What position do you hold at Hokkaido Japanese Language School? What has been your career path so far?
Rieko: I’m the Principal of Hokkaido JaLS, and started the school just over three years ago. My career path has always involved my passion for teaching Japanese language and culture. I trained to be a Japanese teacher at a specialist college and gained my teacher’s license. Afterwards I became a Japanese teacher in Tokyo, and later in Vietnam for 2 years. I then returned to Japan and gained further experience in marketing and sales before moving to Malaysia to teach Japanese.
Throughout my time teaching Japanese I met so many students and heard their stories. I found that often students studying Japanese abroad had such a passion to learn the language because they loved the culture and Japanese people and the idea of what living in Japan would be like.
However, when I taught Japanese in Japan, I also met students who didn’t enjoy Japanese life as much when they moved here. Many of them had found it difficult to make friends or told me they felt like there was a wall between them and the Japanese community. Japan often wasn’t the same as their vision.
After I met many students with these experiences, I decided I wanted to come back to Japan and create a different kind of Japanese language school. Our vision is that our students would love their life in Japan, be able to make real friends and be part of real community and enjoy their language learning journey. Hokkaido JaLS is now three years old and we have many stories from students who have enjoyed every moment of their time here - this makes us more passionate to keep developing our school and community!
Did YOU study abroad?! If so, where and what inspired you to go?
Rieko: I’ve studied abroad twice in my life, and also worked abroad as a Japanese teacher. At 16 years old I studied in Vancouver, Canada for one month at summer school, which I really enjoyed; and then when I was 20 years old I went to a volunteer work camp in France for one month.
My time in France was really life-changing because I met so many people from all over the world. This experience really made me want to become a Japanese teacher. It was the first time I had met people from so many countries, and it was also the first time I had really begun to think about how foreign people saw Japan from outside. My mind was really broadened and I saw the value of having cross-cultural relationships and learning. I had wanted to go and study abroad for the challenge and experience, and it was definitely an incredibly valuable one!
What does the future hold for Hokkaido Japanese Language School - any exciting new programs to share?
Rieko: Yes! I think this year is incredibly exciting for us. We want to change the experience for students studying abroad in Japan. We want foreign students to be able to make real friendships with people from all over the world and attract people from all over the world to come and study here in Sapporo.
We have found that in the last three years, many people meet in Sapporo at our school and keep in touch using social media. It’s so easy now to maintain these relationships. This year we want to develop this idea further and create a large global community where past and current students can link together, support each other, share experiences and become friends.
Next month we are launching a special network called Connec; a community development project that aims to join all of our student body (inside and outside of Japan) together in a borderless community. This is exciting for us in Sapporo. We also run two sister schools in the city called The Language House (where Japanese students study English) and Asian Cafe (where Japanese students study other Asian languages), and Connec will offer many events and experiences that link all of our students together and create real opportunities for language exchange, friendships and community.
Why is language learning and cultural immersion important to you?
Rieko: I think language and cultural learning makes life more fun. If you only experience one language and culture then your thinking can be narrow; but learning a new language and culture means that your thinking is enlarged and grows wider. It often means your life has many more choices. It makes your life fuller and richer to really experience something else of the world.
Cultural learning is so important to our school. We offer learning not just in a classroom setting and from textbooks, but also learning where language is used outside of the school in a variety of real life environments. We believe this makes learning more fun and that these creative ways of learning mean you can apply your language straight away.