japan (44)

Home Sweet Home


Although I am still extremely jetlagged and somewhat disoriented, I'm finally starting to settle back into my routine here in Calgary. There's so much that I missed about life in Calgary: my family, my friends, the language, the food, and of course, my bed. Not sure if I really miss the snow, but hey, it's home. For those of you that have been following along with my posts, you know that I have been homesick for pretty much the entire trip. I was so excited to see my family again, so excited that I couldn't even sleep during the long flights. I remember running through the airport as soon as I got off the plane, rushing to meet my family who came to pick me up. The first person I saw as I came out of the arrival gates was my 88 year-old grandma, and neither of us could stop the tears from streaming down our faces as I rushed to hug her. In the car on the way home, I couldn't stop pulling things out of my bags, trying to show my grandma everything that I had bought, many of which were for her. I had also arranged to go to wushu practice, although I was a bit late to the class due to the arrival time of my flight. I was a bit out of practice due to not training for two and half months, but it was wonderful getting to practice again and to see my coach and all of my wushu friends.

Looking back at the program, the two months flew by so quickly. We got to learn so many new things and gain so many new experiences. We met many wonderful people: our homestay families, the staff at the universities, the people at the elementary and jr. high schools, the student tutors, and even just the community in general. In Iwamizawa, we had some problems at the beginning with the schedule that the university gave us, due to time conflicts with our online courses and struggling to balance the times we were to spend in schools with the time we needed for our homework. However, our liasion was absolutely amazing and helped us to work out our schedule. Getting to experience two different homestays (one in Sapporo and one in Iwamizawa) was amazing, with both my homestay families being extrememly nice and helpful. It is an extremely difficult thing to do to open your home to a stranger and to have them stay with you for a month, so I'm really glad I got to expereince it. The staff members and the students at the schools were incredibly welcoming and friendly. Students were usually shy about talking to forgeiners in English, but were also enthusiatic in greeting and getting to know us. Our student tutors were absolutely amazing, constantly helping us find our way and helping to translate everything. We spent our last week and a half in Japan slowly wrapping up the program, having our last school visits and picking up some last minute things to prepare for our return to Canada. The university even threw a farewell party for us, and invited many of the people that we've worked with during our month in Iwamizawa. 

There are so many new ideas and experiences that I have gained through this program. Getting to learn basic conversational Japanese definitely helped me to have an easier time communicating and getting around, especially since I did not know any Japanese before going on TAB. And of course, when the basic Japanese we knew wasn't enough, Google Translate was often able to save the day (I swear, Google Translate will be your best friend). Getting to see English being taught as a second language in schools reminded me of when I took French back in Jr. High and High school. I'm not quite sure how, but I found that the students here are much better at English than I ever was at French, especially since I've forgotten pretty much all the French I've learned back then. We also got to see many different activities that were used in the English classes that I am likely to use in my own teachings. It was also super impressive getting to see how disciplined students were and the responsibilities that students had in schools. Students would lead most of homeroom, serve school lunches to each other, clean the schools themselves, and were extremely fast at listening to instructions and getting organized. It sometimes makes me wonder if we are underestimating our students here in Canada and are babying them too much.

Tips that I have for future TAB students going to Japan are:

  • Transit: Make sure you look up all possible transit routes, including walking ones (Google Maps will be another of your best friends). Different transit companies have different routes and costs. Walking, or biking if you manage to get your hands on a bike, will help save you a ton of money. Trust me, transit costs add up quickly if you're taking the bus/train everyday
  • Food: If you're looking for cheap and quick lunches, convenience stores are the place to go. Convenience stores in Japan are amazing. There are many different convenience stores, such as Seicomart, Familymart, Seven Eleven, and Lawsons, and they're everywhere. I got most of my lunches at convenience stores and they're delicious and quite cheap. 
  • Homestays: Make sure to take the time to get to know and bond with your homestay families. As busy as you'll probably get with homework, don't just hide in your room. Take the time to talk and hang out with them. They're likely to become one of your strongest pillars of support while you're there

All in all, I had an awesome time doing TAB. Thanks for following along on my adventures, and I look forward to seeing the blog posts of future Tabbers. Sayonara!



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Back Home

I got behind the wheel of my car today and froze, scared that I'd forgotten the rules of the roads and had gotten too used to Japan driving on the opposite side of the road from Canada. This sums up how I feel being back home too, as though I got too used to driving on the opposite side of the road (although disclaimer I never actually drove in Japan), and now am nervous about getting back on the roads in Canada. It feels as though I just landed in Japan yesterday so it is a bit surreal that I'm already back in Canada. It took me a while to get used to the rules (legal and unspoken), values, and culture in Japan. It feels as though I only just started to integrate myself into their society, and now have to adapt back to life in Canada.

I ran into someone yesterday and my first instinct was to say gomenasai. Imagine my surprise when they looked at me weird, and I had to correct myself and say "sorry". I woke up in the morning and my mouth went to say ohio, and I had to consciously correct myself into saying good morning. The things I'm finding myself having to get readjusted to in Calgary are not what I expected, as if I'm speaking honestly I didn't think I would get so used to life in Japan. Specifically, I did not expect to catch onto the language and to have to get used to speaking english primarily and not having to depend on google translate or guessing games. Hand gestures became second nature to me, and now I have to teach myself to stop being as vocal with my hands.
That being said, it might take some time and I have a lot to "re-learn" about life in Calgary, but I'm more than happy I went and experienced TAB in Japan. I made so many amazing friends and "family" in Japan who I cannot wait to return back to. To any future tabbers reading this, good luck and enjoy the experience, you'll be back home before you know it. 

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Back and looking forward.

One thing I did not expect right away, is how Japan would change my mindset. Since using cash is dominant in Japan, I now feel weird using a credit card. I want to use change now, no matter how small it may be. Those dimes and nickels on my desk have value now. Taking my car and getting gas feels like a chore when I can just walk to the station. The walking in Japan did wonders for my largely atrophied legs and body. For better or worse, it changes you. Not being able to order Starbucks in Japanese is now disorientating, I'll miss saying "hotto coco, talllru" = (hot coca, tall) or "aisu cohi" = (Iced coffee). It's the little things that you miss after all.

Seeing the effort the Japanese put into their English has been motivational for me and my own language pursuits and I hope to impart this on my own students in the future. I do recommend to those travelling to whichever country, to pick up a little pocket dictionary ($8-10) every single word counts and knowing just one word in a given scenario can make your life that much better/easier. I wish all the future tabbers the very best and don't neglect those nickels!



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Back and looking back

Back in Calgary and the trusty fresh morning rice has been replaced with bagels. Not a bad thing. One major plus looking back at having a homestay family, which I think is almost unique for Hokkaido, is how much support you can get from them. I personaly like to be independant and be out and exploring but by the second month I fullly embraced having a papa san, mama san and a little baby that would bounce up and down on my foot. When things are stressfull and if news from home isn't great they got you covered, as well as when taking you to the hospital and taking you out for say, pizza and wine. They also happen to know the best sushi places in town, it's odd that they would know this, but they do..It's not just an exciting time for you but for them as well; the kids won't forget the odd-looking Canadian that stayed in their house (hopefully). They also actually preferred my messy bedroom to the now empty one so that makes me feel a lot better about myself! Usually when you come from travelling you leave some friends behind but this time I left some friends as well as family, all the more reason to go back. I now finally understand why Conan O'brien felt the need to rent a family in Japan, "It's a good thing." - Martha Stewart



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A Bittersweet End

2 months have now flown by and I've arrived back home in Canada after a long flight. This has truly been an amazing experience, and I've learned so much during my time in Osaka. It was such a unique look into the Japanese education system, and a great opportunity to learn more about teaching ELL students and how variant the levels of English can be within a single classroom, and the different scaffolding and differentiation methods that can be utilized.  It was also a great way to practice my Japanese and it was so rewarding to speak to and get to know all of the students at Suito. After Japan it really is a strange feeling to be back in Canada and to suddenly hear and have to speak English exclusively. 

My last day at the school was on Halloween, and it was so much fun to see the students and staff go all out and dress-up in school. Most schools in Japan don’t allow students to wear costumes for Halloween, so I think students were extra excited to be able to do this for the first time in a school environment. Students even brought their own snacks and would ask each other to say ‘trick-or-treat’ and exchanged treats amongst themselves since trick-or-treating isn’t a part of the culture here. Students would come up and find us throughout the day to give us treats and say goodbye. Some students even gave me hand-written letters, and one class made a small album with goodbye notes from each student. It was really touching to be able to receive such things, and it definitely affirmed what I want to do in the future as a teacher. I really wish that I could have had more time in Osaka as there is still so much more I feel that could have been learned and two months really isn’t enough time. I’m so sad to have had to leave Japan but I’ve only begun to scratch the surface, and I can’t wait to continue my learning with this upcoming field.

Good luck to anyone joining TAB next year, there will be many struggles, but in the end it is so worth it.

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3694675259?profile=RESIZE_710x Two months have passed by so quickly. Too quickly. My time in Japan has been so fulfilling, it is hard to know where to begin. Well, not really, which is why I have organised my thoughts as follows:

Academically, I have learned so much about teaching English, through my observations of the teachers here, conversations with them, and my own evolving understandings. English language learning is such a difficult undertaking, and I have so much respect for the students here. Even in elementary school, they have to learn English, and they do it with such fervour in order to develop proper comprehension skills. This is such a far cry from how we tend to look at additional language learning here in Canada. I wonder how many students remember any French of Spanish from school? English isn’t even a simple language to learn; as far as languages go, English is one of the most difficult, with its colloquialisms, different sets of rules, and borrowed words. The teachers here really have a lot of work cut out for them.

There are a lot of practices here in Japan that I think our educational system can learn from. The amount of responsibility that students have really develops a strong sense of leadership and responsibility. Students lead the classroom greetings and direct school lunch. They participate in various aspects of school culture and help each other with tasks throughout the day.  I think that our students need to be given more responsibility like this in Canada. We shouldn’t overwork our kids, but they need to be given more power and control over daily tasking, to help build their confidence and develop their sense of community in the school. I wonder if this is something I can do in my classroom, and whether a lot of the attitudes here are more a product of Japanese society rather than school or classroom culture.

Being in Hokkaido for two months has also affected me as a person. I feel as though my sense of awareness and general patience has increased from being immersed in the culture here. I feel much more calm and composed in general, which will help me a lot when I am in the classroom. I like to cultivate a thoughtful and relaxing atmosphere in my classroom as it is, so my time in Japan has really strengthened my preferred skills as a teacher. I am excited to see how my teaching style in our upcoming practicum will be different from my teaching style from our last Field Experience. There is just so much growth that will have happened when I finally get to look back on this year.

On a final note, I have made many good friends here. The kind of friends I will be talking with for a long time after leaving Japan. I have a family in Japan now, as well as lots of friends from around the world. I have also learned more about what I want to do in the future, and I feel as though my future is clearer than it was when I arrived. The world is such a vast place, and this program has made me more confident in going out and exploring it. Education is a global vocation, and I want to learn more about how it manifests in different communities and cultures.

I mentioned before how a piece of me has been left in Hokkaido. I think I want to leave pieces of myself in other places around the world. I want to impact and be impacted by people from all sorts of different places. Funnily enough, what other country has such a wonderful mix of international cultures than Canada? How asleep I’ve been in exploring my own community!

Being in Hokkaido for so long feels almost surreal, now that I look back on it. Sitting in the airport, I can’t even believe everything that’s happened. Am I really going home already? Or was this trip a daydream, and I am about to spend two months here (again)? I think I won’t fully know until I plant my feet on Canadian soil, breathe in the cool air, and feel back at home, in Calgary, again.


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Sayoonara Japan

The TAB program has taught me so much about myself, and what it is like to live abroad. I have done much travelling before this experience, but I had never lived abroad for this long of a period of time, especially not in a place where I was a minority and English was not widely spoken. This experience taught me to do more travelling such as this experience, where I am pushed outside of my own comfort zone, as I have found that there is where I have learnt and grown the most.

I have travelled abroad to places where English was not the main language (such as South America and parts of Europe), but while travelling to these places I have never looked as though I did not belong. Similarly, I have gone to places where I do not look like I belong (such as parts of Europe and America), but these places have all had English as a main language. This was my first time experiencing travelling to somewhere that did not speak English and where I visibly did not belong, so there was a large period when I first landed where I was very conscious of everything I did, as I knew I was an “other” in their land. However, the more I travelled around Japan and the more I talked with locals (especially in Iwamizawa), the more I began to feel less like an “other”, and more as though I belonged there. Specifically in Iwamizawa, there were multiple times when I was pulled over by locals who wished to speak in English with me, or who had questions about where I was from. These conversations often led to them sharing stories about their own families and lives with me, and led to me creating deeper connections to the people in Japan.

            Returning to Canada, there are many areas where I have grown, and many experiences which I will use within my classrooms. I have had many experiences trying to get around and feeling lost and confused due to language barriers, and being incredibly frustrated due to miscommunications. When teaching my students who are ELL in Canada, I can now reflect back to how I have felt in Japan and use my own experiences to tailor my teaching to support my students to the best of my ability. Upon returning to Canada I will also be more likely to discuss cultural differences, and recognize cultural values when I return to Canada. I have found that in Japan many people have had to accommodate to us TAB students as we did not know the language or values of Japanese culture before arriving. I will now do more research and will practice even more before returning to Japan, or travelling to other places where English is not a main language. This way I will not be someone they have to accommodate for, and instead can integrate and appreciate the culture that much more.


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Classroom Observations

The TAB program impacted me greatly as a pre-service teacher, as I learnt much that I can use professional within my classroom and lessons to better my teaching. The Japanese education system has some similarities to Canada’s education system, but the differences are definitely ones I will be bringing back home with me. Japanese classrooms are very much student-driven and student-run which I feel is something the Canadian education system would benefit from adopting. When I return home and begin my practicum experience, this is something I would like to try to implement within my classroom.

There are many parts to Japanese classrooms being student-driven, such as Japanese classrooms having students in charge of cleaning the classroom and handing out school lunches. Each day a different group of students is in charge of preparing meals for their classmates, as well as being in charge of all cleaning that needs to be done in their classroom and the hallways. Students are held accountable to being there taking on their duties, regardless of any other conflicts they might have. Alongside students being the ones to clean classrooms, they are also the ones in charge of attendance and other management practices. One management practice that is utilized by students is saying “kiotske” to symbolize class starting, needing attention, or class ending. Each day a new student is in charge of this responsibility, so students facilitate transitions and behavior management in classrooms, not teachers.

The classes in Japan also utilize many strategies and techniques which very few teachers in Canada use. One strategy which I will be using within my classroom is utilizing timers frequently. Back home timers are often only used for presentations, whereas in Japan I have seen them used for discussions, activities, and even transitions. I think that this is a very creative and excellent way to create classroom management in one’s classroom. Another technique I will try to use is having students use multiple coloured pens while writing, and having them underline their work, or create boxes around key concepts. I found that this helped students distinguish the important parts, which will be very helpful when they are studying. It also helps students organize their work, which will help them organize the different conceptually as well.

Overall, I learnt many strategies and tools which I will be taking back to Canada with me and using within my own classrooms and lessons.


This is a photo of all of the students rising up as the student in the light blue shirt said "kiotske"

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Home stay Experience

The host family experience has been such a rollercoaster for me. At first it was difficult as you have to find your place within a family that already has set routines and schedules. Each homestay experience is different, but I believe there are many similarities when entering a homestay as accommodation. The first thing that helps with the settling process is finding similarities that you have with your homestay family. My first homestay family in Sapporo loved Disney and we started connecting through Disney, and then evolved our relationship from there. My second homestay family loves travelling so we bonded over places that we have travelled to, and places that we hope we can travel too.

              To further connect with my homestay families I found that creating a routine with them helped a lot. This meant having a set time for breakfast and dinner, but it also meant doing something with my families that includes them in my routines. With my host family in Sapporo we would play games after dinner each day, and then every Friday we would watch a Disney movie. With my host family in Iwamizawa I would wake up and watch the news with them in the morning, and then after dinner we would watch comedy shows together. These moments connecting with them helped me “find my place” in their households, as well as helped create many fun and amazing memories that I know I will cherish forever.

              The homestay experience can be a lot and a bit intimidating at times, but one thing I felt helped a ton was going in with the mentality that my host families would not have volunteered to host me if they did not want to be a host family. At times I felt a bit overwhelmed as I would have assignments due but felt as though I was obligated to hang out with my families after dinner, or wake up early to hang out with them. It took time to adjust to the homestay experience and learn how to overcome this need to say yes to everything my homestay families would ask, but I realized early on that I needed to learn to schedule my time better. I realized that my homestay families just wanted what was best for me, and understood completely if I would have to skip on playing games after dinner, or sleep in the night after a Zoom session, or if I was unable to attend one of the English classes Meg  (my homestay mom in Iwamizawa) teaches.

My homestay families (and I believe every host family) just wanted for us to become a part of their families, and wanted to share their culture and traditions with us. It can take time to adjust to the lifestyle (especially if you’re a bit more independent such as I am), but the experience is one that I will hold dear for life. Opening your mind and heart to the homestay experience will open so many doors and amazing experiences for you.  


Me with my hostfamily in Sapporo (Ayana, Tomomi, and Eji)!


Me with my homestay family in Iwamizawa (Hajime and Megumi)!

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Halloween (ハロウィン)!




Tomorrow will mark my last day in Sapporo as I head back home via Tokyo. I got my "one ticket to Toyko please, one way".  I like to imagine myself as Uma Thurman (codename: Black Mamba) arriving at sunset and hopping on a yellow motorbike to take care of business in Shinjuku. But I will probably just go eat some bullet train sushi instead of fighting the "crazy 88". I didn't pack my samurai sword anyway.

It's interesting to see a city that really embraces Halloween and yet does not actually have the kids go trick o treating. They place such an importance on Halloween that the pumpkin in the picture was the very first thing to be set up by my adopt-a-tab-student family when we went camping. Forget the lawn chairs, forget the lake, the pumpkin needs to go up. Catching late evening lake shrimp in a kettle can come.. well.. in the evening.  With all the fall colours in Japan I can't think of a better place to celebrate halloween. Unfortuantely this yellow haired samurai will be one day late for Halloween Disneyland.. perhaps a Tokyo ghost tour instead?

- Matthew (Codename: Japanese Mamushi)




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Hello Readers,

       My time here in Japan is at an end and I can say that I feel ready to leave. The learning I have done here is incredible, but two and a half months does add up to be a long time and I can’t wait to see my family, friends and puppies. I am looking towards our field three placements and trying to shift my mindset back to Canadians schools. Japan is a country rich in culture and I will dearly miss my time here (and the affordable sushi).



       One of my main takeaways from my time here is the cultural difference between Japan and Canada. Japan is a country with very little diversity, especially in the education system. The curriculum is nationally mandated and we have heard many times here that one child’s experience in school, should be exactly the same as another child even though they many live across the country. Each individual here has grown up in the collective, they can all relate to one another and share many of the same experiences and stories. This is definitely NOT so in Canada. We are a multicultural country with so many diverse experiences and peoples. So often here we have been asked about our Canadian culture, “What food is Canadian”, “Do Canadians like coffee or tea more”, “What are Canadian restaurants like”, “What is a Canadian school like?” My answer to these questions always vexes the askers, I say, “it depends”. We do not have ONE food, we do not have ONE curriculum, and we do not have ONE preferred drink or ONE type of cuisine that defines us, because we are MANY peoples. I love the culture here in Japan and how it is so defined and everyone can share in this, but I also love my home and I think that our diversity makes us rich in culture as well, even if it is in a different way.



       As I mentioned, the curriculum here in Japan is the same no matter where you go, which of course is much different than Canada as the curriculum is provincially mandated. But, the issues that are present here in the education system are surprisingly similar to those in Canada. The classroom size is often too large 30-40 students, the teachers are expected to work long hours and provide supervision for club activities without extra pay and there is often frustration with lack of supplies or resources for support. Recently, there has been in a change in curriculum where teachers are now required to start teaching English early in elementary school, grade 3, instead of the prior grade 6. This has caused a lot of issues for current teachers because, in their own education and in their teacher training, they were never expected to know English at an advanced level and now they are expected to speak it and teach it to their students. I think Japan and Canada are both going through a transitional time in their education systems, and only time will tell how it effects students and teachers.



       During this time I have been able to take in so many new experiences that I will forever be grateful for.  I have learned the aspects and mannerisms required for tea ceremony, worn a kimono, visited historical sites and cities and eaten many traditional Japanese dishes. I have lived with a homestay family I didn’t know at all, made close connections with fellow U of C students and experienced a Japanese student apartment with a VERY thin futon for sleeping and lack of (zero) counter space for cooking. For those that may be thinking about TAB and wondering if they should participate, I think it is a worthwhile experience with many challenges and rewards that will help develop you as a future educator and individual. It’s not always smooth sailing, but if I could do it all again, I would.



Sayōnara, from a member of team Hokkaido 


“Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson


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As I sit here with my bags packed, finishing up our online assignments and looking at last minute plans before my departure in a few days, I am hit with a truly bittersweet feeling. This trip has been the longest I’ve ever been away for, as well my first trip alone… Funny enough, it’s also been the first trip amongst many that I did not experience much to any homesickness. There were times I missed the comfort of my room, but that was easily remedied by the constant excitement of many new adventures I planned and sought out within the country I’ve always wanted to go to, which has now come to fruition. This experience has truly been a dream come true as cliché as that sounds, I’ve always had great fascination in Japan growing up. I was able find some of the old blogs and reflections I had created as a child and even in high school. Through looking back at those, it’s truly incredible to see how much I adored Japanese landscape, culture, traditions and values back then, and to contrast that with what I’ve experienced on my journey here is just surreal- both from a school setting and Japan as a country.

As of now, I am not mentally ready to go back yet, there is still so much I want to experience and explore. The students I’ve worked with have been incredible, and it is going to truly be hard to say goodbye. I am excited that during my last day here, I have the opportunity to attend the school festival where I will get to see all their hard work showcased for not only the school, but the public’s eyes. As mentioned before, our school is a flagship school, spearheading innovative student-centered learning and collaboration that will set an example for Japanese education itself. There was so much learning that took place, although much was focused around ELL, through a UDL approach, our newly acquired insights and skills extend for the benefit of all students, regardless of location and language. We have truly been blessed to have been placed at such an amazing school with incredible administration, teachers and students, where we were able to leave our fingerprints in helping the new school develop itself.

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Light at the End

With each post I do on this blog it really hits me on how quickly time has gone by, and how little time I have left. Now sitting in my apartment, looking at my half packed suitcase after just finishing up all of the assignments for the online courses, I think I'm fully realizing just how little time I have left here in Osaka (3 days to be precise). With tomorrow being my last day at our school, students have been coming to talk to me everyday at lunch, after school, and between classes. Some have even started asking to take pictures with me. It's crazy, because just as you fully start to feel like you belong, getting the hang of everything, and have really started building meaningful relationships with the students here suddenly it is time to leave. I've started trying to go out more and more, and to really jam pack each weekend, and a lot of evenings, trying to take it all in and leave without regrets. To anyone reading this hoping to join the program next year, I would definitely advise to start doing more things early, and to not be afraid to explore your surroundings even if you still feel a bit lost and insecure in a new country. Before you know it your 2 month limit will be coming to an end and you'll realize that you still have so many things left to explore. These last few weeks have really been crazy busy. Not only have university courses really been picking up, but we had to give a presentation to all of the first year high schoolers about Canadian universities, as many of the students here are aiming to study abroad in the future. It was a lot of work to prepare, and I even recorded interviews with a few of my Japanese friends on their own study abroad experiences in Canada to gather some authentic voices for the students to listen to. For the weeks leading up to the presentation, I attended the school's Career Guidance meetings and was able to gain the advice and support of some of the staff here. It was fascinating to see another new side to a teacher's job, and to see how the teachers here are hoping to support students and create new programs for their students to gain experience abroad. This week, Peter and I partner taught a couple classes at the neighbouring elementary school. Coming from a secondary background, and from bring in a secondary school for the past 2 months, it was a huge change in atmosphere. We taught the lesson on Halloween in Canada, and the students were so enthusiastic and really excited to learn and entirely welcoming to two strangers taking over their class for a day. While their English level wasn't great, they still did their best to understand, and were very willing to learn.I really don't feel ready to leave Osaka yet, and it shocks me to see how naturally I move around here now. At the same time, it will be nice to see everyone back home and to share all of the adventures I've had here with them. I also can't wait to hear about how the other TAB students have been doing at the debriefing next week.
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Nearing the End

As we approach the end of our program, I have taken to being more reflective at the end of the day. I want to keep these memories close to my heart, so I think a lot about what I have done and experienced, in an effort to imprint them into my mind. Here in Hakodate, I have met so many people from interesting and diverse backgrounds. University professors who studied in Montreal and Edinburgh, foreigners composing music for Japanese companies, exchange students from Egypt, Australia, Norway, and everywhere in between… I feel so exposed to so many different perspectives and ways of knowing. Every day has been interesting. Going out for dinner and drinks, having discussions about world issues, listening to people talk about their passions and dreams, and being able to put my voice into the mix. Japan may be a homogenous culture, but my experience here has been anything but.

The schools in Hakodate have been so interesting. The way students act is so different from back home. I’ve mentioned this in previous posts, but I am always so taken aback at the amount of responsibility the students have. They joke around and have fun just like students back home, but when they need to help out or do any work, they are ready to go. Even when it comes to presenting in front of class; I have yet to see a nervous or shy student let that affect their delivery. This is a far cry from schools back home, where I feel as though our students feel so pressured to be ‘normal’ or ‘cool’ that they stop taking risks or putting themselves forward. Japanese students will have the same problems as any other group of humans, however these systematic differences in culture and curriculum seem to promote a different way of life in the Japanese school system.

As my money slowly runs out, and I can begin counting down the days until I come home, I grow more pensive over my time here. It has been a fun ride, and I am sad to leave. However, I am also glad to be able to see my family again. I am glad that I will be able to see my friends, who are so dear to me. Being in Japan has helped me appreciate these things more, and that is perhaps a more important area of growth than any school or classroom could provide.

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It has felt like time has passed by slowly, but looking back, the days have also passed by quickly. Over the past month, our duo has volunteered at 2 elementary schools. One is located out to the north-west, near a popular tourist spot called Otaru. It is quiet and peaceful, with an occassional burst of liveliness as the tourists pour in during good weather. The other is based in a quiet "sub-urb"-like region to the south-west of downtown. As it is in a residential district, it's much quieter. During our time there, we were able to participate in various activities, such as self-introduction/interview activities, simple games and teaching basic vocabulary. At one school, we were able to explore and observe various classes, whereas in the other school, we were limited to observing and participating in English classes until the last day. 

I was relieved to be able to contribute to and know the school community by the end of our volunteering, at that time we were able to establish rapport with several of the teachers, and older students were comfortable enough to run up to us and try speaking English (the younger ones know no fear). It was great to be able to eat with the students (students and teachers have the same prepared school meal, and eat together as a homeroom class (all at the low price of 260 yen!)), view some of their option classes (calligraphy, arts/crafts, home economics etc) and greet/see them off at the beginning and end of the school day. 

Another adventure I had involved homestays: during our 2-day excursion, I was notified by a student tutor that I had to move out, only a few hours prior to arriving back at home. It was a bit of a shock. Thankfully, I was able to find another one through my fellow exchange student's family. It was quite a gong-show, and I learned lots about how people go about things in Japan, in terms of the handling of such a situation. I'm settled now and it's time to crack down on those assignments! 

There are only a few days left, and I'm already feeling sentimental and nostalgic as I realize that. Meeting such a lively and energetic host family has sparked many interesting and fun conversations, and I will miss them. As we all return home, there are many things that are quite easy to forget: homework, important valuables, those souvenirs we were asked to pick up, those sightseeing spots we missed, the thank-you notes and gifts to host families and schools, laundry, preparation for practicum, those PT jobs hours you wanted to have ready by the time you get back, volunteering opportunities...wait, where'd my passport go!?! This week, we will be observing some university classes that education students at the Hokkaido University of Education are taking. That will be fun! 

One thing that I live by is living (reasonably) without regrets, and so far I'm happy to say I'm doing pretty alright in that department. Looking back, I would like to have met more domestic students and people here in Japan. A friend of mine picked up a language app and was able to meet a few people, I wish I had done the same. Some others were able to meet many people through their international dorm, through which they met many international students, and likely some people from here as well. Our exchange began during university students' summer vacation/practicum, so it was a bit tough to meet anyone during the first month, campus was quite empty when we were there. However, I'm grateful for our recent trip, I was at least able to get to know some other exchange students, from China. My other plan is to take a few more photos of myself, as well as my time with this host family. I'm pretty confident in my memory, but when I looked through some photos, I realized how much we can all forget--take lots! 

It's been a blast, and I'll do my utmost to have a great week before I head home. Now I'm off for a bike ride with the fam! 


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Go, Go, Go

This month has been packed full of different activities. Every day is a struggle to balance our schedule with our assignments for our online courses. So far, we've spent one week in an elementary school, one week in a junior high school, and one week participating in university activities and excursions. Everyone at the schools have been so welcoming and helpful. The teachers involved us in their lessons as much as they can, and the students tend to take the initiative to help us if they see us lost.

At the elementary school, we got to see classes of all grades and subjects. This school has their English classes on Wednesdays and Fridays when their ALT is at the school, so on those days, we were mostly in the English classes. On other days, we got to sit in on many other classes. In addition to seeing a large variety of grades and classes, we got to participate in some of their calligraphy classes and even helped with harvesting sweet potatoes in the school garden!3678689274?profile=RESIZE_710xAt the junior high school, we also got to see a large variety of classes, but primarily English classes. The school also arranged for us to join their gym class when they were doing judo! I've always loved martial arts, so this was an amazing experience for me. We also got invited to see an interschool choir concert held in the city concert hall. It was amazing to see the different schools performing. Everything from the singing, conducting, and accompliment were all done by the students. At the end of the concert, all of the schools sung a song together.


The university also arranged a variety of activities for us to join. We got to see an illustrations (art) class, a band class, and a choir class. We also got to join a badminton tournament in a sports class. I used to play badminton back in junior high and high school, but stopped due to a shoulder injury in grade 12. I had a lot of fun playing badminton again and even managed to win a few games, even though the class was all sports majors. Another fun activitity that the univeristy organized for us was a woodwork class, where we got to make our own chopsticks! I use chopsticks regularly back home in Calgary, but I never imagained that I could make my own. After learning how to make them, I might just have to start making chopsticks back home instead of buying them. The university also organized an excursion for us. We got to visit two wineries, a sake factory, a rose garden (which surprisingly still had roses even though it's almost November), and a pottery factory/museum. At the pottery factory, we got to make our own pottery. Unfortunately, it won't be ready anytime soon, so they will have to ship it to Calgary for us. 

3678672580?profile=RESIZE_710xAfter the week full of activities, we are now winding down and starting to wrap up our visit. Our online courses are starting to come to a close, and our assignments are due very soon. We are back at the elementary and junior high schools for only a few more days. After that, they will hold a farewell party for us, where we will see almost everyone that we have been working with this month. On one hand, I am sad to leave. I had a great time here, having met many wonderful people and had many wonderful experiences. On the other hand, I can't wait to go back to Calgary and see my family and friends. I have been doing nightly video calls with my family back home (haven't missed a single day), and can't wait to be reunitied with them. But for now, I'm just buckling down to finish my assignments.

Until next time

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Tea Ceremony

Today we had the incredible opportunity to be part of a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. We were taught how tea ceremonies are conducted, the tradition and meaning behind the various rules within a tea ceremony and even became honoured guests of a tea ceremony conducted by a tea master. Although there are various schools and types of tea ceremonies, we learned that we can casually hold a tea ceremony within our rooms with our friends just as we would any gathering.

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Each ceremony has its own unique theme and message for that particular event, ours was about the everlasting youth in nature/greenery and its simplicity. Tea ceremonies are supposed to be very Zen-like and it provided us an incredible way to reflect on the beauty of living in the moment, our time spent together over the past weeks, and our remaining time left.

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Making Connections

It has been a good few weeks now, and we are in the second stage of our program. The first month was an oncoming car, coming closer and closer as you wait for it with anticipation. It seems as though it will never arrive, but then it does, and it passes by so quickly you wonder if you ever saw the car to begin with. This first month was filled with great memories, and now that it has ended I feel so different. I left a part of myself in Sapporo. I guess that means I'll be returning soon.

Hakodate is an unfamiliar city set against the familiarity of Japanese culture. A port city with a population of less than 400,000, Hakodate feels much bigger than it is. Perhaps the right word to use is richer. Despite its signature dish being the light-tasting shio (salt) ramen, Hakodate is rich in flavour. If I close my eyes I feel like I am back home in Calgary; the colder weather is a refreshing change from Japan's usual heat. Ocean water rides the currents around the city, its scent following you wherever you go.

The schools here are similar enough to those of Sapporo; the university-affiliated school we have been a part of is filled with teachers who are working on alternate pedagogies and different ways of learning. I have seen so much, from student culture to curriculum implementation.

One thing that keeps surprising me are the relationships in the school. The teachers are so friendly with their students, and the students seem so organised and ready to go. They take us from class to class, directing us where to sit and asking us questions in English when they can. Of course there are shy students, and pedagogical practices that seem, to me, questionable. However, I am impressed with what I have seen so far, and I can see that teachers here are trying to update their curriculum and fight for their students the same way that we are back home. 

As I was writing this post, I started thinking about how different things are right now. Just over a month ago I was back home, filled with nervous anticipation for the trip to come. Now I look back with mixed feelings. I cannot wait for this program to be over so I can start my practicum, but at the same time, I do not want to leave. I could spend another several months here, because Hokkaido is filled with so much to experience.

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Math class is more than just math

As I continue working with students and staff members, the questions I sought out at the beginning become more defined and a different perspective is emerging.

I came here on a pursuit to explore the perspectives and general view students have on mathematics and its impact on their studies along with their performance. This is especially interesting since Japanese students have been seen to rank near the top in global math and science surveys. The origin of this quest stems from how mathematics is often stigmatized in the west, often seen as boring, irrelevant or scary/difficult.

I have learnt that education here is different in the sense that the most stressful and challenging period of a student’s education are in their Jr high school/ high school years, as they are to write extremely  difficult entrance exams that would dictate the schools they go to and their career paths. This is different than in Canada in the sense that once the students here are in a university, it is smooth sailing from there. University graduation/completion rates are extremely high in Japan and much less stressful when compared to their high school experience due to such high stakes standardized testing. It is often described as students working hard during high school and then 'letting their hair down' at university.

Due to this approach, the standard high school math curriculum in Japan is incredibly dense and compact (comparable to higher level math in Canada), often seen as a gate keeper subject as described by some teachers. Due to the intense curriculum, and how public schools typically teach math (very traditionally – where the teacher is the source of knowledge through a stand and deliver format), students take the role of receivers as passive learners taking notes. This is comparable to a typical western math lecture at university where the sole focus is often on teaching as much content as possible within a tight semester.

Since my school is approaching education differently than how typical schools here teach, my senior high math classes are mostly flipped classrooms, as that is the only feasible way to reach out to all 40 students (classroom size is mandated by the public system) in a diverse way, while ensuring the best use of limited class time. Depending on the difficulty of the content that week, the teacher may switch to in-class teaching, and alternate with other teaching strategies such as group-led learning, team teaching, or classroom inquiry/investigations.

It is extremely difficult for the teacher to attempt large scale inquiry, interdisciplinary, design based, or project-based learning while working with all ELL students of varying degrees along with an overpacked and rigid curriculum. We often hear teachers back at home who teach diploma courses say how there isn't enough time to carry out different approaches to learning, picture that here but with a much more dense curriculum (they teach two different curriculums side by side with very different topics as part of the whole Japanese curriculum, where one is heavily tested on as part of the national curriculum, and the other is demanded by universities for entrance testing), with much higher stakes standardized testing for students with a class of 40 students. These exams literally define the student's future for post secondary unlike our diplomas and their ease in rewriting and laxed time constraints.

Despite all of this, the math teacher I work with is optimistic and squeezes in as much non-traditional approaches to learning along with ELL activities as possible. Currently we are trying out more group work in getting students out of their desks with math sorting activities, mixing and matching, and ELL phrases/vocabulary. It is here that I’ve had the great opportunity to work with teachers in planning and carrying these activities out. That said, the culture of students and their behaviour in Japan is much different than in western society, which does play a huge role in sort of activities and expectations teachers can put on students.

Students here are very collective as a cohort, sharing notes with their peers, collaborating on homework, and are always helping one another out. They are very mindful of each other, even to the extent of waking each other up on a long day in the middle of class. This communal feeling is sensed throughout the school community as well.  Students worked together to write a school song in which they are so proud of, having a chance to show-off their school and their song on TV. To such an extent that they are mostly internally driven and dedicated to their class and school community. Students would be working on planning the school festival instead going to clubs and even during class time. This strong sense of school community and self regulation amongst the students is the goal in which I hope to create among my students in creating a classroom of community and belonging.

Unlike the stigmatized perspective students have of hating math and seeing it as irreverent in the west, students here either enjoy math or just see it as a necessary subject that they must work at if they are to have many opportunities in the future (career wise). This comes from my discussions with various teachers and students themselves. The focus is very different, again, because of those entrance exams. There also is not much of a fear in math as in the west and this has great source in the fact that all math exams are in written response format with no numeric responses, nor multiple choice as we often see in Alberta. Students are not allowed to use calculators throughout their schooling, so mental math is worked on since childhood. This also plays a huge part of students’ confidence in math.

 Working with my math teacher serves as a great inspiration in my own practice as he models how even with a tight curriculum, there is always a way to go beyond it, especially if it serves the best interests of the students. Despite having over 20 years in teaching experience from all over the world, the math teacher constantly continues to learn from students, work at improving his teaching and practice. This has been evident numerous times when lessons don’t go as smoothly as planned and the new changes in the following class to adapt and modify the instruction, being received noticeably better by students.

From the students' perspective, I can only imagine how hard it is to learn math in English, as math is a separate language itself. Students here are juggling between three languages: Japanese, English and Mathematics all within their math classes which is incredible. Although there is a translator for the first semester of high school, students work towards being able to handle math classes fully in English by their second semester. Much of my role and the EAL’s (English as an Additional Language) team role is furthering the use of English in math and helping students develop strategies for success.

From the perspective of a math teacher, this makes math class a great balance between an ELL class and math itself. As such, this limits the types of discussions, activities, and explorations that could be done, given the extra language component.

From looking at various lenses, I can see that the priorities and focus is different and thus with the questions I came here seeking out answered, new questions arise in how I take this understanding and apply it in my own teaching as well as how to best work with and help teachers and students here given what they have to do.

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Experiencing the Culture

Hello All,

       This past week here in Hakodate we have been able to take a short hiatuses from school visits to experience the cultural aspects of Japan. The Hokkaido University of Education organized some amazing adventures for us to better understand the country we are living in and the unique experiences that only Japan has to offer.

        For two days this week, we studied “Chado” (Tea ceremony) and all of its components.  Through Chado, students seek the principles of Harmony, Respect, Purity and Tranquility. There are two categories of Tea ceremony, light/thin tea (Usucha) and strong/thick tea (Koicha).  We took on the role of guest and learned the role of host as well. Tea ceremony is extremely complex in terms of respect, when you can speak, how you enter the room, and when/how to bow as it has been a tradition for over 400 hundred years, everything must be done exactly right. There are different bows, movements and certain phrases that must be said throughout. You must show consideration for the host and other guests, as a brief example, I will explain one aspect of the ceremony which is when you receive your tea from the host,

Step 1:  Place the bowl of tea between the next guest and yourself. Bow (formal bow, hands flat to the ground) and say “o-saki ni” which means “excuse me for going before you”

Sept 2: Place the bowl of tea in front of you. Bow (formal bow, flat hands) to the host as say “ o-temae chodai itashimasu” which means “Thank you for the tea”

Step 3: Place the bowl on your LEFT palm and steady it with your right hand. Bow your head slightly to express thanks

Step 4: Turn the bowl twice clockwise to avoid drinking from the front (you never drink from the pattern side). Not drinking from the “best side” is an expression of modesty and respect.

Step 5: you must drink the tea in 3 sips, making noises throughout. The last sip must be loud so that the host knows you are finished and can begin making tea for the next guest.

Step 6: With your thumb and index finger, wipe the rim where your lips touched the bowl.

Step 7: Place the bowl in front of you. Now is the time to appreciate the bowl as an antique and view the beautiful designs. You can place your elbows on your knees and lean closely to the ground, pick up the bowl and look closely at its distinctive features. One you are done, you must turn the bowl again, this time so that the front faces the host. You can return it with your right hand by placing the bowl down near the host. Never pass directly.

       Now keep in mind this is only ONE part of Tea ceremony and ONLY from the guests’ perspective. It is a very interesting and complicated experience.  


Tea Ceremony Teacher: She has studied since the age of 18


Tools of Tea Ceremony


Tea Sweets: Often Tea Ceremony has a component of dry or wet sweets given to the guests. They usually always follow the theme of the ceremony, this one is for spring. 


Host: Making Matcha as a Tea Ceremony host. You must use the Chasen (whisk) to go back and forth until the Matcha is frothy.  


       After our two days of learning Tea ceremony, we were invited to Esashi, which is one of the oldest towns in Hokkaido and home to the traditional folk music called “Esashi oiwake”. When we arrived we dressed in Kimono and were guided through the historical town experiencing tea ceremony again, as well as a traditional Japanese lunch and short hike to a view of the Sea of Japan. We then saw a performance of “Esashi oiwake” and walked through the museum explain the elements of this folk music and the festival that takes place in the summer.  This town used to have a population of 15,000, but it is rapidly dropped to 7500, but during the summer festival everyone from Esashi comes back to the town to participate bringing the population up to 35,000 for four day.




Historical Buildings in Esashi


Tea Ceremony Guest


Tea Ceremony Host


Traditional Lunch: Some of the dishes here are Hokkaido or Esashi specific. Ika (squid) as well as Herring Soba. Esahi is known for Herring and is a fishing town.  


Kamome Island: Featured here is Heishi Rock. 500 years ago, there lived an old woman who foretold of many things. One day on Kamome Island, the old woman was given a small bottle by an old man, and when she threw the bottle into the sea as instructed, schools of herring began coming to Esashi. This bottle is said to have turned into a rock and appeared on the sea, becoming Heishi Rock. The old woman came to be called "Orii-sama" by the people and was revered as a god.


Senjojiki (a thousdand tatami mats): This erosion pattern seen on the eastern cliff of Kamome Island was formed by powerful sea waves. It is named after its appearance because it looks like many tatami mats that have been spread out.


       This week was such a great opportunity to learn about certain traditions in Japan and why they are important to identity and culture. Seeing things from a different perspective helps you to appreciate the community you are living in.


“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see” – Henry David Thoreau

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