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Testimonial from the JET Program

 

The Distance between Us

By: Gisela Camba

“…[Y]ou never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them.”

–To Kill a Mockingbird

There are barriers of understanding between people born and raised just down the street from one another. Knowing that there can be a divide between us even with those we’ve gone to the same school with, those who speak the same language, and who even live in the same neighborhood, one can only wonder how far we have to go to understand a person who has been raised in a vastly different environment from us.

We have to trek long and hard into adulthood to even come to understand the fellow humans who live right in our backyard. To understand those from other countries, it takes a little more than a bit of inner exploration, but an actual physical uprooting from the familiar to the unfamiliar. Only by setting ourselves in that sort of situation do we come to truly know people of other cultures.

When we cross that physical distance, we allow ourselves to be immersed in the culture and take our first attempt into reaching beyond the first layer between us. There are those who go beyond that and instead of just dipping their feet into that water, jump head first into another country’s culture and language. It is that absolute immersion into another language that really makes a crack on the walls between us.
No other remnant of human civilization throughout history so captures the human psychology as language. The languages that exist now have survived hundreds of years of potential extinction while absorbing numerous languages and cultures at the margins. Language has the invisible footprints of the past that has led to the present. It is embedded not just with the psychology, the cultural cues, and societal rules of people, but the very process that has led to those present existences. Reflecting time, history, and the human mind, language can be a mess of attempts, mistakes, and corrections. It becomes a mirror of the human experience.

To try and speak another person’s language is to try to understand them as a person, to try and see in the unique variety of the language various cultural cues, to grasp within the grammatical structure the thinking process of the people. This language learning process can be as immense as seeing within the complexity of the language the history that led to that one person’s being, or can be as simple and yet as transformative as being able to share a laugh together about a joke unique to that language.

We study language for a very human purpose. There could be many advantages to it, economical, political, but nothing quite as fascinating or meaningful as having the capacity to understand another human being.

This concept is what I tried to teach my students. I spent two years in Mie Prefecture, Japan teaching middle school and elementary school children under the JET program. The goal of the government program was to improve relations between Japan and America through the English language and education on internationalism. It is, in essence, an attempt to provide a peaceful bond between countries through people and language.

As an educator, my major goal was to boost their confidence as individuals. I wanted them to be at the same time proud of their country and curious about the world. I wasn’t replacing their language, culture, or belief with mine. Making them global citizens wasn’t about transforming them into a Western image. It was about giving them autonomy, by making them mobile and transformative players in shaping the world we live in. Most importantly I wanted them to be mobile players who understand compassion.

These kids are just in elementary and middle school. For many it is a fun time full of wonderful memories. However for some it can be a cruel period where bullying and insecurity can blight their childhood. I wanted to encourage the sort of behavior many educators encourage in their own classroom and expand it to outside the classroom. When a student is mean to another student, we pull them aside and try to have them step into the shoes of their classmate, to understand how being bullied might make the other child feel and how they wouldn’t like it if it happened to them. As a foreign teacher coming into a school in the countryside where they rarely meet a foreigner face to face, I wanted to carry that lesson outside the classroom into the global arena.

Teaching the students a new language and internationalism in a responsible and sensitive approach was a way towards helping them take their first steps into understanding people from a very different way of life, and perhaps may even consequently make them take a second look at those who live in their own backyard. Carrying that lesson to my students and living it out with my own attempts at understanding the Japanese language was the most meaningful part of undertaking the JET program.

While I had many rich and colorful experiences on my travels in Japan, the most important one was the human experience of trying to form bonds with and to understand my co-workers, new friends, students, and even my neighbors living one floor above me by stepping into their shoes to close the distance between us.

人と人の間の距離

作: カンバ・ギセラ

 

「その人の心を理解するにはその人の靴を履いて歩かなければならない。

-アラバマ物語

 

“You never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them.”

-To Kill a Mockingbird

 

お知らせ: “stand in his shoes” 人の立場で考えて

同じ町で育った人達でもお互いに理解し合うことは難しいです。人と人の間には見えない壁があるそうです。同じ学校に通い、同じ言葉を話し、同じ地区に住んでいる人達の間でも壁があります。では、自分とまったく違う人生を送ってきた人達の心を理解するにはどれほど大きな壁を乗り越える必要があるのでしょうか。

 

身近な人であっても、その人達を理解するには長い時間をかけ、内面からじっくりと知る必要があります。異なる国の人達を理解するには、それ以上に努力が必要です。住み慣れた土地を離れ、見知らぬ土地に住まなければなりません。自分自身をその場所、状況に置くことによって、異文化の人達を本当に理解し始めることが可能です。

 

国境を越え異国の地に住み、異なった生活に挑戦することで、その人々を理解することができます。それは目に見えない文化の壁を越える為の第一歩です。「異文化」に興味を持つだけでなく、最初からそれに飛び込む人達もいます。他人の世界に身をおくことで、人と人との間にある「異なる」という壁を少しずつ壊していくことができます。

 

この壁を壊すには、相手の言語を学ぶのは特に重要です。現在の言語は、何百年にわたって形成されてきた言葉です。言語の中には、今に繋がっている過去の見えない足跡があります。今の社会の考え方や規則だけではなく、その考え方と規則が成り立つまでの経緯も言語に刻まれています。言語は時と歴史と人間の心を反映し、人々の歴史の軌跡を反映する鏡のようになります。

 

人間である限り言語を学習するでしょう。人間らしくある為に言語を学習します。他の言語を学ぶことで得るものは多々ありますが、より多くの人々を深く理解できるのが一番の利点でしょう。

 

私はこの概念を生徒達に理解してもらえるように頑張りました。

 

JETプログラムを通し、私は三重県伊勢市で二年間、中学校と小学校で英語を教えました。JETプログラムのアメリカ部門の目的は英語と国際の教育を通して、日米関係の友好を深めることです。「人」と「言葉」で和平関係を強化する試みです。

 

教師としては、生徒達の自信を高めることが主な目的でした。私は生徒達には自分達の国・文化・伝統を誇りに思い、同時に世界に好奇心を抱いて欲しかったのです。これは生徒達の言葉・文化・考えを私のもので置き換えることでも、西洋的な考え方を教えることでもないのです。子供達自身でそれを出来る力を養ってほしかったのです。そして何よりも、他人への思いやりを持てる生徒達になって欲しかったのです。

 

生徒達は、小・中学生時代はたくさんの楽しい思い出を作る期間ですが、いじめや不安によって苦しい時間を過ごしている生徒達もいました。

 

この様な問題を解決する為に、五教科の科目以外にも、道徳というより良い人間性やモラルを身につける為の授業も行われます。生徒が他の生徒をいじめていたら、「自分が そうされたいと思うように他人に接する」ことを教えようとしていました。いじめられている相手の気持ちを理解することが必要でした。相手の靴を履き、その人(他の人)の立場に立って考えてほしいのです。

 

生徒達には学校だけではなく、日常生活にもこの概念を活かしてもらいたいです。

 

JETの一員にとして、英語教育、また私のような外国人との触れ合いによって、この概念を国際的なレベルでも活かせるように教えることが私の役割でした。しっかりした言語・国際主義教育を行うことは、生徒達が外国・異文化の人達を理解できる為に必要な最初の一歩です。それを生徒達に教えるのがJETプログラムでの一番大切な経験でした。

 

日本の生活で深く豊かな経験をたくさんしましたが、一番重要なことは、同僚や生徒や友達、または隣人の人達を内面から理解し繋がりを深め、絆を築き上げることでした。そう、彼らの靴を履いて私たちの間にある距離を縮めるように。

Contact Information

Dr. Masako Hamada, Program Coordinator
Garey Hall 34B
610.519.4701

 

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