JEEP Report by Ellen Gartenberg

Ms. Ellen Gartenberg
6th Grade Math Teacher
Woodlawn Middle School, Kildeer Countryside Community Consolidated School District 96


I am honored to have participated in the IEJ 2017 experience and have gained more than I had imagined. A big thank you to all that were responsible for our care, experiences and assistance.

I cannot find a favorite part of this experience. I was blessed to have met wonderful people who shared the same goals of gaining an understanding the culture and school system in Japan. We included each other in free time activities, looked out for each other, ate together, and spent time discussing all that we experienced for the first time.

All the school visits were quite memorable. Seeing four very different schools helped me understand our similarities and differences. Although the class sizes were quite large, students were incredibly independent and responsible. I was impressed to hear that students get to school on their own via walking, bus or train. It was amazing to see the lunch expectations and that students set up the room, served each other, finished their entire meal, and then cleaned up the room. It was efficient and a happy place. I loved teaching my lesson and got a sense of what students from Japan feel upon entering our schools with little language skills. From the private school to the economically challenged school, children want to be accepted. I was pleased to see the wonderful relationships between the student and the teachers. I was also amazed that lower class sizes were the result of those with economic disadvantages. I wish my school believed that lower class sizes really make a difference in learning. Of course, kids are kids and the love of play at recess was fun to see.

One cannot possibly understand a culture without the food, and the food was incredible. I loved trying as many new dishes as possible. At breakfast, I was able to sample many new items each day, although I was not a fan of Natto. My favorite dishes throughout the trip were takoyaki, shabu shabu, miso and ramen soup, daikon root, and the varieties of hot pots. The fish market was a plethora of fresh fruits, vegetables and fish. I loved the hustle and bustle and tasting the many items. It took me three days to learn how to pronounce okonomiyaki and enjoyed watching them make our meal in front of us.

I was unprepared for the generosity of others, and it was quite humbling. Mr. Hattori and Ikeda were so hospitable and gracious. Their attention to us was completely appreciated and unexpected. A definite favorite was the kimono shop with the attention given to each of us and the rare opportunity to wear such a beautiful garment. The knowledge of all the guides provided us a better understanding of the culture and religions. Our host families supplied us with a bit of real Japanese living, while the question and answer periods in the schools helped us understand the education system. Once while venturing out on my own, a woman asked to assist me at the train station. She took time out of her day to guide me to the correct location. Since this was not part of our program, it took me more by surprise. I was shown that looking out for others is really the Japanese way.

The respect was not only for people and their heritage. I witnessed respect for everything. People obeyed all traffic signals and waited patiently for trains. I could not get over the cleanliness of all cities even with the lack of garbage cans. People were quiet on trains, although I found that to be very challenging for myself to adhere to. Employees were always helpful in all stores and restaurants. Again, it shows how the Japanese culture thinks how their actions affect others and then responds in ways that may inconvenience them but positive toward others and the environment.

I will keep these memories with me for a lifetime. I am honored to have been part of a program that taught me more than my expectations of cultural differences. I aim to apply the experience and give back to all the newcomers at my school. Again, thank you for this remarkable experience.