Principal Aaron Cook recently returned from a trip to help launch the Japanese foreign language program at Marysville High School
Cook was one of 14 U.S. educators chosen to travel with the Japan Foundation. From June 27 to July 5, he visited Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Marysville’s sister city, Yorii.
The Marysville school district is adding Japanese language courses at both the high school and Bunsold Middle School this fall and also exploring a potential exchange program with Yorii.
“Everybody on the trip was either doing something similar to what we’re doing next year or doing full-on immersion programs. There were a couple of schools that already had Japanese at their school but were trying to figure out how to make a stronger program and open an exchange piece for their students,” Cook said.
Participants included principals, assistant superintendents and state education officials from such places as California, Georgia, Indiana, Virginia and Washington.
The trip was funded by the Japan Foundation, which was established in 1972 by the Foreign Ministry and is the first organization specializing in international cultural exchange in Japan.
“It was amazing. I had never traveled internationally before so I can’t speak to other cultures. But the Japanese culture was extremely friendly,” Cook said.
Each day included meetings with government and education officials.
“One of the goals of the Japanese Foundation is art and culture, so they really wanted to expose us to the art and culture of Japan – museums, temples, food – we did a lot of those things,” Cook said.
Japanese cuisine was something Cook said might be a tough adjustment for future exchange students.
“I’m always willing to try new food and the food was really good, but some of the more formal, traditional meals were a lot of raw fish, fish eggs, fish that hadn’t been skinned or still had the faces on it,” Cook said. “I tried a lot of things and most of it was really good. But I think about students going over, and that’s a challenge.”
Cook said a highlight of the trip was visiting Yorii. He spent 45 minutes on a bullet train on his third day in Japan to meet with city and education officials there.
“I got to see the Honda facility very similar to ours, how they’re trying to create energy so they rely less on nuclear energy. (I) got to see their agricultural hub and I actually ate lunch there with city officials. They served some of the same things they were harvesting,” Cook said.
“I met with principals and educators at one of their local high schools, got to meet the director of the state board of education for Yorii and finished the evening with dinner with city officials.”
Cook said the experience will help him relate to students enrolled in Marysville’s Japanese courses.
“It will help in terms of bringing back an appreciation for the language, for the culture, the importance of the exchange, and to be able to observe those classes and to interact with those kids in those classes,” he said.
This fall, 100 students are signed up to learn Japanese at the high school, with 75 registered at Bunsold.
Iya Dombrovskaya will teach Japanese at the high school, and Daniel Sakamoto will teach at Bunsold. Dombrovskaya was hired by the school board in May, Sakamoto in June, at annual salaries of $41,056.
The district also will participate in a distance learning program with 25 students at North Union High School.
“We will live-stream the teaching to North Union. Twice a week, as part of Iya’s duty period, we will send her to North Union so they can also experience having a live teacher in the room,” Cook said.
The trip left Cook with a deeper understanding of how students at MHS need to learn.
“I think it’s just the start of a wonderful opportunity for our community and our students to hopefully get to experience learning about language, art, culture in regards to Japan, and hopefully we can get an exchange started sooner rather than later,” he said.