JEEP Report by Rachel Bland

Ms.Rachel Bland


Stuart R. Paddock School, Community Consolidated School District 15


I am not sure how to describe everything I have learned and how I felt on this trip of a lifetime.  I feel honored to have been given this opportunity and I have learned so much about the traditions and culture, schools, and families.  This trip has given me a new perspective on how the students and families in my school live as they enter a new country.

I learned that Japan is a country that looks out for each other and takes care of one another.  Everyone that I encountered was helpful, kind and considerate.  At the subway station, people would ask us if we needed help.  At the train station, someone from the station helped the blind and wheelchair-bound into the train.  We went to a baseball game and I have never seen so many people cleaning up after themselves and the facilities everywhere were clean. I felt that people took care of not only each other but they also took care of Japan.  The culture was to take care of your things so that others could enjoy a healthy and clean area.  I learned while I was in Japan that the Japan World Cup team left behind a spotless locker room, a thank you note in Russian, and the Japanese fans picked up their litter in the stands.  After visiting Japan I am not surprised by this act of kindness as Japan is a country that it respectful in all aspects of life.

We were given the opportunity to put on a kimono and learn about the traditions of how they are made and when people wear a kimono.  The women who helped us were passionate and precise as they dressed us.  During the tour we learned how each kimono is handmade and takes over a year to complete.

At each school we visit we were welcomed by students and staff in various ways, such a attending a morning meeting, an assembly where the band played for us, and every student waving at us and giving us high fives.

I was honored to teach a lesson at an elementary school and visit several schools and have the opportunity to speak to administration, staff, and students.  Many things were the same in Japan such as kids being kids such as kids laughing or crying, the way the rooms as set up and the art of teaching in a classroom. Students play outside during free time and make up their own games or ride on unicycles during this time.  Although we do not have unicycles in Palatine, it was amazing to see students trying and failing several times before learning to be successfully riding a unicycle. The students experience failure many times and learn to persevere.

Some differences in our educational systems were also present. The teacher is with the students all day without any breaks and they teach them all subjects including swimming.  The students eat in the classrooms and students serve each other but no students eat until everyone has been served. They eat together as a class/community.  Students have time daily to clean to the school and classrooms.  It was amazing to see how the students take care of the school and each other.

I was excited and nervous about the experience of staying in someone’s home for two nights.  I wasn’t sure what to expect.  After meeting the family I was in awe with how they treated me like I was family.  We spent time having meals together, lighting sparklers, having a barbecue in the forest, and spending time together.  They wanted me to be comfortable and experience life in Nara.  We went to dinner and I tried many different foods and we played game just like we do at home.  The children were lovely.  They spoke very little English but we communicated using some words, gestures, google translate, and an application called LINE.

I have a better understanding of how hard it can be to communicate in a place where not many people speak the same language.  At times we both had to search for words to help each other understand meaning.  We would also look at pictures on the phone or computer.

I am forever changed after this trip.  When new families register at my school I will be able to talk about the similarities and differences in our schools.  I have new ideas to bring back to my school and a new perspective which will help me, my staff, and our families.

Even at the end of this trip, IEJ is thanking us for taking time away from our families and committing to this trip, when they have given us a gift that will last a lifetime and one that has changed me as a person and professional. This humbling experience will stay with me forever.