Japanese English teachers leave for U.S. looking to broaden horizons

Kyodo

A total of 96 Japanese teachers of English who leave for the United States this month on a half-year training program vowed Thursday to use the experience to enhance global understanding.

The junior high school and high school teachers from across Japan, who are in their 20s to 40s, will be enrolled in courses on English teaching methods at seven U.S. universities, stay with local families and work as interns at American secondary schools on the exchange program through early February. The program is sponsored by the government.

Kaori Taguchi, a 32-year-old teacher at a high school in Miyagi Prefecture, told a send-off ceremony in Tokyo that she felt guilty about leaving at a time when her colleagues remain affected by the March 11 megaquake-tsunami disaster.

“Some schools in coastal areas are used as evacuation shelters and classes cannot be conducted properly there,” Taguchi said, speaking as a representative of the teachers.

“I hope I can improve my English teaching skills through the program and return the favor by nurturing students who will open their eyes to the international community,” she said.

At the ceremony, Vice Education Minister Hirofumi Ryu expressed hope that the teachers will change the “inward-looking” nature of Japanese students and nurture people who will be “active globally.”

He also asked the teachers to convey Japan’s gratitude for the disaster relief provided by the United States.

Parliamentary Vice Foreign Minister Ikuo Yamahana said the teachers are expected to help stimulate greater interest in international exchanges among young Japanese, who in past years have become increasingly reluctant to study abroad.

This teacher training program emerged from Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s pledge last November during a meeting in Tokyo with U.S. President Barack Obama to foster exchanges between the two countries of several thousand people over five years.

The participants, who will study at universities in California, Delaware, Michigan, Texas, New Jersey and Iowa, will have their English ability examined through tests and join various events to promote Japan-U.S. exchanges.

Cultural and people-to-people exchanges are one of the three main pillars of the Japan-U.S. alliance, which reached its 50th anniversary in 2010. The other two pillars are security and economic ties.