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japan (73)

Otsukaresama Deshita! / Back in Canada

Hello Everyone!

And so, my journey through the Teaching Across Border program has come to an end! I can’t believe how quickly these last ten weeks in Sapporo flew by, and I can’t believe the amount of precious experiences and memories that I have gained throughout this journey. Now that I am back home in Calgary, I feel like I've only really begun to deeply reflect on my experience. I think back on my time and Japan, and both my mind and heart explode when I try to recall all the amazing things I have learned, and when I think about all the kind and supportive people I've grown to deeply care for.

Through TAB I was able to fully immerse myself and grow to deeply appreciate another culture by living through and learning through it. Yes, due to language barriers, I struggled to communicate with teachers, peers, students, my host family, and other people I just happened to encounter. But I feel that through that struggle, I could work hard to develop my skills beyond verbal communication, as well as experience first hand what it’s like to learn another language. I feel like I have grown to appreciate the value of literacy more deeply, and of what it means to really comprehend and engage with the learning material. Through my experiences at Ainosato Nishi Elementary school, I feel like I have gained much in terms of teaching strategies, especially when it comes to formative assessment and in knowing your students well. Most of all, I think this experience has reminded me of the importance of community, in the family, in schools, and beyond.

As a future teacher, my ultimate goals are to inspire lifelong learning, and help my students to develop 21st century competencies, as well as grow in a way that allows them to live fully and happily. And I think that one of the ways in which teachers can accomplish this is through knowing and collaborating with your students, creating meaningful engagement, and establishing community. Although I am sad to be leaving Sapporo and all the wonderful people I have met her, I am excited to go back to Calgary and take what I have learned in Japan and use it in my future teaching practices!

Thank you to everyone who has supported me throughout this entire journey!

Arigato gozaimashita!

Until next time! Mata ne!

 

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Goodbye Ainosato Nishi Shogakko!

Hello Everyone!

I hope that everyone in TAB is having a great time at their respective countries! And for everyone else reading this blog, I hope you are doing awesome as well!

Even though this was my last week at Ainosato Nishi Elementary School, I was still able to learn so much about Japanese school culture, as well as observe some very useful teaching strategies. Something that I didn’t expect prior to arriving in Japan, was the amount of formative assessment. After each activity, from cleaning up, to practicing a song for the cultural festival, to participating in an English learning task, both students and teachers actively participated in formative assessment. For example, after playing a game of dodgeball for club activities, students would raise their hands and share their thoughts about their own, as well their classmates’, performance and participation. Teachers would also provide their thoughts about what happened in the previous activity. After each student would provide their assessment and feelings, the students would applause. I found this to be a great way for students to practice introspection, public speaking, explore their own learning, as well as have their own thoughts and feelings be acknowledged and validated by their peers.  Another example would be after a learning task in English class. After the activity, students would rate their own performance, as well as write down some of the things that they had learned in the class. The same as an exit slip, this practice allows students to think about their own learning, as well as provides teachers an opportunity to formatively assess their students. In some activities, students would also assess the performance of their peers on a simple rubric.

I feel like I can’t write about my experience at Ainosato Nishi without discussing the preparations surrounding the upcoming school cultural festival. During the cultural festival, students are divided into their grade levels. Each grade level performs a musical performance, and/or drama performance first for the school, and then for the school and family members. Preparation for this cultural festival starts months in advance, and requires the full cooperation of all teachers at the school. In my assigned grade four class, students were to perform a modified version of a play called Neverland. Every morning, both grade four classes would gather and sing at least one song from the play. Usually before lunch time, the students would also practice the lines and actions of the play for two periods. It never ceased to amaze me, the incredible enthusiasm of both the students and teachers as they prepared for this performance. Despite the rigorous and strict guidance of the teachers, everyone seemed to be having fun, and were all equally motivated to do their best.

(Practice for School Cultural Festival: Neverland)

Our last day at Ainosato Nishi Elementary School was a lot more heartbreaking than I had expected it to be. It was amazing to see the learners grow and mature, even in the short span of time I was able to spend with them. I felt that I learned a lot through teaching them English, and through the observation of the excellent teachers at the school. Everyone, both staff and students, were incredibly welcoming, therefore it didn’t take long for me to feel a part of the community that I first observed and admired when I first stepped in to the school. I am sad to be leaving such an amazing community behind, but I know that I have gained invaluable memories and experiences that I will forever take with me in both my future teaching practices, as well as everyday life.

After my school volunteering was done, Hokkaido University of Education set up an two-day excursion for international students, as well as four of the Teaching Across Borders students in Japan. During this excursion, we had the opportunity to explore nature outside of Hokkaido, learn about a dormant volcano near Sapporo, make udon, as well as visit an Ainu museum. Like Calgary, Sapporo is close to some very impressive mountains, and beautiful nature. It is great to see how treasured nature is in Hokkaido, and the efforts made in order to conserve and protect the wildlife present. For me, I think the most valuable part of the excursion was learning about the Ainu people of Hokkaido. Like Canada, the prefecture Hokkaido is approximately 150 years old. Like the indigenous people of Canada, the Ainu people were forced to give up their culture and language, and their traditional ways of living and thinking were seen as savage. In recent years, Hokkaido has been making an effort to bring back Ainu culture, as well as acknowledge both the validity and complexity of Ainu ways. Through visual displays, and through the stories of our tour guide, we were able to learn a lot about the rich culture of the Ainu people.

(Fall Nature Excursion ... Thank you for the picture Christine!)

During my last week in Sapporo, I was given the opportunity to sit in on multiple classes and the Hokkaido University of Education. One of the classes I joined was an English class, where students worked through a textbook and listen to audio clips related to their future plans and aspirations. In the second class, students presented through PowerPoints, something interesting about Japan. This included badminton, general differences between Japanese and Western culture (ex. Food and beauty standards), as well as the process of gift giving. The third class was an Art and Music class, where we were given the opportunity to present a PowerPoint about Canada as well as chat with the students. It was interesting to see how English was taught to university students, compared to how it was taught to elementary students.  It was also particularly interesting to see how the Arts and Music professor incorporated English in to his class, despite the class itself not having to do much with the English language. For example, tasks and assignments would be given to the students in English. Also, due to the generally smaller class sizes, teachers knew their students well, and a sense of community was established.

Until next time! Mata ne!

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Japanese Culture: Changing Conceptions

Hello Everyone!

These past few weeks have been full of excitement and learning!  I feel as though I’ve become more comfortable living with my new host family and navigating through the city. But at the same time, so many things have been happening that I feel like I can hardly catch my breath!

My new host family consists of my host father and mother, as well as two sons, aged 9 and 13. With an additional host sibling to the mix, life at home is quite a bit more hectic. Yes, the household is busy, but like my last host family, everyone is eager to discuss our lifestyles, and the similarities and differences between Japanese and Canadian culture. Through our conversations, I have learned a lot about Japanese culture, from traditions and holidays, Japanese cuisine, to the most popular sports in Japan. In these past few weeks with my host family, I have watched more baseball than I have ever watched in my life previously! It’s great to see the differences in familial dynamics, and everyday routines between my two host families. But at the heart of both family environments, I can see that a love for one another, as well as a love for their country’s history and culture.

The other topic I would like to talk about in this blog post is my developing conception of the Japanese school environment. Before coming to Japan, my perceptions of education in the country was one that was extremely standardized and strict. And although standardized testing certainly plays a large role in student examinations, especially when going in to junior high and high school, and throughout high school, everyday learning tasks were not. For example, teachers often used the process of inquiry to get their students engaged. A question would be posed to the entire class, and students would be free to discuss with their peers the issue posed, as well as the solution. Most desks in classrooms were arranged so that students were able to work with their classmates. During some learning tasks, students were also welcome to move around the classroom to ask each other, and their teacher questions, or find a more comfortable working space. The process of scaffolding, especially in mathematics classes, were very important in the classroom. Every week, student schedules would differ because the staff would come together and adapt their lessons and schedules to fit the needs of the students.

Another interesting thing to note is the different courses offered by Japanese schools. Probably the two most interesting classes are moral studies, and integrated studies. In moral studies, students would explore themes such as appropriate behavior, right or wrong, as well as duty and responsibility. Students would discuss and explore their thoughts and feelings surrounding an issue, which was often presented in the form of a story. Through these stories, students were exposed to more mature themes, such as death. It was interesting to see how teachers approached these subject with their students, as well see how students reacted to these topics. Through storytelling, and active listening, I felt as though the teacher did and excellent job of modifying her lesson and guiding the class in a way that made the material accessible to students. In integrated studies, students would explore multiple subjects simultaneously. I hope to be given more opportunities to observe this class, as I feel it will be valuable in my learning journey through my interdisciplinary education class.

At Ainosato Nishi Elementary School, I have also been given the opportunity to share information about myself and about various things in Canada with another TAB student. Through a PowerPoint presentation I shared information about my family, hobbies, and likes. We also discussed food, sports, and animals in Canada. With the English teacher, we worked to adapt and modify our presentation to fit the English comprehension levels of the class. I felt that through each presentation, I learned techniques and strategies to better engage with the students in my class. Modifying the words, using large gestures and comparison, as well as asking simple questions are some of the things that we did to help our students understand, and be more interested in our presentation. We also taught the game Stella Ella Ola to some grades. I really enjoyed being actively involved in the classes, and for having the opportunity to develop my communication skills when a language barrier exists.  I felt like these tasks were especially valuable in helping me to formatively assess student understanding and engagement through their expressions and participation.

Every lunch period, I eat my meal with the students, and rotate between different desk groups. After lunch, I am also able to help the students clean up, and then play with the students. I feel that this has really allowed be to get to know the students better, as we are given the opportunity to communicate freely. It is also during these moments where their individual personalities shine, and when I can make meaningful connections with the learners. It is easy to see how natural it is for a genuine community of care to develop, especially when teachers spend time with their students in sharing classroom tasks, and in daily, simple discussion and play.

I feel as though I have only scratched the surface of everything I wish to write about my experiences so far, and I know that I’ll be learning and experiencing so much more in the upcoming weeks. I feel as though I have developed a much deeper connection to everyone at school, as well as my host family, and am already dreading the day I will have to separate from them!

(Special education classroom at Ainosato Nishi. Other classrooms often had desks groups together)

I look forward with sharing my thoughts in the next blog!

Until then! Mata ne!

 

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Elementary Schools in Japan

Hello Everyone!

For this Ning Blog, I’d like to focus on my initial thoughts of the elementary school that I was place in as part of this program.

After having completed my Japanese lessons at the university, as well having visited three different schools in Sapporo, I was assigned to an average sized elementary school nearby the university. Growing up and going to school in Calgary for all of my life, I had little knowledge about how the school environment would be like in Japan. In the month prior, I had the opportunity to attend a rural elementary school, and then visited fairly prestigious, and junior high and elementary schools.  Because I had only visited each of these schools for one day, I was only able to get a glimpse of what daily school life would be.  After one week at Ainosato Elementary School, I feel that through deeper engagement with school staff and students, I’ve been able to gain much more knowledge.

One of the most striking aspects that I noticed of the school that I was placed in is the sense of community present within the school. It was clear in the classroom, that students knew and demonstrated their shared responsibility in keeping classroom activities and transitions in order. For example, at the beginning of the class, students would take attendance while asking each individual how they are feeling. Another group of students would go over the class schedule, as well as what the school lunch that day would be. During school lunches, students would rotate between different responsibilities, such as cleaning the floor, putting the food in the bowls/plates, and distributing utensils. Students would do their responsibilities with little coercion from their teachers, and students would also wait patiently for their peers to be quietly seated before changing activities. The staff too, seemed to have a strong sense of community. Staff meetings, where everyone discussed and formed the schedules of the students, seemed to occur every morning. Teachers would also meet to practice a specific subject. For example, because all teachers were required to be knowledgeable about music education, teachers would often meet to practice playing or singing songs that they had to later teach their students.

After asking the teachers at Ainosato Nishi elementary school, I learned that this type of environment of shared responsibility, and in a way, class independence from the teacher, was standard to most elementary schools. This type of school environment made me wonder about why this is the case. I wondered if strong cultural influence and upbringing, especially in relation to collectivity, played a major role in the development of this school system. Overall, Ainosato Nishi seemed to be a school in which both students and staff truly cared for each other. Everyone appeared to be invested in the well-being, and/or learning of others.

My first week at the elementary school also provided me with the opportunity to practice my Japanese skills. On different days, my partner TAB student and I were required to introduce ourselves to each class, as well as the whole school in both English and Japanese. It was an interesting experience, trying to juggle between two aspects of my speech: to speak simply and clearly in English, and speak clearly and correctly in Japanese. I found this experience to be incredibly nerve-wracking, but also incredibly valuable. It made me think about how to enunciate and speak English in such a way that ELL students in my future classrooms can understand. At the same time, I got to experience what it was like to speak in an unfamiliar language in front of a large group of people. I hope that as I go on in my future teaching practice, I will never forget these moments because I feel like they will be valuable to me when thinking about how to interact with ELL students, as well as provide me with the slightest glimpse of what they might be experiencing.

Overall, my first week at Ainosato Nishi has been a great one! I am blown away by how kind and welcoming both the staff and students are at this school. I am incredibly excited to develop a deeper relationship with everyone at the school, as well as learn more about the everyday school environment,

Until next time! Mata ne!

 

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See You

Third day being back in winter and I am still in disbelief that I'm already home. Thankfully I don't have jetlag but that is because I arrived in Calgary at 11 am in the morning on Sunday and stayed up for a whole 28 hours before going to bed (I had woken up in Tokyo on the same day at 8:00 am).

Sapporo was my second home and I am still unbelievably grateful for the opportunity to spend 2 months there, being immersed into another culture and deepening my knowledge. 

I can't believe it's all over and I am still getting readjusted to things back home such as my friends, my significant other and just life in general. It's almost a strange feeling to be back in my own room, it seems familiar and unfamiliar to me at the same time

Some things I miss about Sapporo

  • The beautiful weather, the vibrant colours of the trees and all the peaceful walking I was able to do. The 20 minute walk to the university was something that I grew to enjoy doing every day so it is a bit weird not having to walk anywhere anymore. 
  • The endless amount of delicious Japanese cuisine readily available anywhere I go 
  • The students and my host siblings. I miss them so much because they were so welcoming, loving and embracing of me. I will miss the elementary student's enthusiasm and eagerness to say hi and see you whenever they bump into us outside of school. They are taught to say see you instead of bye and I think that is so sweet. I find it to be really optimistic when they say it, even though if I won't see those students ever again, there's still a chance we will meet one day.
  • The peace of mind and focus on myself. I found that in Japan, I was away from my responsibilities in Canada and I was able to just focus on school, myself and having fun. It was a great opportunity for me to learn and throw myself into something without any distractions. I learned a lot from even just navigating around the city by myself and it is a different kind of freedom that I will miss. 
  • Having new adventures with the girls every day is something I'll miss. We definitely had a lot of fun together in Sapporo!

Some things I am looking forward to at home:

  • Spending time with my family, friends, my significant other and my dog, Chewy
  • Continuing to learn Japanese in my free time
  • Practicum even though it is nerve racking 
  • Taking what I have learned in Japan schools and incorporating it into my teaching 

I still need time to process all that I have learned and everything I will miss but I do know that is experience was one of a kind and I am so excited to share my experience with all of my peers!

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Japan is incredible!

Konnichiwa!

I can’t believe my trip here in Sapporo has come to an end. Someone needs to build a time machine quickly because I want to rewind and do it all again. 

My trip has been an experience beyond words because…

Of everyone that I met:

  • The coordinators in Japan are the friendliest people who will go out of their way to make you feel comfortable and help you so that you are set in every situation. Because of them my adventure started and ended super smoothly because they are always on top of their game.
  • The students at HUE have given me the wonderful opportunity to call them friends across the world. We have shared so many memories together, like sight-seeing, school visits, HUE school festival, Halloween party and so much more. I am sad that our time was short here but I know this isn’t the end of our friendship.
  • The teachers and students at my practicum placement welcomed us with open arms and made sure all our inquiries are answered to the best of their abilities. There is a language barrier but we were able to overcome that together because we are both willing parties to get along with everything that we can do.
  • The host families. They have gone out of their way to include us in their daily lives and welcome us to become part of their family. I feel like I can really say that I feel like I have even more relatives overseas and I am very excited to see them again!

Of everything that I have done:

  • I have gone on so many trips to see the amazing wonders of Hokkaido: Mt. Moiwa, Hell’s Valley, Lake Toya just to name a few. These are all amazing places that I know I will never forget because they are all so unique. 
  • Rice harvesting. I love to eat rice and now I know how hard it is to cut the rice by hand. I got to be dressed in a traditional outfit and eat the 'fresh' rice.
  • Making udon. This was such an enjoyable and delicious experience that I know I want to try it again.
  • Winning at the claw machines. The prizes are super cute and it’s fun to try… but beware of how much fun it can be to keep trying!
  • Eating so many different kinds of Hokkaido food and specialities.

And so much much more! (The picture of the left is the famous statue of William Clark and his famous phrase: Boys Be Ambitious) 

 

Of everything that I have learned:

  • Teachers and students in Japan have special relationships with each other, where they genuinely care for each other. The teacher sets up the student so they will succeed and the students aim for the best. I was lucky to be placed within a school that has such a strong community and had the opportunity to meet teachers that have become my role model.
  • If you have a strong relationship with your students, classroom management is not a big issue. It is how you interact with others that define how they will react towards you. Give support but also be firm in what you do.
  • Scissor – Rock – Paper (or as we Canadians call it Rock- Paper- Scissors) can be used as a decision making game in any instance. It is super handy!

I have learned so much here that I can't put into words, but I will never forget anything I have learned.  

Of who I am now: I started this trip supremely nervous because it is my first time being away from home for such a long time by myself. I did not see myself as independent and the challenges that I would have to face scared me. Now, I know that I am capable of overcoming any challenge (no matter how cheesy it is to say that). I have made friends and connections with people through language barriers, cultural differences and differences in backgrounds. I have reached my goal of being more confident in myself and I am excited to see where my teaching path will take me. 

For all this I would like to say thank you to everyone who has helped me along the way and made this possible for me. Arigatoo gozaimashita!

 This is not a goodbye but only a see you again later!

Jaa matane!!! 

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EXACTLY A WEEK LEFT!

I am so so grateful to have been placed at Ainosato Nishi Elementary here in Sapporo. It was a very emotional last day for April and I. We will miss the students and teachers dearly. Words cannot describe how much love I have for the teachers and students at that school. Everyday, students would greet us with a loud "hello, good morning" and "see you" when we left. There wasn't a day where I didn't have a huge smile on my face. During our time with homeroom class, we had many opportunities to share with them cultural differences and activities. For example, one of the table group conversations we had was about different sounds that animals make. It was very surprising to them and to myself how different each sound was. A dog sound in Japanese is "wan wan" and we would say "woof woof". (The girls and I found this shirt that we couldn't stop laughing about and now we finally understand that it was a pun and not a typo.) April and I also taught them how to play "Duck Duck Goose" and they taught us a Japanese game in return. My greatest learning experience occurred when I was observing a few classes in Japanese. Initially, I didn't understand why we had to observe a class taught in a different language. Even though April and I didn't understand what the teacher and students were saying, we used their gestures and tone of voice to try to put it together. We had to think about the class in a different way and it allowed us to think outside the box and to observe every little thing that was going on. Throughout the lessons, the teacher used many effective teaching strategies. In one of the math lessons, she presented the class with a question. She gave the students an opportunity to solve it. After, she asked the class for the answer. She doesn't tell them whether it was right or wrong but she asks them for the reason for their answer. This way, students are able to understand why and how they got the answer.

School festivals are also very important here. Students practice for weeks for a one day event at the school. During these festivals students would do a combination of a play and singing a song. Students would audition for the part they want to play in the play. Students also have to audition for piano parts as well. If the students don't get the part they want, the would audition for another. They are not discourage because in the end, everyone will be able to play a role in the play. All the costumes and props are made by the teachers and students in that class. I had the opportunity to make tissue flowers and sew flowers onto a dress for one of the girls. The play and song were absolutely amazing.

On our last day, our homeroom surprised us with a goodbye party. They sang to us, told jokes, played Duck Duck Goose and another Japanese game. I felt so much love from them. The goodbye party turned into a crying party and seeing the children crying made it even more difficult to say goodbye. I will never forget them and there will always be a place in my heart for them. 

The funny pun shirt.

A scene from the school play. 

This week, we went on a 2 day excursion to a few places outside of Sapporo with other international students. We got to visit Lake Utonai Wildlife Conservation, Ainu Museum, Volcano Science Museum and made udon (Japanese thick noodle). I learnt so much about the history of the Ainu people and other facts about Hokkaido. We were all trying to piece together the information with the very little Japanese we know. 

What's left? I am currently trying to spend as much time with my host family. I can't believe that it's almost time to go home. I will really miss them. I am so grateful for all they have done for me and opening their heart and home to me. I can't thank them enough. They have taught me many Japanese traditions and brought me to many places to eat and sight see. This week, I will also be spending some time with a few university students I met and attending a few university classes. 

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Japan is awesome!

Konnichiwa! Genki desu ka? (Hello! How are you?)

I can’t believe that there is only about one more week in Japan before I go home to Calgary. The experience has been amazing and was full of adventures. I got to go to an onsen, attend the 38th Sapporo English Speech competition and go to Hell’s Valley (Noboribetsu). I am constantly eating amazing food (that I will surely miss when I go back to Calgary). 

The junior high experience has continued to change my view about Japanese education. While the original appearance looks to be that of a Traditional Learning Center in which all the students are paired boy-girl arrangement in rows, the process of table configuration is easily changed because the students know when and how to do this efficiently. This might be because when they clean the classroom and when they eat lunch they must move all the tables and chairs. The students are always actively learning and the teacher provides hands on experience in many of the classes. For instance, I had the opportunity to observe a chemistry, physics and biology class. In each class, the students are doing hands on science. In chemistry the students are mixing chemicals together to learn about endothermic and exothermic reactions; in physics, students are sliding cars off ramps/ dropping objects to learn about forces; in biology, students got to dissect a squid. The teacher provides minimal information, with the students having to figure and answer the questions themselves, which must greatly improve their critical mindset.

The class community is amazing as students come in early, give up their breaks during classes and stay after school to practice together for their Choir Competition within the school. Students conduct the music themselves and a classmate will be on the piano. The school is decorated with classwork and each class has a banner and/or pictures of the entire class as decoration. In English class, the teacher encourages the students to help each other if they are struggling. 

Japan’s educating style has provided me with new techniques and insight about how to approach a topic. I find myself thinking of how to integrate students greeting at the start of the class and the end of the class. 

I am only here in Japan for a few more days, but I will take advantage of this time and have more wonderful experiences here! 

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See you later, Japan

I am leaving this beautiful country in a week and it's crazy how fast it all went by. I still remember our first week here and now we're almost going home. 

I was able to immerse myself in a culture to the point of being scared of having reverse culture shock in Canada. I have learned much about Japanese culture, especially from living with my host families and teaching in an elementary and jr. high school. I love Japanese culture and to deepen my understanding of every day life has been incredibly valuable for me. I even forgot how to speak Cantonese to my parents when they Facetimed me. Instead, I spoke a weird combination of English and Japanese. Hah.

From this experience, I want to continue learning Japanese and I am even more motivated to become fluent in it. I just hope I will find opportunities to speak it in Calgary so I don't forget anything. 

Mandy and I finished our week at a Jr. High school and it was lots of fun. However, we had to change our attitude and approach when teaching jr. high students. They are shyer than elementary students and require more prompt to be able to answer questions or ask us questions. Students learning English struggle with the spontaneity and flow of the language, so we try to adjust the way we ask questions. Still, the students greeted us with enthusiasm and tried their best to speak English to us! In a grade 8 class or in Japan, they call it jr. high, grade 2, they acted our a hamburger shop scenario and the students got very creative with it. It's nice to see that they are having fun with English despite how hard it is to learn. I am glad we were able to participate in the activity. The teachers at both the elementary and jr. high school do everything in their power to help us feel welcome and comfortable. I am going to miss the strong community that Japanese schools build within. By strong community, I mean that students have fun and talk to everyone in their class, not just their friends. Their classroom becomes their family and the school becomes one big family as well. The students have strong and fun relationships with their teachers and are not afraid to make mistakes. Japanese teachers embrace mistakes because everyone makes them and you can learn from them. The level of engagement, despite the standardization of schools, is always high. For instance, students commit their all to a school musical or play. They are not ashamed of approaching the task with high energy because everyone is expected to do the same. I feel that in Canada, students feel almost scared to give it their all due to judgement from their peers or the stigmatization of being the best. However, I might be biased in my perception of these students because these schools are affiliated with the university, making them more prestigious schools. 

Some more key differences between Japanese and Canadian Schooling:

  • The teachers in both our elementary and jr. high school were almost entirely male. It was interesting to watch male teachers work with students in elementary! It is almost a rare sight in Canada.
  • Being a teacher is very respectable in Japan because it is a lot of hard work. Teachers work every single day even on weekends and even until 7 pm sometimes. 
  • Science classes are experiential and hands on. Mandy and I got to see grade 8 students dissect squids!
  • Japanese students will approach you with excitement if they see outside of school and they will say hi to you. Mandy and I are very popular at the nearest train station near the schools. 
  • Each teacher alters their lesson plan to fit the personality and progression of the class. For instance, if one class is a little weaker on their English, the teacher will instantly shift gears to fit their learning. 

Some cool things I have done in my last weeks in Sapporo!

  • Mandy and I went to Noboribetsu, which is a city that is 2 hours away from Sapporo. It is popular for their onsens and "Hell's Valley." Hell's Valley has the best smell of rotten eggs (Sulphur).

  • I went to Furano with my host family which is famous for lavender! The lavender ice cream was oishii! (delicious) 


  • I won a Bulbasaur from the Japanese claw game machine which we're all addicted to now even though it's really hard to win

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Sayonara, Japan!

I thought now would be a good time to start my last blog post while in Japan, as I am having my first feelings of anxiety knowing I have to leave this wonderful place and my fantastic second host family in exactly 10 days.

(Signatures from some of our students at Daiichi Elementary)

This week and last, Stephanie and I have had the pleasure of visiting Koryo Junior High School in Iwamizawa. In Japan, they start mandatory English classes in junior high, so there is more for us to do here than there was in the elementary schools. It’s great to be able to help out with English classes and have more conversations with students. The junior high students are shy, but always willing to share their recommendation for anime, music, or food we should try. Many teachers here are also quite proficient in English, so we have the pleasure of speaking to them about their lives here often.

(enjoying some of the fall colours in Iwamizawa)

(enjoying some of my walks home as the sun sets in Iwamizawa - 15 hours ahead of Calgary time!)

Saturday was my 22nd birthday, and my host family spoiled me. I was very fortunate. My host family took me to a nice Korean BBQ restaurant in Iwamizawa (Korean BBQ is very popular here), and we tried all sorts of interesting foods like tongue, heart, bone marrow, and tripe. After that we went to karaoke which is extremely popular in Japan, but nothing like the way we do karaoke back home. In Japan, you rent a private room with couches and a karaoke machine, and you sing with your friends. It was a different experience for me, but it is incredibly fun. If any of you find yourselves in Japan in the future, try karaoke!

(My host mom- Megumi, Father- Hajime, and Brother- Shim at dinner)

(Celebrating with karaoke - this is my host Mom singing "Hot Stuff" by Donna Summer)

Gearing up to come home is starting to get exciting, but stressful. Right now I am trying to balance schoolwork, fun, spending time with my host family, and making sure I have done as much as I can while I am here.

(The University treated Stephanie and I to lunch and a wine tour)

I have learned so much since I have been here. I will have to admit, it was hard for me being a privileged, English speaking North American to adjust to a new culture and language. I will be the first to admit that it has been hard to let go of my sense of entitlement I noticed I carried with me. If I were to give advice to the Japan group, or any TAB student for next year, especially first time travellers, it would be that. Lose all sense of entitlement you might have before travelling, especially to a non-English speaking country. I found myself a lot of times on this trip getting frustrated or angry because I can’t understand. I have found myself several times wondering things like “they know I don’t speak Japanese, why haven’t they adapted to me”. This is something I have had to completely let go in order to become fully immersed in Japanese culture. This realization is not one I am most proud of, but is very important. It is something I will take with me even back home. I have now been in the shoes of someone who does not speak the native language, and know how tough it is mentally to cope with that. I am extremely thankful for my language learning experience here, tough as it may have been. I didn’t realize how quickly you start to pick up a language when you are 100% immersed in it and have no choice but to communicate that way. I find myself understanding small parts and phrases in conversations around me, and it is such a cool feeling.

In a week and a half, I leave this amazing place and make my 48 hour trek back home. Wish me luck making all my connections! I can not wait to be back home and to hear everyone’s TAB experiences. Hard to believe that I am even here right now, let alone that I have almost reached the end! Thank you U of C, Werklund, my fellow Japan mates, and everyone who has been supporting me back home on this journey. I look forward to coming home and sharing my learning! Enjoy a few more of my favourite pictures from my last few weeks below. 

Best, 

Kaitlin

(Running into local kids in a restaurant, they always want pictures and autographs)

(My host mother and I enjoying a day shopping on the weekend)

(Shopping in Furano)

(Blue Lake, Furano)

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Japan 2017

Going into my 9th week abroad I am trying to soak up as much Japanese culture as I can. We have now finished out placement at the elementary and have moved to a junior high. The though of teaching at a junior high always scared me, it might be because everyone always says it's the hardest grade to teach and the kids are all crazy or because most of my experience has been with kids under 12. Anyways I was nervous to go to the junior high. The elementary kids were crazy about us and we didn't even have to anything to earn their admiration. Every day we would get swarmed with students asking us to sign everything they could possible find. It was really cute but overwhelming. It was very difficult to communicate with the students because in Japan students only start learning English in grade 5 and my Japanese is pretty much non-existent. In Japan students all eat a school lunch prepared buy cooks. They take turns serving the lunch to their classmates. This is actually a really cool part of the Japanese education system and we were lucky enough to join a different classroom for lunch everyday. It was both good and bad at the same time. Good because it was a unique experience that I will probably never get to again, bad because they students would ask me so many questions but I couldn't understand any of them or ask them any questions in return. Another cool thing about the Japanese education system is school festivals. The elementary school we were at was preparing and practicing for one that was a few weeks away. Each grade puts together a different dance, play or concert, they are all so creative and it creates a collaborative school culture. So after all signing and the high fiving, junior high was a big change. 

In junior high students have an English class once or twice a week and the English teachers are a bit more fluent in English compared to the elementary teachers. We are helping out in all of the English classes, mostly trying to get the students to introduce themselves to us and asking us questions. I am really enjoying working with the junior high students. Before I came to Japan I had this perception that students never stepped out of line but they aren't all like that their behaviour is the same as I've seen in Calgary schools. I guess wherever you go kids will be kids. 
Aside from the school placement I have still been able to venture outside of Iwamizawa and explore what Hokkaido has to offer. Last weekend I went hiking with a friend I meet at an English conversation class I volunteer for. This weekend I went to two different cities for sightseeing. Japan is a beautiful country and has so much to offer. I am obsessed with the bread here and hit up every bakery I see!
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Sapporo to Iwamizawa

In the past few weeks I have finished Japanese language class, moved cities and started volunteering in an elementary school. I was excited to move to a new city but leaving my host family in Sapporo made the process really difficult. I had never done a home stay before so I was a little nervous before I met them. I was nervous because I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes or be disrespectful because I didn’t know the culture well. It turns out I couldn’t have asked for a better place to stay during my time in Sapporo. The family I was with made me feel so welcomed and comfortable I never expected to get so close to them. Goodbyes are always hard especially when chances you will see them again are low. Along with living with a great family Sapporo is a great city, Sapporo has a lot to offer, amazing food, good shopping and beautiful surrounding mountains. I enjoyed going to Japanese language classes everyday and trying to speak Japanese. Are Sensai was very kind and I am happy we could make her laugh with our broken Japanese. So, after a month in Sapporo I packed my bags and headed to a small city called Iwamizawa. It is about 40 minutes outside of Sapporo and has a University that specializes in sports and art. It been refreshing being in a new place with new people, Iwamizawa is a lot smaller and is surrounded by a lot of beautiful nature. My new host family is equally as awesome as my first and have been very kind to take me on adventures every weekend.

Along with a new city and a new host family came the opportunity to volunteer in an elementary and junior high school. This past week I have been at the elementary school helping with some English classes and observing other classes. I have learnt so much in the 6 days I have been at the elementary school, the Japanese education system is very different from Calgary’s. The are very standardized and there is a lot of pressure on students to do well in school. We were told that if students do not find their place in school they will have a very hard 12 years. The use of technology is also lacking. Every school we have been in uses chalkboards there has been no sign of technology in the classrooms besides a TVs. There also aren’t any janitors at the school, the student and the teachers clean the whole school everyday. The teachers in Japan are the hardest working people I have ever met. The are so passionate about teaching and making a difference in the student life. The call it the 7-11 job here because the teachers are often working from 7am to 11pm. The don’t have prep periods like we do and they even spend their lunch period with the kids.  It is really inspiring being in a country that hold education on such a high pedestal, I can’t wait to see what junior high has in store for me.

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Kon'nichiwa!! I have done so much these past two weeks and here are some of the highlights!

Rice Harvesting 

We had the opportunity to go rice harvesting as part of a traditional Japanese excursion. They dressed us up in kimonos and we had to harvest the rice wearing that outfit. Earlier in the year, students from the HUE affiliated elementary school planted the seeds and now it was time for it to be harvested. Before we harvest the rice, we got to take part in a traditional ceremony that thanks and pray for a successful seasonal harvest. This was a fun activity that we got to do with our host families and other children. I did not realize how much work it was to harvest the rice and i understand why it is so important to finish every last piece of my rice in my bowl. 

School Life

As the first week of my placement comes to an end, I can not express how appreciative I am for the students and teacher at Ainosato Nishi Elementary. Everyone is so kind and welcoming. The students at the school were really excited to meet us and they would say "hello, nice to meet you" any chance they get. One of the first things we did was an introduction that was broadcasted on TV to the entire school. We had to speak in both Japanese and English. I can understand how hard it must be for students to speak English to us. It is very nerve racking to go up and speak in a language that you barely know. Even though I have done many presentations and this was a simple self introduction, I found myself forgetting everything that I practiced. 

Teachers at the school encourages students to use English where possible. For example, our homeroom teacher would go through the weekly schedule in both Japanese and English. Students in the class really try their best to communicate with us. Even though there is a big language barrier, they use gestures

or pictures to try to get their point across. Students would also help each other out by figuring out the translation together. We are still able to play games with the children and try our best to use our broken Japanese to communicate with them. Unfortunately, students only get one English class a week. In these classes, often students play games and these games allow students to practice everyday phrases. Our liaison mentioned that next year, students will have two English classes a week because of the 2020 Olympics in Japan. There is a big push for everyone to improve their English skills. 

Another thing that I found interesting was students are so well behaved and respectful in class. They are really serious about their education and they have so much respect for the teacher, other classmates and the school. For example students serve their own lunches. There will be a few students who are selected to distribute the food, nobody eats until food is served to everyone. Once everyone has their food, one student will go to the front of the class to say "itadakimasu", which means "thanks for the food/let's eat". After lunch, all students are required to clean the classroom and surrounding areas everyday. Each student has their own responsibilities. 

At the University 

This weekend I got to check out the university's school festival. This was a festival that was put on by students. They consist of of food vendors in which students prepared all the food, different kinds of activities and performances. There was a band performance that consisted of members of the band club and students at the affiliated junior high/elementary school. The performance was unreal and the students from the affiliated school did not need their music sheet and played all their songs by memory. I was really impressed with the amount of dedication these students have. Another performance I saw was a traditional Japanese dance. The dance was fun and I have never seen anything like it before. The university seems to have great spirit and a strong sense of community. 

Sapporo is really beautiful especially when I get to see the leaves change colour as each day goes by. Though I do not get to be home with my family for Thanksgiving, I have my own family here. I am really thankful to have this opportunity to be here and grateful for all the people I have met. Happy Thanksgiving from Japan! 

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こんばんわ! Konbanwa!
(Good Evening) 

I can't believe that there is only 3 more weekends left in this incredible experiences that I sometimes can't believe I'm a part of. Some days I will be walking down the street and just think in my head "I'm in Japan!!!" I absolutely love it here and I have learned so much from my host families and our new Japanese friends. 

Some cool learning experiences at this point in time:

September 30th

I got the opportunity to go rice harvesting with the girls, our host families and some other international students! It was such a fun experience and really rewarding because we got to eat the rice right after! We also got a go at making mochi which involved a huge mallet smacking down on the dough. One of the greatest things about Sapporo is how fresh the food is. We also had the opportunity to wear traditional rice harvesting wear for the ceremony that takes place before. The morning was fun but a bittersweet day for me as it was my last day with my first host family. The Kouno family made me feel welcome since day one and they have spoiled me to death. My host mother cried and I couldn't help but choke up while thanking her for everything she did for me. Osewani Narimashita. With their family, I learned how collective Japanese culture is compared to North American culture. It is common for Japanese children to sleep in the same bed as their parents even until they're 10, 11 or even 12. They had everyday timed to a T and had a schedule laid out for me so I knew what time I should come home for dinner and what time I should take a shower so nobody would clash with me. I personally love routines and schedules so it worked out great! I had so much fun with them and I would recommend staying with a host family to anyone who is interested! 

My new host family is very nice but it was a taste of reverse culture shock for me. My previous family ate traditional Japanese meals, had rice and miso soup for breakfast everyday and we spent every night after dinner together while my new family is more westernized, meaning we eat cereal for breakfast every day and everyone has their own schedule and does their own thing. I think when I get back to Canada, there will be a lot of Japanese mannerisms that I will carry on with me and it'll take some time to adjust. I face timed my parents for the first time since I have been here the other day and realized how unnatural it was for me to speak Chinese after (attempting) to speak Japanese for the past month. 

October 2nd - 6th 

Mandy and I started our school visits at the affiliated elementary school and it has been a very enriching week for us. On the first day, the school had a welcoming ceremony and children sang songs for us and had speeches. We introduced ourselves in both Japanese and English in front of the whole school. Each day, we were with a different grade and teacher. The students at the school love us and say hi to Mandy and I in the hallway. We've never felt so famous!

Some key differences between Canadian Schooling and Japanese Schooling:

The student-teacher relationships in Japan are much closer and students interact closely with teachers and students from other grades.

Older students automatically take care of younger ones. The community is more collectively based rather than independently based. A whole school field trip to start the year is very important to build a sense of school community. 

Every single day in every single class, one student start off the class with a greeting that gets all the students settled. The greeting usually consists of stating what the class is and to do our best. At the end of the class, dismissal is done in the same way. They end off with stating what the class is again and thanking everyone for their hard work. Again, no time is wasted on classroom management but more on the learning. 
 
Classrooms have lunch together and the teacher sits in a desk with the students. The students serve their own food to the class and put away their own dishes and supplies.I love the idea of having school lunch with kids. It really allows you a chance to get to know them and be a closer community. I have noticed in Japanese classrooms, children are not afraid to speak out and they are encouraged to make mistakes because they can learn from them. Mistakes aren't something to be ashamed of and the classroom community is so nurturing that it doesn't matter if you do make a mistake. Students are able to be their best self around their teacher and it really fosters a productive classroom. Teachers in Japan spend almost no time on classroom management, instead the whole class is dedicated to the learning experience and in turn, students seem to really enjoy school.

Students are excited about everything they do. I almost feel as if children in Canada are afraid to speak out or give it their all in a school performance, in fear of what their peers might think but here every single student gives it their all. It inspires you to do your best at everything you do and not to care what other people think.

A thought about school visits thus far:

My initial thought about schools in Japan was that they were incredibly standardized, focused on the grades and focused on going into post-secondary but what I have realized is while all the above may be true, students love school. They have so much fun at school every day because their teachers have a great relationship with them and the community is strong. They also have many extracurricular activities that allows them to pursue their interests at a young age. It is hard for me to put into words but the energy of the school is just incredible. 

October 8

Today, the girls and I went to a school festival hosted at the University and there was lots of food, games and performances. We had a chance to see our Japanese friends perform and my host sister who plays trombone is her school's brass band. My sister did an amazing job in her performance. What amazed me the most was they played everything without sheet music, they played the songs based on memory. It goes to show how much hard work these students put into their craft and how much they value mastery of a skill. We also had a chance to see our HUE friend, Mayu perform in a dance. It was inspiring to watch. I was also able to see my friend, Shuhei, who I met in Calgary 6 months ago when HUE students visited us! It was awesome to see him. 

October 10-13

Two more days at the elementary school then Mandy and I will be off to the affiliated Junior High School for the rest of the month! We also have some university lectures planned for us and a school excursion near the end of the month. I am ready to make these the best last couple of weeks ever!

Ja mata ne! (See you) 

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Japan is amazing!

Konnichiwa!

Time has really flown by and it’s already the middle of the TAB experience! Japan continues to be amazing (although starting to get a tad cold) and contains new knowledge and information every day.

 School Festival

I had the opportunity to see a Junior High School festival and it was quite frankly, amazing. Students get two weeks to prepare entire skits, musicals and videos, in which the entire school must participate. Each student is invested because they get to choose what position they want to be in for the festival (i.e. lunchroom decoration, which performance, announcements, etc.). I was very shocked about the high quality and the effort that all the students put into everything, from the costumes to the dances, to the decorations to the food. Moreover, I appreciate how they help each other through switching off doing the lighting for certain scenes.

My most memorable experience was the Aladdin musical.  Although I cannot understand the language I believe even if I never saw the story before, I would still understand the story! The students' dances were synchronized, costumes were authentic and the singing was amazing.

The school cheers on everybody and this helped create a sense of community. 

School Visit

I have had the opportunity to visit three very different schools: a rural school (Shippu Elementary and Junior High school), Affiliated Junior high school, and Sapporo Asahigaoka high school (which is very prestigious). While all the visits contained pleasant surprises, the Asahigaoka high school was the most memorable for me because it was so different. Here, almost all the students will advance to post-secondary education, so the students design their own schedules (just like in University) to take courses they are interested in.

I struggle with the language barrier, as there are some many questions that I would like to ask the teachers but couldn’t. During this visit, I got to witness a Biology lab, a Chemistry lab, English class and Biology class. English class is a struggle, as students only take it for their University placement exam but they don’t actually see the application of what they are learning. The terminology they learn is difficult and in my opinion meant to impress instead of common day use. On the other hand, I got to meet a passionate Biology teacher, who is also in charge of the Biology club. In order to allow students to visualize the process of gestation and growth, they grew their own chickens from eggs (and I got to hold one!) Moreover, the classroom is full of alive and dead specimens and covered with student presentations about what they are learning/ investigating in Biology. Because of what he does, all the students love the subject and find use in what they are learning, which is the type of teacher I aspire to be! 

School Placement

For this week, I am placed at the Affiliated Elementary School. On our first day, there was a school assembly for the students, where we (Heather and I) were introduced as University students from Calgary. We were expected to do a speech about ourselves, which we gave in Japanese and English. I think this was the right thing to do because the students and teachers really appreciated our effort to speak in Japanese. Moreover, they have gone out of their way to make us feel welcome, especially all the students who will say hello and good-bye whenever they see us.

I especially like how we get to eat lunch with the students. Students actually serve lunches to their own classmates by working as a class. During lunch, all the students wear an apron and hat, and then they rearrange the classroom to sit in groups for lunch. While some students hand out utensils, others are in charge of handing out various food items. At every meal we get a carton of milk (Sapporo is famous for their milk!) Students have a unique way of folding their milk cartons to conserve space, which I found interesting. What I really enjoyed is the scissors, rock, paper game (our version is known as rock, paper, scissors) to see who gets the last morsel of the school lunch. This is very entertaining! Then everyone helps clean the room before they are allowed to go play.

My experience has been absolutely amazing at the elementary school. I am excited to see what junior high school will be like! 

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Life in Iwamizawa City

Konnichiwa! 

Somehow, seven weeks in this country has slipped by me without me even getting the chance to blink. I have traveled, made new friends, eaten half the supply of food in the country, and am now on to my second host family. 

I have to start with my Sapporo host family this week. I’m going to be super raw with you all this week, so power through the sappy parts if you have to. They tell you homestay is a great experience but until you’re living it you have no clue just what that means. I thought I could go in and out of my first family’s home with little attachment, but no such luck. After the four weeks were up and I was ready to move out, I thought everything would be okay. The day had come for Stephanie and I to leave the other girls and head for Iwamizawa. And everything was okay, until I was walking out the door with my bags and looked back to see my host mother crying. My plan to not be emotional went straight out the window. From the house all the way to the train, I cried like I would if I knew I was never going to see my own family again. And then I cried off and on for the remainder of the day, in between an orientation at Hokkaido University of Education Iwamizawa, a school visit, and the move-in to my new host family’s home. I have truly gained a Japanese mother, father, and sisters with my Sapporo family. And I can easily say that this was my hardest day in the entire seven weeks I’ve been here. I slept more than fifteen hours that night, as I had worn myself completely dry.

As a side note, I am eternally grateful for Stephanie putting up with my emotional outbursts that day. For future tab students reading this, don’t be afraid to lean on your travel mates, it makes getting through your hard days exponentially easier! 

Now that I have decompressed and moved into my new homestay in Iwamizawa, all my positive energy has been revived, and I am now alive and well again. We are the first University of Calgary students that HUE Iwamizawa has taken on, and we are so excited to make our mark. Today was our first full day acting as stand in ALTs (assistant language teachers), and I enjoyed it so much. We were placed in Daiichi Elementary School in Iwamizawa, and are getting the chance to assist in grade one through six classes. The children’s love and energy was exactly what I needed to cure any of the remaining blues I’ve been feeling. I was reminded immediately why I am going into this profession. Schools are my happy place, without a doubt. The children at Daiichi were so excited to have us there, Stephanie and I felt like celebrities. Everywhere we go at school the children greet us, and want to share the english they know with us in conversation. We have even remembered some Japanese from our lessons to try and communicate back with them. We also spent the second half of our lunch signing autographs (for real), so when I say felt like celebrities, I mean literally. 

(Stephanie signing autographs for the kids at Daiichi Elementary)

As for my new city and new family, I am loving it. Sapporo is very Calgary-like, but Iwamizawa feels even more like home for me. I find it very similar to Okotoks (which is where I grew up), as it is about 40 minutes outside Sapporo, and is a much smaller and tighter-knit town. The pace here is also 100% different than Sapporo. My new host family consists of my Mother (Megumi), and my Father (Hajime). I am very well taken care of once again, and feel so lucky to have their support.

(Dinner with my new host father, Hajime)

This weekend they took Stephanie and I on a road trip out to Otaru, which is a town about two hours from Iwamizawa right beside the ocean. We did lots of shopping, ate their world famous sushi, and I had the ice-cream of my dreams. See below!

(Everything Maccha, all the time)

(Enjoying my 7 flavour ice-cream, there is ice cream shops on every corner in Japan!)

(Otaru world famous sushi)

Class work is picking up, and with full days and weeks in the schools, things are about to get crazy. But I am ready to take on the next four weeks head first, and make the most of this crazy, wonderful trip. The next time you hear from me, we will already be nearing the end! Unbelievable. 

(Loving it here in Hokkaido!)

Ja mata sugi! (see you soon)

Kaitlin 

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Sapporo wa Subarashii Desu!

The City & Homestay Experience

Sapporo is wonderful! It’s been several weeks since I’ve arrived in Sapporo, and although I feel like I’ve begun to settle in, I continue to learn and be surprised by new things everyday. Spending time with my lovely host family has been one of the most fun, educational experiences thus far. With my host family, I was able to experience first-hand some of the everyday routines of the Japanese lifestyle. From eating delicious Japanese-style breakfasts and dinner as a family, to taking public transportation, playing games, and attending after-school lessons with my host sister, everything (including the apparently ‘mundane’ activities), have been so interesting. My host family (and their friends) have gone above and beyond what I imagined homestay hospitality entailed, and have brought me to various places within and around Sapporo city. Below are some examples (Top to bottom: A view of Sapporo City from Mt. Misen & Rice Harvest)!

 

Japanese Language Classes

Nihongo wa omoshiroi desu, demo muzukashi desu (Japanese language is interesting/fun, but hard)! Most weekdays, I went to the Hokkaido University of Education with my fellow TAB Japan students and studies Japanese language for three hours a day. As expected, learning a new language from scratch is incredibly challenging. But with the help of our very kind and patient language teacher, Yoshida Sensei, she has made the experience incredibly engaging and fun. It also helps to be with my classmates, whom I practice Japanese conversation with, and do active language role playing. From this experience, I feel like I have gained two very important things: the ability to use and understand some simple Japanese phrases and terms, and being able to know what it is like to struggle with an unfamiliar language. I find the second point to be of particular value to my future teaching, as I will inevitably have students in my class whom are English language learners. I feel as though my experience learning simple Japanese, and through attempting to navigate Sapporo city as a language learner, I have become more aware what it might be like to struggle communicating with those who speak a different language. 

School Visits

One of the main reasons I chose Japan as my TAB placement option was because I was interested in being able to observe, and participate in the Japanese education system. The first school I had the opportunity to visit was a rural elementary school with a population in the mid-twenties. The second was a junior high school that was affiliated with the Hokkaido University of Education, and the third was a very large, prestigious high school at the end of the city.

Although the schools varied in population and school area size, as well as age of students, I was able to see some very strong similarities. For example, all Japanese students that I’ve encountered so far seem to be incredibly motivated to work hard at their learning. In part, motivation came from wanting to prepare for entrance examinations at their next school. However, students also seem to be genuinely interested in the course material, and in doing well for themselves. It appears Japanese culture, particularly in relation to collectivism, plays a critical role in how the students interact with their teachers and peers. When it comes to class management, transitions between classes, and lunch duties, all students have a vital role in ensuring that everything runs smoothly. Contrary to what I had believed the student-teacher relationship to be in Japan, both parties formed a close, but respectful partnership of reciprocal learning and care. In general, high levels of school spirit and a genuine interest to pursue club activities also seems to be present in all schools.

 

What’s Next

Now that Japanese classes are finished, we have begun the process of getting more involved in the school environment. I am excited to continue to practice my Japanese language skills, as well learn more about the Japanese school environment!

Until next time! Mata ne!

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Last Weeks in Sapporo

Hello from Sapporo! I know this has been said, but I can not believe we are nearing half way through our journey with Teaching Across Borders. I am experiencing the learning journey of a lifetime here in Japan, and am so grateful to get to share it with you all.

This week will be our fourth week in this city, and with our homestay families. To keep you updated, I still have not felt any overwhelming homesickness (which is a huge milestone for me, as I expected I would). My homestay family is wonderful, and I dread that this is my last week with them before moving to my next family. I have truly gained a Japanese mother and father, and two wonderful sisters in my life. They fill the void that being away from home leaves. Every night we play games, watch Japanese game shows, and eat amazing home cooked Japanese meals. On the weekends we adventure out in Sapporo. Last weekend I was thrilled to be able to see my first professional baseball game, and was cheering on the Sapporo Fighters with my host family (and Stephanie!). We are also learning tons of Japanese, and are trying our best to use it. Japanese is an incredible language, but incredibly hard to learn, even with three hour lessons four to five days a week.

For those of you not in Asian countries, and wondering how it feels to be in Japan with the North Korea crisis escalating, we’re taking it one day at a time! In the last few weeks, tensions have been high, and there has been two missiles tested over Hokkaido (which is where we are). The first was in the middle of the night, the second was a week later on our way to school first thing in the morning. Alarms were sounded throughout the city, and transit was shut down until the Japanese government had confirmation that the missile had landed in the ocean safely. With all the supports we have in place, our host families caring for us, and knowing the Canadian Embassy and the University of Calgary are keeping close watch on us, we all seem to still be in positive spirits! Personally, I am choosing to take this with optimism, as a great learning experience, and as Dr. Dressler says, a great story to tell.

Since we have arrived in Sapporo, we have had the opportunity to visit an Elementary school (Shogakko), a Junior High School (Chugakko), and most recently, a High School (Koko). The education system in Japan is fascinating. For elementary and junior high schools, the focus is mainly on rote memorization and repetition. We have seen little to no inquiry based work since we have been observing. When discussing this with with professors and teachers, they admit that this becomes a problem for students. They know the facts, but have simply memorized them on a “script”, and if questions were asked in another way, they would often not be able to answer or think critically to find the answer. This is because the focus is mainly on standardized testing throughout the system. In junior high school, this means focusing on passing high school entrance exams, and for high school students, this means passing university entrance exams. Therefore, for high school students, deciding what their life focus is very early on, as they may either write a science university entrance exam for science-based programs, or a humanities based entrance exam for various other degrees. This preparation requires them to take a science or humanities path in high school.

Next week we start our placements in schools, and I will be writing you from a new city (Iwamizawa)! 

Bye for now! Kaitlin

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Japan is the ultimate cultural experience. The food, the people, the way of life, the education system, I could go on forever listing the differences between Japan from every other Country I have visited. Since I am living with a Japanese family in Sapporo I have been able to fully immerse myself into Japanese lifestyle. I was a bit nervous to participate in a home stay program because I have never done it before and didn't know what to expect. It's crazy to think I've only been with this family for two weeks, it feels like we have known each other for a long time. Even though there is a language barrier it is still possible to make meaningful connections. They have opened up their home to me with open arms and have made me feel more comfortable then I could ever imagine

Some students from the Hokkaido University of Education have been kind enough to help us explore Sapporo and help us order food when we can't read the menus. They are awesome people and its interesting to talk about the Education degree in Japan and the comparisons we can make to our program back home. We also have been taking Japanese class at Hokkaido University, our Sensei (Teacher in Japanese) meets with us everyday from 9 am to 12 pm.it has been both exciting and difficult learning Japanese. I have never attempted to learn another language so this has definitely been a learning curve for me. I struggle with the pronunciation and sentence structure but I do feel like I am making progress. When I listen to Japanese conversations I can usually pick up a few words and can communicate basic greetings. We are learning phrases and words that will benefit us during our volunteer experience in the schools as well as practical dialogue that will help us communicate in day to day activities. We still have two weeks left of Japanese class and I am looking forward to  learning as much as I can.

The first month of our TAB program is focused on language class so we have only been to two schools thus far. The first school we went to was a really unique experience for me. It was a elementary/junior high in rural Sapporo that has a population of 25 students. The school culture at this school was amazing, it  was both a wonderful place to learn and make connections with peers and teachers. The school was like a family, all of the older students help out the younger ones and they all work together to keep their school in the best shape! A really cool aspect of this elementary/junior high is after lunch every student and teacher goes to a designated room and they clean the whole area! after they clean they go around in a circle and say how they did or how it made them feel. The Japanese have so much respect for each other and their communities, I am grateful to have this opportunity to learn from them!

Also Japan is beautiful!!!

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Japan is incredible!

My trip in Japan has been an amazing experience so far. The people are super helpful; the food is wonderful and delicious (see ramen picture); the landscape is awesome (see the above image taken from on top of Mt. Moiwa).

Japanese Language: I have the amazing opportunity to learn Japanese, which has proven to be challenging (like any learning language process), but fun. It is especially fruitful because we are placed in host families; the opportunity to have some basic conversation with them in Japanese is wonderful. One thing that I have learned is that communication is important in everything I do, but I have also developed different ways to communicate when you cannot do so verbally or with the vocabulary you want to use (i.e. pointing!).

Sports Festival: My first introduction to the Japanese education here was through the Elementary school Sports Festival that took place the very first morning that I arrived. I still remember my own experiences in Calgary, where Sports day consisted of an afternoon walking to different stations with my friends to do various Track and Field activities. I was extremely surprised to see what the Sports Festival meant in Japan and particularly for this school. First of all, the entire school is split into the Red and White team and they compete to be the winning team. This included speeches and friendly taunting between the two teams, which I wish I understood. Then there were athletic competitions, such as sprinting, tug-o-rope, relay races, etc. My personal favourite athletic activity was the play wrestling that took place. Students formed groups and there is one student who was held up by the others. That student would then have to remove the cap of the student of the opposing team without falling down from their piggyback position. I cannot imagine this being done in any Calgary schools at all!

Moreover, the parent involvement is amazing during this event. Parents arrive early with their students in order to set up tents and mats in order to see the event. The parents also participated in some of the events to get points for the teams, which was amusing. The event ended with awarding the winning team (red for this year) and it astonished me to see the students from the losing side cry. However, the teachers gave them a rallying talk, which I found incredible because there is a real sense of community here.

Manners: One of the things I enjoy the most in Japan is their politeness. This is present in different ways then Canada, where we are known for saying “sorry” for everything. Instead, the Japanese say "thank you" for the meal before (“Itadakimasu”) and afterwards ("Gochisoosama”). Families greet each other when they leave and return home. Although this happens in Canada, the difference is that this is ingrained in them from a young age. Students are required to take a Moral class where they learn to behave in society. While I haven’t had the opportunity to attend one of these classes, it is amazing to see this in their society and see the contrast to Canada. As part of our observations, we were told that classroom management is not an issue, because the students are so well behaved all the time!

Significant actions: When comparing and contrasting the differences between schools in Calgary and Japan, one thing that I really enjoyed is the seriousness of traditions and ceremonies. For instance, the students take their entrance ceremonies and graduation ceremonies extremely seriously. When a teacher starts the class the entire class in one voice greets him/her and when the class is done they thank the teacher together as a class. Students in elementary and junior high school serve lunch to their classmates. Most importantly, the students take part in cleaning their entire school together after lunch. Groups are assigned the task of wiping down the area where they ate, their classrooms and even their hallways. I think this instils a sense of responsibility in them and helps the students form a community.

I am looking forward to beginning my placement in an elementary and junior high school to learn more about the education here in Japan in the month of October!  

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