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2 February 2017

Namadgi students journey to Japan

In October last year, Ben Raven (Cohort 2016) returned to the school in Japan where he taught English for 11 years. This time, he was accompanied by 15 of his students from Canberra’s Namadgi School.

Having started learning Japanese in Year 6, Ben Raven went on to teach English in Japan for 15 years. He believes that learning a second language is an important skill for everyone.

Now a Cohort 2016 Associate, Ben is sharing his love of languages by teaching Japanese at Namadgi School in Canberra.

Ben’s Year 9 and 10 Japanese language students were fortunate enough to travel with him to Japan recently, to develop their language skills and intercultural knowledge.

Ben’s language skills have sent him on an extraordinary journey and he hopes this trip inspires his students to continue learning Japanese.

studentsBen was first introduced to Japanese at his primary school in Lake Macquarie, New South Wales. Because of Australia’s transitioning engagement with Asia while he was at school, Lake Macquarie formed a sister city relationship with Hakodate in Japan, resulting in the compulsory adoption of Japanese language lessons at Ben’s school.

Ben loved studying a second language. He continued studying Japanese until the end of high school, and later at university.

After studying a double degree in Arts and Science at The University of Newcastle, Ben decided he would apply his skills overseas and moved to Japan to teach English as a second language.

He began in a small village in Nagano Prefecture, teaching Grade 1-6 students for a few hours a week in pre-school. Later he focused on elementary and junior high school students from Grades 7-9 at Koshoku Nishi Junior High School.

“I loved Nagano!” said Ben. “It’s surrounded by mountains and snow and is full of great people. It’s such a wonderful place.”

group-photo-japanese-studentsBen also loved teaching the children English. “Though they were very reserved and quiet, they were great to work with,” he said. “They were all very responsive to my teaching, activities and interactions.”

Working as a teaching assistant, Ben was able to develop a close relationship with his Japanese students.

“I was in a space that was in-between regular teachers and the students – a space that they could talk freely and openly and this resulted in various conversations and interactions, including playing soccer at lunchtime,” he said.

When Ben returned home to Australia, he knew he wanted to return one day.

Fortunately, on his first day as a Teach For Australia Associate at Namadgi School in Canberra, he was told that he’d be returning to Japan as part of a trip the school runs every two years.

“I was grateful that my experience living and working in Japan was valued by the school and that I’d have the chance to do this,” Ben said.

On the 28th of September last year, Ben joined two other teachers from Namadgi and took 15 Year 9 students on the 12-day trip.

ben-raven-group-photo“After meticulously planning every detail of the trip to get the most out of the experience as possible, I wanted to inspire my students and raise their global and cultural awareness,” said Ben.

“One of the things I wanted to do the most, besides visiting all the cultural sights in Japan, was visit my old school, Koshoku Nishi Junior High School,” he said.

“As a language teacher, it was wonderful to have my current students in Australia meet my former students in Japan. The breadth of opportunities and experiences that could result out of the visit are endless,” he said. 

The trip allowed students to learn and experience Japanese culture. “We were able to explore the future and past in Tokyo, samurai and feudal periods of Japan at Himeji Castle, reflect upon the catastrophe of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima, find our inner selves at temples and shrines – and even visit a monkey park in Kyoto.” said Ben.

20160930_131309“Of course there was a side trip to Disney Land thrown into our trip as well!” he said.

The trip gave Ben’s students an important life experience they will never forget. While some students had travelled before, Ben said that others “had never been on a plane.”

“They were amazed with the school and its students. They were able to place my previous experience in context and see the relationships and teaching that I was doing before joining Teach For Australia,” Ben said.

After returning to Australia, Ben said that his students had already “started planning for a trip to Japan for the Tokyo Olympics 2020! Some want to see more of the sights and even visit the school again”.

The trip has opened the students’ eyes to the power of language in enabling overseas opportunities, grounding their language studies for them: “They now have a reference point as to why certain interactions take place or why words are used in this way not that,” said Ben.

The trip reinvigorated his students’ desire to continue studying Japanese, and has even motivated other students from Namadgi to start studying a second language.

20161005_084009“I know that several of the Year 10 students will continue Japanese in Year 11 and 12. The Year 9 students are eager to study more next year. A large group of incoming Year 9s are even looking forward to the Japan Trip in 2018!” said Ben.

Ben believes that learning a second language is essential to developing intercultural communication skills.

“Language improves our ability to understand, interact, empathise with, and connect with others through social interactions – we especially need these skills with such a diverse society in Australia and a globalised world,” said Ben.

He’s looking forward to helping his students further develop their language skills at school and hopes to return to Japan again soon.

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