Studying Japan with 'Yuriko sensai'

May 02, 1994|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Sun Staff Writer

Worthington Elementary School students who are studying about Japan are getting first-hand lessons.

Yuriko Yamaguchi, a 28-year-old teacher and native of Japan, is at the Ellicott City school to teach third-graders about Japanese life and culture as they learn about her country through a social studies unit.

Miss Yamaguchi arrived in the United States two weeks ago as part of a Japanese-American exchange program. She will teach at the school for nine months.

"I'm here to teach children in America about the real Japan and Japanese heart," says Miss Yamaguchi, a petite, enthusiastic woman with shoulder-length hair and a pleasant smile. "I do hope they will enjoy my classes about Japan. I hope they give me as bright smiles as Japanese children [do]."

She comes as a nonsalaried intern through International Internship Programs, a 15-year-old, Tokyo-based organization that sets up exchange programs between Japanese residents and educators with school systems worldwide, including Canada, Australia, Great Britain and now eastern European countries.

Fran Donaldson, Worthington's principal, applied to the program to give her students a chance at first-hand lessons.

"It's been great," Ms. Donaldson says. "I hope students learn a lot about Japanese culture and that everyone all over the world is like us. They have different cultures and customs, but they have a lot of things in common."

Miss Yamaguchi teaches elementary and middle school students in Nagoya, Japan's third-largest city. She graduated from Doshisha University with a law degree in 1989.

Her students at Worthington call her "Yuriko sensai," loosely translated as "Yuriko teacher." They've learned to say "konnichiwa," or "good morning," and "Ohayo," as in the state Ohio, for "hello." They're learning other words. During a recent lesson using a popular Japanese cartoon, students learned such phrases as "jagaimo" (potatoes), "tamago" (eggs) and "tama-negi" (onions).

Although Miss Yamaguchi, no relation to Japanese-American skater Kristi Yamaguchi, could have chosen other countries for the program, she wanted to come to the United States to learn more about its people and culture.

"I like to learn more about America," she says. "I don't mean only English, but how things are done differently here. This is what my students in Japan want to know. I have too little knowledge about America, so I can't satisfy them a lot.

"The other reason is I hope to see the smiles of children," she says. "I know all my children in Japan look very happy when they know something new about America."

She brought with her Japanese videos, songs, pictures and television shows. She'll teach about different aspects of Japanese life, including the famous art of paper folding, called "origami" -- "ori" for folding and "gami" for paper.

She'll also demonstrate Japan's tea ceremonies, an ancient tradition that involves intricate etiquette.

"She's doing a good job," says Florine James, a Worthington third-grade teacher. "The students love her. She's learning how to play soccer with them. She eats with them."

Students say they enjoy her lessons.

"She makes things out of paper -- airplanes, boats, lobsters," says E. J. Parlier, a 9-year-old third-grader.

"We learned how to write our names in Japanese," said 8-year-old Ryan Baer.

Miss Yamaguchi says the United States is more beautiful and better than she had imagined.

"One thing that surprised me is I can see many kids of different HTC races," she said. "I can know many races of people and become friends."

In addition to her classroom duties, Miss Yamaguchi will teach a handful of students a Japanese dance and help others in a school play, "Little Red Riding Hood," both scheduled to be performed at the end of the school year.

There will be a slant to the play, though: The heroine will enter a bamboo forest and encounter such animals as a butterfly and a turtle, both of which will try to persuade her not to go to her grandmother's house.

Though she expounds on Japan's culture and way of life, Miss Yamaguchi says her young students, their parents and Worthington's staff are her teachers.

"I would be happy if they taught me everything about America's ways," she says.

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