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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.


作: カンバ・ギセラ





“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



















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。







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Dr. Masako Hamada, Program Coordinator
Garey Hall 34B

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