2015 International Educators to Japan (IEJ) Program
Special Education Teacher
Montemalaga Elementary School
San Pedro, CA, USA
The Institute for International Studies and Training held the International Educators to Japan (IEJ) program over 22 June-2 July 2015. The aim of this program is to bring educators from Europe and the US who are involved in the education of Japanese schoolchildren to Japan to experience the Japanese education environment, as well as Japanese history and culture, so that they can utilize that experience back in their own teaching environments. One of the 29 educators participating in this year's program, Ms. Alison Martinovich, an elementary school teacher from Los Angeles, gives her impressions of the program.
"Change your thoughts and you change your world." - Norman Vincent Peale
Impactful, life changing, grateful, enlightening, incredible, irreplaceable, profound, most memorable, truly connected, mind opening, transformative, and a cornucopia of knowledge. These are a few of the words that have come to mind to describe my experience in Japan. To be able to represent California, the JBA Southern California chapter, and to be the representative of the 2015 IEJ group of international educators has left such an imprint on my heart and mind. My professional and personal views of culture and education have been changed forever.
The Japanese people and culture are truly one of a kind. Throughout my entire trip I was met with kindness, generosity, thoughtfulness, and respect. Every person we formally met at schools, temples, or shrines, to the stranger at the subway station who we asked for directions were so kind and open to help a complete stranger. The pride and respect that everyone has for their culture, community, and neighbors were constantly shocking in a good way. Every city we visited in Japan was so clean but yet there were no trash cans. The sense of community and responsibility of that community was immanent. The generosity to help and assist complete strangers was always so eye opening. Language was no issue with the use of technology, apps, pictures, and hand gestures. Every person I came across was more than willing to help us find our way or give recommendations.
Throughout the entire program there was a great mixture of organized and planned events with opportunities to explore and sightsee on your own. I, along with my six other California representatives took every chance we had to maximize this special opportunity to get out and explore this amazing place. We started from day one waking up at 3:00am (which was easier than we first thought due to the time change) and attempting to try and visit the famous Tsukiji Fish Market. We ended up missing the actual auction but walked around and watched shops open and ate food that we had never seen before.
In Tokyo we also had the opportunity to go to the Yokohama DeNA BayStars vs the Yomiuri Giants baseball game at The Tokyo Dome. This was one of the best experiences. As Americans we were familiar with attending professional baseball games but this was like any other baseball game we had ever been to. The game was the same but the cheering squads and fan base were like none other. We made friends with fans that we sat next to who knew very little English but with technology and the understanding love for the game we quickly became apart of the cheering squad.
We also walked around and shopped in different areas such as Harajuku, participated in the marvel that is the Shibuya Intersection, and experienced Japan pop-culture first hand at the Robot Restaurant. As we were packing up to leave Tokyo we felt that we had already done and seen so much how could the rest of the trip top what we had done and seen in the last four days. In traveling to Nara, Hiroshima, Miyajima, and Kyoto gave us even more unforgettable places and experiences. Being able to meet and personally speak with and get a guided tour by a monk at the Todaiji temple in Nara was one of the most special things I have ever experience in my life. Getting to learn about the home of the Great Buddha and get literally up close and personal with the 49 foot statue was very humbling and spiritual. Traveling by bullet train to Hiroshima and taking a ferry ride to see the "floating" O-torii gate, wandered around the island and walking through the Senjokaku shrine, the Daishoin temple, and the Five-Storied pagoda made you feel like you were in yet another country. Having the opportunity to reflect and witness first hand a Hiroshima survivor who preached the message of peace and friendship was awe inspiring. We ended our trip in Kyoto where we visited more stunning and moving shrines and temples.
Every school that we visited we were welcomed with open arms. Remembering the countless smiles, waves, and peace signs given by the students warms my heart. Their willingness to speak in English and practice what they knew was so exciting to be a part of. No matter what level of English, every student wanted to give it a chance and ask questions in English and about the United States. Taking part in teaching a lesson was the most beneficial experience. I taught a first and second grade class. All of the students were so accommodating, excited, and helpful.
The responsibility that the students have at each school for their academics, their classroom, and school was so refreshing to see. Not one student seemed to feel that cleaning the classroom, learning, teaching, and helping one another was a "job" but more of a privilege. I loved to see the formal beginning and ending of each part of the day thanking the teacher for teaching them. I learned from teaching my lessons, visiting different schools, and staying with my host family that Japanese families give a lot of responsibilities to their children. I saw everything from cleaning the classroom, portioning out food and serving lunch to classmates, to a six year old holding his own subway ticket through three different train changes without him losing it once. Holding children to a higher standard was something that seemed to be natural; but not overbearing at all. I will take with me the sense of community and how the students are taught to be such a huge part of the community even at a young age.
There is no way I can ever repay the IIST, IEJ, and JBA Southern California chapter for giving me this opportunity to come to Japan, visit and teach at different schools, taste the food, be apart of someone's home, talk with monks, visit shrines and temples, feed deer, meditate in Zen gardens, paint handkerchiefs, be professionally dressed in a kimono, listen to a Hiroshima survivor's story, visit four major cities, and travel about 800 miles in 10 days. For this I am ever in dept. The leaders, donors, organizers, translators, and tour guides all have a special place in my heart and from the bottom of that heart I thank you.
(Original article: English)