Kiyomi Yamashita

Her junior high school students in Japan love movies and songs from the United States.  Teacher Kiyomi Yamashita wishes they would show similar enthusiasm for American-style classroom participation.

“Students here don’t hesitate to ask questions or share their thoughts,” says Kiyomi, who is finishing up a two-month visit to Washington State University.  “We Japanese think too much about what others think of us. We wear the same uniforms, eat the same lunch.  I’ve decided to encourage my students to give their opinions, even if their opinions are different. It will be my biggest challenge.”

She is in Pullman thanks to a longstanding partnership between the WSU College of Education and the Nishinomiya school system.  She’s devoted much of her time to improving her English, with the help of WSU’s Intensive American Language Center.

Kiyomi began studying English at age 13.  At 32, she is learning all the doors that mastery of the language can open.  To take that message back to her own students, she decided to make a video of two Japanese exchange students describing their experiences at WSU.  Both Takato Hara and Miki Kano told her that they hadn’t been keen on learning English when they were in junior high, but now they’re eager.  One communication tip they shared:  Simply saying “My name is … ” is a good way to start a conversation.

Kiyomi’s impressions of U.S. classrooms have been shaped by a visit to Pullman’s Lincoln Middle School, plus sitting in on a WSU course in classroom management taught by Assistant Professor Hal Jackson. “She’s been a pleasure to have in class,” says Hal. “She’s surprised by how frequently college students participate in discussion.”

Weekends have taken Kiyomi to the Nishinomiya sister city of Spokane, which she visited on her first trip to the U.S. two years ago; to Seattle, to visit a teacher friend; and to Los Angeles, where she played tourist in Beverly Hills, Hollywood and Santa Monica.

Interviewing Miki Kano, left, and Takato Hara

Being at WSU has also whetted her appetite for international travel. She’s met students from other countries and realized she could converse with them in English. The experience, she says, has “opened my mind.”

Kiyomi will return to Japan with memories of many kind, friendly people who laugh a lot. That could be because her ready smile prompts smiles in return, whatever language is being spoken around her.