OCEANSIDE — A pair of teachers returned to Fuji City, Japan, Oceanside’s sister city, after spending two weeks immersing themselves in the American education system as part of the school district’s renewed teacher exchange program.
The trip was a first for Japanese educators Mizuho Ono and Hayaka Suzuki, neither of whom had visited the United States before.
Oceanside Unified School District has previously invited teachers from Fuji City to spend two weeks with local teachers learning about the American education system. Since 2016, the district has invited a total of seven teachers to Oceanside.
The district brought back the program this year after putting it on pause for a few years during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The two-week program is also an opportunity for the two teachers, who both teach English in Japan, to immerse themselves in the language and improve their own English skills.
During their first week before school began, Ono and Suzuki participated in professional development opportunities while also aiding in planning and preparation activities with their host teachers. Once school started in the second week, the visiting teachers began observing students and lessons in the classroom.
Paula McNaughton, a third-grade teacher at Palmquist Elementary, hosted Suzuki both in her home and the classroom during her visit.
“(Suzuki) was super helpful,” McNaughton said. “She pretty much set up the whole classroom, she would attend training with me… it was awesome to have her as an extra pair of hands around the classroom.”
Bruce Kelling, a Spanish teacher at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, hosted Ono in the classroom. Like the other pair, Ono helped Kelling by setting up the classroom for the first day of school. He also branched out by observing other classrooms in addition to Kelling’s classes once school began.
Both Suzuki and Ono also taught their own lessons in the classroom about their home. After a little pop quiz, Ono showed his new American students how to make origami.
The exchange teachers were surprised about some of the differences between the cultures they observed.
Ono, who teaches 12 and 13-year-olds, was surprised to learn that students in the U.S. move to different classes and teachers stay in the same classroom, meanwhile, it’s the opposite in Japan.
Suzuki, who teaches elementary-aged students, noted how American children seemed more affectionate when saying hello.
“I was surprised by how the girls greeted me with hugs,” Suzuki said.
The host teachers also learned from their exchange teachers about Japanese culture and the differences in classroom environments.
“In Japan, students are responsible for cleaning, preparing and serving meals, which is very different from America,” McNaughton said.
Despite the differences, both Suzuki and Ono enjoyed their time in the U.S. and its culture – both in and outside of the classroom.
Monique Combs, a teacher at the Adult Transition Program, hosted Ono in her home and took him out to experience local nightlife, entertainment and food.
“So many things were new to him – it was really fun,” Combs said.
Combs, who previously hosted a teacher through an exchange program, also took both exchange teachers to Los Angeles where they saw the Hollywood sign and other landmarks.
“My husband and I love to travel and learn about new cultures, so it’s a perfect way of learning,” Combs said. “I could probably go to Japan and not learn half as much as what I learned from having Mizuho in my home.”
In the end, not only did the exchange and host teachers learn about each other’s cultures – they also grew close during their time together.
“He’s a really fantastic guy,” Kelling said about Ono. “I’ve enjoyed working with him.”
McNaughton hopes to stay in touch with her newfound friend for a long time.
“I think I have a friend for life,” she said about Suzuki. “I wish her stay was longer.”