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japan (130)

Adjusting

Adjusting to Japan has been an adventure within itself. The history and culture of Japan differs so much from that in Canada. The best way I can think of describing it is organized chaos. There is so much happening all at once, but everyone follows the rules and directions, so it does not become chaotic. Its been difficult, as our first week here comprised of us getting used to having “new families” and homes, the beginning of a new semester and assignments due within the first week, as well as adjusting to a new schedule and way of life. On top of that, there has also been some not so fun challenges that have popped up. Transportation costs are much higher than I expected, so I have had to cut back on many things to adjust for this, as well as find creative ways to get to school cheaper.

That being said, these past two weeks have gone by in a flash due to all that we have had to do. Between our morning Japanese classes, our school visits, and our assignments it feels as though the days plan themselves almost. The Japanese classes have been incredibly helpful in helping me adjust to life in Japan. I am not even close to being fluent, but I can now have a basic conversation with people in Japanese, ask for directions, be able to tell the time, and know my numbers (which has been very helpful when purchasing food).

We have had two school visits at this point, and they have been complete opposites of one another. The first school was a rural elementary and jr. high, that only had 24 students in it. It was very interesting to see the dynamics of the classes as many of them had one teacher and two students. The largest class we saw had five students in it, but it was a split grade class. During my past practicum I relied heavily on group work and discussions to facilitate my lessons, and was struck at how difficult it must be to plan a lesson with only two students.

The second school we visited was a Jr. high which was affiliated with HUE. The school was closer to what we see in Calgary, with the average number of students being 33 per class. The dynamic within this school differed greatly from the dynamic within Shippu, as there were more students in a class than Shippu had in its whole school. In Shippu each student knew one another, regardless of grade, as they have to put all of the grades together for classes like gym. In the affiliated Jr. high, it was more of what we see in Calgary where you know your class and a few others from your grades, but there is no connections between the different grade levels.

These past two weeks have been incredibly busy, but so rewarding! Seeing the differences and similarities between not only Canada versus Japan, but within schools in Japan itself has been super intersting to note! I can't wait to see and learn more!3562216218?profile=RESIZE_710x

(The largest class at Shippu)3562214292?profile=RESIZE_710x

(The average class at the affiliated school)

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The First Time

It has been two weeks since I am in Osaka, and starting to get more familiar with this school. First, getting used to go out shopping or dine-out without speaking Japanese is a really essential ability I have to master. Very frequently, I have to use a lot of body language instead of verbal langague to communicate with other people or using traslating Apps(Google translate is really useful!!!!) After that is to navigate in the city, finding my apartment from stations, finding grocery stores and even the school. It does take time, but nothing is too difficult. Our liaison, Hinode San is very kind to provide a lot of  assistance and tips for my stay in Osaka. 

Everything here in Suito Kokusai School is amazing and fascinating. Our school is kind of on an island. I can see the ocean and pass the harbour every time I take the train to school. You will also see other life froms in the school such as gigantic praying mentis and water lily. The temperature here is still 35-36 degree Celsium and it remains quite warm even after sunset. So, there are a lot more plants and trees growing here. In the school, students are learning English as an additional language(EAL) in the shcool. The EAL office is where we all stationed at. Hannah, Aubrey and Nicole are the three EAL teachers that work beside us to help all of us in our practicum. In Global Study class, students learned various vocabularies related to social topics while learning English as well. It was really fun to see their dictionary that they created, and it reminds me of my own when I was learning English in China.

I am gradually starting to exploring the city of Osaka. There are a lot of interesting places that I have yet to see. Looking forward to it all!!!!

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School Visits

I can't believe that we are already two weeks into the TAB program. We've settled into our homestays and have started getting used to the routine here. This past week, we had the chance to visit two schools. One school is a rural school that consists of grades 1-9. The other school is a junior high school affilitaed with the Hokkaido University of Education. Although both schools are located in Hokkaido and follow Japan's national curriculum, there were many striking differences between the two schools. 

The first school we visited was a rural school that consisted of an elementary and junior high combined together, which is very rare here.The school only has 24 students, 11 in elementary and 13 in junior high. The number of teachers they have is almost the same as the number of students. The class sizes are very small, with some grades only having one student. Due to this, some classes have teachers teaching two grades at the same time. We had the chance to talk to the students and do a presentation introducing ourselves and Canada. In return, the students also did a small presentation about themselves for us. We also had the chance to eat lunch with them, and found out that the vegetables in the lunch were actually grown by the students in the school garden! After lunch, we joined the students in cleaning the school. The cleaning groups consisted of students from all grades and also included teachers. However, the instructions for the cleaning sessions for each group was actually given out by an older student. They were quickly assigned their roles and got to cleaning. After cleaning, we joined the students as they engaged in a school-wide activity time, which was tag that day. I found that the students had a great relationship with all of the other students, regardless of grade and age. The day passed in the blink of an eye, and we soon had to get on the bus to return to the university. As the bus drove off, the students ran alongside the bus, waving goodbye to us all. Unfortunately, the school will be closed down next year due to the number of students being too low. The students will be joining other schools in the nearby area that have regular-sized classes, which makes me wonder how well they will be able to adapt since they will be going from small classes with one-on-one teachings to large classes with countless other students that they don't know.

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The second school we visited was the junior high school affiliated with the Hokkaido University of Education. This school is of a similar size to those that we can find in Calgary. There are 3 grades for each class, and each class have around 36 students. Students are seated in boy-girl pairs, with all desks facing the front. Similar to the other school, we had the chance to eat lunch with the students. I found that these students were much more proactive in telling us about themselves and asking questions about us. After lunch, we got to see an English lesson, and even participate in it. The teacher organized an activity where the students split into six groups and had to fill in a venn diagram about the similarities and differences between Canadian and Japanese junior highs. The students followed instructions extremely quickly, and within 10 seconds, had already had all of their desks moved to form pods. This same movement of desks would have taken much longer in schools in Canada. We each joined a group and the students asked us any questions they could think of. Most of the questions were yes or no questions, however some questions required a more detailed response.

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It was so enriching for us to be able to see such different schools. While there were some differences between the two schools, I found that most students in Japanese schools tend to have similar experiences due to their national curriculum. However, Canadian schools differ so much that every student expereinces something different based on the school and classes they had. It was also interesting for us to see how the Japanese schools taught English, since I feel that we are never truly taught how to teach English back in Canada. I can't wait to see what our next school visits have in store for us.

 

Until next time.

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Teaching in a Blade Runner Metropolis

Despite being next to bears, mountains and Calgary-esque fresh air, Sapporo still maintains the neon lights and futuristic feel of it's bigger brother Tokyo. There's something special about coming from a quaint country school by the sea and flower fields and then being surrounded by the glowing signs on towering buildings. I really wish I caught the showing of Blade Runner that was playing here but why watch it when you can experience it? I look forward to going from the humble classrooms and straight into this futuristic set piece. Of course the Japanese language classes at the university comes in handy when trying to decode all the great neon signs, lending to an almost instantly gratifying language and cultural learning experience. More to come! jyaa, mata ne!

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Settling In

3555318645?profile=RESIZE_710x A week has passed now, and it has flown by alarmingly quickly. I’ve grown pretty close to my host family - it helps that we share a lot of the same interests - and I really feel great coming home after a long day at university. The air here is so fresh, I feel healthier just walking around the town. I am fortunate enough to only be a 20 minute walk from campus, and I get to cut through a park as well. The green spaces here are well thought out, and you can tell that there is an emphasis on balancing natural spaces within the cities and towns.

Our first school visit took place this Monday, and it was an amazing experience. We are already off to a great start! The school has a population of around 50, split fairly evenly between students and staff. Some classrooms only have three students, and sometimes even these classes have a mix of grades. As surreal as it was to observe this, I thought about the experiences these students are being exposed to. Growing up with a few other peers, with near one-to-one communication with your teacher must be a fulfilling experience, in the sense that you form close community bonds while being exposed to a personalised education plan.

Of course, this experience must feel fairly isolating, especially at older ages. I think that I would end up being really bored all the time, and I would not have the skills needed to navigate large crowds and deal with the rush of a larger city. There is also an economic factor to consider, as the school would consume a fair amount of resources for only a few students.

For this reason, the school is closing down next year, which made our visit bittersweet. The students were so friendly and happy however, and I had a great time talking with them. I will never forget our departure, when the students ran down the field to follow our bus as we took our leave. 

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Adaptation

Hello readers back home and abroad,

       I have been in Hokkaido now for just over one week living with my host family. They are extremely welcoming and kind, which makes the transition from life in Canada much easier. They have been generously helping me in my quest for endless Kit Kat flavours, for which I am extremely grateful (the weight of my suitcase would disagree).

       Today we set out on our first school visit to Shippu school, a rural school with only 24 students of combined grade levels. This is quite rare in Japan I am told, as the schools system here is mainly separated by elementary (1-6), junior high (7-9) and high school (10-12). There is also a separate school for kindergarten which begins at age 3 and goes for three years, to age 5. All students entering grade 1, must be 6 years old.

       This will unfortunately be the last year that Shippu is open, as it must consolidate with another schools due to low admission. We were greeted by the school administrators who welcomed us with open arms. They gave us a tour of the school where we saw classes in progress. Most classes only had 3-5 students in them, which gave the learning a very personalized feel. The hallway art was vast and varied from projects on where food in japan comes from, to summer cooking assignments. We were so happy to be invited and enjoyed introducing ourselves and Canada to the students. The students also had presentations prepared for us, and were excited to practice their English.

       We were welcomed to lunch and ate with the students as they asked us questions about Canada. As is tradition in Japanese schools, the students cleaned their school and classrooms after lunch and we were invited to help, I was given sweeping duty. We finished off our day with a school wide game of tag, (in the 32 degree heat), it was a sweaty but a great time. As we drove away on the bus, the children ran beside waving. I am grateful to have visited Shippu and been apart of their community in their last year.

        As far as adapting to my new schedule here in japan, with 20 hours of required TAB activities per week (language learning, seminars and school visits) 2 hours and 20 minutes of transit time per day and two online courses that require multiple posts/discussions/readings/assignments per week, I am feeling overwhelmed. There is definitely a sense of panic setting in as I try to manage my time and hope to explore the beautiful country I am in. I am definitely starting to understand why everyone here is always in a deep sleep on the train!

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” Nelson Mandela

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Busy start and many surprises

There has been a lot of things happening before I leave Canada. I had some issues with Passports, Visa, job and flight. I had to change my passport before I can start applying for my Japanese Visa. Getting ready was an easy and difficult job to do. I have to guess what I need to bring on a daily basis, and I guess I was just being nervous to go to a country that I barely know the language of. 

My first flight got delayed by two hours, and Air Canada had to cancel my flights and book me again through another route to Osaka. Eventually, I arrived at Kansai Airport 1 hour later than planned. However, nothing can stop me from getting excited to Japan and to meet people in Osaka. I am so looking forward to this experience and learning everything I can from all parts of it!

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The end of one journey, the start of the next

3539165239?profile=RESIZE_710xI have been in Japan for over three weeks now, traveling around Tokyo, Kyoto, and finally Osaka. Each city so vastly unique in what it has to offer. To my surprise, everyday was hot and humid, much like Vietnam, however, I’m slowly noticing the weather cooling down a bit as its been quite rainy recently, along with the trees changing colour (Fall is coming!!). My days started with a full itinerary of adventures consisting of bustling areas, serene moments, and my childhood fascinations fulfilled. My obsessions with Matcha related food items and Takoyaki have been satisfied! I’ve also developed a new favorite food item – Okonomiyaki! Now that I've settled in the "Kitchen of Japan", with food stalls on almost every street, I can't wait to try out everything!

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3539171499?profile=RESIZE_710xAlong my travels, many moments had me really admiring Japanese culture and its people. From the very first moment I stepped off the plane, until now, I’ve always felt extremely welcomed and cared for, despite the language barriers - I’m still at the beginning stages of learning the language. To such an extent that I would say based on my experiences thus far, Japanese culture exemplifies ideal aspects of humanity. From the smallest of things, such as always being greeted when entering and leaving in shops/restaurants, to cashiers/strangers chasing down other strangers to return their forgotten items/ money. I can’t say how welcoming these small greetings and gestures are, which goes beyond just language, but rather from within. As an emerging educator, this really emphasizes and goes to prove the importance of welcoming each and every single student!

I'm used to a culture where we just seem to be passerbyers of others, where there is lack of acknowledgement with strangers we interact with. This contrasts my experiences here where the general public seem to be always looking out for one another and are mindful of their surroundings, ensuring they don't inconvenience anyone, also often go above and beyond to be of assistance. This has constantly been evident when I look lost trying to find my way around and a stranger would approach to help, and at times, to my greatest surprise, to go out of their way to walk with me to where I wanted to go.

3539145130?profile=RESIZE_710xI am also extremely impressed with everyone’s self-regulation. The streets, and public transportation are incredibly clean- especially for cities that have millions of people, with not many garbage cans laying around. I’m further impressed by the punctuality of the trains, especially the Shinkansen which has records of only being delayed by seconds. One interesting and strange thing I noticed from having traveled by rail a lot, is that the operators here constantly engage in self-conversation while making vigorous gestures pointing around. I later learned that the reason behind all of this is due to a technique for error-prevention. Apparently, this method of pointing and calling stuff out reduces workplace errors by 85%. This makes me wonder how this technique could be modified for students/teachers in school, and how effective it might be?3539185152?profile=RESIZE_710xAs I finish off my reflection of my journey thus far, and begin my research into Japan’s education system, I am both excited and nervous to official start my TAB experience tomorrow. Regardless, I am looking forward to what’s ahead, hoping to engage in the reciprocity of funds of knowledge and experiences.

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The Beginning

I can't believe that I'm finally here about to start my time in Osaka. I'm currently in Tokyo and will be taking a Shinkansen (bullet train) to Osaka in just a few hours, and tomorrow I'll be going to my school in Osaka for an orientation. It all seems so unreal. I've been looking forward to going on TAB since I started my degree and now it's finally happening. This isn't my first time in Japan, so there haven't been any surprises yet, but I'm looking forward to seeing if I do experience any type of culture shock later in my journey. There are so many things I'm anticipating. Most obvious being gaining valuable teaching experience in a foreign country, but I'm also really looking forward to living on my own in a fascininating and vibrant country. I do have a decent understanding of Japanese, and actually am a TA at the Calgary Japanese Language school, as such I'm hoping to improve on my current understanding of the language and hope that it will help me get closer to my students and coworkers and mentors here. I'm also really curious to see whether teaching English as a second language will have any parallels to how we teach Japanese as a second language in Canada. 

 

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Departures

I have been in Japan for ten days now, taking a long overdue solo vacation far from home. I have never had the opportunity to be by myself for such an extended period of time, least of all in a new environment, but I always thought that it would be something I enjoy and thrive on. With that being said, I am not sure how likely it is that I will be attempting this again. As much fun as I have had keeping my own schedule, doing whatever I felt like, not worrying about anyone but myself… I have also had periods of what I could only consider existential dread. Luckily for me, I had friends and family back home who were more than willing to talk to me, ground me, and make sure I felt safe and comfortable. Eventually, I became more open to my situation, and now I am almost missing the past few days of freedom. Almost. Maybe travelling with just one other person is enough isolation for me.

Now that our program is starting in earnest, I am looking forward to such a host of experiences. I cannot wait to meet my homestay family, to get to know them and learn from them. I cannot wait to connect more with my classmates, as we experience this program together. I cannot wait to learn more about Japan, a country I have been fascinated with since I was young. Finally, I cannot wait to learn more about myself, and what kind of individual I am when I do not have the luxury of my home network to ground me 24/7. How I develop is something that makes me nervous, curious, and eager to get started.

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Looking Ahead

       As I wind down here from my pre Haokkaido adventures at the Nartia nine hours pod hostel, I begin to look toward my new scheldue that awaits me in Sapporo. So far on my journey through Tokyo, Hakone, Kyoto and Osaka, I have begun to discover the cultural differences and frutstrions thay can arise when you come to a country without speaking the language. My initial reasons for wanting to be a TAB participant, were to better understand ELL students mentality, as well as to gain knowledge and experience from the teachers here in Japan. My pre TAB journey thus far has helped me to better understand my first goal of the program. As this leg of my journey ends, I am excited to move forward to Sapporo, establish my routine and meet my host family!

       My aspirations for my time here are to simply take in as many experiences as I can. I want to learn as much as possible from the skilled teachers that I will be working with. I hope to better understand cultural variations on learning and teaching, as well as to deepen my understanding of ELL education. Overall, I want to absorb and carry with me different techniques for teaching back to Canada and incorproate them into my future classroom. I am excited to develop connections with teachers here in japan and broaden my professional relationships and understanding. 

“Education is not the filling of a pot but the lighting of a fire.”
— W.B. Yeats

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Preparations

Only a day ago I was frantically packing my bag, trying to think of things that I may or may not have forgotten to bring. It reminded me very much of my first day working, anxious and full of excitement over making a simple drink. In hindsight, just like many other things in life, it wasn't such a big deal. I realized that halfway in and my worries faded; I ended up replacing them with a hope that I would meet my soulmate on the flight. Anyways, our program doesn't officially begin until tomorrow, but how we prepare beforehand is quite important, so I wanted to share a few of the things I learned: 

Packing: Pull out everything, then pack it. Don't try to do both at the same time (pack one thing at a time). This time I forgot this obvious tidbit and it made keeping track of things difficult. As for what to pack, that's best up to you. We will probably come up with a list of similar things, however if you really aren't sure, just google it! 

Banking: Personally, I think travelling is nothing difficult as long as you have money. So make sure you can access your money on the other side of the world. One of the things I did was change my PIN number to 4-digits. Some machines won't let you enter more than 4, I remember experiencing this on an exchange during my undergrad. Another thing to do is try and use your cards at the airport, so that the bank knows you are travelling. Lastly, change your security options. If you're trying to do some online banking, you might be asked for a verification number...sent back to your home phone (if you use landline) or cell (that you can't access). Have that verification number sent to someone you trust and can communicate with. Otherwise, pay off everything you need to early! 

Home: Cancel all your subscriptions, your phone plan, if you're away long enough you can temporarily uninsure the car. Wrap up loose ends: finish your paperwork, pay off those bills, clean up the, tell that person you've been interested in that you and your interest are away on vacation. 

I'm only one day in, so the entirety of what I've missed hasn't hit me yet. I frantically sought out a place to purchase a data SIM card and adapter--a kind exchange student that I made friends with reminded me that the airport would be the best place to grab that. We all have to pass through it, there are English-speaking staff, and the entire industry is catered to travellers...makes sense. Fortunately, I need to return there tomorrow so I can do that. 

I wish I did more language preparation, but what I did put in did pay off. I studied the first 5 chapters of Genki and subscribed to a website called WaniKani. It really helped my vocabulary, upon arriving at the airport, I was elated when I realized I recognized quite a few of the words. Don't fret though, many of the things here in Hokkaido are labelled both in Japanese and English. While the copious amounts of Japanese text might make you feel like you're missing out on something, much of the text is a romanized form of what has been written in English (i.e. when you read the Japanese, it'll sound like English read with a Japanese accent). 

Sapporo seems like a wonderful place. So far, I've spent 80% of my time away from home in a metal box 30,000 feet above the ground or inside a unventilated, small room. However, I took a few walks and it actually reminded me very much of Calgary. We've actually a similar population, they're sitting at almost 2 million, with more people/km2. It's quiet and peaceful, it doesn't give off the bustle of a metropolis, like Tokyo, or a small town vibe. It's just right.

The humidity surprised me, I completely forgot about it. Looking outside these past two days, it's been overcast. Though I checked the weather and knew we'd be in the mid-10s to low-20s, I realized I didn't know how it feels. Seeing that overcast weather, I automatically dressed for Calgary overcast, which was too much. 

I'm looking forward to meeting my homestay family as well as the HUE staff and students. I'll be working my hardest to break down that language barrier throughout this exchange. I'm sure many of the other students will mention what they've noticed in Japan that is different/similar/nice etc. I think much of it will overlap. I've been here a few times, but its only this time that I noticed how many older folks are working--and when we examine the demographic of the entire country, it makes a lot of sense. 

Anyways, thank you for reading. I am currently preparing to introduce myself to my homestay family. They sent me an email a few weeks after my introductory email, apologizing because they weren't "too good at English". Man, that made me worried because my Japanese is certainly not up to par. 

P.S. I did meet my soulmate on the plane. Her name is Nausea. 

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Anxiety and Aspirations

I left Calgary on August 15th, joined a tour in Korea for a week, and then flew to Tokyo on the 22nd to join another week-long tour that ended in Osaka. Having travelled to so many places in such a short span of time has me feeling all over the place. Now that the tours have wrapped up, it has really started to hit me that soon I won’t be here for vacation, but for actual learning purposes. I have never been away from home alone before, so I am feeling quite anxious about being by myself in a foreign country for so long. I’ve even been feeling homesick already, consistently making video calls home to Calgary every night to talk with my family, which I will probably continue to do throughout the TAB program.

However, nervous as I am, I am also very excited for TAB to start. I’ve been corresponding with my host families and they have been very welcoming. Through TAB, I hope to learn more about Japanese culture and language, and to learn to become more independent. During my time in Japan so far, I have found that many Japanese people mistake me as being Japanese as well simply due to me being Asian. However, with my family being Chinese and me being born and raised in Canada, that is simply not the case. In fact, I have run into quite a few Japanese people who persist in trying to speak Japanese to me, even when I try to tell them that I don’t know Japanese. For those with a western appearance, it is easy for the Japanese to tell that they are foreigners. However, with my Asian appearance, I tend to blend in appearance-wise. It is also often difficult for me to speak up and ask for help, due to my introverted nature and not wanting to cause an inconvenience. All of these have added up and caused me to feel very frustrated at not being able to communicate the way I want to. Theses feelings of feeling lost and frustrated are all valuable experiences for me to remember going forward in teaching, especially when working with ELLs and other diverse learners, and are an important reminder to be patient, understanding, and to not judge others by their appearances. As a pre-service teacher, I hope to learn more about ELLs, where they are coming from, and their struggles, as well as how to best provide them with the help they need. I tend to struggle with learning new languages, but hopefully, with the language classes that we will be taking, I will be able to gain at least a good enough grasp of Japanese for me for basic everyday conversations. All in all, I can't wait for TAB to start and am looking forward to all the experiences and knowledge that I will gain.

Ready or not Hokkaido, here I come.

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Aspirations for Hokkaido (and the Adventure so far)

I’m sitting here, in a capsule hotel in Tokyo, thinking about all that TAB Hokkaido will allow me to experience, and all that I can expect. Just riding the bullet train from Narita to Tokyo was a new and fun experience for me, I can only imagine what else Japan has in store for me. I began my journey a week and a half ago and have already had so many adventures. In Osaka I saw the Obon festival, and then got rained on by Typhoon Krosa. In Kyoto I experienced the worst humidity of my life while adventuring around a city of temples and shrines. In Koya I experienced what it is like to live the life of a Buddhist monk, followed by feeling like a Disney princess in Nara. Now that I am in Tokyo, I am experiencing a city that truly never sleeps (sorry NY). All of these cities have been bustling with travellers, like myself, but have not lost their traditions and cultures. Despite how diverse they all are, these have such a distinct Japanese identity within them. If only after a week and a half I have had so many adventures, I can only imagine the type of experiences I can expect in Hokkaido.

I have many aspirations and expectations for my stay within Hokkaido. The main thing I hope to get out of this experience is gaining an understanding and more knowledge about Japan's culture and knowledges. All of my travels so far within Japan have been amazing, but I can’t wait to call Hokkaido home and feel as though I belong, and am not just a tourist. I also hope that the experiences I am currently gaining, and that I will have in Hokkaido will help me grow as a teacher.  Japan has been a major culture shock, and the language barriers were a bit overwhelming and stressful at first. I have been picking up cultural signs and the language slowly, but am still struggling at times. This experience has truly taught me though of how overwhelming it is to be in a place where you don’t understand the culture, language, and just overall way of life. I have wasted money and time by going on the wrong train, been full of nerves due to keeping up the line behind me as I still struggle with the money. I have felt like an inconvenience to others when I have to ask questions with my broken Japanese and google translate. I am fluent in two languages but have felt so lost and dumb due to my lack of understanding Japanese. This experience and these feelings are ones that I will remember when I get my classroom and have diverse learners and ELL students in it. I will now have an even greater appreciation for these students and all of the barriers that they are facing. I am also now aware that they, such as myself, might not want to ask for help as they feel like an inconvenience or as though they are holding everyone else up. I aspire to help breakdown these barriers alongside them so that my students don’t feel lost and confused, and instead feel as though they can succeed.

I am so excited for all that Hokkaido has to offer; I can’t wait to be there next week!

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Bittersweet Endings

     Our time in Japan has come to an end and I have so many mixed emotions. I am excited to get home and see my friends, fellow TABers, and cuddle with my fur-babies. Getting back to my normal lifestyle will be an adjustment, but I think I will find comfort in welcoming my old routine. My time in Japan has brought me so many different challenging and exciting experiences and has allowed me to grow both professionally and personally. I know that there will be many things that I will miss about Japan and I hope it will not be too long before I visit again.

Friends

     During my short time in Japan, and especially Kushiro, we met so many wonderful people, sharing stories and opinions over food and drinks. I never knew how easy it would be to create such meaningful connections with people on the other side of the world. We discussed our ideas about education and our hopes and dreams of how both education and we, ourselves, could grow.

Views

     Kushiro is considered to be one of the top three places in the world to watch the sunset, and I could not disagree. What made this detail even sweeter was the fact that we had a front row seat to watch the setting sun from our place of residence while in Kushiro. I could not believe how lucky we were the first time I noticed the beautiful setting sun. Hot pinks and oranges lit up the night skies and our 4 pm early setting sun became a welcomed experience in our hearts. Being an island, we were never too far from the ocean. While in Sapporo my homestay family took me out to the ocean, where I was able to dip my feet into the cold and salty waters; it had been years since I had been in the ocean and Japan had so many beautiful places for great views. Fall in Hokkaido was similar to that of my home in Ontario. Although Calgary does have a short but still beautiful fall, the fall colours that occur in Japan cannot be beat and made me feel at home. Shades of red, orange, yellow, and green are everywhere you looked and it was mesmerizing. I am glad that I got to experience fall in Japan – it is my favourite time of year.

Celebrity Status

     Being in a foreign country, especially one of relatively little diversity, we would often find people were surprised by our presence. This was most notable during our school visits, particularly with the junior high girls. The students would often see us and cover their mouths with their hands while gasping in disbelief, turning to their friends to get their attention on us and whispers and giggles would ensue. Sometimes when this occurred we would greet them by saying “hello” or “konichiwa” which would raise more whispers and giggles and usually a response of “kawaii” which means ‘cute’. We thought their reactions were kawaii. It has been an interesting experience having this celebrity status as with the diversity in Canada, we would never be seen in this light; so if we hadn’t experienced it already, that was our 15 minutes of fame! One of the biggest perks about having this status was that it intrigued people to want to get to know us, so it was one of the ways we were able to connect with people in Japan and develop friendships.

 Experiences

     Though we had some very real and challenging times with the natural disasters at the beginning of TAB, we had many other wonderful experiences to make up for the rocky start. Some of the highlights for me were: sumo wrestling, school festivals, seeing the different colours of fall, small-scale schools, sunsets, fireworks festival, food, behind the scenes at the local zoo, talks about education with staff and students, and the friends that we made. I am looking forward to my next field experience and taking with me all the experiences and things I have learned while in Japan.

 

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Many forms of communication

     Going to a country that speaks a language foreign to your own can be an intimidating prospect, but it doesn’t have to be. Japan has been my first experience in a foreign-speaking country that is not specifically set up for foreigners (e.g. resorts).

      I came to Japan only knowing two sayings: konichiwa (hello) and sumimasen (excuse me). I had no idea how I was going to assimilate to a life in Japanese language but I anticipated that I would be relying heavily on my phone to help me through it all. Reflecting back on my experiences in Japan I have realized there are many ways to communicate with others that don’t require you to know all the words in each other’s vocabulary in order to have a positive interaction.

 Japanese-speaking using English

     I was grateful to learn that most Japanese-speaking people know at least a bit of English. Students in Japan start learning formal English in elementary school year 5. In prior years they will also learn different phrases or words in English and many students go to education centres to improve their English speaking skills outside of school. This greatly helped me in being able to communicate with them from my own language. It was also a useful tool for them as there are many Japanese-speaking people who want to improve their English so they enjoy practicing communicating with me.

 English-speaking using Japanese

     When I was in Sapporo, we had the opportunity to attend Japanese lessons to learn some useful terms and phrases for our time here in Japan. Our homestay families also aided in our ability to practice some of the Japanese we had learned. The phrases we learned to talk about were very helpful for being able to communicate a bit in Japanese while we are here. Japanese people are always so nice and compliment you on your use of Japanese, even if it is only saying a couple words. They are always surprised and impressed.

 Translators

     Some of the conversations we have had with others have had to be translated from one language to the other, mainly because of the complexity of the topic. I am very grateful to all the bilingual people who have been able to help us in our communication with others as they have been the key component to our deeper conversations with people from Japan. I am sure it is an exhausting task to do, especially for the lengthy conversations that can ensue.

 Technology

     The use of technology was definitely a huge aid in our ability to communicate with others. The best apps I used throughout my entire time in Japan were Google Translate and VoiceTra. While they are not perfect, they definitely helped to get the idea across, both ways. It is also beneficial to utilize pictures while talking with others helps to make sure that the content is clear and makes it easier for others to follow.

 Non-Verbal

     Some of my favourite interactions on this trip have been non-verbal or situations where translations could not be made but we were still able to make connections and understand one another. My homestay family had four children; they were aged 8, 6, 4, and 2 so none of them had begun their English language learning in school yet. I probably spent the most time with the youngest of the bunch, Sunao. We developed a close bond even though we did not know each other’s language. This first came to fruition when I was eating lunch one day. Sunao loves to eat, so while I was sitting outside with my food, he came out holding a bowl for himself expecting that I would share, and I did. It started a bond between us, whenever I was eating, he would come, and I would share my food with him (even though he already ate). It grew into non-verbal playing, laughter, and offerings of items (he would always bring me my water bottle). Some other ways I connected with the other kids was through games such as Othello and hand-clap varieties.

 Dance, Plays, and Cultural Events

     Some of the situations we were in that did not really have the opportunity for translation to occur were in the form of cultural events, plays, and dance. This led to the opportunity for us to use improvisation, pay attention to cues, and read the room – which I found I was able to do in many contexts to better help me understand. One unique thing that we did during our introductions to the different classes at our school visits was incorporated a dance activity where we taught the students how to do the chicken dance. This got the entire class involved, interacting with each other, and having fun with us, without language being a barrier. The students seemed to really enjoy the dance and even the principal and teachers would join in. It was evident that this activity really impacted the students as later that day, week, or at other functions, students would come up to us and just start doing the chicken dance. We attended a couple school plays and functions. Although we could not understand the Japanese dialogue, we were able to attend to some of the humour aspects based on the students’ ability to project emotions through their acting. We were very moved by their various acting, instrumental, and vocal talents expressed through many different forms during our visits.

      One other interesting aspect about learning Japanese that came as a surprise to me was how activating that part of my brain, caused previously practiced languages to resurface. I found that my French words kept emerging and my American Sign Language went hand in hand (no pun intended) with the use of my new Japanese words. It is really fascinating how the brain works with language!

 

Ja mata!

 

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An International Community

In addition to school visits, the program at Hokkaido University of Education (HUE) Kushiro provided Jenny and I with the opportunity to run three classes of the University's "Curriculum Redesign" course. This course is held with 3rd year HUE education students, and gave us a chance to present and hold discussions about key ideas in education; sharing those from Canada and learning about those from Japan.

 

Tomita-sensei, one of the professors running the course described the outline and importance of the course to us: 3 semesters, i) taking students out of the Japanese school context and objectively looking at school systems around the world, ii) thinking of themselves as learners before teachers; breaking out of the traditional Japanese ways of learning and considering how they can bring this experience into their way of teaching, and iii) applying the ideas to create unique lesson and unit plans. As all other courses at HUE are aimed towards assimilation into the current education system and structure, this course is groundbreaking and crucial in the development of Japan's education system.

 

So far, we have taught two classes. In our first lesson, we concentrated on developing the idea that different students have different needs. This involved collaboration through discussion of how students needs are different. We left them with the question, "How can we support these diverse needs in our classrooms?". The next class we presented different techniques from our own courses including: Universal Design for Learning, Engineering Design Process, Inquiry-based Learning, Assessment As/Of/For Learning, and Understanding by Design.

 

Unfortunately, these studies were all completed in English with no Japanese translations available. After Tomita-sensei translated our introduction to the topics, we divided students into groups and assigned the task of translating the resources. Students used Google Translate, made sense of what they could, and shared with the class. While many students were able to glean information from the texts, the translations from Google were poor, and some of the nuance of content was lost in translation. This made it significantly more challenging for the students to understand the content.

 

This struggle really brought to light the barriers to global knowledge sharing. While we're moving towards an education system with International collaboration through internet sharing and bridging of languages through technologies such as Google Translate, we're definitely still in the beginning stages. This perspective allows us to truly appreciate unique opportunities such as TAB. It allowed us to build connections - learning about different world education systems, and sharing our own - through the facilitation of a bilingual translator such as Tomita-sensei.

 

As TAB students, this rare opportunity also comes with responsibility. We have the responsibility of sharing what we have learned from our experiences with educators in Canada. Through this we can amplify the impact of this program, and help foster the development of an International educational community.

 

This responsibility holds true for the HUE exchange students that visited the University of Calgary, as well. Shinya, a HUE student that attended U of C's exchange last February and has been a tutor and friend throughout our time in Japan, has really exemplified this idea. Learning about Assessment As/For/Of learning during lectures in Canada, he has applied to the Masters program in Hiroshima to develop the first research of this kind in Japan. Through his work he hopes to spread his knowledge of assessment within the context of Japanese schools.

 

My goal is to find ways to meaningfully bring my learning from Japan to Canada, in a way that expands beyond just my own practice.

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Ja mata ne~

As the bittersweet feeling of being home has kicked in and I remember all the good memories that I have made for the past two months, I have come to realize how I much I have learned and that I am grateful for. I have learned a lot about Japan, Japanese culture, and the Japanese education though my time there.

The biggest difference that I have observed is the collectivity and independence that they teach in schools. They teach collectively through a class called ‘moral education’ that teach students about several ‘moral’ things that they should do as an individual and for society. I find this interesting as there is nothing like this in our public schools and the classes that I would relate them to would be 'leadership' or 'life skills' classes. Students also develop organization through class and school cleaning from an early age. Schools teach collectivity and independence by having their students be self-responsible for setting up the gym equipment and through all the cleaning duties that they have to do around the school and classroom. I was quite impressed with students’ level of organization and willingness to clean and fulfill their duties, due to the fact that we do not have such a thing. Being in the schools was truly a great learning experience for me and I hope I was able to help the students and schools as well!

I have learned about the harmonious and family-like culture of Japan that I will miss dearly. Every step of the way, there was always someone there that would volunteer their time to help us out. We were always welcomed with open arms (or should I say a lot of bowing and greetings) and I have learned from each and every one of them. They did not treat us like strangers and you could feel how they genuinely wanted us to be there. 

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I will truly miss everyone that I have met though this experience. I would like to thank Hokkaido University of Education and the TAB program for all the good experiences that I have had. 

Ja mata ne~ (see you)

 

Chuen-Xi Quek

 

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