sapporo (24)

A Home Away from Home.

Konnichwa everybody! 

Its been eventful here in Sapporo with a typhoon and earthquake and good 20 degree weather to follow. It has been a wild ride for me with all of the weather conditions, language classes, and getting back into the swing of course work. Unfortunately, my time is almost up in Sapporo and I will be going to Asahikawa soon. Before all that though, I would really like to talk about my home stay family and how they have really made my stay in Sapporo one I will never forget. 

At first, we were all nervously waiting in a room like animals waiting to get adopted. Each parent came one by one to pick up their new home stay student and we all were excitedly waiting to see who would be picked up next. It came my turn (thankfully I was not last) and I met my host mother who I now call "Mama-san". She told me that I would be having a younger host sister named, Eko, who I was quite excited to meet as I have always wanted a younger sibling. Our meeting was full of shy interactions and eventually she has warmed up to me! 

7 layers (top/bottom): grape, strawberry, green tea, melo, chocolate, vanilla, lavendar

In my month of staying here, I have learned to love my host family very much and I am sad to leave them behind. They have showed me multiple places in Sapporo and have given me the comfort of home away from home through everything that has happened. They have fed me all the sweets I could ever imagine and have encouraged my love for cats. I will always remember them as my Sapporo family and I hope that they come to Calgary to visit me so I can show them the wonders of Calgary and Alberta!

Homemade takoyaki! Oiishi!

Ja mata! (See you!)

Chuen-Xi Quek

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Parks, Museums, and Rain

To wrap up my time in Sapporo I visited some of the sights around town that the folks at HUE said were worth a visit. Like Tokyo, Sapporo has a TV tower in the middle of the city – this time overlooking Odori Park. Odori runs several blocks above one of the cities busier subway stations, and is filled with sculptures and small monuments that represent parts of Sapporo’s history. It’s also not too far from the old clock tower – what one of our hosts called “one of the Top 3 disappointing tourist destinations in the city.” The park is worth visiting, but definitely skip the clock tower!


Just north of Odori is Akarenga, or the Red Brick building, an old government office that was once the centre of Sapporo and Hokkaido’s government. The park around Akarenga has some great little spots, and the building itself is packed full of art, history exhibits, and commemorations of partnerships and gifts from around the world. Hokkaido and Alberta are “sister provinces,” so there are several gifts from Peter Lougheed and other Albertans, and there’s also a number of artefacts from when Hokkaido hosted the G8 summit in 2008. Not all of the exhibits are fully bilingual, but enough of them are to make the building well worth a visit.


To the west is Hokkaido University’s Botanical Garden, one of the oldest botanical gardens in the country and well worth the hour or so it takes to tour around. The garden gives weekly updates on which plants are best to view at different times during the year – I just missed the lilac peak but the rose garden was a great sight to see. The university also has a small museum on the history of the Ainu, Hokkaido’s indigenous people, as well as an impressive (if slightly creepy) exhibit on the many animals that call Hokkaido home.


Another 40 minutes west (with a nice lunch break in the rain) is Maruyama Park, which is also home to the Hokkaido Shrine. The shrine is well-maintained and also has information on the site, Shinto, and life in Sapporo. Because there’s also a subway stop nearby it’s easy to get to so if you’re in Sapporo you should check it out.


Tomorrow I’m off to Hakodate, the final city on my trip before I head back to Calgary. Until then!

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Today we visited HUE-Sapporo’s two Affiliated Schools – a junior high school (grades 7-9) and an elementary school (grades 1-6). We started with the junior high, visiting with Dr. Oga and the Vice Director of HUE’s international office, as well as 4 exchange students (1 from Taiwan, 1 from Alaska, and 2 from Russia). The Affiliated Schools are very similar to Werklund’s Partner Research Schools – they work with the university on research projects, and often collaborate on opportunities like student practicums and visits from international groups.

During our visit, the principal explained that their goal at the school is to integrate students’ learning across subjects, and especially to connect what they are learning in the classroom to their lives outside of the building. To do that, teachers work together to approach topics from different perspectives, and spend 2-3 hours a week collaborating on research to better understand how their students are learning. Teachers are also able to visit each other’s classrooms to observe one another and chat about teaching practices – so a couple of the rooms we visited also had another teacher sitting in.

The American student with us commented that he was surprised at how much group work the students were doing, especially in the science class we visited. As much as students study individually and are expected to do well, the school also wants to create a community and encourage students to learn from one another.

After lunch in the university cafeteria we made our way to the elementary school. The community feel was even more apparent here – most of the teachers we visited were in and amongst the students, and several classes had students rotating through “daily duties” like leading end-of-class discussions. After school most of the teachers hosted meetings for parents about upcoming activities and field trips. Rather than send home forms and trip outlines (waivers in particular are not a thing here), the parents come to the school for a step-by-step presentation about each trip so that they know what to expect and what the students will do while they’re away.

The highlight of the day (and I really hope the video Dr. Oga took gets lost to the sands of time) was our game of Indiaca, essentially a hybrid between volleyball and badminton (played with a giant birdie but no rackets). It’s a simple game and was a nice way to connect with the group – though I wouldn’t suggest playing it in a suit in the middle of June.

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A Day at Sapporo Campus

It’s a warm and windy day in Hokkaido! To start things off today I got to campus without getting lost (it doesn’t count as getting lost if I only look at the map 53 times). Our first meeting was with some third year education students, including some students who are part of GELPRO, HUE’s Global Educational Leadership program. Like TABers, GELPRO students travel abroad – sometimes for up to a year – to learn about education in other places and enhance their English. That’s one of HUE’s strengths: they’re connected with a range of universities around the world and open their campus up as part of these programs. 

The second class I visited was a level 2 Japanese class for some of the foreign exchange students. The teacher – who also teaches the TAB students when they visit – ran the class mostly as a conversation, and almost entirely in Japanese. The students are comfortable enough to talk about a range of topics (when is it polite to use certain greetings? What things do you say back home that people in Japan don’t say/do? What’s it like to be a foreign student in Hokkaido?), and while they aren’t fluent, they’ve spent enough time immersed in the language that it was tough to keep up.

For lunch we went to a nearby family-run soba restaurant. Credit to our hosts for what the recommended – the soba was delicious and the shrimp hadn’t spent a century in a freezer. After lunch was a meeting with HUE staff who have spent time living, studying, and training abroad. I was impressed by how humble the team is about their experiences and their English. Most of the group don’t give formal presentations very often, and less often in English, but they were easy to talk to and had lots of experiences worth hearing about.

The day ended with the international team and exchanging gifts from UofC and HUE. Dr. Oga, who organizes much of TAB in Japan, was there, along with the rest of the office and a few extra guests. I didn’t have a cake with me but it can’t be an office gathering without some food – something I am happy to say works at HUE as much as it does back home. Tomorrow’s my last day at HUE-Sapporo, when I get to check out two of HUE’s Affiliated Schools with Dr. Oga and her students. Until then!

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Sunburnt in Sapporo

It’s the end of a long day as I sit down to write this post. The day started in Tokyo at 4:00am, where I checked out of my hotel and made my way to Haneda Airport for the flight to Sapporo. Haneda is essentially Tokyo’s domestic airport, and while it’s much smaller than Narita, it felt busier. The 777 we took had a nose-mounted camera to give us a first-person view of the liftoff and landing. Is this common? I haven’t seen it before.

I landed in New Chitose airport south of Sapporo and took the bus into town. After grabbing lunch and dropping my bags I train-hopped north to the HUE Sapporo campus. I also got to take a taxi part of the way, which was a great chance to practice my Japanese, and I’d rather mention that than my conversation with the ticket agent where I mixed up “my older sister” and “that platform over there.” You know, because those are super close together (they’re not).

Once I got to campus I met with the international team, including the TAB liaisons and their Director. One of their English instructors is fairly new to campus, so we went on a tour of campus together and chatted about HUE and UofC, and some quirks about life in Canada. I also visited a Year 1 teacher ed class and chatted with the students, one of which is hoping to come to Canada next year as part of one of HUE’s other exchange programs.

After some more meetings and introductions it was time for dinner. The folks at HUE invited me to join them at Yakitori, a pub-like restaurant that mostly serves skewered meats (tori means bird/chicken) and sake. Tokyo was good for learning about what Japan values as a country, but tonight’s dinner was great for learning about the HUE team as people. They introduced me to new dishes, showed me a drink made from sweet potatoes that wasn’t orange (witchcraft, I think), and chatted about their lives, their families, and the work they do. They’re a kind and generous bunch and I’m looking forward to the next few days getting to know them and the city a little better.

A quick aside – Although there has been a significant earthquake in Osaka I’m quite far from there and so haven’t been affected by it.

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See You

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

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

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

Some things I miss about Sapporo

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

Some things I am looking forward to at home:

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

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

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Japan is incredible!


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

My trip has been an experience beyond words because…

Of everyone that I met:

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

Of everything that I have done:

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

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


Of everything that I have learned:

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

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

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

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

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

Jaa matane!!! 

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

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

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

The funny pun shirt.

A scene from the school play. 

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

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

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Japan is awesome!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rice Harvesting 

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

School Life

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

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

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

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

At the University 

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

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

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こんばんわ! Konbanwa!
(Good Evening) 

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

Some cool learning experiences at this point in time:

September 30th

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

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

October 2nd - 6th 

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

Some key differences between Canadian Schooling and Japanese Schooling:

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

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

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

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

A thought about school visits thus far:

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

October 8

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

October 10-13

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

Ja mata ne! (See you) 

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Japan is amazing!


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

 School Festival

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

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

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

School Visit

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

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

School Placement

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

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

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

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Last Weeks in Sapporo

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

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

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

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

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

Bye for now! Kaitlin

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Japan is incredible!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Beginning of my Japanese Adventure


I am finally here in Sapporo. After all the waiting, interviews, planning, saving, and organizing, I am finally here! I have settled into my homestay, and am finally having the chance to sit and get my thoughts down. The last two weeks have been hectic, but have truly set me up for success in the Teaching Across Borders Program in so many ways.

Time change, language barriers, and other big changes

First and foremost, I have spent two weeks touring some of the beauty Japan has to offer, and dipping my toes into the culture, customs, language, and food in my new home. The adventure began immediately, when I landed at Haneda International Airport around 1:00am (JST). Exhausted from a delayed connection in China, I got in a taxi, and found myself immediately facing language barriers as I tried to explain where my hotel was. I then had to make my first attempt at resetting my sleep cycle, as Japan is 15 hours ahead of Calgary time. The next day, I continued to face the frustration of language barriers as I got lost in Tokyo and tried to communicate with my Uber driver about where to pick me up. The humidity combined with the heat was also a huge shock. I retreated to my air conditioned hostel, and endured my first day/night of jet lag. 

On my sixth day of settling in, I had the chance to leave the city, and see a more scenic view in the town of Hakone. I stayed in a traditional Japanese hostel (on a mat the floor), and was served a traditional Japanese breakfast of dried Mackerel, salad, Japanese pickles, miso soup, rice, and tea. Although I am not typically a picky eater, this was a very abrupt change in food, and I ended up going fairly hungry for the day. Trying to navigate transit proved interesting as well. It became clear to me by this first week that I had lots to learn. The western culture I was used to was gone for the next few months. Somehow, I still found myself very grateful for the beginnings of this new perspective.

A view of my traditional Japanese breakfast, Hakone Japan

The pre-travels

Over the next week and a half, I had the chance to visit so many breathtaking sites including the Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine and Arshiyama Bamboo Grove in Kyoto, the Memorial Park and Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima, the Momofuku Instant Ramen Museum in Osaka, and Disneyland in Tokyo. See the pictures below, and enjoy some of the beauty I was fortunate enough to intake. (Although these are all sights I recommend you make the time in your life to see, as they are far better in person!).

Arshiyama Bamboo Forest, Kyoto Japan

The crowds of Dotonbori, Osaka Japan

Peace Memorial Museum, Hiroshima Japan

Memorial Park, Hiroshima Japan
Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine, Kyoto Japan

Roadway, Hakone Japan

DisneySea, Tokyo Japan

DisneySea, Tokyo Japan

Settling in, and what I hope to get from this experience

So, as I sit in my homestay in Sapporo, having been welcomed into a wonderful family, I have the time to reflect on my hopes and expectations for this experience. Last night, we were thrown a massive Japanese welcome party, in which host families got together, and paid for us to have unlimited Korean BBQ and drinks. We socialized, laughed, exchanged stories about ourselves and countries, and were officially welcomed into the families in Sapporo who have so gratefully took us into their homes. Several of the students from the Hokkaido University of Education have also volunteered countless hours to make us feel comfortable, give us tours, and take us for another Japanese dinner. As a person who has never travelled, and never been away from home, experiences like these are a true blessing. I can honestly say that I have been here now three and a half weeks, and have not felt homesick once (knock on wood!).

I hope now that I have been made comfortable, and have had a tour of our new university and city, I hope that I will be able to maximize my learning experience with my new friends and family supporting my journey to become a teacher. This week, we will begin to learn more Japanese, see more of the city, and learn about the education system in Japan. We will also have the chance to make school visits. I hope that these foundations will enrich my upcoming field experience, and ease the anxiety and pressure I feel going into it.

Finally, I will say (again for the millionth time), how truly grateful I feel to have been chosen to participate in the Teaching Across Borders Program, and how proud I feel to have been seen a good candidate for this country. I hope to represent the University of Calgary and the Werklund School of Education well! 

Mata ne! (Bye for now!)


A group photo from our Japanese welcome party, thrown by our gracious host families

My first night with my hosts for this month, the Inage family, with a dinner prepared by my host mother

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Hello from Sapporo

I still can't believe that I am currently here in Japan. This is my first time here and this country has surpassed my expectations. I have been waiting for this day to come and now that it is finally here, it feels surreal. I took a 10 day trip around Japan, travelling to Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, Hiroshima back to Tokyo and finally landing in Sapporo. The 10 days seem to have flown by and I got to see so many places and ate so much great food. I have fallen in love with Japan and the people here already. Everyone is so helpful and even though they may speak minimal English, they seem to find a way to help as much as they can. The following are just some of the places that I have visited:

1. Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine in Kyoto is a beautiful walk with shrine gates that spread across the entire mountain. 

2. The Arshiyama Bamboo Grove in Kyoto that has stalks of bamboo and is the most beautiful sight I have ever seem. 

3. In Hiroshima, I walked through the Memorial Park in the centre of the city which was dedicated to Hiroshima after it suffered from the nuclear attack. Throughout this walk, I have learnt and begin to understand more about the history of what happened after the bomb attack. This was definitely a very emotional walk. 

4. In Osaka, I visited the the Momofuku Instant Ramen Museum where I saw a collection of cup noodles made through history as well as the opportunity to make my very own cup noodle. 

5. As a group, we went to Tokyo Disney Sea. The trip to Disney would not have been the same without these girls! 

I am looking forward to learning the Japanese language. Upon arrival, one of the most difficult and frustrating thing for me is the language barrier. Although I have been able to get to places I need to get to in the bigger cities, I find it more and more difficult to find ways to express myself to those who do not speak English as well. This barrier is motivation for me to learn some key Japanese words. Along with verbal communication, I catch myself using hand gestures to help get my message across. 

I can't wait to finally settle down into my host city and to see what Sapporo has in stock for me. I am really excited that I will be staying with a host family in which I will be able to immerse myself fully into the culture. I am looking forward to hearing and learning about their family and culture, at the same time, being able to share things about my own country. My aspirations is to borden my teaching pedagogy and gain international experiences in the classroom. I hope that this experience will help me with ELLs  and be able to integrate some of the practices I will learn into my own classroom. One cultural aspect that attracted me the most to Japan is their importance of group harmony which is applied in school, life and the workplace. I want to how they use this concept is used to teach in the classrooms and how students react to it. 

Sapporo here I come! :) 

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Kon’nichiwa! O-genki desu ka? (Hello! How are you?)

Throughout my experience in Sapporo, I always took the time to really focus on shoogakoo (elementary school) life in Japan compared to an Early Childhood/Elementary school education life in Canada.

A primary difference includes how in Japan, Kindergarten education (or nursery) is completely separated from elementary school teaching. Firstly, some of these schools are not just small community centers but rather they are large, 2-storey buildings, all filled with eager and rambunctious students ranging from 3-5 years old. From attending my 5-year-old host-brother’s school festival, I was able to see how much work and effort Pre-K/Kindergarten teachers put into providing rich learning experiences for their young students. I learned that all the little activities, the materials for games and prizes were all organized and created by the teachers of the school. In addition, each teacher beautifully decorated their classrooms with their own hand-made learning materials. From conversations with my host-mother who has many friends in education, she explained how most nights these teachers are up planning for the next day’s lessons, diligently preparing by cutting out materials for arts and crafts (known as zukoo- and is a very significant part of Japanese education) and continuously working in collaboration with parents for students’ success. From my observations, Kindergarten is quite a significant time in a Japanese student’s life especially preparations for entering elementary school.

Another key aspect I found that differed from education in Canada is the emphasis on preparations for school events, and particularly in the month of October, the significance of school plays. Gakkogeki (school play) is more than just one performance, it comprises of multiple acts from each grade level in the school! I was fortunate enough to view the process of preparations for both my school placements as well as actually attending my host-siblings’ elementary school gakkogeki!

To break this down, each class teams up with other classes of the same grade level to create a performance for the school play. Teachers in collaboration with their students must plan out what materials are required for their acts including backdrops, props, music/songs/dances, costumes and the like (even in grade 1)! What I found incredibly interesting was how much effort teachers and students put in to creating such amazing performances. Time management for balancing curricular work and these preparations were beyond my expectations. You could see clearly that during this time, teachers were facilitating really engaging and meaningful learning experiences.

The school plays in Japan are not seen as just little shows for entertainment, they are created for a primary purpose: to showcase each students’ talents and abilities. Interwoven throughout each play or performance besides memorizing lines/acting, you could see students are able to display their learning from simply incorporating such things as students jumping rope, dancing, playing the melodian (which they begin in grade 1) or even the recorder (which they start in grade 3). In addition, these performances ranged from traditional tales to stories about “too much technology” to parodies to even incorporating “Sorry & Thank You” videos to parents! At my host-siblings’ school play, some classes performed up to 4 different acts each!

What I absolutely adored about gakkogeki is inclusivity, nobody is left out, everyone has a purpose. Every teacher and every student has a role and responsibility in these events, thus illuminating how important school community and accountability towards each other is in Japan. I sincerely hope to incorporate this notion into my own teaching practices as well.

The experience and knowledge that I have gained towards my personal and professional self from being a part of Japanese elementary schools is simply priceless!







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Teaching in Japan

It has been about two months now that I had the opportunity to observe, discuss, and work with a wide variety of teachers in Sapporo. Through the experience I’ve learned a lot about how teaching is approached in Japan and I think the best way to describe it is, to parallel my previous post about students, and say teachers are teachers. Most of what I hear about how teachers should be in Calgary is what I see being enacted here in Sapporo. They work extremely hard for students they genuinely care for and while sometimes the workload can reach an absurd level, it is worth it in the end for them. Of course, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some differences as well.

Students are trusted

If I’m going to walk away from this experience having only taken one thing from all my observations it is that students can and should be trusted. At least here, students are trusted to such an extent that teachers are very hands off during breaks and lunchtime. With the option to stay in and roam freely or go out during breaks, it would be impossible to monitor the activities of all students like we tend to do in Canada (at least for the elementary grades). What is the solution to this? Trust that the students will take care of each other and do not require constant supervision. The best part about this is that the students have always done so in my time here and maintained that trust that the teachers have in them.

Instruction is inclusive and differentiated: 

At first glance it seemed like inclusion and differentiation was absent from the classroom. There were separate classes and teachers for special education. All the students seemed to be learning or doing things in the exact same way with no modifications for individual needs. Of course as with many things in Japan, subtlety is the key to understanding what is actually happening. Once I got to partake in more thorough school observations and teaching, I quickly realized teachers do their best to be fully inclusive. There are several times where the special education students are integrated into lessons. The teachers vary instruction to suit student needs as well.

A math class where students were given time to process a word problem and glue the problem sheet into their math books stands out. One of the students, instead of doing 

what the teacher requested, folded the sheet and created a three dimensional shape that matched the one in the word problem. The student then used that shape instead of the numbers on the sheet to work through the problem. Sure enough, many students were approaching the problem in different ways and once the class had solved the problem, the teacher went through all the different methods with the class so the students could understand the different perspectives and also get the type of instruction they needed for this particular problem.

Students are also often asked to provide their perspective or understand of a problem and then the teacher uses what the students have provided to instruct the whole class. Again, the example I am giving is of learning multiplication

The teaching staff is a team:

I won’t say this isn’t the case in Calgary, but efforts are made across all school levels here to ensure the teachers work as a team. The staff rooms in each school I have been to are large office spaces with no individual cubicles or rooms. All the teachers work together in the same space and so too do the administration. Only the Principal has a separate office, and even then it is connected and often open (unless there is a meeting going on). Students are also encouraged to pop in whenever they need something. The environment overall is very friendly, open, and conducive to collaboration. I think that is very important because it seems to start from the teachers and permeates the whole culture of the school. In fact, every school I’ve been to in Sapporo has that same feeling of openness and community to it


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Dream On...

It’s hard to believe that the program is coming to an end. I will surely miss all my new friends that I made in Hakodate, Sapporo and Siriuchi here in Japan.  It truly sometimes feels like a dream. All the time spent here in Japan for more than two months seems so surreal yet highly productive.  There is so much I learned and experienced through this program. It is not just different culture and teaching practise that I have experienced, but I have also learned about my own self.  I learned about my areas of improvement that I need to make as I progress along my career, and most importantly that I enjoy being in front of the class and learning about new things together with the students.

I believe that one of the most fascinating things about doing Teaching Across Borders (TAB) program is that it makes you become flexible and strong in adapting to constantly changing environment and situations. I personally had to change and improve my teaching style, communication methods, and even lifestyle or doing the things in a certain way.  TAB program is also a perfect opportunity for developing necessary attributes like self-efficacy and resilience that are highly regarded for becoming an efficient teacher. These kinds of qualities and traits are developed through the field experiences and hands-on classroom experiences that TAB program provides to students like me.   

I want to finish this final blog post by talking briefly about my experiences that I had in a Junior High School in Hakodate for the final one and a half week of the program. My partner teacher was kind and very amusing person. His approach in blending humor along with course content was unique and I found it to be highly effective in engaging students for language learning. I liked the approach that the teachers were using in the Junior High School of review, practice and repeat along with the teacher. There were a lot of ‘speak-out’ loud activities and games in the classrooms. I also liked the method of translating English words into Japanese words for the students to help better understand difficult vocabulary. My role in the school was to help students practice English grammar and correct them wherever applicable. I also assisted the teacher with pronunciation and sentence structure.  The more practice activities I did in class with the students, the more comfortable and ‘popular’ I felt in the class.

I was talking to a High School English teacher who was visiting as a guest in the Junior High School and I was given the following information by him that I found it interesting to share. In this particular high school in Hakodate, scaffolding techniques are highly emphasized for students in language learning. In the first-year, students converse with each other in English. Then in the second-year, students start to think logically in English and come up with problem-solving techniques on a given topic, such as transportation and work on a presentation. In the third-year, more technical writing in English is used.  I even got to observe one of the grade 9 Math classes where I felt very welcomed by the students. I even ended up helping students in their geometrical problems. At the last day of the placement, the vice principal and the partner teacher took me to see the opera performance in the city hall, where third year Junior High School students were also performing. It was fascinating to watch the orchestra and school opera at play.

I highly enjoyed my TAB experience in Japan!

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Kon’nichiwa! Watashi wa Rhey-sensei desu. Nihon no shoogakkoo wa totemo isogashii desu demo tanoshii desu! (Hello! I am Teacher Rhey. Japanese elementary school is very busy but enjoyable!)

From what I have gathered during the few weeks in my school placements as well as conversations with my host-sister (who is in Grade 5), these are some highlights of a daily schedule for an elementary school student (Grades 1-6) in Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan:

8:15-8:25 Students arrive in school!

8:25-8:45 This period of the day was known as “Challenge Time” in our first school placement. Students start their day with morning readings and also have a class meeting to prepare for the day’s activities.

10:20-10:40 As a Canadian, I would refer to this time of the day as recess! However, this period known as “Break Time” seems to be more diverse here in Sapporo. During this time, students have the choice of joining various activities inside or outside. Students inside tend to use this time for reading, chatting with students from other grades, playing games in the gymnasium like dodgeball (not just one class split into 2 groups, for example it would be all the grade 3s versus all the grade 4s which was supervised usually by only one teacher), and even practicing dances, songs, lines or preparing props for their upcoming Fall plays (which was such a joy to see)! Outside activities included playing on the very small playground equipment (consisting of monkey-bar sets) or participating in games on the large dirt fields such as relay races and tag games (outlines for a track/pathway were lined in chalk by teachers every day). Interesting observations during this time included how students were given the freedom to roam around the schools, a very open concept. This notion was also illuminated by how few teachers I saw supervising inside and outside because the responsibility of facilitating activities was upon the students themselves.

12:20-13:05 School lunch known as kyuushoku is all student-led and is so fascinating to see and be a part of here in Japan. First, students must prepare for lunch in their classrooms by putting on their little aprons and matching hats while also rearranging their desks into groups. Next, certain students are tasked to plate and serve the dishes while others distribute, the rest sit and wait patiently including their teacher. Once everyone has received their meals, class leaders for lunch read out a checklist of all the menu items (usually consisting of soup, rice, vegetable or meat side dish, dessert and milk!) and finally we say loudly “Itadakimasu!” (English translation: Let’s eat or thank you for the food). I find this part of Japanese culture extremely significant in influencing how children come to respect and acknowledge what they receive.

13:05-13:35 School cleaning is an essential part of a Japanese student’s day. After everyone has finished their meal, the class ends lunch with the phrase “Gochisosamadeshita!” (English translation: That was delicious). All dishes and utensils are to be put away in specific bins on the cart. Milk cartons are washed thoroughly, opened up and laid to dry as they will be recycled later to make other products for the school. To begin cleaning the classroom, desks are moved to the back and students begin sweeping the floor, others wipe down the blackboard, clean the blackboard erasers, and also use the special cleaning cloths called “zoukins” to wipe down the floors inside and the hallways with warm water.

What I found particularly interesting about this entire thorough process of “kyuushoku” from start to finish was how every student knew what their roles were and exactly what was expected of them. They completed their tasks quickly and to the best of their abilities without having to be strictly directed by a teacher. Grade 3-6 teachers are not obligated to assist in the cleaning for this responsibility is placed on the students. I believe that this aspect of Japanese school culture teaches students the importance and the responsibility that they have of caring for their classroom and for one another’s well-beings. It fosters this great sense of classroom community while instilling a positive sense of pride in their school!

One day a week, students participate and often times lead what is known as Club Activities which may include the following: basketball, volleyball, table tennis, badminton, cooking/home economics, kick baseball, golf, science, board games and computers. In the first school placement, teachers were the ones who facilitated Club Activities and students from grades 1-3 did not participate. Those in the third grade were given a day to observe. However, in the second school placement, those in grades 5 & 6 were considered the leaders who would assist and play together with those in the younger grades during this time. These activities are not for competitive play unlike in Japanese junior high schools. I found this to be a quite unique part of elementary schools especially with the amount of time and commitment they put into this! Compared to my experiences in Canada, such clubs/activities were usually conducted during lunch or after school and only if clubs were implemented into an elementary school setting.

*Note: Grade 1 & 2 leave around 14:30 PM all other students leave around 15:20 PM

As for all the periods in between, elementary students here in Sapporo participate in a number of school subjects. These include Japanese, Math, Arts and Crafts, Physical Education, Morality and Good Behaviour (consisted of stories connected to morals and posed inquiry questions including but not limited to those about impacts on the environment), Music and Other Activities Training (e.g. poster-making & nature walks/observations outside the school) start from the first grade. In grades 1 & 2, students take Life & Environment while Science and Social Studies is usually introduced in grade 3. Home Economics usually begins in grade 5 as well as a class known as Foreign Language Activities (English). However, as I mentioned in my previous post, Foreign Language Activities has been introduced as early as grade 3 in our school placements to accommodate for the change in curriculum to increase English language literacy in the next few years.

I was very fortunate to be given this opportunity to observe and essentially become of part of these school communities over the course of this month. I have learned so much not just from the teachers but from the students themselves. It has led me to thinking about elementary school in a different but more positive light in terms of what students can accomplish with the right mindset and teacher/administration encouragement! 

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