High school in a whole new light.

PBA's Foreign Exchange Program Strengthens Knowledge and Builds Friendships

September 06, 2012

Just four weeks ago, the PBA faculty and staff were greeting all of the returning students to campus. Now, they have to say goodbye to two special visitors from Hiroshima - Shintoku High School sophomore Natsumi Agari and Japanese Instructor Masaaki Hayashi.

As sister schools, PBA and Shintoku frequently host students up to an entire semester. But Hayashi’s arrival marked the first time a teacher took part in the exchange program.

Foreign Exchange Coordinator and Japanese Instructor Loren Otake spent months arranging the logistics of Hayashi’s stay, from securing his lodging to outlining his teaching responsibilities. Otake admitted that he “didn’t know what to expect” from Hayashi, but whatever initial concerns he had evaporated after meeting the visiting instructor.

“I was kind of anxious at first, but once Hayashi Sensei actually got here it’s been super easy,” Otake said. “I’m sad to see him leave because we’re losing a really great teacher.”

Hayashi, who is an expert in Japanese literature, not only observed Otake’s classes on a daily basis, he was an active participant in them.

“Aside from just pronunciation and native Japanese, he’s taught a lot about the origin of the language - how kanji is derived from hiragana and also cultural aspects of the Japanese language,” Otake said.

During his time at PBA, Hayashi also got to take in several project-based learning endeavors, such as the use of hand puppets to stimulate language-retention skills. The assignments affected Hayashi so much that he plans on incorporating project-based learning into his own curriculum back in Hiroshima.

“In Japanese schools the classes may not have many activities, but PBA’s classes have many activities,” he said. “When I go back to my school I want to have more activities.”  

Agari, likewise, was positively impacted by her stay. Because she spent most of her time with the sophomore class, she attended PBA’s American Literature and American History courses, both of which were focued on the subject of slavery.

In her first few days at PBA, Agari learned about the factors that led to slave revolts at sea by watching the Steven Spielberg film Amistad and acting out a scene from the Herman Melville novella Benito Cereno. Agari said the interdisciplinary experience gave her greater insight into one of the darker periods of American history.  

“We study that kind of stuff in Japan but it’s not in great detail,” she said. “Coming here and watching Amistad and going to those classes made it more realistic. I understand a lot more about slavery now.”

One of the aspects of PBA that Agari liked the most was the social culture of the school. Otake called Agari “outgoing” and praised her ability to “fit right in” to PBA’s tight-knit community.

“In Japan its kind of clicky - you get into clicks by your gender or age group,” Agari said. “But at PBA there’s not much of that. Everyone gets along with each other regardless of what grade they’re in.”

Indeed, Agari found it easy to make friends at PBA. One particularly close bond she formed was with sophomore Bethany Yoshimura, Agari’s on-campus host. Over the last four weeks, the two have become inseparable and, though they will soon be on opposite ends of the Pacific Ocean, they have exchanged emails and plan to keep in touch regularly.

“I’ll never forget her,” Yoshimura said. “She’s such a nice person - she tried so hard to talk in English and she’s just so friendly.”