by Anna Watt
A while ago I came across a fun article about a great first day of school tradition in Germany and their sugar cones [Zuckertüte]. It was different from what we have in Russia, but still a definite celebration. As I met many people from different countries around the world I was surprised to find out that first, the tradition to celebrate the first day of school is not part of the norm in a lot of countries, and second, when and how the first day of school goes in different countries is different and interesting.
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Since I love learning about other cultures, I decided to share with you the information I gathered from my friends and also from the students from the International English Center at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, CA. You can find a more detailed series of articles about the first of school celebration in Russia on my website Russian Step By Step Children. Also check out this fabulous book: It’s Back To School We Go! First Day Stories from Around The World by Ellen Jackson.
School Around the World, 1st Day Traditions
Nathania, student at the International English Center at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, CA: The school year starts mid-July and ends mid-June with a break in December and during the Muslim Eid Holiday which differs from year to year.
We have a tradition that is like a student orientation. All the new students will be divided into groups with 2 or 3 seniors in each group. They are assigned to do things that are related to school and that help new students to make friends.
You start elementary school at the age of 6 and finish at 12. Junior high school goes from 13to 15. Senior high school is from 16 to 18. Public school is free but you buy your own books and supplies before the school year begins.
Becky: I went to school in England and Wales (UK) both public and private sector. School year starts 1st week of Sept each year and finishes beg-mid July (private), mid-end July (public). There were no real celebrations for beginning of the school year (only end). At the beginning we were always just thrown straight into routine and classes – nothing exciting. I guess they wanted us to get focused straight away.
Arisa, student at the International English Center at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, CA: In Japan the school year is usually April through March. There is about 1.5 month break from end July to August but the year officially ends in March.
On the first day of school you usually start with introducing yourself to your new classmates and then have a meeting the hall where the teachers introduce themselves. There is usually no official uniform for the elementary school but there is uniform for junior high and high school. We go to school for 12 years and start at the age of 6 to 12 is the elementary school, 13-15 is the middle and 16-18 is the high school. We have about 40 students in each classroom. We do buy our own school supplies, however the books are usually provided by the school for free to the students.
Yayoi, teacher of Japanese, Singer: In Japan, schools have their entrance ceremonies for the new students in early April across Japan when the school year starts. The ceremony is usually held in the school gym. In a typical ceremony, the principal makes some opening remarks encouraging the new students to have an enjoyable and rewarding experience in school. Later, one older student (usually a head of the school council), and some other guests give a speech. The ceremony usually ends with a school song sung by the older students. Afterwards, the new students are welcomed in their classroom by their teacher, and the new teacher explains what they can expect in the year to come.
Ayse: The school year starts in mid-September. The dates change depending on what Monday is the mid-September. The start day is ALWAYS a Monday. It ends in mid-June, always on a Friday. Brand new uniforms are worn on the first day of the school; students bring flowers to the teachers. First day is mostly all about catching up after the summer break. Lessons don’t start yet. We don’t have a lot of celebration for the start of the year, but we do a lot of celebration for the end of school year.
Nawaf, student at the International English Center at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, CA: The school starts at the end of August and ends at the end of April. When you go to school for the first time you get a big celebration that lasts for three days. During those days you are developing new friendships and get to know the other students. Teachers bring flowers for students and also food. There is no school, just various activities for three days to get used to everything.
Boys and girls go to different schools; usually you start school at the age of 6 and have six years of elementary school, three years of middle and three years of high school. Each level of school will be at a different school building that can be in different part of the neighborhood. Usually all the schools are for the neighborhood and you have the same classmates for all 12 years of school.
In the elementary school you will have about 20 students per class and in later years about 30. All the boys wear the white robe that is traditional attire but there is no specific school uniform. There is not much you need to buy for school as all the books, pens and pencils are provided by the school.
Sara, teacher of English at the International English Center at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, CA: Although there are no special celebrations, everyone get very excited about what they will wear on the first day of school. If you are not in a private school, you do not have to wear a uniform, so you usually go to the mall with your parents in the month before school and pick new clothes for school as well as new supplies.
Here’s a short interview with Sara:
Marie, Teacher of French and Spanish at a high school in Remo, NV.: Schools starts in early August and ends mid-June. In High School there is nothing particular on the first day of school but as part of the start of the school year there is a big assembly to show off the American football team, cheerleaders. New teachers are introduced and given games/challenges to do in front of everyone. (It’s very funny, nothing degrading or humiliating at all). Seniors have a special treat: breakfast at dawn on of the 1st mornings).
One memory I have is the first assembly with the crazy cheering and all the shouting: I thought I was in a movie, just like the ones we watch in France which are set in American High Schools.
Ani: It’s really a great tradition in Bulgaria where the whole town turns out for the first day of school to celebrate the beginning of the new school year. Children bring the teachers flowers and there is a long program that includes singing, speeches, poetry readings and dancing, and younger kids even play games. The games are silly and generally aimed at getting the students to work together, to get to know each other and to catch up with their school friends before we require that they sit still and silently in their chairs.
The thing that is different is that the 15th isn’t really a school day as in the States. We don’t have students sitting in their chairs, taking notes or anything else first-day-of-school like. The 15th is like a celebration of school rather than school. I have fond memories from my first days of “school”.
To read about the first days of school in Russia, Kuwait, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Korea, Iran, France, see this article on the Creative World of Varya!
Anna Watt is originally from Russia and majored in Education and Linguistics there. She lived in France where she received her Master’s Degree in International and Interactive Communication. Anna speaks fluent Russian, English and French and also knows some Spanish, German, Japanese and Italian. Anna loves education, languages and technology, so she is always involved in all three. Anna has always been involved in supporting and promoting the study of the Russian language, as well as introducing Russia’s language and culture to a variety of people world-wide. As a mother of young girls her recent project is books and a blog Russian Step By Step Children geared towards kids living outside a Russian-speaking country.