Wednesday, August 27, 2014
With the beginning of another new school year comes the return of that all-too-familiar question: “What did you do over summer break?” While most students return with stories of family vacations and sweaty camp adventures, for one local middle school teacher, this summer meant a trip to the other side of the world and the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn about a culture that is as welcoming as it is unfamiliar.
For 10 days at the beginning of July, Moultrie Middle School teacher Mark Nadobny traveled throughout Japan as part of a cultural exchange program sponsored by the Keizai Koho Center, the Japan Institute for Social and Economic Affairs. This annual study tour takes 10 lucky middle and high school educators from the United States and immerses them in every aspect of Japanese culture, from staying the night with a local family to meeting top executives at Canon and Toyota.
“They work with American teachers to expose us to what Japan is today,” Nadobny said. “Many kids, when you mention Japan, some things come to mind: the Second World War, Pearl Harbor, some negative connotations. The Japanese government is trying to change this. That's not what Japan is. Japan is a very peaceful country, a prosperous country, a very efficient country and a great partner with the United States.”
Through his travels, Nadobny was able to interact with a wide array of Japanese citizens and field their questions about life in America as well as learn about everyday life in Japan. While touring classrooms and speaking with local children, Nadobny was able to provide a few answers for the kids regarding American students. “They seemed to be concerned about how Japanese culture is perceived in the U.S.,” Nadobny said. “They kept asking, ‘What do the American kids think about us?'”
Nadobny was also able to gain an unfiltered view of life in Japan by spending some time in the home of a Japanese family.
“Very quickly, they treated me like one of their sons, and they were very interested in American culture,” said Nadobny. One of the host family's sons, who is currently studying English and aspires to become a teacher one day, was instrumental in arranging Nadobny's stay.
“He approached his family saying, ‘Hey Mom and Dad, I'd love to have an American teacher stay with us for a weekend.' So it was all his idea and it was a great experience,” Nadobny said. “I think the best way to learn about a culture is to sit around a kitchen table, have a cup of tea and have a home-cooked meal. We all brought a gift; I brought a sweetgrass basket. If you're from Charleston, you bring a sweetgrass basket.”
Nadobny will now implement his experiences abroad into the lesson plans for his students, providing them a nearly unfiltered perspective on Japanese culture. He credits the Keizai Koho Center for their generosity in establishing healthy relationships between the two nations' students and teachers. “They're just trying to reach American educators,” said Nadobny, “so we have not so much a textbook approach to teaching Japan but a hands-on approach.”
Dustin Waters is one of our staff reporters and the staff copy editor. Follow Dustin on Twitter @MNreports for more news updates.