was nothing to do after school.”
All the students missed having club activities after school.
“So what did you do after school?” I said.
“We went home and watched TV and ate bikkies” — biscuits, which on my planet, the U.S., we call cookies.
“What did you watch on TV?”
“The Simpsons.” (Things were beginning to look up again).
“My host father was a minister, so we went to church a lot,” said another girl, “but it was fun because we got to jump while singing.”
When I asked them what their favorite thing about Australian school was, the overwhelming response was “Morning tea!”
“We had tea and biscuits and cakes,” they said. “It was yummy!”
“I put on 2 kilos,” said one girl.
“I gained 4 kilos,” said another, “2 in Australia and 2 more when I landed in Japan.”
“So you really liked the food,” I said. “What was your favorite Australian food?”
“Tim Tams chocolates and lemmington cake,” they said.
“That’s not food,” I thought to myself.
The Australian school they attended for the month didn’t have a cafeteria, so their host families made them lunch every day.
“What did they make you for lunch?” I asked.
“I took instant ramen,” said one girl.
“All I got was a cup of yogurt,” said the little plump Charlie Brown.
“Every day?” I asked.
“Yes, every day.”
“I had a sandwich and an apple,” said another girl.
“Oh, that’s nutritious,” I thought. “What kind of sandwich?”
“Chocolate,” she said.
“But some Australian students ate snacks and chips for lunch, nothing else,” said another girl.
When I asked them what was most surprising about Australian school, they said with disapproval, “Kindergartners wearing makeup.”
Next I asked them what kind of music they heard during their stay.
“I listened to Britney Spears,” said the little plump girl.
“Every day?” I asked.
“Yes, every day!”
Some students listened to Celine Dion and Mariah Carey. One student couldn’t recall the name of the band. “Who is that group John Lennon was in?” she asked.
Lastly, I asked them if they’d like to go abroad again.
“Yes!” they all said eagerly.
“Where would you like to go next time?”
They all shouted in unison, “Australia!”