I am here in Japan for two years on a research fellowship. I get opportunities to do things – like attend inductions (where I made a friend – oh yeah!), and to give a talk at a local highschool.
I was given the opportunity to give a talk, and I took it. I wasn’t going to, but I thought it was probably worth while. So I organised one of my workmates to be my translator (no way can I give a talk in Japanese) and spent aaaaages getting a cute presentation together.
It was actually really hard knowing how to write the presentation. I did not know their English level, I didn’t understand that an information sheet would be given to them (if I sent the info along), and I wasn’t quite sure what the talk was supposed to be about. About my country, my research? About what?? I ended up calling it “What’s Down Under” which I thought was incredibly witty and hilarious, but if you don’t know English very well, it probably wasn’t funny at all (explanation: Australia is often referred to as Down Under, and I am also a soil scientist, so….. see how explaining a joke makes it unfunny? no one at work laughs at my jokes either…)
Now, notice the word cute a couple of paragraphs back? A “cute” presentation? The first 10 slides or so were me asking the students what animal this was and then showing a second picture with the name. Let it be said I found some of the most ADORABLE pictures you can imagine! Of platypuses (platypi?), and echidnas, sugargliders and more. It was super cute. Then I found out my class was 15-17 year old boys. At an all boys school. I found this out after I got there. Still, the reponses to ‘what animal is this?!’ got the third biggest of reaction I got out of them.
The second most was when I said at the end “I hope you could understand through my accent” (and they all laughed) and then said “I hope I didn’t speak too quickly” (and they laughed again). In actuality, I did speak too quickly – I was very uncertain what level the science was! It is hard when you become an “expert” in something – you kinda forget what is simple… oh!
The biggest reaction was a chemical reaction! I was explaining sequential extractions, where you have a single soil sample, and then add (in a sequence) different chemicals to dissolve different minerals. So I… doctored some soil… and then got them to add water (little reaction), HCl (moderate reaction, as I doped the soil with some potassium carbonate), and peroxide (BIG reaction). You see, I didn’t check the soil first, and so the peroxide reacted with the organic matter in the soil and bubbled over every desk in the classroom. They were noisy then. So I was glad I did that!
For the rest of the time they were dead quiet, and I even saw some of them fall asleep. A well aimed teacher elbow woke a few up. I don’t think I can call it a resounding success!
After that, the head… something teacher? (I know, I know – the fine detail in my blog posts!) took us on a tour of the school. Another research fellow was giving a talk, coincidentally someone I had met in December the year before! We got to look at the different class rooms (they were a super science school, so they had their home rooms (which were so messy!! Oh my gosh, teenage boys!!) I am sure that get tidied every afternoon), separate labs for chem., physics, geology, a calligraphy room, judo and karate dojos, as well as a million sports fields.
My workmate and I were looking at some rocks in their local geology collection, and she is like it is a liber stone.. a liber stone. I just looked at her unknowing. She rolls her eyes – kawa. Oh!!! River Stone. So there you are, one word I know.
I was really glad for the opportunity to see a High School, and it looks like I might have the opportunity to see one down south next month. It will be interesting to see if these kids are just as quiet as the ones I gave a talk to!