Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Hokkaido English Challenge Summer Camp

Every year, a good batch of the fine JETs of Hokkaido put together the Hokkaido English Challenge, a heavily communicative and fun English "test" which encourages Japanese junior and senior high students to use English rather than merely memorize grammar points and vocab words (as is standard on regular English tests here). Of the schools which decide to partake, each is allowed to enter 10 participants, and the students train with their native speaking ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) in preparation for the filmed test.

Through a lot of work on the part of the ALTs, the grand prize winner receives a 2-week homestay to any English-speaking country of his or her choice (my student actually won this last year!)! And in addition, the top 50 students receive a place at HEC Summer Camp, a five-day English and camping adventure which strives to create a fun English immersion environment with native speakers and an emphasis on fun, natural communication!

This year, I partook in camp as a group leader (camp counselor) and Crazy Olympics leader! Needless to say, it was an incredible experience:

My and Heather's Group, the Sweet Jackson 5:

Singing and performing our group chant for dinner:

On the second day, we all headed to a place called 子どもの国 (Children's Country), a magical place with recreations of world monuments (Great Wall of China, Leaning Tower of Pisa, Stonehenge, etc.), magical forests and mazes, and all kinds of other fun things to clamor on! While there, each group had to participate in an English photography scavenger hunt...our team took second and had a blast in the process:

Another fab ALT, Azu, and I were in-charge of the third day's Crazy Olympics (and following surprise attack water fight), which included such skillful feats as the poo game, marshmallow face-stuffing, chain-gang game, and a rooster fight. Here we are with the revered Olympic torch:

The Sweet Jackson 5 heading to the onsen (hot spring) for some much needed cleansing:

That evening, we taught the students some sweet dance moves, including the Cha Cha Electric Slide, the Ketchup Song, and the classic Chicken Dance! Afterwards, we held the coolest camp dance party ever...the notion of a school dance in Japan just doesn't exist, but students are familiar with it from seeing it in the movies. For many of them, it looked like quite the camp highlight!

What began with Nikki showing a couple of her girls some yoga moves turned into an all-out yoga frenzy by the fourth day! Definitely awesome:

The last day of camp was filled with group photos, memory-book making, and lots of tears and hugs. Saying good-bye to summer camp friends always seriously sucks:

The amazing staff and group leaders:

Besides the dance party, hiking, sports, letter-writing, fabulous camp food (thanks Wayne and gang!), the yoga, the onsen trip, campfires, songs, games, laughter, play-writing and production, and all-around sweet summer camp memories, just watching 50 amazing students finally loose their inhibitions and actually use this crazy language of English was beyond words phenomenal! This was, hands down, definitely a Top-3 experience for me from my time here in Hokkaido, and I cannot wait to come back next year and do it all again!

(**HEC Camp is possible because of a lot of hard work and dedication of many Hokkaido ALTs who strive to raise the funds necessary to keep it totally free for all the kids who qualify. If anyone reading this would like to make a MUCH appreciated donation to this incredible experience, please contact me at photograbock [at] gmail [dot] com**)

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