Almost every Japanese citizen will at least at one point learn English in school. English classes are a part of most school curriculums in the country, and by the time that students graduate – many have been studying the language for many years.
Despite this, Japan has a reputation for producing students who are strong in English reading comprehension and writing – but lack in the proficiency of being able to confidently speak in English.
The program that I am working at for two months aims to help these Japanese students use the English that they’ve already learned and use it to engage in conversations about global citizenship and practice public speaking. As someone who understands the struggle of learning a new language and lacking confidence in the ability to use it – I resonated with this mission of the program.
During the first day of the program, I was grouped with 3 students. I had asked them why they had decided to sign up to participate in this program. They embarrassingly admitted that it was mostly a result of their parents encouraging them to participate in this week long intensive program, but then they also provided reasons of wanting to be able to speak English to be able to travel abroad, make new friends, or find international jobs.
The structure of the program focuses a lot on two aspects. The first one being the actual skill of being able to present in public and confidently engage in conversation. The second one being learning about global citizenship. In order to accomplish these goals, the program centers around the Tokyo Olympics, the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and life goals. When talking about the Tokyo Olympics and the United Nation’s SDGs – we typically talked about the obstacles that needed to be addressed and what we could do in our respective nations to help. In regards to our life goals, we asked our students to share to the class what they wanted to accomplish in their lifetime. Some students pointed to a career they wanted to have and talked about why that was important to them. Others talked about the importance of wanting to be happy or fulfilled, and chose their life goal to be to travel the world or to build a family.
Working with the students taught me a lot about Japanese culture and the education system that I previously did not know before. For an example, I was surprised to find out that in Japan – your major was something that you had to decide on BEFORE applying to college. I reflected on this later that day, and thought about all the times that I have doubted, questioned, and changed my major during my time as a student at the University of Michigan. Another thing I was surprised at was at the fact that in Japan, the reputation of the university you go to holds a greater regard in job applications than what kind of student you were in college. Other things, such as the fact that it is common for people to work at a single company throughout their lives or that there is a literal word for “overwork death” for when Japanese workers are overworked to death in the modern day (karoshi) – surprised me.
Being able to compare the similarities and differences between cultures with my Japanese students served as a completely eye opening experience. I learned as much from them as they did from me as we discussed complex topics regarding everything from breakfast food to international politics.
I am excited to see what the future weeks have in store for me!