Finding balance and beauty, inside and outside the classroom in Japan

postcards of Mt. Fuji

Karina Munoz, BA’17 (Metro), a graduate student pursuing her Master of Arts in Teaching, traveled to Tokyo, Japan, this summer for an international field experience. During the trip, the FDU group saw the sights, including Mount Fuji, where Munoz bought postcards to mail home. (Photos courtesy of Munoz)

August 9, 2017 —

Editor’s note: Nine education students and two professors traveled to Japan for an intensive cultural immersion and international field experience this summer. The Fairleigh Dickinson University group navigated Tokyo, explored iconic landmarks, and participated in meaningful exchanges with host schools — students were invited into multiple classrooms to interact with local students and teachers and learn about the Japanese education system.

“I learned so much and I know I will carry the experiences I had with me for the rest of my life. Already, I’m planning to return. I fell in love with the people, the sights and the respect in Japan, and I know that this trip has made me a different and better person,” says Karina Munoz, BA’17 (Metro), of Little Ferry, N.J. “I’m beyond thankful for such an experience, especially because my time at the Japanese schools demonstrated what I had learned in my undergraduate education courses.”

Munoz, a graduate student pursing her Master of Arts in Teaching, shares her experience:

June 22 and 23 – Days 1 and 2: I decided to study abroad in Japan because my dad, who was a Marine, was stationed at Okinawa Island. I wanted to see what he experienced during his time there, and also go because of my love for anime and animated films by Hayao Miyazaki.

We left Newark Airport around 10:15 a.m. on June 22 and touched down at 3:45 p.m. on June 23 in Narita, Japan. It was hard to sit for so long, and many of us were very tired, but the exhaustion of travel seemed to disappear as we exited the plane and took our first overseas photos!

group photo of the two faculty and nine students

After catching a bus to our hotel, we took an hour to settle into our small rooms and then went out to hunt down some dinner — the noodles were absolutely delicious!

dinner meal of noodles

Asakusa Shrine in Tokyo

June 24 – Day 3: We took a half-day bus tour of Tokyo and saw some breathtaking architecture. We visited Tokyo Tower, walked around the Imperial Palace East Gardens and explored a shrine in Asakusa.

looking down from Tokyo Tower

It was fun standing on the glass window at Tokyo Tower and seeing the street below my feet. I couldn’t help but marvel at how the buildings are so tightly packed together to accommodate the large number of people who live in the city!

the author at Tokyo Tower

At Asakusa, the number of people overwhelmed me, but I eagerly ran around and tried to see and do as much as I could. I even paid a few yen and got myself a fortune, albeit a bad one. During the bus tour, we were told that if we received a bad fortune, we should tie it to a post to symbolically leave the bad behind us. I made sure to tie mine extra tight!

bad prophecy left behind

After the tour, we made our way over to the Imperial Hotel to enjoy a traditional tea ceremony. It was amazing how the women preparing our Matcha tea paid so much attention to detail, as they made sure to honor their utensils and be mindful of their every movement.   

June 25 – Day 4: We visited some key districts in Tokyo and explored the Edo-Tokyo Museum. The group talked a lot about the morning rush that we would experience over the course of the next few days, while traveling to our host schools. I took some time that night to mentally prepare myself to be stuffed into a train car like sardines in a can.  

June 26 – Day 5: The morning rush wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be! I mean, we were still packed into the train car, but the experience was one that left me giggling at each and every stop. Just when I thought another body couldn’t POSSIBLY fit, ten more people would squeeze in.

We walked part of the way to our first school and enjoyed the freedom of being able to enter any classroom we wanted. I sat in on some art classes (because I want to be a high school art teacher!) and was even invited to participate. The language barrier made communicating tough, but some of the students spoke a little English and tried their best to translate back and forth. We were invited by our host, Isono-Sensei, to play badminton after school with his club, so we changed into our gym clothes to play long and hard against some of the meanest badminton players in Tokyo! Despite the fact that these kids wiped the floor with us college folk, we made some new friends and worked up a good sweat.

group photo during school tours

June 27 – Day 6: We visited one school each day for the next few days, starting with an elementary school. While there, I carried a little boy to the nurse’s office after he fell and hurt his leg. All the little kids ran around me making ambulance sounds while I hurried across the playground. It was a sight to see! Afterwards, the class that hosted me thought I was some kind of hero and they all wanted to be my friend.

In the evening, we went to Disneyland! It was a crazy experience, mostly because all the characters in the different rides spoke in Japanese. There were no lines since it was a weekday, so we zipped through the park and did as much as we could. We even saw fireworks and a light show projected onto the castle!     

June 28, 29 and 30 – Days 7, 8 and 9: We observed classes taught in Japanese and it was so cool to see the techniques and practices that we learned about in our classes at FDU be put to work at Seijo University, a high school, and Kanda University. Even though we didn’t understand the language, we could see and point out the different ways the professors engaged and challenged their students.

In the high school, the English classes were so engaging, especially since the teachers made good use of us native English speakers. Their lesson involved us talking with the students and analyzing a children’s story about a giving tree. I was extremely impressed with the students, faculty, and the fact that all that I have learned in the QUEST program was being demonstrated to me throughout our time spent in the Japanese schools.

I was extremely impressed with Kanda University of International Studies, a language college. I was delighted to see that students in each language major had their own section in which students could dress up and speak in that language. The clothing and décor of the sections were all reminiscent of the areas and countries in which the language is spoken: Spain featured vibrant clothes and the students practiced Spanish, the Korean section looked more traditional and had simpler clothes and the students practiced Korean, etc. It was nice to see the different cultures represented and honored.

rock fountain of Fuji water

July 1 – Day 10: It was unforgettable — we took a bus tour of Mount Fuji, and while clouds hid the snow-capped peak, we were able to go up to the fifth station (about 7,562 feet up!) to explore the stores and shrine. I mailed some postcards home after getting them stamped in the store, then bought some treats to take home to friends and family.

fresh water from Mt. Fuji

The bus also took us to the famous ponds at the base of Fuji and a famous waterfall, but the most memorable part of the tour was spending time at the Fujisan Hongo Sengen Taisha shrine. I not only played in water that came straight from Fuji, but I also got to purify myself with it before entering the shrine. There was something about the silence and beauty of it that left me speechless. I fell in love with this shrine, and being there, I connected. I don’t know to what, exactly, but I know I was moved and touched in such a way that no other place has.

spire of Asakusa Shrine, Tokyo

July 2 — Day 11: We spent all day getting ready to return home. We toured the Asakusa shrine again, purchased some gifts to bring back, and then had a farewell dinner with our host, Isnono-Sensei.

waterfall at Mt. Fuji

July 3 — Day 12: We checked out and made our way back home, safe and sound. I couldn’t help but feel sad to have left such an inspiring and beautiful place behind.