April 21, 2014

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Teacher immersed in a new culture

OBERLIN — For three weeks, an Oberlin High School teacher found herself immersed in Tokyo’s daily life.

Donna M. Shurr, who was chosen as one of 200 educators to participate in the Japan Fulbright Memorial Fund Teacher Program, got to see firsthand how the Japanese education system works, experience the foreign culture and see how everyday families live in Japan courtesy of her host family.

COURTESY OF DONNA M. SCHURR
A very early morning visit to the wholesale fish market at Tsukiji. At the fish market, Donna M. Shurr and her group found themselves in the midst of a colorful and chaotic mix of workers, wholesalers and retailers.

Shurr spent a good part of the trip visiting elementary and junior and senior high schools in Aomori City, Japan, along with 19 other teachers in her core group. She said she saw what would be deemed nontraditional classes here being taught there as part of the norm.

“One of the most amazing classes we witnessed was a class at Aomori City Furukawa Junior High School that prepares students to work in homes for the aged,” Shurr said.

In that class, students learned to bathe their elderly patient — a dummy — and help care for them. The students, according to Shurr, said they took the class because they respect their elders, and they thought that working with them would be a rewarding and honorable career, whether through nursing or as a doctor.

She also found it unique that in Japan, the students are responsible for keeping their schools clean. Each day, time is set aside for older students to supervise teams of younger students who clean desks, and sweep and wash floors. That same involvement is seen in regard to serving lunch — students take turns bringing food out from the kitchen in large pots, and collecting the trays and dishes of other students afterward.

During her visit, Shurr’s host family was Kunihiko and Mariko Kashiwabara, a married couple with whom she corresponded via e-mail before her visit.

“Knowing my interest in Japanese food, Mariko allowed me to cook with her,’’ Shurr said. “She taught me how to make sushi and a dish with Japanese beef that is served on special occasions.

“Knowing that I am interested in art, Mariko took me to the Munakata Shiko Memorial of Art, where the work of Aomori-born woodblock print artist Shiko Munakata had a powerful effect on me,” she said.

“The museum’s architecture and the beautiful Japanese gardens added to the serenity of the total experience.”
Shurr departed from the United States in mid-June, and since her return she has put together a slide presentation about her trip and prepared lessons for her students designed to share her experience and promote greater intercultural understanding.

She’ll present the slideshow during a talk at Kendal at Oberlin in November — just one of the ways she’ll complete that final component required by Fulbright to share her experience.

 
Want to learn more?

Who: Donna M. Shurr, Oberlin High School teacher/Oberlin Heritage Center trustee
What: Talk on Japanese culture and education
When: 7:15 p.m. Nov. 13 at Kendal at Oberlin

Oberlin High School Principal William Baylis said it was an honor for Shurr to be selected for the Fulbright grant, and that Shurr has brought what she learned back to share with her students.

“The process for getting a Japan Fulbright grant was very selective,’’ Baylis said. “Ms. Shurr is incorporating what she learned in Japan into her home ec classes by comparing how the Japanese prepare and cook with the way it is done in her students’ homes. She also shows the differences between the two cultures in terms of how the home is taken care of.”

Shurr said she hopes her experience will help her students and the community broaden their views.

“All of us will take a more active role as citizens in an increasingly global society,’’ she said. “We will then all have a greater appreciation for the similarities and differences of people around the world."

Contact Barbara Cochran at 329-7155 or metro@chroniclet.com.