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Association for Promotion of International Understanding “Overseas Students as Teachers!” Educational Program

The overseas student teachers from the Association for Promotion of International Understanding

The overseas student teachers from the Association for Promotion of International Understanding

This month's Close Up features the Association for promotion of International Understanding. This organization is supported by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology and Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education. Overseas students currently studying in Japan are dispatched to elementary, junior high, and high schools to implement the "Overseas Students as Teachers!" educational program. This program, in the 24th year of its long history, now offers two types of subprograms. "Cross-cultural Understanding" is a program for children and students to experience international understanding and exchange. "English Activity" is an educational program to allow elementary school students to become familiar with English and foreign cultures. Both programs are free of charge. In 2011, "Cross-cultural Understanding" educational program was held in 226 schools by 111 registered foreign teachers from 51 different countries and regions. The program was implemented roughly 20 percent of the number of public junior high and high schools in Tokyo. This time, we observed the "Cross-cultural Understanding" educational program at Ohara Junior High School in Saitama City.

In this program, the overseas student teachers introduce themselves, the people and culture of their native country. They also give a talk about their own lifestyles. In addition, there are exchanges between the foreign teachers and Japanese students, who discuss the tradition and culture of Japan. This time, at Ohara Junior High School in Saitama City, the Japanese students made a presentation about Japanese tradition and culture in the first period. In the second period, the overseas students give a lecture. In the first period, the Japanese students formed groups and introduced tea ceremony, Japanese sweets, and traditional Japanese games, as well as Japanese folklore such as the Kappa and Tengu in English. During the students' presentation to the overseas students, the overseas students experienced firsthand these games and devised a way to recite Rakugo in English.

A scene from a classroom conducting the "Cross-cultural Understanding" educational program at Ohara Junior High School in Saitama City. The overseas students try their hand at Kendama and Fukuwarai.  

A scene from a classroom conducting the "Cross-cultural Understanding" educational program at Ohara Junior High School in Saitama City.
The overseas students try their hand at Kendama and Fukuwarai.

In the second period, the overseas student teachers introduced their native country's culture and traditions in Japanese. There were students from Romania, Korea, China, Sri Lanka, Armenia, Finland, and Turkey, all from various cultures and religions. Some of them wore their native dress, lectured, and performed traditional dances while students in each class enjoyed learning about foreign cultures.

The students cheered for the vividly colored costumes.  

The students cheered for the vividly colored costumes.

Through the preparations of the presentations aimed at the overseas students, the Japanese students could rediscover their own culture. Also, the Japanese students could understand the splendor of other country's culture. Watching the overseas students communicate with the Japanese students, we hope that the "Overseas Students as Teachers!" educational program will help to inspire the children to broaden their horizons.

After class, they presented a bouquet as a token of their appreciation. Then, everyone took a commemorative photo.   

After class, they presented a bouquet as a token of their appreciation. Then, everyone took a commemorative photo.

From the left, Jung-san, an environmental education student at Tokyo University, followed by Datcu Anca Teodora, a marketing student at Hitotsubashi University, and Nirmala Ranasinghe, who studies tourism at Rikkyo University.

From the left, Jung-san, an environmental education student at Tokyo University, followed by Teodora-san, a marketing student at Hitotsubashi University, and Nirmala-san, who studies tourism at Rikkyo University.

After class, we spoke to overseas student teachers; Ms. Jung Yunjung, Ms. Datcu Anca Teodora and Ms. Nirmala Ranasinghe.

What are your thoughts on working as an overseas student teacher?

A.Teodora-san Since I came to Japan, I felt as though Romania is not well known here. So, as an overseas student, I applied to the overseas student teacher program in order to tell children about Romania. It is my goal to encourage others to further widen their interests in other countries and study abroad, starting with Romania.
A.Nirmala-san Sri Lanka is also not well known in Japan, so I'd like to tell the children about Sri Lanka as well. Especially because Sri Lanka is a developing country and there is a big disparity of wealth. I showed them a picture that shows this disparity and said "There are people like this in the world. So cherish your lifestyle here in Japan and make the most of it."

Jung-san putting on her country's dress on a student.

Jung-san putting on her
country's dress on a student.

A.Jung-san As for my lecture, I want to strengthen the relationship between Japanese students and Korea, and make them want to visit Korea. I think that international exchange means be interested and curious in another country and vice versa. To encourage interest in Korea, I wear my national dress during my lecture and allow the students to put it on as well. In any case, I would be happy if someone thought it was fun to be with a Korean person.

What is your strategy for giving lectures?

Nirmala Ranasinghe performing her country's traditional dance.

Nirmala-san performing her
country's traditional dance.

A.Nirmala-san I will show a traditional dance from Sri Lanka. If I do that, the students will be very happy. Also, I show them a picture of my home's yard and ask "where do you think this is?" Most students say "forest!" or "jungle!" Sri Lanka is teeming with fruits and vegetables so they grow in our yards too. But this seems to be surprising for Japanese children. Through the experience of dance or pictures with the children, I feel it will leave a lasting impression in their hearts.

Datcu Anca Teodora wearing her country's garb and giving a lecture.

Teodora-san wearing her
country's garb and giving a lecture.

A.Teodora-san Surprising children is important. When they're surprised, it triggers an emotional response, like "that was good!" or "that was fun!" I put on my country's garb to surprise them. And, instead of a book or the internet, I want to tell them my personal experience as a real person. Then I make them think "if I was you, what would I do? How would I think?"

What do you strongly think you should tell the children of Japan?

A.Teodora-san Japan and Romania both have different cultures and customs, but this is what's most interesting. If everyone was the same, the world would be boring. "Foreign culture" means to be different. I conduct the class while stressing this.
A.Jung-san Recently, the children of Japan don't have any interest in foreign countries, and they don't really want to study abroad. So, I tell them because I studied Japanese I was able to come to Japan, and being able to introduce Korean culture to all of you makes me happy. It's important to have a stimulating conversation where they think "if I study English hard I'll be able to have many foreign friends."

Overseas student teacher from Finland.

Overseas student teacher from Armenia.

Overseas student teacher from Armenia.

Overseas student teacher from Finland.

What kind of questions do you receive from the students the most?

Datcu Anca Teodora explaining Romania's national flag.

Teodora-san explaining
Romania's national flag.

A.Teodora-san They don't just ask questions about Romania, but questions to foreigners in general. Questions can be as simple as "Do you have a boyfriend?" or "do you read manga?" I wear a lot of accessories, so the kids asked me "are you married?" But, I don't wear a wedding ring. The reason for that along with questions about my accessories can lead to an explanation of my culture. This is what cross-cultural exchange is all about. They always ask me "why did you come to Japan?" When I say "I came here because I like Japan", they become happy. Another common question is "before coming to Japan, did you think there were samurais and ninjas?" It seems as if people don't know how Japan is viewed by other countries.

You receive letters from students after the class. Are there any that made you especially happy?

A.Jung-san In almost all students, they have some stereotypical preconceptions of Korea because of the influence from mass media or their grandparents' generation. That's why I'm happy when I receive letters that say "Jung-sensei, after meeting you my impressions of Korea have changed." I feel like I did something for the students here in Japan and for Korea.
A.Teodora-san The letters that make me the happiest are "I want to go to Romania!" and "I want to study abroad!" So I feel like this program was effective. It doesn't have to be Romania. Korea or America would be fine; I feel like it is important to experience living abroad at least once.

An overseas student teacher from China.

An overseas student teacher from China.

An overseas student teacher from Turkey

An overseas student teacher from Turkey

If there is anything you think is preventing cross-cultural understanding or realizing
a multi-cultural society, please tell us.

A.Jung-san Japanese people often say "if that was Japan, it would never happen." But nothing is impossible in this world. Anything is possible because there are so many cultures. This very phrase is a wall for cross-cultural understanding.
A.Teodora-san In Japan, everyone speaks and reads Japanese, so the people they meet are mostly Japanese. They're like a frog in a well who can't see the ocean. So, they think they know everything about Japan. But, when we ask questions about Japan, there are some things that even the teachers don't know. Unless you meet a foreigner, you'll never know about other countries as well as your own. Through us, we would like people to learn more about Japan and other countries, as well as learn how to respect each other.

Surrounding Datcu Anca Teodora

Surrounding Teodora-san

Do you have a message for the children and adults who feel entrapped in Japan?

A.Nirmala-san My dream is to become an artist. There was a time when I prioritized studying, but since coming to Japan my studies are able to coexist with dance. Traditonal dances are often performed at tourism events. So if I continue to dance, in the future I can make the best of my field of study, tourism in Sri Lanka. Everybody has the power, you can do it! If you hold on to your dream and work hard towards it, your dreams will come true.
A.Teodora-san I also want to convey the importance of dreams. It's not easy to study abroad in Japan from Romania. The difference in the cost of living is huge. But I had a dream to go to Japan, so I worked hard to fulfill it. Nothing starts without first having a dream, and I want people to believe in their own strength. Lots of Japanese people think that Japan is easy and safe to live in, so many they don't want to go overseas. But, I think that suffering leads to personal growth. In any case, I want to tell people to go out into the world on their own.
A.Jung-san Of course Japan is a good country, but I think going to other countries to see and feel various things firsthand is better. If you think that Japan is the best, then you feel as if there is no need for change. If a lot of people go overseas and bring their experiences back to Japan, then we would have a more creative mindset and new ideas that will help strengthen Japan in the future.

surrounding Jung-san

surrounding Jung-san