Skip to main content

At CAS Trips, we believe that true cultural immersion is essential for a meaningful educational experience. When we had the privilege of organizing a trip to Japan for students from The Awty International School recently, we seized the opportunity to cultivate a deep appreciation for Japanese culture and tradition. We aimed to go beyond surface-level interactions and provide students with a transformative journey.

During their time in Japan, the students were immersed in a vibrant tapestry of cultural experiences facilitated by locals. One such encounter was with Eddie, a survivor of the devastating 2011 tsunami and an integral part of his community. He graciously shared his personal story, offering invaluable insights into the resilience and spirit of the Japanese people.

Guiding the students through significant sites, including his own hotel that served as a shelter during the tsunami recovery, Eddie provided a unique and firsthand perspective. This direct engagement with the local community not only added depth and richness to the students’ learning opportunities, but also fostered a connection with the essence of Japanese culture. 

To gain more insight into what made the Awty crew’s trip to Japan so special, ultimately motivating students to create a wonderful video encapsulating their journey, we spoke with Tairong Zheng, IB CAS Coordinator and Secondary School Chinese teacher. Together, we delved into the trip’s impact and explored the standout projects and activities that contributed to an unforgettable educational trip to Japan.

Traveling abroad can be a transformative experience for students. In what ways do you believe this trip to Japan has influenced your students’ personal growth, cultural understanding, and global awareness?

The Japan trip is the very first trip to Asia for most of the students. Students not only embraced cultural differences but also got to learn some highlights of Japanese culture. For example, we met residents living on the islands and got to see how regular Japanese protect their citizen’s safety by teaching them at a very young age how to be cautious and learn survival skills for earthquakes, fire, etc. Students also involved themselves in the senior center, communicated with senior citizens with dementia about the value of life, sang songs together, and were involved in various interactive activities. 

Collaborating with local community members often provides an impactful educational experience. How did your partnership with Eddie and the community enhance the learning opportunities for your students? 

While visiting the tsunami site, Mr. Eddie shared his personal experience by telling us the story of his family and the community who survived the Tsunami while guiding us through the reserved area. Students gained knowledge directly from the survivor, leading to meaningful learning. After coming back to Houston, Mr. Eddie showed us an article and a video in more detail of what he did to involve younger generations to learn from it after the Tsunami. During the subsequent advisory session, we connected with Mr. Eddie via Zoom and had a discussion in-depth about it. 

As an educator, what strategies did you employ to ensure that the learnings from this trip would extend beyond the travel experience? How do you plan to incorporate the lessons from Japan into your classroom teaching and ongoing discussions with your students?

We planned for the trip long before departure. We gathered students together in various advisory sessions before and after. We invited our school’s Japanese teacher to share some knowledge with us. During the trip, students had a positive and fun experience achieving all CAS components: Creativity-Activity-Service. Students reflected on their personal gaining from the trip. A group of students volunteered to make a 5-minute video to present and highlight the journey and share it with the Awty community. 

Building connections with individuals from different cultures is often a valuable outcome of educational trips. Have any of your students expressed a continued interest in maintaining contact with Eddie or the community in Japan? 

Yes, after the trip, we connected with Mr. Eddie and the local guide Mr. Masaya via Zoom to communicate with our students via Zoom. According to the students, Mr. Eddie and Mr. Masaya were very knowledgeable and shared their precious experiences with them, which all of us were grateful for. I am looking forward to continuing the journey by introducing new Awty groups in the following years. I am also open to any opportunities that may help deepen the partnership between Awty and this trip. 

Reflecting on the trip, what were the most significant takeaways for you and your students? 

Our students had a great time in Japan. The new culture, the friendship they made with Mr. Eddie and Mr. Masaya, and the learning experience were incredibly positive and insightful. Our students will carry this experience with them for a long time to come. We felt welcomed warmly by everyone we met on the trip. The country is clean and very organized. We definitely enjoyed this experience. 

Many thanks to Tairong and the students of Awty International School for making this trip such a memorable one! We are delighted to share this video they created to share their experiences with the broader school community and beyond. And, of course, to our local partners in Japan. These connections between students and individuals from different cultures are invaluable. We do not doubt that the trip expanded their horizons and left students with a sense of gratitude and appreciation for the people and culture they encountered. 

Feature image credits: Jase Bloor via Unsplash.