Ms. Mara Barry
Language Development Coach
Prairie Elementary School, Kildeer Countryside School District 96
As I sit and reflect on my three weeks in Japan I am still in awe of the incredible opportunity. From the moment I received the call from Miho telling me that I was the recipient of the JEEP program, I have been excited. Even today, as I sit down to type this reflection, a smile appears on my face.
Arrival & Hospitality:
The trip began early Saturday morning with a greeting at the airport. Maureen, Amy and I were all greeted at O’Hare and escorted by a representative from ANA to the executive lounge where we would await our flight. After 14 long hours, we arrived at Narita airport where we were once again greeted with a huge smile and welcome. We all knew that this was going to be an amazing experience. Monday morning we all met in the lobby of the Annex building of the Shinagawa Prince Hotel. We were joined by the other members of the trip and everyone introduced themselves. From there, we went to a conference center where we were divided into five groups. These groups were for our final presentations. Our initial friendships had begun and continued to grow throughout the trip.
Experiencing some of Japan’s culture:
We visited a kimono factory where we were dressed in the most amazing kimonos. At first we watched a short presentation, then each one of us, men and women were allowed to choose a kimono. We were assigned to a woman who dressed us in our kimonos, creating beautiful designs on our backs. I think everyone was in awe of how beautiful they were. Our tours consisted of visiting a variety of shrines, temples and places of importance, most notably Hiroshima. Our guest speaker had us all mesmerized as he recollected what it was like being in Hiroshima during the bombing and growing up as a survivor.
Visiting the schools was very insightful. We visited a nice variety of schools, both public and private. In each school, we were welcomed graciously and escorted throughout the building. We were able to participate in student learning, interact with various students and have lunch with them as well. This was impressive as the students served the food, cleaned up after eating and everyone waited to begin eating until “thanks” were said.
Teaching: Tachiai Elementary School
We were all greeted warmly at an assembly in the gym and ushered up on to the stage where we were made to feel like celebrities. Each one of us was introduced and the students all cheered. After that, we were escorted by two children to our second grade classroom where Amy Faith and I were able to co-teach our lesson. The children were all excited and participated as if it were any other day, raising their hands to respond to questions. Since we were teaching a lesson on colors, a lot of it was visual, but there was also a component where they needed to listen to music and stand if they held that color, as well as ask and answer questions. Though the questioning strategy was new to them, they were able to follow along and did their best to try it. Teaching the lesson again in classroom two went a little smoother as we made adjustments to our first lesson. We discovered in lesson one that many students already knew their colors in English, so it was more of a review than direct instruction. Each of the schools we visited were very different. We visited newer schools such as Hiroo Gakuen and older ones, such as Hiroshima City Motomachi. However, except for the physical structure of the schools, you wouldn’t notice a difference. All teachers and administration were 100% committed to their jobs and the students. The students were all actively engaged and appeared to enjoy learning. It was a pleasure listening to children speak to us, representing their schools. You could feel the warmth they felt for their school. This was a very valuable part
of the visits.
During my time in Japan, I was able to experience a variety of traditional Japanese food. I tasted many different things including various forms of tofu. I learned how to make Takoyaki and noted that rice, tofu and miso soup are staples in the Japanese diet. I learned that Japanese meals usually consist of many different food options, but all very small portions. Though very tasty and served a variety of different ways, when you are not accustomed to eating soup for breakfast, you need to adjust your eating habits.
Temples and Shrines:
We were lucky to visit several temples and shrines throughout our trip from the Todaiji Temple to the Itsukushima Shrine to Kinkaku-ji (Golden Palace). Though there were similarities among
each of them, all of them stood for something very different. Each one told its own story and its beauty shined as we experienced it.
Experiencing the Culture:
It was wonderful to have a different tour guide in each city we visited, as they were very familiar with that area and guided us through the experience. Mari-san was knowledgeable about Kyoto
and Nara and helped us navigate our way even when we were left alone. The independent time was wonderful as well. This time allowed us to build friendships with other members of the group and explore Japan a little on our own. During this time I was able to see the Gion District, where several of us attended a show that exposed us to a tea ceremony, a Japanese play and a dance. I saw Shibuya crossing and Akihabara in Tokyo and was able to explore Hiroshima, even in the rain. I was able to navigate my way through the Shinagawa train station as well as change trains in Tokyo station, neither of which is an easy task. Nonetheless, I did it!
My home visit was delightful, yet challenging. My host family was wonderful and treated me as a part of their family. We grocery shopped and cooked together. They taught me calligraphy, took me to the classical music festival and we walked throughout a lovely garden in Nara. They even took me to the 100 yen store, a favorite store of a previous guest they hosted. They truly opened up their home to me. The only challenging part of this experience was their English was very limited. Though this was a struggle at times, it also was a very valuable part of my experience. I was able to experience firsthand what my families go through when they arrive in the United States. It was difficult to sit in the back seat of the car and listen to my host mother and father speak in Japanese and for me to not understand any of the conversation. This is exactly what my students experience in school. It definitely opened my eyes a little wider and has challenged me to think about ways to make their transition a little easier.
Free Day-visiting with former students:
This was one of my favorite parts of the trip. When I applied to the program, my assumption was that everyone going would have some connection to someone in Japan. I later learned that was not the case. I was one of only a few of us that actually knew people in Japan and were going to meet with them. Throughout my three week stay, I was able to spend time with six different families, each one special in its own way. My first family recently returned to Japan (early June) and is still adjusting to life back there. She took me out for the day, treating me as her guest. We went to Akahabra, visited the gardens, took a boat cruise and ate Okonomiyaki and Monjyayaki. What a day! My final visit was with one of my very first Japanese families in my career. They spent seven years in the the United States and returned to Japan 12 years ago. They treated not only myself, but my children to a wonderful evening of Japanese dining followed by an evening cruise around the harbor. Their oldest son and my son were friends when they lived in the United States. It was wonderful to reconnect with them and see the beauty of their country through their eyes. I hope it is easy to understand why there is still a smile on myself. This was truly an experience that I will never forget. Thank you very much for this wonderful opportunity. I hope to use my experience to better serve the Japanese students in my school.