language (16)

Many forms of communication

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

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

 Japanese-speaking using English

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

 English-speaking using Japanese

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


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


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


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

 Dance, Plays, and Cultural Events

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

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


Ja mata!




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Hot Tips from a Hot Country

I’m currently writing from the international terminal in São Paolo and it seems a little surreal that in just a little while I’ll be back in the land of donuts and snow.  It’s a little bittersweet to be catching some English mixed in with the Portuguese, and I’m not sure if I’m quite ready to pack away my shorts for a down jacket, but I do know that I’m so grateful for this opportunity to be immersed in the colourful Brazilian culture, and I’m honestly excited to bring back the learning (and the clothes haha) that I have accumulated in my time here.

For my last post, I’d like to share some of my best tips about Brazil to entice future TABers to come to this beautiful country.

First of all, don’t be afraid to look foolish in your language learning. From my experience, most Brazilians are only ever intrigued and excited when you try your Portuguese with them.  They are just as nervous (if not more!) to practise English with you, so jump into that space and laugh and learn together. As a future teacher, it gave me a lot of joy to see our Goianese friends improve in their English as they worked with us.  Language exchange is such a beautiful opportunity, and one of the ways that we, as Canadians, can risk but also give back in our host countries. Be bold and begin practising as soon as possible. If I was to have any regrets, it would be that I didn’t start speaking my (baby) Portuguese sooner. Don’t be afraid of looking silly. You’ll only gain friends and vocabulary!

Our final goodbye with the PUC Intercambio (Exchange) crew. We love our PUC friends!

And speaking of our Goianese friends, we truly could not have done this experience without them.   They took us to schools, arranged for us to join them on beautiful weekend trips, encouraged us in our Portuguese, and helped us with so many everyday tasks. Don’t be afraid to dive in with the university students. They were our happiest hellos, and our saddest goodbyes here, and we know that we have made some lifelong friends. Plus, you’ll feel like a celebrity because you’ll get so many new Instagram followers.

Third, arrange to travel while you’re here!  Brazil is a giant country with some truly beautiful parks and cities, and while the language barrier can be a little intimidating, it is well worth the effort to muddle through some google translate and see some new places. We found that driving outside of the city was not too scary, and even rented cars to visit the nearby towns of Pirenópolis and Goias Velho. I’d also recommend the state of Bahia where you can stay in the beautiful city of Salvador and visit surrounding places such as Chapada Diamantina and Praia do Forte. I LOVED Bahia. So go exploring! Even in Goiania there are many different parks (where you can see monkeys!!), restaurants, and malls that are really fun to visit.  We barely scratched the surface.

The stunning Poço Azul (Blue Pool) in Chapada Diamantina Park in the state of Bahia.  The water is so clear that you can see straight to the bottom, 50 feet down.

Finally, give yourself time and space to reflect on the process and recognize your different patterns of learning.  I found that what we were exploring in our online courses coincided a lot with what I was experiencing and working through in my day-to-day experiences in Goiania.  I was honestly surprised by how many connections I kept finding between my “academic” learning and “life” learning, but I came out of this experience truly convinced that this is how learning is meant to occur. We are the sum of all our experiences, and we are in charge of how we choose to pursue growth within that.

Anyways! All this to say, come stay in Goiania! Who wouldn’t want to extend summer for 2 more months? I’ve loved my time here, and I know that it has informed my teaching (and life) practise in truly beautiful and transformative ways.

Muito obrigada por tudos Brasil (Thank you so much for everything Brazil)! Tchau!

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Unplanned Adventure

Boa tarde!

It is crazy how fast time is flying by here in Brazil! I will be back in Calgary three weeks from today! This past weekend, my group and I, went on an adventure to Chapada dos Veadeiros with a group of seven brasileiros. Chapada dos Veadeiros is a national park that has many different waterfalls that you can hike to and is located about a six-hour bus ride from our city, Goiânia. The only details we were told was to bring camping equipment and that it would be very cold at night so make sure to bring warm clothes and blankets.



Normally, when it comes to planning a trip, I am quite prepared. However, I thought I would take the Brazilian approach of “go with the flow” this time around. We met at the Praça Cívica (Civic Square) at 7pm sharp because that is what we were told, in order to take the bus at 8pm. Once we arrived, we noticed that there was no one from the Brazil group there. As more time passed, we got more and more nervous. Finally, about 7:40pm, they began to trickle in. Relieved to see them we packed our things on the bus and headed out for our six-hour drive to Chapada. We arrived at a camp site, that turned out to be gravel in between some brick walls, about 5am and began to set up our tents. By 7am we were buying food at the local market in order to keep us full until we returned at 4pm. We each brought one big and one little water bottle, which turned out not to be nearly enough for the Canadians. The Brazilians were totally fine on little water; however, we felt dehydrated and super-hot hiking in the 35-degree weather. And at night, all six of us squeezed into a tent that ended up being like a little furnace when the weather only dropped to 17-degrees, so all of our blankets were tossed asside. Even though it would've been good to know the weather temperature, where the campsite would be, and how far we were actually hiking, it was all totally worth it! The next day we explored the beautiful town and had some delicious meals! We didn't have cell service, so it was a great time to really enjoy the time we had together as a big group. This weekend was the perfect get away during a busy time of online projects and posts.






Overall, it was such a fantastic weekend full of unforgettable memories! Culturally, we learned that our definitions of cold were completely different, not to stress about time, and cell phone service free weekends are good for the soul! Also, we were able to practice Portuguese with all of our friends as well as, learn many new words and phrases. We learned so much this weekend and I will always be grateful to the people who helped get us here and taught us through language and culture.

Obri-thank you!

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Nihon Go!


Our month in Sapporo was one month of Japanese (nihon-go) learning classes where we were graced with the wonderful and funny Yoshida-sensei (teacher). We learned a lot from her and I think that it was very important for us to learn some Japanese before we go off on our volunteer teaching in Japanese classrooms. At first it was quite hard to grasp the language and the pronounciation as it is quite unfamiliar and different from English. Eventually with practice and daily usage I think I picked up on some Japanese. I still have a lot of trouble with making a complete sentence and the order of the sentence structure, but with more practice I think I will get the hang of it. 

One thing that I am getting the hang of and I think that is very important is numbers! We shall go over them:

1= ichi

2= ni

3= san

4= yon

5 = go

6= roku

7= nana

8= hachi

9= kyu

10= juu

10+ = juu + __ (e.g. 11= juu +ichi)

20+ = ni juu (e.g. 22 = ni juu ni)

100= hyaku 

And there you have it! Practice. Practice. Practice. I hope that my fellow friends are practicing their nihon-go diligently so they don't forget what our sensei taught us! 

Happy practicing!


Chuen-Xi Quek


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Language and Classrooms

Since arriving in Goiânia, we have been able to take one Portuguese class, which has helped immensely. When we first landed in Rio, we realized how little English there really is here in Brazil. While you could find a few people who could speak a few sentences in order to sell something or receive a food order, the rest is in Portuguese and that was in the biggest city of the country. Here in Goiânia it is possible to find a few uber drivers who knew some sentences in English, our true help has been a few people who work with our program. There are about three people who are fluent in English helping us through this process. While not being able to communicate has led to a few frustrating moments, it fuels my desire to learn Portuguese. We have been practicing with one another and really trying to speak to the locals here and I think we have already learned so much, which is so exciting! I’m looking forward to our second Portuguese class this week to further learn the structure of the language. We are met with patience and plenty of opportunities to practice, a language enthusiast’s paradise.



When it comes to learning about the education system here, we have been able to visit one school, have conversations with the professors at the university, and attend a few classes at the university. The school we were able to visit is a public school with students who range from adolescents to adults who are in their seventies. At this school, anyone who has not received their high school diploma can take classes free of judgement. We were able to speak with some of the classes, as well as, take part in some readings during a Spanish class. We were told that many of these students have very difficult lives and some mainly come to school in order to eat the meal provided. They allowed us to try the meal that they serve to the students, fried rice with vegetables and chicken, it was delicious. It was really great to see how much the teachers cared about the learning and nutrition of their students, no matter the age. I learned a lot from the students and teachers at this wonderful school! The quote below is pictured right when you enter the school for the students to read:


"Our semester will be a success! Your presence is very important to us. We are happy because you are with us. Let's walk on the road of knowledge and build a new future. Welcome!"


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I'm finally here! My first week in China is over and it already feels like I've seen a whole trip's worth of new experiences. 

My past summer has been relatively relaxed and now that I've arrived, there are obligations that I have to attend to coming from every direction. I've had to spend some time to organize my priorities and make sure don't let all of these responsibilities overwhelm me. Because of this, I've spent a good amount of time thinking about why I am really here in China. There are several reasons of course, and it's nonsensical to reduce my trip to a single purpose but I've been able to gain a bit of clarity. 

My main purpose here is to learn Chinese. 

I've always loved learning languages and I firmly believe that the mos authentic way to learn is through full immersion. For me, living in China is a once in a lifetime opportunity that I plan on taking full advantage of. We are incredibly fortunate because we are being provided with 20 hours of language instruction every week in an outstanding education faculty at Shaanxi Normal University (陕西师范大学). Every morning, I wake up looking forward to the lessons. They've been the highlight of my trip so far. Since I have been here, I have spent at least a couple hours of free time every day practicing my chinese and it feels so rewarding to see my improvement even over the course of a single week. When I walk through a street, I'm beginning to be able to recognize characters and gain basic meanings from them. I'm still far from where I want to be but it's definintely progress. 


I was trying to be productive, but I was busy making friends.


I think the rest of my trip will be a challenge to balance all of my responsibilities in TAB, Werklund classes, teaching practicum, chinese language classes, and maintaining social commitments. That said, I am thrilled that I get this opportunity to practice a language I would otherwise never be able to learn!



David Kang - 姜垣硕

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How to Love Your First Week in Brazil

­How to order food: Wait until someone brave has already wrestled through some broken Portuguese to order their dish, and then say “mesmo” (same).

How to get to know your Uber driver: Ask all of the introduction questions you know in Portuguese and then smile and nod as if you understand the answers.

How to experience Rio de Janeiro: Find some adventurous locals on Airbnb Experiences (for real do it!) and go to the cutest little café for fresh salad bowls.

How to find a caiman (crocodile): Sit by the fire drinking caipirinhas (local drink) while your friendly neighbourhood Italian runs around in the darkness with the guides. 

How to make up for missing Canadian ice cream: Eat açaí constantly.

How to love Brazil: Just let it happen.

Brazil has been beautiful.  As a student learning to teach, I love how travelling throws me into uncomfortable, but ultimately positive, stretching growth experiences.  I am loving this country, and I have already learned so much.

For instance, survival isn’t as much about equipment as it is about attitude. When we were in the Amazon rainforest, our guide Cobra led us on a jungle trek where he showed us a myriad of ways to access medicine, food, hydration, and shelter, with just his machete and the information he had gained from experience and research.  I loved talking to Cobra because he was so informed on a huge range of topics.  He lives in a remote village and taught himself English in order to better communicate as a tour guide.  His next languages to master are German and Hebrew.  He knew the most about the jungle of any of the other guides because he chased that knowledge. His passion for learning made me so much more grateful for my education, and this trip in particular.

 Side note - Canadians really do apologize all the time.  The only people that I have heard saying “de sculpa” (sorry/excuse me) are me and my fellow Canadians.  We’re actively working on playing it cool. :P

All that to say, I don’t want to downplay how incredible this trip has been, and will continue to be. We (me + travel buds) have been talking a lot about the importance of open hearts and minds and I’m excited to dance in new grocery stores, swim in new waterfalls, and laugh in new languages.



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Waking up in Goiânia

Boa tarde!

Today is my first morning to wake up in Goiânia and it started off with açaí and granola, so pretty great if you ask me! I had my first experience in the grocery store trying to find produce to make my “normal” dishes. However, I quickly found that many of my usuals did not exist here. This gave me the opportunity to look for new produce and create a new goal for myself: learn how to cook some local cuisine.  

Before arriving to Goiânia, I traveled a bit around Brazil and began to try and pick up as much Portuguese as possible. Speaking Spanish really helps, even though many words and verbs are different, there are also similarities that aide my learning. I learned how to order food, say excuse me, pay at a store, and most importantly how to say, “how cool!”.

Que massa! (which literally means pasta) or Que legal! (which literally means legal)



For my first week in Brazil, I traveled to the Lençois Maranhenses where there are sand dunes and lagoons that fill with rain water. I learned that even though some of the lagoons have names, such as "Logoa Bonita" and "Lagoa Azul", they are not permanent because the wind changes the lagoons each season. The sand dunes with the mix of blue and green lagoons were absolutely stunning! 








Chapada Diamantina is where I spent my second week in the town of Lençois. The reason this national park has this name is because "Diamantina" means diamond and "Chapada" means plateaus, hills, and valleys. This is where mining for diamonds was worked on for many years. Fortunately, the search for diamonds in this area became illegal around 1994 and and has since become a main place for tourists. It is said that only 30% of the diamonds in the area has been unearthed, but there are still thousands beneath the surface. The damage to the rock formations is noticeable, but it was stopped before the true beauty was destroyed. Within the national park, there are massive caves, blue pools, lush waterfalls and plateaus overlooking the valleys. Not only is the park a true treasure, so are the people of Lençois. This town was full with happy people always willing to help. Any time I look lost or confused they offered a hand. This place is a true gem, in every sense of the word. 






A little about myself: I am passionate about languages and how people use them, experiencing diverse culture, and committing to life-long learning. While I am here in Brazil I hope to focus on learning Portuguese, delving into the local culture, learning how cook Brazilian cuisine, dance samba, and something. I could not be more grateful for the opportunity of this experience and will be sure to take advantage of every moment while I'm here!

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Let's Review

Hello from Calgary, 

I am back from Hamburg, and as comforting the snow may be... I would like to go back to Germany! Yes, really, my time there has transformed and moved me enough that I would like to stay. However, it is time to focus on the aspirations I had at the beginning and how they were met - or not! 

The aspirations were: language development, school leadership research, further education research.

Language Development:

My language has definitely improved. I speak with greater confidence than before, and do not find it as stressful or exhausting to speak, listen, and follow in German. Depending on the topic, I do still search for words sometimes; however, I am more fluent than before. I was able to observe a few lessons led in German, and students got to hear me speak it when I was helping them - we had great moments of teaching. As in, they would teach me certain words that I didn't know, and I helped them with the assignments. The students enjoyed being able to teach me and were more open to feedback and help from my side. 

School Leadership Research:

This is still in progress. I am awaiting a response from the vice-principal to my questions about student leadership within the school and community. Although, I did learn about how leadership is understood for teachers in the school that I was at. For them, it meant Professional Development and increasing their education and experience to reach new government recognition in terms of the pay scale. At my schools, teachers are required to complete a minimum of forty hours a year of Professional Development. 

In terms of incorporating leadership in my lessons there, I was able to do so a few times. I had students focus on the language they use to describe their life and become reflective of it - in German and English. Describing your life through active words and actively changing and reflecting on the language that you use is one of the first steps to leading and controlling your life into a positive direction. The students quite enjoyed that - at the end of my time there many of them said that saying "I will do this" instead of "I will try this" has made a big difference in their everyday life and their outlook on it. A few students said that they feel more in control of what they do and what happens around them. 

Further Education Research:

As for further research into possibly going to Law School in Germany - interesting, to say the least. To make a long story short, instead of Law School I would like to focus on furthering my education in a second teachable subject. I have learned, that in Germany, teachers are required to have two teachable subjects in their portfolio (so to say). Perhaps, I may write an exam to get a certificate for my Russian and that can be my other subject. I am still contemplating what exactly I would like to do for this second subject. 

Overall, I look forward to finding out more information on leadership for students and taking what I learned in my German classes into my Canadian practicum. 

P.S. I couldn't resist the baked goods. I had some every day. 


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Hola from Spain! - Barcelona in Two Weeks!

Hola mi amigos!

So it has been two weeks since I arrived in Spain. It has been an eye opening experience. And yet, it seems so familiar. The humidity, the warm air, the smell of the Mediterranean Sea.

...I feel like I'm in Beirut again. The people are so sweet and helpful and clearly passionate about their culture. Everywhere you go, there is a Catalan flag hanging from balconies or people walking around hoisting the flag above their heads. The pride of the people in this area is inspiring and I'm glad to be here at such an important time in Catalan history. The plan is that a referendum will be held on October 1st to determine if there is enough support amongst the people to separate Catalonia from the rest of Spain. Of course there is much opposition to the idea in the Spanish government, but the people here are so determined to begin a new chapter. In my first week here, I stumbled upon a rally right outside of city hall. There were hundreds of people holding Catalan flags. It was an incredible site to behold.

Besides taking an interest in the politics going on here, I’ve gotten the opportunity to take in the culture, the food, and most importantly the architecture. The culture is beautiful, another thing that reminds me of Beirut. The people are relaxed, as if stress is something that doesn’t exist. I mean I’m sure that everyone has some sort of stress, but you would never be able to tell. I mentioned in my first post that I was curious about what the people would be like. I was worried about how they would treat a hijab wearing woman so shortly after a horrendous terrorist attack. To be honest, everyone has been amazing. Just recently I looked up and found a beautiful up on a balcony. It read "No a la Islamophobia."

Last week, I got to take in an authentic Flamenco show. First off, the venue that the show was in was awe-inspiring. The architecture throughout the theatre looked amazing and was a great setting for what would be a beautiful show. The strength and power in the movements and the music was absolutely breathtaking. What was so amazing was that the women in the show were so much more powerful than the men. Perhaps it was the elaborate dresses that they wore throughout, each more beautiful than the last.

The food is lovely; although very different than the food you would eat in Canada. The cuisine is lovely, but it’s the portions that have got me intrigued. Every restaurant that I’ve been to serves tapas; small food portions is clearly a cultural attribute of this area. I had no idea that it was a part of the culture. The food itself is quite delicious. I’ve had pizza, pasta, paella, and potatoes! Not so good for my diet but incredibly delectable.

The architecture is like nothing that I’ve ever seen before. Everything from the Park Guell to the Sengrada Familia has been absolutely breathtaking. These Spanish landmarks have introduced me to an amazing architect and a popular Spanish artist: Antoni Gaudi. He is widely known in Spain and around the world for his contributions to the modernist era of architecture.

His work is phenominal; it’s like nothing that I’ve ever seen before. His attention to detail is so obvious especially after learning that the building and construction of the Sengrada Familia began in 1886 and will not be completed until 2026. His vision was so far ahead of his time that even with the technology we have today the final product wouldn’t be completed for at least another 9 years.

The language has been an interesting learning curve for me. For some reason, I seem to be mixing up my French words for Spanish and it’s something that I’m working on. However, I am picking up some phrases here and there. An incredibly useful phrase has been “una bolsa por favour” meaning “one bag please”. When I go shopping, if I forget to bring my own bags, I have to ask the cashier for them. You don’t realize that the simple lingo that you use at home is so incredibly important. At school, we aren’t allowed to speak Spanish or Catalan. Because we are English teachers, they have asked us to resist using Spanish phrases or Catalan for the students’ sake. Learning a new language can be overwhelming, but I suppose complete immersion with a non-Spanish or Catalan speaker is a great way to speed up the process. The students are fabulous. I taught my first class on this week and the students were so incredibly receptive, that is after I cracked a few jokes that they understood. One thing is for sure: humour is a universal icebreaker.

I’m looking forward to developing my teaching skills while learning more about the students in my classrooms. My experience in Spain has been fabulous so far and I know that it’s only going to get better! There is still so much that I haven’t seen or experienced in this amazing country and I hope that I’ll have the opportunity to branch out even more than I have.

Adios for now.

Amor de España,

Hana K <3 

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Tōtaru Rikōru


An overview of Japanese School Systems

This blog post is named “Total Recall”, and not after the Arnold Schwarzenegger’s movie, but because the school visits and volunteer teaching were a recall from the past practicums that I completed back in Canada. Although learning and teaching varies from school to school, here are some of the obvious differences and similarities I noticed between Japanese and Canadian schools during my placements in Japan.


I found the classrooms in Canada to be more collaborative in nature. Even though there is a lot of collaborative work involved in Japanese classrooms, there is still traditional setting present in the structural layout of the classrooms. Just like in Canada, Japanese classrooms have a lot of students’ work, relevant artwork decorated inside the classroom and in the hallways. School décor have themes like – Halloween, etc.  Teachers have blackboards, computers and television in the classrooms to show multimedia content to the students, similar to Canada.  Unlike Canada, in Japanese schools, students are expecting to clean the classrooms and schools. Everyone at school has lunch in the classrooms, and student take turns to serve lunch to their peers. The school lunch is highly important element of Japanese School traditions.  It brings the students together and they also learn about time management skills because everyone has to start and finish the lunch at the same time. The library in some schools (that I visited) in Japan is now replaced by learning commons, where students can work on computers and have meetings with fewer books around and more technologically focused study and work areas.  Teacher usually comes into the classrooms for each grade.  The classrooms have storage places at the back of the classrooms for Randoseru (Japanese Backpacks) used mainly by elementary students.  Schools have science labs, music rooms, gyms, food and fashion classrooms, art workrooms and wood workshops, and even nurse’s office.  Just like in Canadian schools. One of the schools had an engineering work room, where students could make model trains and work on other engineering and technology based projects.  Overall, I found the classrooms in Japan to be similar to that of Canadian ones with few differences here and there.



Learning Commons area in Japanese Schools

Pedagogical Relationship

Scaffolding and Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) concepts are noticeable in both Canadian and Japanese classrooms. Most importantly, I found that some students in a group had much stronger English speaking skills than their peers, and were helping them operate within the zone of proximal development. Advanced English speaking students were helping their less advanced English speaking students to get better in conversing and writing in English.  Teachers show students visual images, sounds, and videos (both on blackboard and on projector), and a lot of repetition is involved in the classroom learning. In the end of the class period, the teacher summarizes the concepts and lessons learned in the class with the students. Again, a lot of visuals and textual presentations are involved in the Japanese classroom lessons.   Students get small break in between class periods, where they can read, interact with teachers and peers, or play games or do some activities with other students. It is very active during the break period. This reminds me of elementary schools back in Canada and how they include Body Break activities in the classrooms.


From my experience so far, I found that Japanese classrooms use both formative and summative type of assessments. Though, summative feedback seems to be commonly used, formative like students telling teachers about what they understand so far was noticed.  I found that a lot of elementary school tests in Japan (from what I observed), are highly visual and colorful in nature compared to that in the Canadian schools. This means that a lot of favorite characters and games are put in the tests, so that they are less intimidating and more engaging. For example, in a math test, students have to play a mini game which includes a favourite anime character in each step, to find the answer.  It can be a game of ladders or a simple arithmetic game. I found this concept of summative assessment very interesting. However, this may vary within schools and grade levels.  In Japan, when a student finishes the test early, they have to keep their test with them, but they read a graphic novel or some similar book while they wait for their test to finish.



Ninja Amazement Park

Student Expectations

All students are expected to participate in school activities, such as festivals, sports day, etc. It is compulsory and students spend after school hours to prepare for an event such as school festival. It can take up to a month to prepare for such events, that involve a lot of music, drama, costumes, etc. However, in Canada students can take Drama and Music classes as an option and they are not considered compulsory subjects like in Japan.  A lot of students in Japan also take tutoring classes in swimming, piano lessons, and Shuji (Japanese Calligraphy).  Depending on parents (and schools), students are expected to perform high academically, which can sometimes be overwhelming for some students.  I will find out more about how schools in Japan deal with such student stress issues, and report it in the next blog post. However, we asked about this issue, and schools say they are aware of it and try to provide as much support to the student as possible, though I like to find more about the kind of support available to the students.  



Temaki Zushi (Hand Rolled Sushi)

Teacher Training

My role as Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) involves conversing with students, and teach them pronunciation and grammar. I am learning to use a lot of activities and visual images and short videos with students to further engage them. For example, in order for students to practice English word, we would throw in a fun activity, where whole class dances, sings or participates while repeating English words. It’s really fun and engaging.  One thing I noticed so far is that not a lot of students or even the classroom teacher spoke much English, even if I tried to converse with them. I had to use some Japanese or take guidance of the student tutors to interact with the students and even the teacher.  I feel like it’s highly important for students to interact in English in order to practice and improve, but learning some Japanese and learning more about Japanese culture from them was surely a treat.  In my second practicum in Calgary, I learned from my partner teacher to add less content in my presentation, engage students with interest questions, and use whiteboards more often. I try to use these methods where ever possible in my role as ALT in Japanese schools. 

The next blog post will be called “Mario and Luigi’s Squid Dance!” and it will encompass more about my experiences in Hakodate and Siriuchi town.  

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A New Normal...

Finally settled in. 

So, it's been just over two weeks now since my initial arrival in Hamburg on August 31st! These two weeks have felt much more like two months, as the deluge of new experiences, places, people and words wash over me. However, I'm beginning to establish some new routines, I've scouted out all of the grocery stores and the route to Gyula Trebitsch Schule is beginning to feel almost old hat! I’m finding it a bit surprising to realize how easily I’ve adapted to life here in Hamburg, and it reminds me of how essential resiliency is to our general life experiences. The quote below puts my thoughts into a more educational context… 
"Obstacles, of course, are developmentally necessary: they teach kids strategy, patience, critical thinking, resilience and resourcefulness."
     -Naomi Wolf 


The general dizziness of getting to know a new place was (and still is, to a slightly lesser extent) compounded by the new language and classroom experiences, but I'm at a place now where routines have become relatively established and relationships with my partner teachers are formed and evolving really well. The classroom aspect has actually provided a really nice sense of purpose to my time here so far, and I feel like the experience is already so much richer because of the interactions with students and teachers. This past week, I met the students who I'll be spending my time with, finally met all of the teachers who are responsible for them, and worked out a very respectable schedule for the next couple of months. I have two classes of fifth graders, all of whom are brand new to the school and so are still very much getting settled and oriented in their new routines. My partner teacher(s) have been hugely flexible, accommodating, and welcoming... I truly feel like I lucked out in this respect! 

As for subject areas, I'll be mostly in English language and Social Science classes, but I also managed to work in an Art and Natural Sciences class. I've been loaned a copy of the English textbook, which has already proved an enlightening read in terms of what the German curriculum deems important in terms of English (well in this case, British) language and culture. I had the chance last week to get more involved with the class, leading a few games and team-teaching with my partner teacher, Silke, a few of the more straightforward English exercises.

I have to admit that I rather enjoyed it once the students all figured out that I was essentially an "expert" in English, and suddenly my help was very much in demand! Otherwise, they usually forget that I can't speak much German and rattle off questions so quickly that its all I can do to not appear completely baffled. However, I have been excited to learn more German and so attempted to use my best on-the-fly problem solving skills and enlist my trusty Google Translate app to decipher the questions they struggled with in their textbooks. Though my success rate in guiding their questions wasn't necessarily all that high, I did find that this tactic at least worked to begin establishing relationships with individual students, as each interaction only works to create that student-teacher rapport that's so important regardless of language. 

One final point of interest about the past couple weeks of school is that there are suddenly many other student teachers in the building! I guess that the practicum period for the University of Hamburg education students is just beginning, so I had the chance to meet Luisa and Christian, who will be with me once a week or so. I'm looking forward to learning more about how the practicum experiences compare, and see what they bring to the classroom.

Well... I'd very much hoped to finally post some photos, but due to some technical difficulties it seems like I'll be waiting another while. Stay tuned! 
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Getting used to school life in Hamburg

I have now been in Hamburg for two and a half weeks... I don't know where the time has gone!

Over the past two weeks, I have been working with the teachers at my school to get a schedule down so that I am able to start relationship building with the students. The school that I am at is an English-bilingual school. The school is very interesting because it offers both the bilingual program and the regular non-bilingual program within the same school although English studies is a subject that all students have to take. I am currently working with grade 7, 8, and 10 bilingual classes, and a grade 9 non-bilingual class. During my first week at the school I could not believe how engaged and eager the students were in their learning. I had the chance in the specialization class over the summer to listen to how some students in the French-bilingual schools in Calgary felt about their education and it was not the experience of these students in the classroom. The students that I was working with had all been taking English since grade one and could carry out moderately complex conversations in English with me. I also had the opportunity to sit in on a grade 12 German literature class (all in German), and although I only understood a few words in the 90 minute class, the debate that they were having reminded me more of a university class than a high school class. There was a lot of respect given by each student to each others' opinions and ideas, and every student was engaged and participating in the discussion. These students were in the Gymnasium stream of the school system, and are the most likely of students moving onto university after this year.

On Wednesday we had the opportunity to meet with Prof. Bonnet at the University of Hamburg. He is the head of the International Exchange Program for Education at the University and took some time to sit with our group and tell us about the education in Germany. Like Canada, education is regulated by the separate states/provinces. Going into this talk, I was a little skeptical about the tiered German school system as it felt restrictive and appeared to be putting students into a box. Through the presentation and questions with Prof. Bonnet, it became clear to all of us that the German school system is very good at one thing in particular; ensuring that students are successful after grade school. Through the tiered school system, students are going into schooling after high school more aligned with their interests. There is a lot more respect and encouragement here for students to go into trades jobs and they are able to be just as successful. One of the things that I found particularly interesting about the German school system was how schools are funded. The socioeconomic status of a school’s students directly impacts how much funding a school receives. There is a scale of one to six that a school can be classed, and the lower the school’s number, the more funding the school gets. The reason for this is because schools that have a higher number have parents who are able to give money to the school in order to aid student learning. Students who are in schools with a lower number do not have parents who can donate money to the school, so they rely and get more money from the government. I thought that this was a very interesting approach to funding schools.

The other topic from this conversation that I found particularly interesting was that it appears that German schools are moving more towards standardization in their education where as there is a big movement in Canada to move towards diversification and away from standardized education. In my school, it is interesting to look at this idea in practice. Especially in the bilingual classes, they seem to be centered a lot more around standardization as students work through a textbook and workbook. In classes that are not bilingual however, I was able to see that there is an emphasis on diversified education and working toward the needs of the students and their success in understanding and growing as a learner.

In my second week at the school, I had the opportunity to join a class that was not in the bilingual-stream at the school. It was almost a relief to be in this class as it reminded me more of home. Not all of the students were excited to be there, and they have real problems outside of the classroom. It was a wake-up call from the other classes that I had been in as they were worried to talk to me because they didn’t want to make mistakes in front of their peers. I think that I was able to alleviate a little bit of their anxiety when I showed them that I was terrible at speaking German, but that I was still trying. I am really looking forward to getting to know this class more.

So far, it has been an incredible experience in Hamburg! Every person that I have encountered has been so kind, even when I am at the train station trying to figure out where I am supposed to be going in VERY broken German (until they take pity on me and tell me in English). Our language buddies are so amazing, helping us with our own learning and taking us to some really beautiful places in and around Germany to share their culture! The teachers at the school are so accommodating and eager to hear and discuss how education differs in the two counties and are open to sharing their ideas and asking for our ideas. I am looking forward to the coming weeks in the classroom and am already dreading having to say goodbye in 8 weeks.

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Through the Looking Glass

Today, I arrived back in Canada after two and a half months in Vietnam where I was participating in the Teaching Across Borders program. During this time I completed my course studies online, while volunteering as an English Language teacher in a Grade 3 classroom. My class contained students who had widely varying exposure to the English Language. Some of my students knew no English, while others could carry on sophisticated conversations with me on a variety of topics.

I was given a curriculum and a classroom and off I went. My first week was a blur. Despite what I thought was, at the time, the most beautiful and meticulously crafted lesson plans, it became very obvious I could have easily just drawn a picture of a pumpkin in its stead, because these lessons were not going to be of use. My original classroom had no chalkboard, something that became a glaringly obvious problem as my speaking to students in English when they had no prior exposure to the language was going to be a huge barrier without the assistance of visuals. I also had very little experience with children at this age ("no, it is not okay to choke people!", "did you or did you not take her pencil?", "are you okay?" in response to incoherent screaming over an unknown stimulus). I felt as if I completely failed my students the first week, (Could I possibly run away to Cambodia and become an elephant herder...), but after receiving tremendous support from my professor, fellow student teachers, family, and friends I was determined to succeed in teaching my students something worthwhile.

And so began what I call the surveillance phase. After deciding that elephant herding, was in fact, not my calling, I sat down and thought hard about what a professor once told me, "Students are our clientele, we have to tailor our business to serve them". There were a few things I needed to do. First and foremost I asked for a new room (hallelujah)! Secondly, I needed to differentiate my lessons to accommodate my advanced practitioners of English as well as my beginners. Third, I needed to stick my guns hard and fast to a structured lesson format and develop some classroom management skills (at this time what these skills were going to entail were a mystery to me). Finally, I needed to take time and build my relationship with my students.

I put on my emotional armour and headed to the battle grounds with my plan in place. Without hesitation I put my plan into motion. We practiced phonics of the alphabet with example words the students volunteered, we then danced between drawing pictures of our families, ourselves as superheros, and where we play, intertwined with converting the words associated with these pictures from English to Vietnamese. We even played games with vocabulary words (Team Happy vs. Team Butterfly)!! We make our own sentences and practice speaking to each other! It was no long Me vs. Class, but We (no vs. necessary). 

Soon I had a classroom where students were brokering language for each other, the advanced helping the beginners, and the beginners becoming less afraid to speak in class. Although chaos still reigned occasionally (really, at least once a class until I announced a "giai lao nam phut" (five minute break)) things were improving. As I got to know my students better my days in the classroom became thoroughly enjoyable! I went from hoping I would catch Japanese Encephalitis (just kidding) to wishing I had more time to stay with my class. 

I have grown so much from this program. In the end I truly feel as if my students gave me more than I could have ever given them. I learned how to adapt my lessons based on students responses during class (cue blank stare and empty nodding). I learned that students truly do rise to high standards as long as you keep your goals high for them. I learned that children will rise to those standards with encouragement to keep trying, and acknowledging they are doing their best with the knowledge they have right now. I learned that when you take the time to really get to know your students and you invest in that relationship, you are both pushed to work harder for each other. I also gained a lot confidence in myself as an educator. I know I am not perfect, and I know I still have a lot to learn along the way, but this program has tipped me right down the rabbit hole and I am so eager to explore! 

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Reaching the End of Another Chapter




 Sapporo, Japan - Outside The Elementary School

I remember my first days of entering the school that I was assigned to in Japan, about a month ago. There was a mixture of feelings that included anxiety, excitement, and nervousness. This is the same feeling that I get whenever I enter into any school for the first time, as a teacher, such as schools in Canada. However, there was the added challenge of a language barrier, and being immersed into a different culture. To be honest, I was scared. I was not sure of what it would be like to work with schools in another country, thousands of miles away from my friends and family. This feeling was quickly changed, because of the welcoming atmosphere the teachers and students brought to the school. Now that I am nearing the end of this experience, I start to think about how I am not ready to leave just yet, and that I will truly miss this place and the people around me.







2038349?profile=RESIZE_1024x1024Sapporo, Japan - Inside The Classroom


As I begin a new chapter of my life and teaching career on my return, I feel confident in knowing that I have taken away a lot from this journey. I learned many things about the Japanese culture from different perspectives. I also learned what it feels like to not fit in or not understand everything that is going on around me, in which I have placed myself in the position of an ELL student, learning the English language for the first time, for example. I found that communication plays such a huge role in our lives. Therefore, it is important for us to take time in creating understanding with other people, so that we can communicate effectively. Moreover, I learned how to change my teaching style in a variety of ways that will address different types of learners from diverse learning backgrounds, which included producing lessons that were engaging. In addition to these ideas, I know that I will take all that I have learned from this experience to help shape my teaching practice in my future years as a teacher.

I will truly miss everything from this experience. However, I know that I will keep in touch with the wonderful people that I have met, and hopefully get the chance to revisit this amazing place at another time.

Jerwin Ruzol

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It has been almost 2 months since I came to Japan, and I feel like I learn something new about this country every single day. Reflecting on my experience here so far, I have enjoyed learning about the Japanese culture, through its history, language, and its people. A part of this journey has been how this type of learning shapes my identity as a teacher. I have been working with children in schools, where I have witnessed diverse learners who come from different academic backgrounds. This is where I have moulded my teaching style to fit the needs of my students, in a way that works for them, and is effective for their learning.










Photo: Otaru Canal - Hokkaido (Otaru, Japan)


Similarities & Differences



In comparison to classrooms in Canada, classrooms in Japan are not all that different. They are both environments where students learn and gain essential skills that they need in life. They are both places that foster individual growth in different aspects, as well as strives to create good citizens. In fact, even students in both countries are sometimes similar with regards to behaviour and how they learn. However, a difference that I have noticed is what goes on in the school. In Japan, students have school starting from April until March, with a month off during the summer (August), and a few days off around December. Therefore, students spend most of their time at school throughout their early years of education. Schools in Japan also hold many school festivals, where students are able to showcase their learning to a larger audience or is sometimes just simply a place to gather. Furthermore, students have school lunches within the school, in which the students serve the food, and the whole classroom eats together. Usually, after lunch, they also have classroom clean-ups where students are given roles in cleaning their own classroom, as well as other facilities in the school, since they do not usually have custodians to clean the school for them.





Photo: Imperial Palace East Gardens (Tokyo, Japan)


Stepping Stones





Throughout this last phase of my experience in Japan, I hope to gain as much knowledge as I can about the culture within and outside of the classroom. I want this experience to become a stepping stone towards my journey as a teacher. I hope to gain essential life skills and enhance my pedagogical knowledge, which addresses diverse types of learners. Most importantly, I intend to make this experience as rich and fulfilling as possible, not only for myself, but also for the people around me.













Photo: Imperial Palace East Gardens (Tokyo, Japan)


Jerwin Ruzol

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