Dr. Fabiola Fadda-Ginski
World Language Manager
Chicago Public School
As I am gathering my thoughts to write this report, I have come to the realization that it is very difficult to try to encapsulate into words what has proven to be one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. How can I accurately express the feelings of warmth and gratefulness I came to experience during my travels to Japan? How can I adequately explain why this trip has moved me so much? It is indeed not easy and almost impossible to sum up my experience in this short briefing, but I will try to do so by speaking from my heart, which is the place that has been touched the most by this experience.
The trip was extremely well-organized and thoughtfully designed to allow us to see and do as much as possible without being overwhelmed by the rhythm of our travels and also to allow time for reflection and sharing with other fellow travelers. I can truly say that one of the unanticipated benefits of this experience was to be able to meet so many other like-minded educators from around the world, with whom I am sure I will remain in contact for many years to come. The trip offered a good balance of free and structured time, so that we were able to experience many authentic facets of the culture. Though the trip lasted only 12 days (I would have stayed much longer), I feel satisfied that I was able to gain a broad and real view of Japan.
If I had to distill the essence of this trip and my first encounter with the Japanese culture into a few mere words they would be: beauty, kindness and dignity. These three qualities permeated every single aspect of what I experienced during my journey and in particular the sights, the school visits and my home-stay. Everything I did, saw and experienced was joyous and heartwarming. We were treated with the utmost respect and consideration. One of my new found friends and travel companions referred to it as being “given the royal treatment” and not just by our generous hosts, but also by total strangers who went out of their way to assist us if we looked lost, took time to explain what to order in a restaurant, made sure we got onto the right bus or simply and respectfully bowed and smiled as they passed us by in the hallway. These may seem simple deeds, but as a foreigner in a distant land, such abundant and unexpected kindness meant more than words are able to express. It was a reminder to me that there is still much beauty and decency to be found in the world and in our common humanity.
These qualities were also apparent during our school visits. Teaching second and third graders an ESL lesson at Tachiai Elementary was one of the highlights of my trip. I was struck by how harmoniously organized the school and classroom environment were and how the school community worked seamlessly together. It was remarkable to see how each students had a specific role they were responsible for. Whether it was serving lunch to their peers (yes, students actually do this on a daily basis), helping to clean up before and after classes or monitoring the playground, everyone is given a chance to contribute and be helpful. Students obviously displayed great pride and skill in exercising their responsibilities and it was beautiful to see how invested everyone was in the learning experience and in the ability to serve others. It was also wonderful to see so many parents volunteering at the school. One got the sense that this was not happening just on the special day of our visit, but that it was the norm at the school, where everyone worked together for the benefit of educating the children. This was also the case in the other two schools we visited during our stay. In all instances I walked out with the strong impression that these schools are places where there is a reverence for the students’ learning potential and an organized path for them to grow and flourish together as productive members of society and as future citizens of the world. There was much to learn and experience in terms of beauty, kindness and dignity during all these school site visits.
However, the place where I was most able to palpably recognize these admirable attributes, was during my home stay, which should not come as a surprise, as it is here I had the opportunity to be fully embedded in the fabric of the Japanese culture and everyday life. Meeting my host family and experiencing their loving kindness and care is something I will never forget no matter how long I live. They took care of me in a way that made me feel I was not only an honored guest in their house but a family member. They cooked delectable home cooked meals that were conscious of my dietary needs, educated me about the Japanese culture and school system and introduced me to the wonders of their beautiful ancient town and its surrounding rolling hills. Together we walked the sinuous paths of a tea tree plantation whose vibrant green colors rivaled any hue I had ever laid my eyes upon. We tasted freshly caught eel (I know what you must be thinking… but it was amazingly delicious), we greeted a herd of gentle deer and we reverently walked through the grounds of a breathtakingly beautiful Shinto temple of a thousand lanterns. Several times I caught myself wondering at the sight of it all. The scenery was so enchanting it seemed almost unreal. All I could do was to breathe deeply and pause in order to take it all in, and every time I found myself being grateful again for the opportunity to experience it all alongside two of the kindest, most caring individuals I have ever met. In big and small ways my host family showed me a special brand of kindness, dignity and respect that are both rare and precious in life and for this, I will always be grateful and indebted to them.
To any future educators who are thinking of applying to the International Educators to Japan Program, I have a few words of advice, “Do not hesitate to do so!” Be prepared to be moved, amazed and changed by this experience. Upon your return, you too will see how impossibly difficult it is to adequately capture in words the richness of your experience and the range of feelings and insights you will gain. I feel extremely lucky to have had this opportunity and I highly recommend it to anyone who is ready and willing to expand their mind and horizons by being immersed in unadulterated beauty, enveloped by genuine respect and comforted by the embodiment of profound human dignity.