2017 International Educators to Japan (IEJ) Program (1)
From welcomed to belonged…How 10 Days in Japan Changed my Life.
From welcomed to belonged…How 10 Days in Japan Changed my Life.
Culverdale Elementary School
Irvine, CA, USA
IIST held the International Educators to Japan (IEJ) program over 18 June-29 June 2017. 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. 3 of the 28 participants this year contributed their impressions of the program. The 3 articles are going to be published in two consecutive issues; No. 0271 and 0272 (31/Oct./2017). Here is one of the articles, by Aaron Jetzer, Principal of Culverdale Elementary School from Irvine, California.
Where do I begin?
The excitement of traveling to a new country for the first time was more than I anticipated. Everyone I knew who had traveled outside of the United States was providing me with tips and suggestions of what to do and how to do it. I reached out to my Japanese community while at school, and they assured me that everything about Japan was first class and that the Japanese people would take care of me in a way that I could never expect. So I headed to Los Angeles airport, met my seven Southern California colleagues, and boarded the plane. Little did I know that the hospitality and generosity I received on the plane were a precursor to the next ten days. 13 hours later we landed in Tokyo, navigated through customs, and were greeted by the first of who were to be many people to guide us on our adventure.
We didn’t know our first attempt to immerse ourselves in the Japanese culture would be at the hotel food court. Our adventure began by trying to figure out how a vending machine would help us to order food. We likely looked like we didn’t belong as we could not figure out how to order food while everyone else made it look so simple. But that was the point of all this. To make us feel uncomfortable. To help us understand what it may feel like for a family from Japan who is moving into our school, and adapting to our customs, and ways of life. I'm going to guess that our initial struggle to satisfy our hunger by ordering food was not intended to be our first experience on our journey to that understanding. But it set the stage for us to be open and humble to what was to come.
After a brief morning orientation where we were presented with an overview of our timeline, we embarked to the first of a number of schools. (Where I saw one of my former students!) As a principle of an elementary school I anticipated that this would be the most fascinating part of my stay. It was my opportunity to get an inside look at the inner workings of the schools in Japan. To see how teachers did what they did, how students did what they did, and how principals ran their schools. I had a lot of questions:
• How was the school environment and schedule different than what I did?
• How are students accessing the content to help them move forward?
• How did students behave relative to the students in the United States?
• Did the Japanese students act the same way in Japan as they did in our schools?
And...my biggest takeaway of visiting the various schools is…
KIDS ARE KIDS!
• They want the same things.
• They act the same way.
• They want to be accepted.
• Teachers want to develop relationships.
I did gain a couple of unique perspectives. I expected a country so known for a cutting-edge tech to provide students with much more access than what I saw. I expected students to be more formal, but in fact I noticed quite the opposite. Students were excited, talkative, and full of energy. This is very different than how Japanese students act when they come to the United States which makes me wonder “why?” Students showed a tremendous amount of respect to their teachers. When students were engaged and talking, the teacher could quickly get them to refocus. There was a balance of play and rigor, and students were trusted to find that balance. Each school we visited seemed to be built upon the core value of community. It is expected that everyone is doing what is best for everyone, and each person is a critical piece of the community. The focus on character development helps to build a strong foundation for each person, and this focus resonates in everything we saw both inside and outside of the schools while we were there. It is evident the entire culture has learned these values as in restaurants, the streets, the subway stations, and anywhere else we went people seemed to behave in a way that was in the best interest of everybody. In doing so, they were ultimately creating the best environment for their individual and collective success.
Aside from visiting the schools we were able to experience the Japanese culture and way of life through real life experiences. We took the Shinkansen to Hiroshima and visited the Peace Park. I was impressed both by the memorial created to honor those who were lost, and even more by the way the city has embraced the memory of the tragic bombing with the intent to forward the message that we need to live in harmony.
We witnessed the religious and cultural heritage of the country by touring many temples and shrines in each of the cities we visited. There was a continuous stream of people visiting these landmarks and paying tribute, and even with the large number of people at each location, there was a sense of serenity. Everything seemed to flow naturally. The respectful blend of camera-wielding tourists and locals seeking mecca was something I have never seen. I marveled at the design of the Miyajima Temple and larger-than-life buddha at Todaiji, and I was humbled at our behind the scene visit with the local monk.
My time with my host family was an absolute joy. I had the pleasure of living with a couple and their three children for two days. Their hospitality and welcoming demeanor quickly helped me get over my nervousness and embrace my opportunity to shift from tourist to local. Playing games with the children and eating dinner with the family while struggling to converse helped me realize there are so many ways to communicate beyond words. We were communicating with smiles and laughter, and never for a moment did I feel uncomfortable. I thank them for opening their home to a complete stranger to provide that experience.
We were fortunate to have two free days....one in Kyoto and one in Tokyo. I know the intent of me writing this is to put into words my experience, but I don’t think that’s possible. I don’t know if it was good fortune, but every moment in both cities was amazing. We walked, bussed, subwayed, and taxied our way around both cities, and from our first to our 50,000th step, we soaked it all in. Our group repeatedly remarked, “It can’t get better than this.” and then it did! The food, the shops, the walking in the crowded streets...everywhere we went we found fun. We sang karaoke with the locals in an English Pub, had teppan style kobe beef and steak prepared by a three-generation family, found underground coffee shops, and were asked to join a birthday party at a sake bar! We not only felt welcomed...we felt as if we belonged.
The warmth and hospitality I felt from the moment we arrived were different than any experience I’ve ever had. Our mix of guided tours, school visits, and free time provided a perfect balance to experience the culture, customs, and lifestyle of Japan. I cannot thank IEJ enough for this amazing experience. I don’t want to exclude any of our organizers or tour guides, so please accept this thank you to everyone who made this adventure one that I will never forget. Know I will take what I’ve learned and work to make Japanese students and families in the US feel more comfortable and support their needs so they can feel as welcomed as I felt in Japan.
(original article : English)
• The 42nd International Educators to Japan Program (IEJ Program 2017)