Education for Expat Kids – or: So I Entered A Blog Contest

Japan flagThis blog is lucky enough to be listed on a great site for expats across the globe called Expats Blog.  In fact, look at it on May 21st (don’t worry, I’ll remind you) and I’ll have a featured interview on the site.  But for today, please go look at it to see my entry in their blog contest.  The theme of the contest is International schools, a subject near to my heart since I have one child at Nishimachi and the other at The American School in Japan (ASIJ) so I can’t help but compare them sometimes.

For the contest, bloggers had to write about education abroad and/or international schools, but I wanted to focus on a more specific aspect of the kids’ schooling rather than writing a post about general education in Japan.  I chose to write about Japanese language skills.

I haven’t written much about our language abilities lately, but suffice to say, I’m rapidly becoming the dummy in the house as the kids’ language skills – writing, reading and speaking – improve rapidly with daily instruction and weekly tutor support.  But, as you will see in the post, the kids are learning different Japanese.  My son is learning Japanese as a foreign language at ASIJ and my daughter is taught more natively at NIS, which has a strong bilingual program.  It’s an interesting contrast as my daughter chats easily with friends, while my son corrects her grammar.  They’re both learning beautifully, but differently.  It’s neat to watch.

In entering these Expats Blog contests, I am eligible to win prizes.  One of the prizes is for comments on my post on their site.  So please click to read the post (here) and then, if you’re so moved, write a comment.

If you normally enjoy my posts, then you will really enjoy this one on Japanese language learning in international schools.  Give it a look and let me know what you think.  Expats Blog is a great site – and a wonderful place for expats to go for information.  I’m thrilled to be listed on their site!


Today I wore yukata for the first time.  Putting it on was a whole process that took nearly half an hour, but it was worth it.  Thank you to Kitamura-sensei at Nishimachi International school for dressing me properly.  I started with a plain white t-shirt and white shorts underneath.  The Japanese wear a small slip-like item that ties in the front.  Then the yukata goes on.  After that, there is a tie around the hips and a special “puffing” out so that the hem comes up.  It doesn’t matter how tall or short one is – a yukata fits.  (One of my friends is so skinny that sensei had to make folds in the cloth so it wouldn’t appear so huge – there were perfect little tucks all across her back when the sensei was finished.)  Then there’s a string around my waist, nice and snug.  The finishing touch is the obi, which can be tied in many many different ways.  An obi is nearly 9 feet long – it wraps around me twice, and then it’s thrown over my shoulder to start the bow, and pulled back to finish off.  Here are a number of steps in the process:


The hip tie

At this point it took two “dressers” to help me.


Putting on – “wearing” – the yukata is an art.  Not everyone knows how to do it properly.








Starting the obi process

Making a very complex bow.

Here I am ready to serve the odango for otsukimi – moon watching, which is the reason I was doing this in the first place. More on the festival later.


From start to finish, it was quite an experience.  It was snug, but not overly tight.  A yukata differs from a kimono in its formality and fabric.  The yukata are lighter in weight, and mostly worn in summer and therefore,  they are less formal. While it was snug, it wasn’t uncomfortable.  I actually felt very um…supported.  I felt all loose when I took it off.  It was a very interesting sensation – putting it on and removing it.

A Hopeful Sign – Writing About My Daughter

Sydney, with her bag that weighs more than she does, heads to Nishimachi

I don’t normally link my writing here, but this piece seemed pertinent. My latest work is up on the “A Hopeful Sign” website.  It’s a nice piece about my daughter and how she has defied my fears to have a wonderful transition to her new school.

The link is HERE

And the text in its entirety is Here:

Right now, my daughter is my hero.  Oh, not a hero in the classical sense of doing something magical, but in a general life sense – the way she is handling her life at the moment is nothing short of heroic.

Sydney is nine and cute enough that she knows it.  She has a mass of blonde, curly hair that spills down past her shoulders.  Often when meeting her, her hair is striking enough to elicit comments from strangers.  Up until now, Sydney has gotten by on her cuteness.  She has always been able to get people to do things for her, even her older brother.

My husband and I realized when she was in second grade that she was not learning as fast as the other kids.  First grade had been fine, a real jump in her reading and math, so we knew was as smart as the other kids in her international Montessori school; it was that she would rely on the other kids in the class to “help” her with her work.  We had her reading ability tested, and it came out just fine.  She was more than capable of learning, but wasn’t doing it. We gave it another year, but by the middle of third grade, we were positive that the Montessori method of learning was not for Sydney, as she would be able to slide by with the path of least resistance.  For most kids, my son for example, the ability, in a Montessori classroom, to choose one’s own work and be responsible for every action is motivating and empowering.  It seemed that for Sydney, it was an invitation to laziness.   For an entire year, I had been tutoring her at home, forcing her to do extra work after school, and through the summer. I knew how smart she was, just not motivated.  Heck, my grandmother used to say that you have to be smart to be manipulative, and Sydney could manipulate any situation to her advantage.

So last spring, after the earthquake, we worked to get Sydney into a different International school .  Our first choice for her was the big American school, where our son would be a seventh grader in the fall.  I don’t really know what happened since they’re not obligated to tell me, but somehow she screwed up the interview and screening and they wouldn’t let her progress to fourth grade.  They would take her, but only if she stayed back and repeated third grade.  We knew things weren’t that dire – she was missing skills; there was nothing wrong with her innate abilities.  You don’t hold a kid back for that – you catch her up.  In desperation, we applied to a school that we had never considered before , even though it is a three-minute walk from our house.  Nishimachi has a reputation for being very strict, and as Montessori parents, it wasn’t what we wanted for our children.  But we stopped to think – maybe strict was precisely what Sydney needed.

When Nishimachi agreed to let Sydney into their fourth grade, the deal was sealed.  From Sydney, there were tears and protests.  Why couldn’t she just stay at the Montessori?  Why didn’t the American school want her?  If she had to change schools, at least she had friends at the American school! She really gave us the business. I understood and my heart went out to her.  I knew, as an adult, that this was the first time she didn’t get precisely what she wanted, but it wouldn’t be the last in her life.

Then I realized Sydney needed some type of transition plan for the summer to ready her for a traditional, non-Montessori classroom, the first of her life. More protests; more wailing.  I felt terrible, of course, but she really needed some help that I wasn’t prepared to give her. I settled on Sidwell Friends in Washington D.C.  It had a program that was half-day camp and half-day academic.  It might be just the boost she needed and fun, to boot.

The first day of Sidwell, Sydney held tightly to my hand as we met her class on the field with the other campers.  She didn’t let go until they were headed inside when she gave a brave little wave and followed the other kids.  By the second day, she thrived.  The teachers there told me that she had a good attitude toward learning, which was a first for us.  They didn’t find that she was too far behind the other kids, and when she was, she worked to understand the concept.  She met nice kids, and in the end, she became much more independent.  She was proud of herself.

It was a different kid who finished the summer than started.  On that first day of Nishimachi, she held tightly to my hand, but when we were in the school yard, she looked around for the buddy that they had assigned to her and walked with her new friend into the classroom.  Now, a week and a half later, she is telling everyone how much she loves her new school, and what a relief it is to always know what is expected of her.  She is doing homework for the first time.  She has had ups and downs on the playground in the past ten days as she meets new kids, but she is working through that, too.  She is learning what it means to make friends because she is not in the comfort zone of her wonderful, but tiny Montessori classroom. She likes her teacher a lot and strives to please her. She is looking forward to this week when she gets to go to the art room for the first time.  This week, she went out on a limb and ran for class president – she really put herself out there.  And she won! She is, in short, thriving.

It would have been easy for Sydney to falter in the face of these changes.  To a nine-year-old, school is her whole life and we yanked that rug out from under her.  She has handled all of it with minimal drama and a lot of grace.  My daughter is blooming where her parents have planted her.  And I have a funny feeling that this is just the beginning.  I expect some beautiful blossoms in the next few months.