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Final Post: Home from Perth, Australia!

Hello Ning blog readers,

I am writing from Canada! It is crazy to think that only a few days ago I was across the world. The jet lag has been more intense than I was anticipating, but I am slowly adjusting. It is difficult to articulate exactly what this experience has meant for me, but I can say with confidence that I’m glad I decided to take this once in a lifetime opportunity. It’s amazing to think how much I did in the span of three months, both in regards to teaching and traveling.

My final two weeks in Australia were amazing. I traveled to a small town south of Perth to visit an exclusively Indigenous school, and it was an eye-opening experience. Most of the students do not live in the town, but get bussed in for days or weeks at a time. Many of them come from a difficult home life and enter the formal education system with little or no preparation. Though there were behavioural issues with some of the students, the majority of them were well-behaved and thrilled to have a visitor in the class. Many of them have physical delays so they start their morning with a half hour physical routine that includes stretching, balance, strength and meditation. The teacher said that the difference she’s seen over a couple of months from using that program have been phenomenal. I definitely intend to incorporate physical breaks into my classroom time, because that type of activity is just as important as traditional school work.

My final week in Australia was spent at a small independent school in a small surf town three hours south of Perth (Margaret River). They have classes for pre-school to grade 7, and there are less than 100 students attending. I found this school fascinating because of their focus on “virtues”- things like compassion, assertiveness, diligence, and truthfulness (there is a list of over 50 virtues; I will attach a picture). They focus on one of these per week. They also do not use a typical reward/punishment system, instead using a “natural consequences” system. E.g., if you draw on the wall, the natural consequence is that you have to clean it up. The school is also surrounded by nature, as it is ten minutes outside of the town. They have class-tended flowers and vegetables growing throughout the school grounds, and they have a designated nature trail where they do plant and insect studies. I can’t exaggerate how much I enjoyed my time at this school. I have filed away many of the practices I saw here for future use in my classroom.

Overall, my experience abroad in Perth was amazing. I got to observe and teach in many different schools, each with their own unique approach to education. I learned something at every stop I made, and have made sure to record every piece that I want to take forward with me in my career. Although I had an incredible experience, I am relieved to be back home with my family and friends. The time difference between Canada and Australia was large, so it feels good to be in the same place and time zone as everyone again (even though there’s approximately a 40 degree drop in temperature between Perth and Calgary). I am excited to start my practicum with grade 2, and am looking forward to the holidays as well.

I will miss Australia, and can’t wait to go back someday. The value of studying and teaching abroad cannot be overstated, and I encourage anyone considering it to go for it. It is an experience that you will remember forever, and you will learn so much about yourself and gain so much knowledge that will help you in your future career. For me, it is on to the next chapter, but I know this will not be my last teaching exchange. Now that I have the confidence to travel on my own and put myself in new situations, I can look forward to a future full of more opportunities like TAB.

That’s all for now. Thanks to anyone who has been keeping up with my blog! I look forward to reading everyone’s posts from this year and from future years! As promised, a few pictures from the small independent school in Margaret River: 

Class-tended gardens:

Nature trail: 

List of virtues: 

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Oh the Places You'll go!

Tonight as I ready my equipment, and pack for our trip to Kalgoorlie I am reminded of some of the most relevant advice I have read for being a stranger in a strange place.  

Our readings this semester, as well as our travels have made me contemplate my own sense of displacement.  This has lead me to contemplate further about how indigenous students, who should be most at home in lands like Australia and Canada, experience their own sense of place, knowing that they are uniquely at once at home and yet surrounded in a dominant culture that can be all too unwelcoming at times.  

I will leave this thought with some very sage words from Dr. Seus:

 
"And when you're alone there's a very good chance
you'll meet things that scare you right out of your pants
There are some, down the road between hither and yon,
that can scare you so much you won't want to go on....
 
--You will come to a place where the streets are not marked.
Some windows are lighted. but mostly they're darked. 
A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin! 
Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in?
How much can you lose? How much can you win?...
 
--I'm afraid that some times
you'll play lonely games too.
Games you can't win
'cause you'll play against you.” 
― Dr. SeussOh, The Places You'll Go!
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This is Now!

I have been in Japan for less than 5 days now, and it already feels like home.  My homestay family is so kind and generous in accommodating me and introducing me to Japanese social culture, food, etc. The minute I landed in Japan, it has been action packed. I have tried new variety of tabemono (which is Japanese for food) here in Japan.  I have tried physical activity and sports like kayaking, soccer, basketball, and even camping upon my arrival with my host family. When I asked my host mom about why the reception for me was so generous, she said that it is because I was a kind person. This is one of the traits that a professional educator needs to have in order to be successful and in order to build an efficient rapport with the students and their parents/guardians.  Other thing I learned that in Japan, as a professional, what you wear reflects your personality a great deal. I observed here that a lot of working professionals wear formal or semi-formal dress every day to work.  It is how you present yourself to the students in the class and colleagues at work that really counts.  As an educator, we are expected to live under certain professional standards, and dressing well is definitely one of them.  Another thing that I observed in my first few days in Japan is that how students including my homestay brother who is in grade two are encouraged to be independent. A lot of young school children here take public transit on their own, unlike what I have noticed back in Canada.

Language barrier at times can be a problem in Japan and communicating with my host family, who seldom speak English, can be an issue.  But, as a future teacher, we are expected to dive into an unknown or a spontaneous situation and make it work somehow. This is exactly what I have been doing. While I am getting some Japanese language and I am working hard to practice it with my peers or my homestay family, it is still too early for me to start making complete sentences in Japanese.  Therefore, I am using multi-modal means of communicating with my host family, who do not speak much English. I use Google translate to convert certain English words into Japanese while communicating with local people here. Most importantly, I constantly try to use images, videos, symbols, and even music or sounds to enunciate my points across with local people here. This is what as a teacher I will be doing, which is using different methods of engagement and activities to get the material across to students in most proficient way possible.

In my first weekend here in Japan, my host family took me to their son’s school athletics meet or sport’s day (Japanese style). This event included a lot of marching parade, costumes, music, dancing, multiple sport activities such as track and field, relay race, etc. There was even popular culture theme such music from Star Wars, Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber playing in the Sports event.  I find that this reference to popular culture engages the students to perform better, and sounds and looks cool to the school children. Schools in Japan have a culture to get parents involved proactively into their children’s event. Parents in my homestay brother’s school dressed up as popular characters such as Dory and Nemo in order to entertain the students. Family members of the students also participated alongside with them in few of the sports activities.  It seems a highly participatory school culture and this is something that I will emphasize more in my teaching career.  

After my awe-inspiring first weekend in Japan, I have to say that sometime in life, one has to take a chance to try something different because they never know what wonderful things are waiting for them on the other side.  

Dear Werklund School of Education and Dr. Dressler, thank you for this opportunity. Until next time, I will leave this blog post with a Japanese proverb on Education:

Better than a thousand days of diligent study is one day with a great teacher.”

鋭意検討のより良いよりも千日は偉大な教師との1日です。

Eii kentō no yoriyoi yori mo sen-nichi wa idaina kyōshi to no 1-nichidesu.

 

Oyasuminasai!

(Goodnight)                            

from Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan. 

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ホーム (Hōmu) away from home

Kon'nichiwa! Rhey-desu.

About three weeks ago, I left my happy home in Canada to travel across the world to the beautiful country of Japan. For the past couple of weeks, I have had the privilege of exploring various southern regions of Japan. However, I arrived in Sapporo, Hokkaido almost one week ago to start the Teaching Across Borders (TAB) program exchange with the HUE (Hokkaido University of Education-Sapporo Campus) and so far it has been a dream!

I chose to apply for TAB so that I could form a better understanding as an aspiring educator who constantly thinks of her future students, of what it would feel like to navigate through unfamiliar environments. Living and learning in this country has truly altered my initial perspective of only being utterly lost in translation. Throughout my travels in Japan and specifically here in Sapporo, I am always welcomed with excitement and warm smiles! Japanese people are very kind and are always willing to lend a hand whether it be some university students taking time to give you a city tour, people helping to carry your things, offering you a seat on the subway to even walking with you to your destination when you need assistance with directions (for example, when I got lost getting back to my homestay!). When I first met my host family, I was astonished at the efforts they made to welcome me into their home. My host-family has made this transition from Canada to Japan very easy and for that I am so grateful, and relieved! Each day they make me feel as if I am more than just a student or foreigner in Japan; I am a member of their family and I belong here.

When thinking about the profession of teaching, one is always trying to figure out ways to adhere to all students’ needs, make each child feel like they belong in the class while creating a safe and positive space for learning. So far, being a part of HUE and residing with my Japanese host-family has taught me a lot about the importance of inclusion. Both the school and our host families have come together to build community.

As much as there may be a language and cultural barrier between us, I feel very safe, I feel at home. Communicating with one another is quite simple even if we come from different cultures, backgrounds, different countries of the world because of the efforts they have made to learn more English for me as I learn more Japanese to understand them. This ties in with my belief that as an educator, empathizing and trying to understand my students will be fundamental in providing support for their learning.

In a few days’ time, in addition to our Japanese language classes at HUE we will also be visiting many schools within the Sapporo area to see first-hand what the Japanese education system looks like in practice! I hope to learn more about how classroom teachers get to know their students and what each school does to foster a strong community.

I’ll keep you posted but as for now, I’ll leave it at that! Mata ne!

Rhey

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