An enriching exchange | Guest View

Japanese exchange teacher reflects on past year in Mukilteo
By Masa Takaba | Mar 15, 2017
Masa Takaba

My adventure is almost over.

A year ago, I was a bit worried about what would happen. It was my first visit to the U.S. and all I had were stereotypical images of graffiti on subways. Now, I can tell my former self not to worry.

Although I was not confident in how to pronounce the name of this beautiful city before I arrived, I decided to live in Mukilteo. Soon, I fell in love with this amazing city.

Now, I must return to Japan, back to my original high school, because the Japanese school year starts in April. So, let me reflect on my year as a teacher, a father and a member of this community.

As a teacher, I learned so much about the craft of teaching from the Kamiak staff. I learned by teaching lessons, observing and having conversations with the helpful staff. Also, the students are so willing to learn Japanese in this supportive environment, and I have been amazed by their eagerness. They raise their hands, volunteer and share their knowledge of the Japanese language freely.

In observing the community, I have found individual freedom is perhaps the basic, key concept that all staff members and students have in common here. As long as the students reach the learning target, the style of learning doesn’t really matter. This idea facilitates students’ creativity.

The classes here seem to focus on a variety of ways of thinking or expressing ideas through academic contents.

In Japan, “active learning” is a key term among teachers. It means the class is designed with learner-centered activities that require more active participation of students. I saw active learning everywhere here.

In one of the classes I observed, students paired up and talked about their beliefs, elaborating on why they thought it was valuable, even after class time was over. In set conversation practice in our class, students always go beyond the framework, changing and extending to make the conversation funnier.

I found every class I visited was designed to actually do something creative, and students weren’t afraid of making mistakes. That’s what I like, and I want to try this style of teaching in my home country. Honestly, I can’t remember how many times I wished to be a student here myself.

I was also curious about how American fathers enjoy commitments to their families, as I am a father of two daughters – one at Endeavour Elementary School and one at Harbour Pointe Christian Preschool. In addition, I am a member of a Japanese organization that encourages fathers to get involved with parenting.

I met some dads and found they spend more time with their families than we customarily do in Japan. Probably, the difference has to do with the idea of work. We traditionally think working is going to the office and spending a certain amount of time there, which leads to a lack of family time.

Here, on the other hand, family time seems to be present after work, and people seem flexible to work online from home, if necessary. As long as it meets the expectations, working style doesn’t matter.

I think the same kind of notion about studying at school underpins the idea of working. Since I went home after work much earlier than I did in Japan, my kids and I really enjoyed spending quality time together.

I brought my kids to many afterschool events at Kamiak, such as the football games and choir concerts. We enjoyed a variety of activities, such as barbequing, swimming and building a snowman together. My daughters are not happy about leaving, not simply because they like it here, but also because they have more family time here.

Since last April, I’ve been a proud member of this graffiti-free, safe, warm and strong Mukilteo community. I’m sure many people agree with me. I’ve been super lucky to stay in this greater Seattle area where people appreciate diversity.

My favorite section of the Beacon, “Around Town,” really made our Mukilteo life richer. Thanks to it, I joined the Toastmasters Club, learned about the kids story time at the library and many more wonderful community events. I have also been a regular participant of the board meetings of the Mukilteo School District.

We loved the Farmers Market and the Lighthouse. We attended all three days of the Lighthouse Festival and did the Run-A-Muk. Trick-or-treating was a lot of fun, too.

People’s open-mindedness and welcoming attitude made our lives more fruitful. I have sensed the strong unity of this community ever since I saw purple ribbons around the trees and signs on the doors last summer.

Now, I’m very confident I made the right decision living in Mukilteo. We met so many beautiful people in the school and community. I know this one-year experience will have a huge, positive impact on my future career, my personal life and that of my family, too.

It’s about time to leave this lovely city and go back to another beautiful city, Kobe. I just want to say thank you for everything. Arigato!

 

Masa Takaba is an exchange teacher from Kobekita High School in Kobe, Japan. He has been teaching Japanese in Yoshitaka Inoue’s class at Kamiak High School since April 2016 through an exchange program made possible by the sister state relationship between Washington state and Japan’s Hyogo Prefecture, where Kobe is located. Takaba has also worked with students in Mariner High School’s Japanese language class.

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