Ms. Kaitlyn Haran
2nd Grade Teacher, Pleasant Hill Elementary School, Arlington Heights School District 25
The opportunity to visit Japan was such an incredible experience it is difficult to put into words. My time in Japan was truly life changing for me as an educator. I knew this trip was going to be an exceptional learning experience from the very first day at Orientation. Upon attending Orientation we met thirty fellow educators from all over the US, Canada and even Belgium. We listened to presentations about the Japanese school system from local educators and had the chance to ask meaningful questions. I learned so much about what the transition between school in Japan and school in America is like and how we can better support and prepare our students. One thing I love about teachers is no matter what country they live in or what language they speak, when it comes to discussing children there is a universal passion and commitment to kids and giving them the best education possible.
We visited the cities of Tokyo, Nara, Kyoto and Hiroshima during our time in Japan. Visiting Tachiai Elementary School near Tokyo was one of the many highlights of our trip. The fantastic principal of this school invited us in to spend the day learning with the students. I had the chance to teach an English lesson at Tachiai to a class of sixth graders. After I read them a book we played bingo to learn the English words for emotions. The students and I learned from each other as they helped me practice the Japanese translations for feeling words. The kids loved Bingo and learned what “Clear your board!” meant quickly and all chanted “One more time, one more time!” Kids love prizes, no matter what country you’re in! What a great experience.
My time with my host family, the Shiraishi family, was precious and each member of this family will always be a part of my heart. I was so fortunate to be welcomed with open arms into the family’s home and school. I enjoyed eating traditional Japanese cuisine in my host family’s home as well as visiting local restaurants and shops. My host family and I talked for hours about our hobbies, work, school, communities and families. I learned so much about daily life in Japan. I have enjoyed communicating often with my host family since I have returned back to the states and will continue to treasure my new international friends. My home stay visit was one of the most meaningful times of my trip.
Visiting Ikaruga School and learning alongside the children in my host family was such a hands-on way to experience Japanese schooling. We learned about Japanese calligraphy, participated in science experiments, observed math and reading lessons as well as extracurricular activities such as drawing, traditional Japanese games, Noh play performance drama and many different sports. We had the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion with the principal, PTA parents and teachers to ask all kinds of questions about the Japanese education system. This was so beneficial to helping me understand more about the background of my students who move to Chicago from Japan.
Motomachi Elementary School in Hiroshima was another remarkable immersion into Japanese schooling. The principal of this school was incredibly inspiring. His mission for the school is to first build up the self esteem and self worth of the students so that they will understand the importance of working hard to reach their full potential. The school teaches them that each student is an important part of their school and city community through connections with local businesses and establishments. They also focus on multi-culturalism and learning about promoting peace.
In our final meeting all of the educators from all over the US, Canada, Belgium and Japan gathered to discuss setting up ways to communicate with schools in Japan to work together to prepare our students before they come to the schools we teach at, or before they leave our schools to return to Japan. I would like to visit our local Japanese school, Chicago Futabakai Japanese School, where the students from my school attend on Saturdays to share with parents what I learned from this experience. I also would like to do a lesson or reading with the students to share the pictures from the trip and what I learned about the Japanese culture. I hope this might be a way to establish a deeper connection between our two schools and the Japanese students and families who attend our school.
Finally, my trip to Japan completely exceeded my expectations. In addition to the schools we visited, we toured temples, shrines, outdoor gardens and local markets. We enjoyed sights of the city from the top of the Tokyo Tower, met with a Buddhist monk in Nara, wore Kimonos in Asakusa, rode a ferry to Miyajima Island, visited the Peace Memorial and Historical Museum in Hiroshima and so many more miraculous opportunities. The program was so well organized; the people who managed the program were incredibly resourceful, kind and personable. I learned so much about the education, the culture and the history of Japan. It was sad to say goodbye. I’m so grateful for this opportunity of a lifetime and I feel so honored to have been part of such a wonderful program.