International schools like Seisen are in a completely different universe to the rest of Japan. Fortunately, in mid-September, the 9th graders had the chance to change that and go on a trip to visit Seisen’s Japanese sister school in Nagano. Unlike most school trips, they were given the opportunity to homestay with a Japanese family, attend school with their host sister and soak up the Japanese culture in another part of Japan.
In the two short days, they experienced life in Nagano. Mia M, (9) said that the place she stayed at for two days felt “fresher than Tokyo, due to the beautiful scenery and large amounts of mountains and hills close by.”
Many of us are used to packed trains, high rise buildings and multiple convenience stores per block. In Nagano, the nearest train stations are often not near residential areas. Beautiful meadows and trees mask the entire city. And as for the experience at school, Victoria.M (9) said that “overall, Nagano Seisen was definitely stricter with lots of rules regarding how the students should act both in and out of school” and that they had “long and unique morning routines which I thought was really cool”. One major difference between schools is the primary language. “In Seisen Nagano, Japanese was the primary language whereas, for Tokyo Seisen, it's English. For me, Seisen Nagano school felt more traditional in some ways” said Mia (9). The freshmen were exposed not just to the Japanese language in school but with their host families as well; although several students do not speak Japanese, communication did not seem to be as much of an obstacle as it may seem. Victoria mentioned, “the communication with the host family wasn't difficult” since she was able to understand what they were trying to convey and vice versa. Even when there were slight barriers, they could “communicate through pictures and hand gestures”.
Despite the mild culture shock that naturally comes when placed in a setting so different from everyday life, the students who took part in this trip learned many valuable things. “This trip helped me a lot with being able to communicate better in Japanese, I felt more confident in casual conversations. I also learned more about the temples in Japan and what a temples atmosphere is like”, Mia commented. Although they were only in Nagano for 48 hours, many of the students made friends with not just their own, but their peers’ host sisters as well, and intend to stay in touch with them.
International schools in Japan can be segregated from the rest of Japanese society; this might give students coming from other countries a sense of ease, which can be very beneficial in settling into a new environment. However, the lack of communication between schools like Seisen and a “normal” Japanese school just down the street is very significant, and there would be nothing to lose by creating more opportunities similar to the Nagano trip because it can be advantageous in more than one aspect. Ninth graders felt this way as well and expressed how they felt that they “do believe international schools are somewhat segregated for Japanese schools, education wise, and cultural wise,” and that younger grades should have a trip where they can experience something like this. It is important to consider, learn about, and experience bits of the world around us. Trips like these come with a handful of benefits; while soaking in the Japanese culture in a place that almost feels like a different world compared to Tokyo and Seisen International School, they also made friends with people outside of the very tight-knit international school community here. The 9th graders’ trip is definite proof of the successes in this; a big contrast to life that they were used to, but the two nights spent there ultimately resulted in lasting bonds and lessons learned.