Teacher chosen for cultural exchange

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, September 7, 2004

A Brookhaven teacher will become the first southwest Mississippiteacher to participate in a Fulbright scholar program that sendsteachers to Japan when she travels to that country later thisyear.

Jeannie Wilson, who teaches gifted education and third grade atMamie Martin Elementary, will travel among a group of 200 educatorsfrom across the United States in November as a member of theFulbright Memorial Fund Teacher Program.

Wilson was chosen from among more than 2,000 applicants for theprogram. More than 4,000 primary and secondary educators from theUnited States have visited Japan through the program. The teacherprogram was launched in 1997 to commemorate the 50th anniversary ofthe U.S. government Fulbright Program, which has enabled more than6,000 Japanese citizens to study in this country for graduateeducation and research.

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The Fulbright Memorial Fund program is funded by the Japanesegovernment to promote intercultural understanding between the twonations.

“I’m thrilled, but I’m also a bit anxious,” Wilson said.”There’s a lot I have to learn, to become familiar with, about theJapanese before I make the trip. It’s an interesting study, but thetimeline makes it formidable.”

In a letter to Wilson, Ryozo Kato, a Japanese ambassador to theUnited States, wrote that this year is especially meaningful to theJapanese people because it represents 150 years of friendshipbetween the United States and Japan. He acknowledged that duringthose years the two nations have gone from strangers, to enemies,to friends to allies.

“Diplomats frequently speak of the need for peace, mutualunderstanding and friendship between nations of the world,” hewrote. “However, the responsibility for the real achievement ofthese goals lies with each of us individually. This is one of thefundamental reasons whey the government of Japan has establishedthe FMF Teacher Program.”

Beginning their three-week visit to Japan in Tokyo, the 200educators chosen for November’s trip will receive a practicalorientation on Japanese life and culture and meet with Japanesegovernment officials and educators. They will then travel in groupsof 20 to Japanese states, or prefectures, outside Tokyo, where theywill have direct contact with Japanese teachers and students. Theyalso will visit cultural sites and local industries.

Wilson’s group will travel to the village of Mihara in theHiroshima prefecture.

“They’re going to be sending me to the exact same spot where thebomb was dropped on Hiroshima (to end World War II),” Wilson toldher gifted students Wednesday.

The visit to Hiroshima holds special interest for Wilson. Herfather had his picture taken with the Enola Gay during World WarII. The Enola Gay is the B-29 bomber that dropped the bomb onHiroshima.

While in Mihara, Wilson will stay for four days with a Japanesehost family.

“Many of them are former Fulbright scholars who came to the U.S.They are chosen. It’s supposed to be a high honor for them. I justhope they can speak English,” Wilson added laughingly.

While there, the teachers must adopt Japanese customs. TheJapanese are a more communal people than Americans, who pridethemselves on individualism. For instance, in Japan, familiessponge-rinse themselves and then all use the same bath water.

It is an experience Wilson, and the other teachers, will sharewith their host families.

“Fortunately, they understand our customs, too,” she said with anervous laugh. “We’ll still all use the same bath water, but theysaid they’ll let us go first.”

Wilson is trying to learn as much of the Japanese language asshe can before the trip. She is not taking formal language classes,but a Japanese resident is assisting her.

Wilson became interested in Japan at age 9, when she befriendeda girl of Japanese heritage. During their friendship, the girl’scousin, a Japanese national, came to visit, and Wilson and theolder cousin became friends. Wilson asked her to write her a letterin Japanese with an English translation when she returned home.

Wilson still has the letter. The letter was double-spaced andwritten in Japanese characters. However, under each Japanese wordis the English equivalent.

While she is trying to learn the language, she is also teachingit to her second-grade gifted class.

“The best way for me to learn it is to teach it,” she said.”They get to learn some Japanese words and so do I.”

The language lessons are preparing the students to learn moreabout Japan when Wilson returns from her trip.

Although Wilson will have the opportunity to visit many culturalsites, her three-week learning spree through the country will berigorous and is not designed solely for fun and entertainment.

“They’ve told us it will be physically demanding and to be intop shape,” Wilson said. “I’ve had to have a physical. We will bedoing a lot of traveling to different areas and a lot ofwalking.”

At night, the teachers will attend workshops to learn aboutthey’ve seen and must draft lesson plans on how they intend toteach that information to their students.

“It’s very formal. The Japanese are a very traditional people.I’m going to immerse myself in it. I plan to be adventurous,”Wilson said. “There’s just so much to learn. I know I’m going tocome back a different person. I just know it’s going to change mylife.”