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language learning (20)

Now that we are getting closer to the end of our trips here on TAB, I’ve been starting to reminisce about home and get excited to come back to Canada. I love it here in China and I think that I still have so much more to learn in my last two weeks, but after 6 weeks it’s hard to not miss some of the comforts of home. Here are the three things I miss more than anything else:

  1. My own room and bed
  2. Reliable internet without a VPN
  3. BEING A LITERATE MEMBER OF SOCIETY

That last one is not something that I thought I would ever imagine being something I miss, but my oh my, it’s a big one. When I left for China, I completely took for granted the ability to speak the dominant language of a country. Since the day that I’ve been here, it has been a constant (but rewarding and exciting) struggle to communicate and read the most basic things. I cannot wait to get back and be able to read a restaurant menu without pulling out a translator app. It’s especially tricky because I am not a visible minority here so everyone assumes that I can speak Chinese so they rarely slow down their speech for me. It’s always fun to see the looks on their faces when I have to explain in broken Chinese that I am a foreigner, and that I didn’t understand anything they just said!

A pretty standard menu in China. Sometimes they have pictures, but this one was mean.

If there is one thing that I think I can take away from China to mold my understanding of pedagogy, it that I feel I have a stronger foundation for empathizing with ELL students with very low literacy levels. I think that we are extremely lucky here in China because we have the unique situation of being both a language student and a language teacher at the same time. This has given us a wholistic understanding of the additional-language acquisition experience from both ends of the relationship.

In our first days in our Chinese classes, I remember feeling lost and overwhelmed with the monumental task of building literacy in a wildly different language from my own. It’s been a slow slog, but I’m slowly building my arsenal of Chinese characters and phrases that I can say, and it’s done wonders for my confidence here.

Our Chinese language class material... I can read that now!

On the other side of the coin, I’ve been very lucky to teach classes with hugely different levels of English literacy because I can try all sorts of ELL teaching strategies. If nothing else, I’ve become exceptionally good at explaining complex concepts through simplified language! I don’t know to what extent I will be able to apply the lessons that I’ve learned here to my teaching back in Canada, but I’m very happy I’ve been able to gain this insight into what language learners face every day!

 

Yours

David

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Language mistakes...

Over the past few weeks, I had the chance to observe English as a Second Language classes and travel to Chapada Dos Veadeiros

I had the chance to experience two very different teaching styles, even though their lessons were focused on oral skills. Both teachers had classes full of very engaged students who are eager to learn the language. It is refreshing to see such enthusiasm coming from such a young group of people. These observations have helped me determine the kind of teacher I want to become, and they have given me ideas about some of the resources I can use in my classroom if I ever end up teaching French as a Second Language.

Now that I have been here for a bit more than a month, I have become a bit more comfortable speaking Portuguese (even though I still mix my languages). Recently, I went on a trip to Chapada Dos Viedeiros, a beautiful National Park just 5-6 hours away from Goiania, where I was surrounded by Portuguese-speaking students most of the time. While I was having a conversation with them, I found out that I had been mispronouncing and using the wrong term since I had landed in Goiania. Apparently this was a term that could come across as offensive in the wrong context.  Although, I found it hilarious at the time, I also feel very ashamed because I have said this word a couple of times. I had a lovely time in Chapada dos Veideiros, and I feel went one step further in my immersion in the Portuguese language. I got to see the beautiful sights and cachoeiras of this national park while I made awesome friends that help me grow and who support me in my language learning process. This week I also realized I had been mixing up “perto” and “preto”, which means “close” and “black”. So, I guess that clears up so many misunderstandings I have had in the past! Learning a new language is always a process, and I know that I won’t forget the differences between these words. The fact that I got corrected by friends who couldn’t stop laughing at me, makes these words even more memorable. I am happy that I can laugh at my own mistakes and learn from them.

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A Language Learning Epiphany

Ni Hao!

As the initial culture shock wains little by little and I settle into my life here in China, I have begun to develop more of awareness into how difficult it is to live in a country where you can understand almost nothing. In the area of Xi’an where we live, very few if anyone I have encountered speaks English, and ninety percent of all text is in Chinese Characters. Culturally, this is a true testament to the pride the Chinese people take in celebrating and maintaining their rich and vibrant history! It was eye-opening to recognize my own cultural bias, assuming that there must be some level of Western influence here, furthermore that most people would understand essential English communication. In my past travels, words in unfamiliar languages often shared similarities in letters and sounds, and people were accustomed to frequent interactions with tourists. Thus far, that has not been my experience here. The amount of mental energy that is required to attempt simple tasks like buying groceries, getting a cell phone, doing laundry or reading a map is not something I had anticipated. However, after the initial hurdle, I realized that it was beneficial for me to brought out of my comfort zone in such a way. This environment provides the seeds required for authentic personal growth. Additionally, it offers the opportunity to develop your language skills out of necessity!

The language learning courses have provided me with a whole new perspective regarding what it feels like to be a language learner in a classroom environment. Mandarin is said to be one of the most difficult languages for native English speakers to learn, and it has certainly proven to be a real challenge for me. The courses are taught primarily in Chinese, which means if you don’t understand something, you have the potential to become lost quickly. Often questions will be asked again, but when you don’t have the language background to comprehend them, you can do little except stare back blankly. I witnessed many of the same looks I had experienced when I administered the IELTS test for Chinese students at the international school I am teaching at. These moments provide me with a snapshot into what the ELL population in Canadian classrooms must feel like. My whole experience with language thus far has helped me to develop a new level of empathy for the challenges immigrants across the world face. It has undoubtedly influenced my perspective and approach in the classroom as well!

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política, história e idiomas

Time flies here in Brazil! It is hard to think that we only have a few weeks left in Goiania. There is so many things and so many people I will miss when I go back to Canada!

I am so happy to have learned so much about Brazil from friends and professors, despite my lack of Portuguese. We came to Brazil during presidential and estate elections, and everyone is so eager to share a little bit of history and personal opinions about politics. Personally, I find it very interesting to hear people express their opinions about education and economics in Brazil, and how they need to be improved or changed. The fact that they are so open about these subjects is very new to me, but at the same time it’s refreshing to hear multiple points of view, even when I don’t agree with them. I have learned quite a bit about the Brazilian cultural and political history, the good and the bad, and I find it very interesting when I compare it to Colombia, the country where I was born. There are so many similarities, but also so many important differences that makes the Brazilian culture and politics unique. It has been an interesting learning opportunity for me and I appreciate that all my friends and professors are so passionate and willing to talk about these kind of topics.

Chatting with one of my professor and friends!

 

Furthermore, my friends have been extremely helpful with my language learning. They are so understanding about my lack of vocabulary and they correct me when necessary. It is meaningful to be put in the position of an ELL student and experience life from a different point of view. I try to speak Portuguese whenever I have the chance, I can’t even begin to count how many Uber drivers know a bit of my life story and how many have told me theirs. Event though, I have made Brazilian friends, they all speak English and are eager to practice it. I do practice Portuguese with them sometimes, but outside of university there is very little chance to practice the language, so I usually try to practice at the supermarket, ferias, malls, gyms, and during Uber rides. I have to admit, knowing Spanish and Italian has made a huge difference for me when learning Portuguese. I believe these languages are very similar in terms of syntax, vocabulary and even pronunciation sometimes. The only downside to this, is the fact that I often mix my languages and end up speaking my own personal made up “survival” language… However, I am understood most of the time, and I am able to hold a pretty long conversation in Portuguese. Although, I never thought about learning Portuguese, I am very happy to be making new connections with my existing languages and examining how language and culture intertwine. We have Portuguese class every Wednesday, and it is always a highlight for my week. I am very eager to continue learning and to find new places to practice the language!

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Hallo!!

Having now spent almost 3 weeks in Germany (wow where has the time gone!), one thing that I have noticed is how everyone who speaks English, as a second language immediately apologizes for ‘their English not being very good.’ I have found this to be as common as Canadians saying ‘sorry’ in response to actions where they have not done anything wrong.

In Germany, this statement is especially common in the classrooms that I have spent time over the past three weeks. However, typically the speech following the apology is in near fluent and easy to understand English. This amazes me and started me thinking about what the reasoning behind this could be. At my school placement all the classes that I am in are English Bilingual classes and as such the students are expected to answer questions, speak and write in English, but many of them are hesitant to do so. An explanation for this hesitation appears to come from teachers having a heavy emphasis on proper and correct grammar. This is very difficult especially for those students who are still new to speaking English (Grade 5-7). I find this very interesting especially since it seems that almost all the students I have interacted with one on one at any grade level are capable of having a fluent conversation in English. For some students, I find that they need to gain the confidence to speak out even if they may not always speak correctly and that they can learn from their mistakes.  With this being said, I am very impressed with the level of English that all my students are able to speak and understand and I have even learned a thing or two about how English works while spending time in the many English classes that take place at my school.

Another point on languages:

As a language learner myself, I am currently finding German to be an incredibly difficult language to pick up. I think that this is mainly because I literally, and figuratively can’t seem to wrap my tongue around the pronunciation! I've managed to successfully learn to say the following list, which is pretty small considering how long I have been here: hello or hi, good morning, bye, thank you, thank you very much, all good, and draft beer. I will mention that this is not due to lack of trying and I am able to recognize many more written words, I just can not pronounce them. Wish me luck!

That’s all for now!
Tschüss (Bye)

P.S. I have attached a photo from one of my classrooms. I love how bright, lush and fresh the rooms feel with these windows! Also, you'll note the American flags - all English here is centred around American, Australian or British English and the students actually are expected to learn the different accents to help with their letter pronunciation and recognition. 

 

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Language Learning

Hallo again! It has hard to believe that over 2 weeks has already passed here. I have settled in quite well and to honest it has been infinitely easier adjusting than my time in Korea! This is probably because there isn’t really a language barrier (most people speak English quite well), I am not isolated as I meet up with the other TAB students frequently and our awesome German buddies, my apartment is already furnished and finally I think the overall culture and norms are not too foreign for me.

My school has been extremely welcoming, and I have never felt out of place – as I so often did in my beginning months in Korea. Overall, the school does feel like a school and the grade 1s and 4s are as energetic and mischievous as you would expect from any child that age. There are some differences, which I will discuss in my next post. For now, I’ve gained some insights on language learning which I would like to compare with my experiences in Korea.

                                                                                                                                                  The Berlin Wall

Students Learning

I’ve been placed in an immersion school and am in a grade 1 and grade 4 classroom. My partner teacher speaks in both English and German. Mondays are English days and she usually talks in English first and gets a student to translate. These students can’t read yet and are just learning the alphabet, counting, colours, etc. To be honest, I am quite surprised at their comprehension! They can understand a lot of basic things, even if most of them can’t reply in English. Some have better comprehension than some of the middle school students I taught in Korea! In Korea, public school starts English lessons in Grade 3. They learn the alphabet, while learning vocabulary and while trying to get use to the phonemes in English. I’m starting to wonder if it’s better to just focus on comprehension first – instead of phonetics at the same time. I mean, naturally, kids learn their first language by first listening, then speaking, then reading and writing. Of course, Korean is completely different from English while German is more similar, so that is a factor as well.

My Language Learning

Before coming here, I did learn some basic German to get around and I found it much easier to remember things than when I was learning Korean. We have a similar alphabet and it’s much easier for me to remember words if I see it. However, after a few days here I realized that most people speak English and my motivation is now lacking! In Korea I was there for longer, was the only foreigner in schools and needed to learn Korean to get around – so my motivation was much higher. I had to learn Korean actively (studying in workbooks, making notes), but I find that I am learning some German passively.

I am finding that my comprehension of German is improving as a lot of words are like English. For example, “Vas ist das” – is obviously “What is this?”. I can’t produce German, but I do think I can understand a little. For example, today the grade 1’s were doing a math test and the teacher was speaking out the questions. With the pictures, I was able to understand a lot of what was being asked. As well, I was able to pick out adjectives – for example langer, klein – that I had learned before. Of course, this is limited. The grade 4’s were doing word problems in math. It was all in German and I felt so lost in trying to help the kids with these basic math problems! The kids spent a lot of time trying to translate the problem to me without focusing on the math. I dislike that feeling of not being able to fully do my job, but I'm doing my best.

That is all for now! 

Current squirrel (Eichhörnchen) count: 7.

 

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Voce fala inglês?

I have truly felt how scary it can be to try and communicate in a language you are not familiar with. Before coming here, I had gotten stitches that needed to be removed in Brazil. As soon as I got here I was nervous about figuring out the healthcare system in a place that I struggle to communicate. I have already had instances where I am trying to buy something at the market and I start to feel hot and sweaty because I have no understanding of what the sales are despite how hard the merchants try and explain it to me. These are low stake situations that really will not affect me if I do not quite understand, but something like finding someone to remove my stitches is a bit more serious. I was nervous and desperate and got sent to four different places. I was close to just getting my new Brazilian friend’s mother to remove them for me until we finally found a doctor. I would have never been able to do it without the help of my friend and the kindness of strangers. People have been so patient with me and eager to help when they can see that we are confused. They do not get frustrated at our broken Portuguese but teach us how to communicate better instead. This really made me reflect on newcomers who come to Canada. I cannot believe how terrifying it would be to try and navigate and understand new systems that dramatically impact your life (ex. Healthcare) while not knowing the language. I would be completely lost! I imagined what I would have felt like had the people I encountered been rude with me or frustrated that I do not understand their language; I would feel very lonely, hurt, anxious, and fearful to speak again. There have been more instances than I can count where I have seen Calgarians act coldly toward newcomers who do not have the best English, understanding of our culture, or even just have an accent. It is sad to think that some Calgarians have made these people, who are already in a difficult position, feel even worse. It is ironic how, at the same time, I have a family friend who has moved to Canada from India that ended up texting me while I was here. She told me how much she misses India and wishes she could go back; it made me sad to realize that the Canadians she was interacting with were not as warm and welcoming as the Brazilians that I had interacted with.

The kindness of strangers and some of the friends I have made here is the reason I have been having such a great experience. They have fueled me with excitement about immersing myself into this culture and learning the language. Their actions make me feel confident enough to speak, learn, and survive here. These are lessons that I want to take back to Canada and keep in mind when I meet someone who does not speak English or is just new to town. I want them to feel excited and confident as well. I want to express the same warmth to them that I have been receiving because I have had a small taste of how hard and emotional it can really be. I want to alleviate their anxiety and be a helping hand so that they fall in love with Canada the way that I am falling in love with Brazil.

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Language Learning in China

It’s been two weeks of living in Xi’an and I’m finally feeling a little bit settled. We’re housed at the “old” Yanta Campus of Shaanxi Normal University at Qi Xia Yuan hotel with a roommate and the hotel itself is an interesting mix of international students and chinese travellers who appear to be attending conferences here. There’s a number of things on campus including canteens, a library, recreational areas, student dorms, some convenience/grocery stores, a kindergarten, and a hospital. We’re also very close to Shi Da Road with many store and restaurants and a train station is close by.

One of the really cool opportunities that we have as TAB students is that we have been registered as language students at SNNU. We take mandarin language classes from Monday to Friday from 8-12 each morning, and our class is made up of students of all ages and backgrounds including students from Kazakhstan, Ubekistan, Russia, Ukraine, Korea, Yemen and us Canadians.

Basic literacy in Chinese is considered 3000 characters but I have found that even learning 10 characters is overwhelming at times. As part of trying to remember the strokes and how to represent the characters, I started looking into the origin of the words. I noted that many words include characters (radicals) that help indicate their meaning. For example, dog, cat and pig all have the same radical (dog) to indicate that the character is an animal.

This has really enforced the lesson learned in my EAL courses that helping students make connections in English (e.g. through suffixes and prefixes) to their heritage language really helps to grow vocabulary and aids in memory. I don’t think before this experience I had realized how difficult it is to associate different sounds to objects when you are used to another sound association.

I found that they did really well in our lessons here when they introduced similar sounding words (kafei – coffee; jia na da – Canada; kele – cola) to help us feel like we already knew some Chinese. =) I hope I can do this for any ELL students I have in the future.

Linked in with origins of words and cross-language connections, we learned that China has comprehensive and “normal” universities. The Normal universities are historically teacher training universities – with “Normal” stemming from the French “normale” which is also connected to our English “norms” – e.g. a school for teaching norms.

 

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Primera semana en España

Hola amigos!

The first week in Barcelona has been nothing short of incredible. Although I have travelled to quite a number of countries throughout South East Asia as well as Central and South America before, this is my first trip to Europe. I am truly so grateful for this opportunity which allows me to concurrently travel, teach, and complete university courses online. 

 

The things that that have been most noticeable over the past week are the little differences between living in Canada (or North America) and Europe. Some things are beautiful, others are interesting, and of course some things can be a little annoying. I live only a 10 minute walk to the sea, and 10 minutes beyond that is a 4 km long beach to swim at. I absolutely love the heat and being able to swim everyday and/or night!

The architecture of many buildings (even regular shops and average apartments) are breathtaking. I am living on a quiet street in the Gothic Quarter, and it is truly beautiful. I love that all of the ceilings and doorways are huge! The bathroom and kitchen are quite tiny in my apartment, and I share these spaces with my two roommates. This has been quite an adjustment, as two people cannot be in the kitchen at the same time. The washing machine is also in the kitchen and there is no dryer so we hang our clothes to dry in the communal living room or in our small bedrooms. Sharing such a small space with two strangers has definitely required some accomodating. They are both really friendly and kind so it has been working well. My Airbnb host is a graphic designer and he has hung lots of interesting art around the flat which has made the small space feel big and comfortable.

The thing that I totally overlooked is bringing only one power-outlet converter. I have all of these electronic devices (computer, phone, DSLR, GoPro, etc.) but only one plug. I am going to go out on an adventure to find another one. Many people here speak some English, but not enough to understand my request for this specific device. Alternatively, describing a power-outlet converter is beyond my Spanish conversation capabilities at this point. Now that I have a google translator on my phone I am going to try again.

Hasta luego!

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Voce fala inglês?

It has now been a week and a half since I landed in Rio de Janeiro to start this exciting adventure. It is crazy to think that two weeks ago, I was packing my bags and saying goodbye to friends and family not knowing exactly what to expect of Brazil. I am so overwhelmed by how amazing this experience is so far and very excited to explore and learn more about Goiania.

Right after visiting Rio de Janeiro, my travel buds and I headed to Manaus, a city in the State of Amazonas. There, we took two vans and two speed boats in order to reach our Jungle lodge in the heart of the Amazon rain forest near Rio Juma. On my way to the lodge, I met many interesting people and heard amazing travel stories. The best part of meeting them was the fact that I could, for the most part, speak with them in their native language! As a language lover and future second language teacher, this experience confirmed that languages can open the door to the world- even in such a small group of people. The international experience continued once we arrived to the lodge, where we met people from Brazil, Italy, Germany, Canada, France, Switzerland, England, India, Guyana and Japan.  Although I can only speak French, Spanish and English fluently and enough Italian to hold a conversation, I was able to communicate with all of them. It was so amazing to be able to fully connect with them through my love for languages and our mutual excitement about the rain forest and the Brazilian culture.  On our second night, we played games from India, Canada and Germany while chatting and drinking local drinks. My heart was so full when I heard all the different languages in the room while still being able to fully understand the games and conversations. I hope to share these memories with my future students in order to inspire them to love languages as much as I do and motivate them to reach their learning objectives.

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Southern (American) Hospitality

I’m not even sure I know what to say about my time Brazil so far. I’ve learned a lot about myself and how different our education systems and teaching styles are. I’ve also learned a lot about a culture that I had no idea about. I’ll do my best to sum up my thoughts and feelings in one post. But I’m not sure I can ever capture the true spirit of my time here with words. It’s really been truly special.

I think when the phrase “Southern Hospitality” gets thrown around, they are really talking about “Southern (American) Hospitality”. I have met some of the most hospitable people ever here in Goiânia. Everyone from Uber drivers, to waiters, to our co-teachers and tutors from the University (PUC) has been patient and kind to us. It would be reaching a lot to say that my Portuguese speaking skills are beginner. It’s a really hard language! I feel at times frustrated with myself, and envious of those who can communicate with each other with such ease. I find myself desperately wanting to converse and thank people for their kindness, but I just know don’t how too. But, some part of me thinks they know. A smile has become my best way of expressing my gratitude to people.

We’ve made people who are quick to want to connect with us and show us around their city and really be the best local tour guides you could ask for. There seems to be a pretty even divide between people who live here; you either love it here or you don’t. I think I fall on the loving it side of this debate! The city is littered with parks and açai stand for an afternoon snack, and just outside of the city limits, if you’re brave enough to drive, are some of the most stunning waterfalls and adorable colonial towns. The people we’ve met have not been shy about showing us all of these places, and more!

In terms of my professional development, the teaching that we have been lucky enough to observe has been very similar to something you would see in a Canadian institution. However, because these classes are “extra-curricular” they aren’t like regular classrooms. Students only visit these English language classes twice a week for 90 minutes. I’ve been visiting once a week with three different classes, with three different skill levels. My first class is a group of students called Pre-Intermediate 1. The students range from about 16-50 years old. My second class in Teens 2, and they range from about 11-14 years old, and lastly, my Juniors 2 class. They range from about 8-10 years old. So, it’s safe to say that I’ve been exposed to all different age groups and skill levels. What I’ve seen in these classes is a more traditional approach to learning, but it appears to be working for most students. Unfortunately, because these are private extra-curricular classes, that are truthfully quite expensive, we’ve only been able to see students from one socio-economic background. That meaning, the majority of the students in all of the classes attend private schools, where it is widely common for them to receive a significantly better education than those of a lower socio-economic status who attend public school. I feel like this might have an impact on the sort of teaching style that is used in the classrooms. There is hardly any need for differentiation due to a specific learning need or disability. Technology wasn’t engaged as much as I would have expected. Not for a lack of trying on the teachers part, but more for a lack of resources available to the teachers. The teachers, for the most part, are provided with the bare essentials for their classrooms and teaching practices. They really have to fend for themselves and be creative with how to continue to engage their students, with their limited resources. 

Prof. André and Pre-Intermediate 1

Prof. Márcia and Juniors 2

Prof. Fabiano and Teens 2

I was pleasantly surprised to see how passionate the majority of the students seemed to learning English. Though their individual reasons for learning English varied, over all, they all wanted to learn English to be able to pursue a better career and open up more opportunities in their future. Again, part of me wonders, if this level of English training was offered to students in a public school, would the level of passion and dedication be the same? It’s clear from the students that, even though they still have an overwhelmingly traditional school system, there will be inevitable change to come. They are motivated and passionately smart people who will propel serious change within Brazil over the coming years.

Overall, I’ve seen a lot of similarities within my exposure to the Brazilian school system to the type of education system I experienced as a child. Traditional is the name of the game when it comes to education I’ve seen in Brazil. I don’t think that’s a bad thing; we have TLC’s popping up all over the country. There is certainly value in this type of education. With its status as a developing country, I think that, as their country continues to develop, so will their education system. I look forward to returning as an experienced teacher one day and seeing the progress that will inevitably take place.

I’m not ready for goodbye yet, so I guess I’ll just have to come back soon!! 

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Sapporo wa Subarashii Desu!

The City & Homestay Experience

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

 

Japanese Language Classes

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

School Visits

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

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

 

What’s Next

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

Until next time! Mata ne!

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Algumas semanas em Goiânia!

Bom dia! Tudo bem?!

This is now the start of our fifth week here in Goiânia, Brazil. Now that we are more comfortable and confident moving around in the city and coming and going from place to place, I think I’ve really hit my stride here. The weather has been a blessing, the friends we’ve made have been amazing, and even most strangers we meet have been welcoming and kind. Once you venture out of a big tourist city into a more off the beaten path type of place, I think you really get to see what a country is made of and it’s heart and soul. So far, I think Brazil is made of kind, fast-talking people, beautiful food and drinks, gorgeous scenery, and breathe taking heat (which I happen to quite enjoy!). Also, now that I’ve spent more time here, I’ve really gotten a feel for the education system, how it works and what it’s motivating factors are; at the university level and the secondary and primary levels. I am by no means an expert, but I certainly am more comfortable in talking about it.

The view of Goiânia from the window of our Portuguese class.

Does it get any better than this?!

To start our time in Goiânia, we’ve visited 4 different public schools, and I can say with confidence that they are all very different from each other. We visited three elementary schools and one high school. Similarly to in Canada, the academic rigor, appearance and overall success rate of the school has a lot to do with where the school is located within the city. However, the economic differences between sectors within the city are much more exaggerated than it is in Canada. Walking into an elementary level school in Brazil, you would think you were walking into an elementary school in Canada. They are warm, colorful, loud and vibrant places with lost of busy kids running around playing, socializing and learning. The classroom walls are lined with student art work, and two of them even had a room and teacher dedicated to those students who require a little bit of extra help. The teachers are all trained and passionate teachers who, like in Canada, don’t get into teaching for the money, but rather for the love of education and kids. The high school we visited however was starkly different from a high school back home, once you peel a few layers back. Teachers at the high school level are not trained teachers, they are instead trained in different fields such as history, geography, English language, Portuguese language, math, etc. then are simply hired by the school board. Since teachers at this level aren’t trained teachers, they often lack skills surrounding classroom management, assessment, etc. High school teachers are also paid significantly less than primary school teachers, so much so that most of whom we’ve met have second and third jobs to make ends meet. Because of this, there is a lot of teacher turn over at the high school level. Additionally, at this level, there is a relatively high threat of violence, particularly against male teachers. With all that being said, we did meet some absolutely fantastic teachers who really had a passion for education and who took the time to get to know their students and connect with them. Even though there are a lot of negatives about the job, there are still teachers who are working hard everyday to ensure that students leave high school with the best chance at success they can be offered. In a way, it was inspiring to see. Despite all the odds stacked against them, they still try and push on and offer success to their students as best they can. Unfortunately we did not get to see how things are different in a private school versus a public school. We do know that privates schools are incredibly expensive and many of the do not offer scholarships or financial assistance to lower income students. Many private schools claim to offer an “American” curriculum or “Canadian” curriculum, and I think it would have been useful to see what exactly that means, but unfortunately we did not have the opportunity to do so.

The high school students were very interested in the kind of music we listened to. They suggested we should listen to Brazilian Funk music. 

As we move through our education here in Brazil, we will continue to participate in Portuguese language classes as well as being observers and teachers in the PUC Language and Extension Center. The language classes we have been apart of have been so helpful, and even though our progress has been slow, we are still making progress! We can ask and respond to most basic introductory questions, and now we tackle pronunciation and more complex conversational skills. Pretty good progress for only having one class a week if you ask me! I’m most excited to be able to (hopefully) teach a few lessons at the PUC Language and Extension Center. This is a place where students of all ages take extra curricular language classes. This sort of class is almost exclusively offered to students who have wealthier families, as these classes are quite expensive. Regardless, it is really great to be able to see students learning English with many of the ESL teaching strategies I’ve seen in schools back home. I have three different classes, one class with teens (ages 11-13), one with juniors (ages 7-10) and one pre-intermediate (ages 16-55). We will be in these classes for the rest of our time here in Goiânia. I look forward to being able to build a bond with the students and the teacher, a hopefully teach a lesson or two!

When Anthony Bourdain says "If you're ever in Brazil, you need to eat Acarajé", you immediately search every street market you can find until you find it.

Once we found it, it was definitely worth venturing out in the heat to find! 

Apart from education related things, we’ve been exploring our community, making friends, eating our body weight at least once a week and laughing the whole entire time. While we haven’t yet ventured too far outside of Goiânia, we’ve been too busy soaking up all the fun and exciting things to do in town. These last few weeks we have here, we plan to venture outside the city limits and visit all the untamed and wild nature that surrounds us. Did you know they have waterfalls here?! GUYS… WATERFALLS! I don’t know if I can really explain to you all reading this how excited I am for waterfalls, camping and hiking in the next few weeks. I can honestly say that I truly feel thankful to have had the opportunity to visit this beautiful country with Meghan and Courtney. I couldn’t have asked for better adventures buddies! #blessed  

 

Até logo!!

 

P.S. The most useful Portuguese phrase we’ve learned since we got here is “Tocar o seu cachorro?” or “Passar a mão no seu cachorros?” Which both mean, “Can I pet your dog?” 

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Life in Sapporo (so far)

I’ve been in Sapporo now for about a month now and in Japan for nearly two. The experience has been nothing short of wonderful to date. My favourite way of getting to know a new location is to simply live like a local. Thankfully, my host family was happy to bring me right in to their daily lives without hesitation. I’m going to borrow the structure from one of Taryn’s post and break down my daily life in Sapporo from the perspective of a few different categories.

The Routine:

As mentioned above, my host family has been very happy to involve me in their daily routines. In doing so, adapting to life in Sapporo has been a very smooth transition. Every morning we enjoy breakfast together before we go about our daily schedules. For those of us in the TAB cohort, that involved some combination of Japanese language classes until about a week ago, school visit preparations, and school visits until very recently. What comes next depends on the day, but there tends to be dinner that is cooked with the family, spending time exploring the city with some newfound friends, or even family excursions to nearby towns or extended family members.

Japanese:

The time spent travelling around Japan prior to arriving in Sapporo helped with some language recognition and pronunciation of words. Practicing with fellow TAB students has proven to be very beneficial, and progress is certainly being made in reading, writing, and speech. When I first started I felt like I could only say a few words, or put together a very basic sentence. I am now beginning to be able to communicate more regularly with the people around me. It helps that my host family and some of the friends I’ve made here are so eager to help me learn. I’ve even begun to learn and correctly identify Kanji! (see picture below)

From a teacher’s perspective, this has been a very valuable experience. Not everyone in our classrooms will be as comfortable as English as we may be. I’ve even seen classes where the students had zero English language ability and they were well into their teens. The struggle we are experiencing in not being proficient with the language of the majority where we are is a struggle some of our students are likely to encounter in the future. Being able to understand and relate through this experience will only better equip us to assist if that time comes. 

Food:

I love to cook. There is no hiding that. Thankfully, food is such a great way to gain insight on the culture of other people. The philosophy of food, everything from the selection of ingredients, use of techniques, and the way food is consumed, reveals something about a culture. Once again I am grateful to my host family for allowing me to join them in their kitchen to cook with, and sometimes for, them and learn about the Japanese relationship with nature. Of great personal interest was the term Satoyama Culture, which was explained to me as – Responding to the changes between seasons and understanding that environment. Living life taking only the resources that are necessary for daily life from the Earth while preserving the nature around and respecting what has been taken.

Traditional Experiences:

Japan is a country steeped in tradition. So far I have experienced largely the social aspect of Japanese culture. I’ve attended four festivals to date each with very different themes (Elementary School sports day, Junior High School festival, Autumn Festival, Temple festival). I have also taken a calligraphy class, which is unfortunately not as common anymore it would seem, but has been immensely useful in recognizing the various Kanji around me.

Schools:

As of this writing I have not actually been assigned to teaching in schools, so this topic will likely be revisited again very soon. So far we have visited a handful of different schools and were usually tasked with assisting in English conversation or grammar classes. That said, some very stark differences in the Japanese and Canadian school culture have already come to light. The two that stands out the most are that the students have lunch together and clean the school together. School lunches have been ubiquitous so far. Students set up, serve, and eat the food together during lunchtime with some schools having teachers join in on the lunches as well. Following lunch, the students quickly clean the entire school – no janitors to be found. I saw children as young as first grade assisting in school cleaning. The idea behind it appears to be creating pride in your school and fostering a sense of responsibility and respect about the space you occupy.

School placements will begin very quickly, so I look forward to exploring the school culture further and experiencing more of what it is like to be in a Japanese school. Expect that post very soon!

 

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Personal Pronouns // Pitfalls & Perseverance

First lesson planned and taught in Hamburg? Check! 
Well... a checkmark might be a bit generous if I was truly marking with my proverbial red pen. I worked on personal pronouns and contractions with my fifth graders, and I admit that I greatly underestimated the challenges that come with teaching a second language. There were hurdles that I didn't even imagine would come up, but a few funny and teachable moments as well. 
To be fair, this was actually the first time I’ve taught English or languages, as my first practicum back home was in math and science. I’ve definitely learned a great deal from just one lesson and I was able to make some adjustments to the lessons I taught (using a more team-teaching method) today. 
The main points of reflection, for anyone else who may be facing the same challenges as me… 
  • Slow down! My students understood so much less English than I realized, especially in the context of delivering instructions for a task or activity. 
  • Use a student translator. There is often one or two students whose grasp of English is a bit more advanced than they others, and this student can be a great asset in terms of having them repeat whatever you’ve just said in their own words - and in their own language. 
  • Make it multimodal. This is probably obvious to everyone but me, but somehow it escaped my brain when I was lesson planning… second language learning needs visual, auditory, and active modes of engagement! When my partner teacher appeared with a giant chart showing icons attached to pronouns, I couldn’t have been happier. 
I think overall, the lesson went well. I got a lot of formative feedback from the students and I now have a much more detailed impression of their language abilities that I never would have been able to get from simply observing.
Today’s lessons I team-taught with my partner teacher, and I think this is the format I will utilize going forward. I’m able to have a bit more fun with them introducing games, activities, and providing support while she’s able to deliver the more complex explanations in their native German so that they can grasp the concepts in their first language. 
To sum up… I’m very glad to have the first few lessons behind me, and looking ahead to my next adventures with grammar!  
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こんにちわみんなさん!

こんにちわみんなさん!はじめまして! (Konnichiwa minna-san! Hajimemashite!)

 Hello everybody. Nice to meet you. 

ミシエル です. (Mishieru desu.) 

I'm Michelle. 

I had been fortunate enough to be have been given the opportunity to travel across Japan for the past three weeks prior to the start of my practicum. In which I have spent the past three weeks travelling and visiting the following cities in Japan: Tokyo, Nagano, Nagoya, Kyoto, Nara, Hiroshima, Osaka, and Kobe. This, however, was not my first time in Japan in which I had recently travelled to Osaka in May 2016. As a result of my recent travels to Osaka, during my trip I did not feel completely alien to the country as I was already attuned to some of Japan’s culture and ways. Since I was ten years old, I had always wanted to live in Japan and learn their native language. In which during my first year of university, I had even taken an ‘Introduction to Japanese Language’ course as a first step towards my lifelong dream. Naturally, Japan was my obvious first choice country when selecting where I wanted to go in my Teaching Across Borders (TAB) program. Thus, I feel incredibly blessed and thankful to have been given this opportunity to go to the beautiful country of Japan. 

ありがとうございます。(Arigatoo gozaimasu.)

Thank you.

In my travels, many would have thought that language would have been one of the major barriers and concerns during my trip. However, it turned out that it wasn’t exactly true. Yes, in some ways there was often some moments of difficulty in regards to communicating with others. Difficulties in expressing my feelings and thoughts. In which following my experience in Japan, the frustrations that we often discuss in our teaching courses that occur in English Language Learners (ELL’s) was something that I recognized and felt too first hand. It was my personal experience that led to my understanding that one’s ability to speak fluently in a foreign language is not necessarily equivalent to one’s intelligence. It was clear that what I had learned in my courses was entirely different from actually experiencing what we had learned. I felt that, my experiences in a foreign country brought more depth and understanding to both me as a teacher and as an individual. 

In addition, although at first the language barrier did cause me frustration, my desire to communicate pushed me to persevere and come up with creative strategies to express my thoughts and words. Rather than speaking my own native language, English, I focused more on learning key vocabulary in the language that I was trying to learn, Japanese. I utilized technology, in which on my phone I had dictionaries, charts, hiragana and katakana practice, and an online translator. I found myself utilizing body language more, such as gestures, facial expressions, and sounds. At one point during my trip, I even tried drawing and worst case scenario, I asked for help from individuals that I found that spoke some English.  Thus, it was clear to me that as a teacher, I should work hard to come up with a variety of ways to communicate with all my students properly, being both creative and resourceful. 

In which, communication is so much more than just speaking. Communication is the ability to connect and understand others, despite varying language differences between individuals. One can speak, but not properly communicate, and one can hear, but not properly listen. Thus, following the end of my trip, and the beginning of my TAB experience, I hope as a future educator that I can learn how to communicate and listen properly to my students in the future. Even with my host family now, I still struggle every day to communicate with them. However, I recognize that both sides in our situation have the best intentions and the desire to reach out to one and another. Thus, I look forward to the beginning of my TAB experience and to the rest of my future endeavors throughout my trip. 

よろしく おねがいします。(Yoroshiku onegaishimasu.) 

Please take care of me. 

 

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Translation: Japan is beautiful. Japanese is difficult.

After a few weeks of Japanese lessons I can now form basic sentences like this with little to no trouble. It's not much, but it makes day to day activities and communicating with students actually manageable. I've only just started volunteering at the schools, but as I am about half way through my time here in Japan, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on what's happened so far.

The main focus of my first month in Japan has been learning Japanese. Through this learning process, I'm already starting to see similarities between my own experience and English language learners. First of all, learning a new language is hard. Just when I feel like I've got it, I accidentally tell my host mother that her food is "cow" instead of delicious... I've gotten a lot of weird looks. Luckily my host family has been very supportive and helpful. I have found that the more opportunity I have to practice, the better I've gotten. However, in other, more intimidating environments, I feel self conscious and worry that I will mess up. I have seen the same intimidation impeding the Japanese students from practicing when learning English. Another challenge I've noticed is in listening to Japanese. It is extremely easy to tune out what is being said when it's not your first language. Multiple times I've been addressed by someone in Japanese and have had no idea what they said until they repeated. Unless language learners are actively engaged in learning, it is probable that they aren't listening. It also helps to repeat what was said and allow time for processing the question or statement. I often know the individual words but need to think as to what the specific question was and then use the few words I know to form a response. It actually takes much more time than what I would have thought, despite the fact that I understand and know how to respond. In addition, I have found it helpful to know the differences in language structure between English and Japanese. By knowing both the sentence structure and phonetic differences, it is much easier to understand where Japanese students can go wrong when speaking English. At the very least, my few weeks of studying Japanese has made me very sympathetic to the Japanese students learning English. Luckily I've learnt in Japanese what they have been learning in English. As a result, I understand the limitations of their abilities and can hopefully set them up for success and create a supportive environment for them to learn. Having them laugh at me stumble through their language helps a lot! 

Over the past few weeks I've also had the opportunity to participate in some amazing Japanese cultural experiences. I've tried on a traditional Japanese kimono, seen a sumo wrestling tournament, practiced the art of calligraphy, seen a traditional kabuki theater play, and visited many Shinto and Buddhist temples and shrine. Each of these experiences has been better than the last. Here are some photos:

While all of those experiences have been amazing, there have been some other differences that have been a little more difficult to adjust to. Although I did my research about the culture before I came, I often find myself remembering after I mess up For example, the amount of times that I've accidentally worn the wrong type of footwear in the wrong place is shockingly high. I'm often confused as to what the rules at meal times are and have to try to follow what others are doing around me. It's nearly impossible to figure out what you are supposed to throw out where. And worst of all, there is nothing worse than accidentally getting stuck in the closing train doors. Not only are you embarrassed but you embarrass everyone around you. Plus it hurts - a lot! Despite the fact that I am stumbling my way through the cultural differences, everyone in Japan has been very kind to us. They will try to let us know the differences and are very nice about when we mess up. My host family has been particularly helpful. I honestly have not had a bad experience yet. However, to relate this back to English language learning, I could easily see how these changes could be overwhelming for a student. Especially in an environment where people aren't as understanding and supportive. I think its important to understand that the language is not the only thing that students new to Canada are having to deal with. 

The next few weeks I will be in an elementary and junior high school, observing classes and helping out in the English classes. I hope to take what I've learnt so far to help Japanese students learn English. In addition, I plan to observe the differences between the Japanese and Canadian classrooms, observe the responsibilities of the Assistant Language Teachers to determine if its a career path I would enjoy, and continue to learn strategies to help English language learners. I'm very excited to continue volunteering and experiencing the incredible Japanese culture. I am now living in Asahikawa in a dormitory with Jo-Anne and had to say goodbye to my wonderful host family. Now we are on our own, I'm sure many more shenanigans will ensue! 

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One week in...

        //              Bom día!       //       Good day!               //

Today marks one week exactly that I have been in Goiânia, Brazil, and what a week it has been- flying from one event to another and from one end of the city to the next in the same day. I feel like I am truly experiencing the REAL Brazil- full of warm welcoming people and waaaaay too much food. For which I am incredibly thankful.

An introduction: My name is Allison Lampard and I am a second year education student at the Werklund School within the University of Calgary. My objective is to become a Spanish and French teacher and I also speak enough Italian to get me by. Needless to say, I am a language enthusiast and since I first started learning Spanish I knew I wanted to understand all of the romance languages- and here I am now, working on number four. I feel blessed to be in Brazil, especially during my last year of the education program, as it allows me to assume the role of a language student once more before I assume the role of teacher this upcoming year.  Learning a new language always comes with its challenges and currently, through having the mindset of an educator and being conscious as to how I am learning best and alternative ways of learning, I am acquiring many new strategies which will without doubt help my future students.

Some of my favourite ways of learning

Portuguese/communicating so far have been though:

  • Charades and hand gestures (of course)
  • Charlie Brown in Portuguese
  • Watching films and TV shows (with or without subtitles)
  • Listening to traditional music
  • Reading Magazines
  • Bill boards
  • Graffiti
  • Discussions of new foods and cities
  • Meeting new people

            These are all authentic learning methods (i.e. how real people learn in the real world) and during my time here I plan to collect as many resources and annotate as many ideas as I can so that I can later incorporate them into my practicum and into my teaching portfolio.

 In regards to our objectives here as Teaching Across Borders participants, we are meeting with our coordinator tomorrow to finalize our plans. I am very excited about this as they have mentioned lots of wonderful ideas to us thus far. It appears we will be working at three different schools to provide us with a wide array of experiences. We will be at a children’s school, a school for adults and also a circus school.

We have been to the Children’s school already and it is more like a Community center. The doors are always open (once you pass through security and the locked gate that is) to children, parents and whole families. They offer classes to the youngest ages, counselling to parents and children alike and there is an auditorium upstairs where they host a number of events such as dance and acrobat lessons, and fun games for all ages. The main purpose of this center however seems to be after school care as adults here work long hours and it is not the safest area of the city. It is located on the outskirts in what we are told is one of the poorest areas. Unfortunately this means that funding, supplies and resources are low. This does not stop the school however from having a supple library with literature for all ages. The percentage of literate Brazilians is quite low and so the instructors try their best to incorporate reading and writing into the activities. As TAB participants we have been invited to return to the school with a lesson plan in one of three areas: with youth, with families working on literacy or with youth developing psychological wellbeing. More details will be sure to follow as to how the lessons go…

Following as well will be a blog about all of the fun facts both from Brazilian culture (ex. The majority of food here is deep fried and filled with cheese) and the Portuguese language (ex. Did you know that Río de Janeiro means River of January or January River?). Stay tuned for more fun facts…

                                                     //             Obrigada                  //           Thank you           //

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The Path to the Present

Greetings current admirers and future TAB participants!

It has now been one week since I arrived in Sapporo, and a little over two weeks since I originally departed from Canada.

Our first destination in Japan was Naha, Okinawa.

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As you can see, three of us elected to travel in a group in the days leading up to the official start date. Travelling together has been a truly rewarding experience, and has helped at innumerable junctions to circumvent micro-disasters. Jo-Anne (pictured far right) noticed when I left my backpack on the train in Okinawa and Anisha (in the middle) has acted as our primary path finder, navigating through unfamiliar territory. I feel this has been an amazing opportunity to work and learn how to work together as a team - capitalizing and exploring our own strengths, tapping each other's strengths, and endeavoring to improve and develop ourselves as more rounded learning/teaching community participants.

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We stayed in Okinawa four nights, and then flew to Tokyo.

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Pictured here is the Tokyo Skytree. It was an amazing place to visit, the first viewing platform is 350 meters up and the elevator takes you that distance in 50 seconds - your ears pop on the way up.

Preparing for this trip, I encountered a wide array of advice and speculation about the potential difficulty of travelling in Japan. Ranging from "Almost everyone speaks some English" to "No one will be able to understand you." Understandably, I experienced some anxiety prior to landing...

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The verdict from this point? It depends.

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So far I have gotten by quite well on a combination of my limited Japanese, pointing, pictures, and maps/pamphlets showing our destination. I feel that where you end up falling on this spectrum likely has more to do with you personally and some combination of the language you possess and your comfort operating around a language barrier. When we first landed in Okinawa the taxi driver didn't recognize the name of our hotel, but we showed him the booking confirmation and he asked a fellow driver who could read English. On another particular night, we were travelling by taxi to catch the last bus back to Naha - if we missed the bus, it would cost around $150 to taxi the distance. While in transit, we were not entirely certain the taxi was taking us to the right place and we ended up arriving only 3 minutes ahead of the bus. Stress.

Out of these experiences I have started to think more critically on how our language and our capacity to communicate influences how we interact with the world. Sitting in the back seat of a taxi worrying about where the cab is going while being unable to clarify the location or specify the urgency of our timely arrival being just a small taste of this. I can't even begin to fathom the experience of an ELL student in a classroom. Having questions you cannot shape, and emotions you can only express physically is incredibly frustrating at times for me as an adult, much less as a developing and burgeoning youth. 

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That said, there have been some incredible experiences working around the barriers. My host family here in Sapporo has been incredibly kind and supportive - we have had so many engaging, interesting, and simply fun conversations around dinner. The language is some composite of English, Japanese, and gestures/facial expression/charades at any given point. Talking with my host family over dinner has also been a great opportunity to improve my Japanese as they teach me new words and improve my pronunciation. Culturally, the other night I learned to make Takoyaki from my host mother, a food I tried for the first time in Tokyo.

Over dinner we often listen to music, and have shared some of our favourite musicians. My host mother is very fond of Taro Hakase (Japanese Violinist) who played the violin for Celine Dion's (Canadian Singer) "To love you more." There has been the occasional difficulty in communicating, but every time we work together to communicate has meant a lot to me on a very personal level.

The TL,DR (Too Long, Didn't Read) here being, bridging a language barrier can be challenging but if you invest yourself in the process it can be an incredibly affirming experience and an opportunity to grow from. From Okinawa to Tokyo, Tokyo to Sapporo, everything is coming together wonderfully.

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Zac

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Beginning Adventures in Japan!

Hello/Konnichiwa :)

My name is Anisha, I'm a second year student in the Werklund School of Education specializing in Elementary Inclusive Education. I am so fortunate to have been given the opportunity to study in Japan for the first part of the semester! 

We have now spent one week in Sapporo, Hokkaido (the northernmost island of Japan) in the 'Teaching Across Borders' program. It has already been an amazing experience and I can't wait to see what is to come! The first thing I am grateful for, that has really allowed for a smooth transition into this program, is all of the support that we are given while overseas. The partnered university, Hokkaido University of Education, and their affiliated staff and student tutors (volunteers), have been very accommodating! This means that during my stay, I can focus on my school work, learning and gaining the most out of this trip, as I have somewhere to go and seek help when I face difficulties along the way. My homestay family is also wonderful. They are providing with me with a lot of insight and opportunities for experiential learning within the realm of Japanese customs and culture.

This week, I have been focusing on adjusting to day to day life in Hokkaido. I do not feel as though I am experiencing a culture shock, which is something I was warned about my many different people before arriving in Japan. However, I have slowly been getting accustomed to traditions, culture and way of life as well as improving my amateur chopstick skills! The days are long and busy as we have intensive Japanese classes in the morning and afternoon seminars and self-study for our online University of Calgary courses, all while trying to meet new people and explore the beautiful city around us! 

In October, I will be volunteering in a local elementary school. Here a few questions I hope to gain answers to during this immersive part of the cross-cultural experience:

What does education mean to the nation? 

How does special education work in Japan? 

How do students and teachers feel about the education system? 

How does inclusivity play a role in Japanese schools in terms of ableism and other forms of diversity? 

What are the differences between the Canadian and Japanese education systems? 

Thanks for reading!

Anisha

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