International Educators to Japan (IEJ) Program 2018 (2)
Teacher, English to Students of Other Languages (ESOL)
Fernbank Elementary School (Georgia, US)
From June 24 through July 5, 2018, IIST held the International Educators to Japan (IEJ) program to invite to Japan teachers and education-related personnel from the Western countries who are involved in education of Japanese students abroad. Following the previous issue, one of the participants gives her program report.
The Journey Begins
It all began when one of my Japanese students in my English to Students of Other Languages (ESOL) class excitedly handed me an application issued by the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Georgia (JCCG). The application was used to select participants for the International Educators to Japan (IEJ) program. The purpose of the program is to provide educators with insight about the culture, history, beliefs and daily lives of Japanese people in order to better meet the needs of Japanese students once they are in our classrooms.
My research about Japan began immediately following acceptance into the program. What I found in my research was a plethora of information about etiquette, history and an uncomfortable amount of information about public toilets. All the research I had conducted was not comparable to my actual experiences in Japan. My visit to Japan was a case of research v. reality. Prior to my visit to Japan I had the notion that I would have to be very serious with a very conservative wardrobe.
I suppose I had this misconception because of my actual experiences with my Japanese students. They all take their education seriously so the only side of themselves they reveal in class is serious and studious. The sense of fashion among the women and the sense of humor from many of the locals were pleasantly surprising. I witnessed both, first-hand with our guides; with people whom were on their way to work; with teachers and staff in schools that we visited and even a Buddhist monk.
My trip to Japan only lasted twelve days, which is not an efficient amount of time to completely understand a country and its people. I had the opportunity to participate in various cultural and historical activities/experiences, which makes it difficult to summarize my time spent in Japan. If I had to sum up what I have learned about Japan it would be: Pride, Presentation and Peace.
My experience was that there is a sense of pride in everything that is done in Japan; whether it is a storefront display, a beautifully presented meal; a meticulously-assembled outfit or a well-organized classroom. Japan should also take pride in how orderly things operate. Japan has a harmonious vibe throughout the country. People are courteous and considerate of one another in all realms of society; whether it is a shopping mall, the train station, a school or a restaurant. Another thing Japan takes pride in is their knowledge of their history, as they should. It seems as though everyone I encountered was well-versed in Japanese history.
Even in a city as busy as Tokyo there was organization and orderly systems in place for just about everything. Even something as simple as standing in line to wait for trains and buses was well thought out. In America, most train or subway stations have more of an “every man for himself” feel, which can often be cause for chaos and discord. Japan has a harmonious vibe throughout the country. People are courteous and considerate of one another in all realms of society, whether it is a shopping mall, the train station, a school or a restaurant. There is respect for nature, for elders, and personal space, etc. I think this is due in part to the fact that many people in Japan follow Shintoism and Buddhism.
There were several highlights during my time in Japan; one being a visit to an elementary school in Tokyo. Upon arrival to the school we were welcomed with an outdoor assembly and later an outstanding musical concert was performed in the gym by several fourth and fifth grade students. Up until the assembly I had quite a bit of anxiety - would the students like me? Would there be too much of a language barrier which would prevent a successful lesson? Do the teachers mind having me in their classroom? All my anxiety was dispelled once I saw the sweet, eager faces of the students that I would be teaching.
The teachers at the schools we visited work an extra day (than teachers in the U.S.) and seemingly longer hours but we all set the same goal for our students: success in and beyond the classroom. The private schools that we visited employed teachers from other countries. Several of those teachers decided to make Japan a permanent home for themselves and their families. That speaks volumes about a country when people willingly uproot their family and relocate to a place where they do not even speak the same language.
There were other non-school related activities that provided a more intimate view of the Japanese culture. I visited Fushimi Inari in Kyoto (Torii Gates). I also had the opportunity to try on kimonos at Suzunoya, a renowned kimono shop in Tokyo. I rode the bullet train (Shinakansen). The train system has a culture all its own. There is an unwritten rule to quietly coexist with other passengers. Most people are reading or occupying themselves with their phones (with headphones of course). When my group had free time some of us experienced fine dining and/or small family restaurants. All were exquisite! We toured Miyajima Island where deer roam freely amongst the tourists. We visited several temples, one of which was the largest wooden structure in the world—Todaiji; and the oldest wooden structure in the world-- Horyuji. We also visited the Peace Memorial Museum and the A-Bomb Dome in Hiroshima. There was a somber yet peaceful feeling about the city.
Everything about my experience in Japan was first class treatment and I always felt like an honored guest. This sentiment was especially felt during my home stay experience. When my group arrived at the Ikaruga Town Hall all the host families awaited with welcome signs. Once we met our host family we were entertained by a magnificent drumming performance and greeted by the mayor of Ikaruga.
After the ceremony we each left with our host families. My host family is the Yonemura Family. There is Ayuko - mother; Takashi - father; Meika - 9 year old daughter; Kouki - 6 year old son. I have never met a more hospitable family. They made sure my room was nice and cool because it had been extremely hot in Japan. The mother had prepared a lovely meal for me as well. I enjoyed showing off my chopstick skills. The next evening they showed off their skills with a fork when I made dinner for the family as a way to give them a glimpse into my life and as a thank you for their hospitality. I am certain that the Yonemura Family will forever be a part of my life.
In each city I visited I bought a souvenir. The most prized souvenir that I have brought back to the states with me is the realization that we are more alike than we are different. I am forever grateful for this experience and the lessons that it taught me.
About the Author
LaShia Brooks is a teacher in Atlanta, Georgia. She is originally from San Diego, California. She moved to Atlanta eighteen years ago and began to make Atlanta her home. She has always loved working with children so she chose teaching as her career choice. LaShia has taught elementary school for fourteen years. Out of those fourteen years, she has taught English to Students of Other Languages (ESOL) for the DeKalb County School System in Atlanta, Georgia for four years. Throughout those years there have been many experiences that have influenced her teaching. One of the most recent experiences was her trip to Japan this summer. LaShia will use her knowledge gained by her experience in Japan to better understand and therefore better serve her students.