Volume 27 Number 1
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FRIENDSHIPS UNFORESEEN
Patrice Pendell, Kinjo Gakuin University, Japan

Coincidences and context led to an international communication project called Nagoya Next Door (NND). Developed for English as a foreign language (EFL) classes at a Japanese university, the NND project aimed to incorporate culture and international communications in an imaginative way using the Internet. This report is a synopsis of the NND project and activities implemented for a Japanese university EFL class.

The development of an EFL class at a Japanese university began with the goal to adapt an Internet communication strategy. All one need do is ponder the popularity of cell phones, Facebook, blogs, and the virtual explosion of information available worldwide. And yet in the world of instant communications, the Internet can be a paradoxically anonymous interaction. Cyber-identities and virtual worlds are contrived realities, not the end point desired for this class. Coincidences turned this challenge into an opportunity. I had experience with friendship-doll exchanges from the Japanese Friendship Doll Program at Mukogawa Gakuin inspired by the 1927 Doll Plan exchange between the United States and Japan, and the Flat Stanley Project in which my daughter had participated. I knew the power of a friendly doll face and the personal nature of the communication. A project synergy developed from the concept of friendship dolls, a Nagoya City promotion, and the application of Internet communications in EFL learning (Belcher, 2006; Hawisher et al., 2006; Savignon & Sysoyev, 2002; Takaoka, 2004; Yashima, 2002).

A DOLL―REALLY?

There were many Internet options but was there a doll that fit this EFL context? Coincidentally, the city of Nagoya was about to launch a major promotion in 2010: the 400th anniversary of Nagoya City. This campaign promoted the city domestically and around the world and featured a charming mascot doll called Hachimaru. The potential was apparent:

  • Doll whose universal appeal was charming
  • Oversee replies/progress on the Internet
  • Learning where EFL was fun and personal
  • Leverage partnerships for participation

With a clear vision for the project, we received financial support and endorsements from my Japanese university, the city of Nagoya, and the Nagoya International Airport called Centrair. In addition, there was a waiting list for those who wanted to participate.

NND PROJECT

The basic project design was to use the Nagoya mascot doll, Hachimaru, as a friendship courier, designating each doll with a unique flower surname to track their travels. Each Hachimaru doll was sent with welcome letters from EFL students and the mayor of Nagoya, information about Nagoya; Internet links, directions, and a key-chain charm. Recipients were asked to send a picture of Hachimaru in their city and some information about their city to our Internet site. After 4 weeks, the recipients were instructed to send Hachimaru to a new friend and keep the souvenir key-chain charm but add a new key-chain charm iconic to their city. The next recipients then repeat the process. The purpose was to connect recipients and create a friendship network through which people became friends― just as if they were next door. “Hachi” of Hachimaru means “eight” and fittingly, 88 percent of initial recipients responded, with 75 percent of secondary recipients and 60 percent of tertiary recipients also responding. Each Hachimaru doll had a securely fastened name tag with the Internet sites for replies and access as follows:

Thirty-two Hachimaru dolls were sent initially to 10 countries on four continents in white, custom-made, sturdy plastic boxes. Recipients willing to participate in the endeavor and relevant to our context were selected from the following sources:

EFL ACTIVITIES

The NND project provided a range of activities for EFL classes including writing, international travel, Internet communications, and oral discussions as follows:

  • Students wrote welcome letters in English and Japanese that accompanied the Hachimaru doll. The letters featured favorite Nagoya sightseeing spots and regional foods.
  • In an international exchange to China, a delegation of university students met with Chinese students and performed a skit in English and Chinese that explained the NND project at the Japanese Pavilion during the Shanghai World Expo in Shanghai, China.
  • Internet interactions included e-mail pals/exchanges with American middle school and elementary students. EFL writing class incorporated the process of drafting and rewriting. But in the third year, EFL communications class students wrote directly to pen pals and on the blog.
  • Oral discussions enabled and challenged students to contextualize the content from Web site photos, and each presentation included a question for their peers promoting further discussions. Students engaged and were transformed into teachers.

JUST LIKE NEXT DOOR

The NND project was an EFL opportunity created for the Internet that embraced friendship and the personal nature of communication. The charming face of Hachimaru was amazingly disarming. And surprisingly, whether young or old, at a World Expo in China or chillin’ with students on the steps in Liverpool England, Hachimaru had an amazing ability to open people’s hearts. Hachimaru in hand, strangers became friends―just like they lived next door. Not such a coincidence.

REFERENCES

Belcher, D. (2006). English for specific purposes: Teaching to perceived needs and imagined futures in worlds of work, study, and everyday life. TESOL Quarterly, 40(1), 133-156.

Hawisher, G., Selfe, C., Guo, Y., & Liu, L. (2006). Globalization and agency: Designing and redesigning the literacies of cyberspace. College English, 68(6), 619-636.

Savignon, S., & Sysoyev, P. (2002). Sociocultural strategies for a dialogue of cultures. The Modern Language Journal, 86(4), 508-524.

Takaoka, M. (2004). Doll ambassadors: An alternate history of U.S.-Japan relations. Tokyo: Nikkbei Publishing.

Yashima, T. (2002). Willingness to communicate in a second language: The Japanese EFL context. The Modern Language Journal, 86(1), 54-66.


Patrice Pendell, patricependell@yahoo.com, resides and teaches in Japan and received her BS and BEd from Eastern Washington University and MA and TESOL Certification from Gonzaga University. Her research interests include international communications, Japanese storytelling (kamishibai), and leadership with women models.

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