Teaching Japanese at an historically black college, a Japanese professor’s recollections and feelings
Cultural Exchange is a two way street. And sometimes, it’s not always what we (as westerner’s) feel, or think about another culture that matters, sometimes it’s about the feelings we project to other cultures. A wise man (in his own right) once said; “for an expat in Asia, each time a local comes across his or her path, the expat becomes an ambassador at that point in time, and a very important one at that. That’s because the perception a local gets from him or her will be the same standard every expat from there on out will be held to.”
Today on Voyage to Asia, I will invite our first guest writer, Miku Fukasaku. Miku was a Japanese teacher from Kawasaki-shi, Kanagawa, Japan. She came to teach at Lincoln in 2011 – 2012. Her experience wasn’t hers alone, it was also a big experience for our school and students. Miku was always quite cheerful and enjoyed participating in student activities. Lincoln students are very proud but also very hospitable and we treated Miku just as well as she treated us, so in that way, everyone’s experience was positive one; so without further ado, Miku Fukasaku’s recollections about teaching in a historically black college, and her first time in America.
“Talking about my experiences teaching Japanese at Lincoln University (LU), the first HBCU (Historically Black College or University), it is definitely different from the Liberal Arts Colleges where I am teaching at now. The story here is completely based on my perspective…”
Teaching at Lincoln University was my first experience teaching in the United States. My first impression was that students have a strong sense of identity as “Black” or “African-American.” For Japanese people, it is completely different. More than 95 percent of the population is Japanese. I have never been compelled to think myself as Japanese person as long as I am in Japan. I have never felt a strong sense of nationalism for being a Japanese person. Furthermore, I will say, there are a lot of Japanese people who want to be like Westerners.
To learn Japanese must have been challenging for students. Compared to Spanish and French, there are a lot of things they have to learn and memorize…
At the same time, they seemed to enjoy “the very Japanese way of thinking;” for instance, when refusing offers, Japanese people tend to avoid saying “no,” since Japanese regard those wordings as too harsh. Instead, a Japanese person would say,”…well, it is inconvenient,” or something similar to that. When I introduced this in class, my students looked so impressed to hear that perspective. From this instance, I felt students were not influenced by preconceptions and regarded those differences positively.
A lot of students were really respectful towards racial minorities, like me. In terms of student population at Lincoln, Asian make up less than five percent, so I belonged to a minority for the first time in my life.
Teaching in LU was my first year in the states and also I was the only Japanese instructor there. Thus, cooperation from students was crucial. Under this circumstance, I was lucky to have students who were approaching, kind, and respectful. They always made sure I was comfortable, understood my English classes, and took me to attend events on campus.
My students were also minorities in American society; I assume, that is why they understood my situation of being a minority and helped me a lot.
Although my teaching experience in Lincoln University was more than two years ago, it is still very special for me.