Eisenhower teacher visits Japan on summer fellowship

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published August 26, 2015

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A local teacher’s learning didn’t stop over the summer, thanks to a rare fellowship opportunity to engage in cultural understanding across the Pacific.

Eisenhower High School history teacher Henry Rehn was one of 10 U.S. educators who recently took part in the 2015 Keizai Koho Center Teacher Fellowship.

According to the center, which is a Japanese institute for social and economic affairs, the June 30-July 9 fellowship program mainly took place in Tokyo and Kyoto. It was themed around secondary education in the two countries and “what U.S. teachers see as the differences and challenges for Japan.”
Rehn said he found out about the fellowship through friends and through past workshops, and decided to apply for it after taking previous fellowships in Germany. He said he used to teach a world studies class through Utica Community Schools, and his brother-in-law has worked and lived in Japan.

“It’s just been a place that I’ve always had an interest in,” he said.

Within a span of 10 days, Rehn visited two high schools and several companies. He stayed an extra five days to explore the country, visit some UNESCO Heritage sites, and watch some baseball and soccer.

Rehn said fellowship participants had a chance to meet U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy.

“We got invited to the U.S. embassy in Tokyo, and while we were there, the liaison who met with us, he told us … ‘Ambassador Kennedy wants to meet you guys and talk to you about teaching in Japan,’” he said.

“And all the sudden, Caroline Kennedy walks in with a Starbucks coffee in her hand and basically sits down and starts talking to us. We didn’t think she’d take the time out of her day to start talking to us. … She encouraged us to see a lot of Japan.”

Rehn described the Japanese people as very friendly and proud of their work. He learned about some of Japan’s economic issues, including the demographic graying of its population and the predicted strain on social programs.

He said Japan’s economic competition has become fiercer in East Asia.

“The Chinese have become quite an economic powerhouse, and the South Koreans are right next to them,” he said. “(The Japanese) are facing a lot of these things, trying to hold onto their market share.”

Meanwhile, the upcoming generation of Japanese youth is under pressure to succeed academically so they can enroll in the best schools, Rehn explained.

“The students were very driven to success, and it was expected of them that they would succeed,” he said. “Japanese society expects a lot out of even the young, so they’re asked to work hard and not let anybody down.”

On a positive note for him, the stronger U.S. dollar and weaker yen helped make Rehn’s stay more affordable.

“I was getting nice hotels for less than $100 a night,” he said. “The food was just sensational there too.”

Amy Boots, executive director of the Japan-America Society of Pennsylvania, said she accompanied the fellowship participants in Japan and helped offer cultural explanations and translations when needed.

She said in an email that the visits with government workers, companies, teachers and students gave the participants insight into opportunities and challenges that educators face in both countries.

“(This) allows the teacher to move beyond what is normally taught in the U.S. — mostly World War II history, samurai and current headlines — and experience current Japanese society,” she explained.

Although the Japan trip is over, Rehn said he will be required to complete a lesson plan based on what he learned in Japan. He said his lesson plan will compare U.S. skyscrapers with Tokyo’s and explore the reasons why cities choose to build them.

“My specialty is obviously Detroit and Chicago with skyscrapers,” he said.

Learn about the Keizai Koho Center by visiting www.kkc.or.jp/english. Find out more about Utica Community Schools by visiting www.uticak12.org or by calling (586) 797-1000.

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