2019 J-LEAP Report: Nao Yokoyama



Cranford High School
Cranford, NJ

Konnichiwa! My name is Nao Yokoyama and I’m currently working as an assistant teacher at Cranford High School in New Jersey. Have you heard anything about New Jersey before? My answer was “yes and no”. I’ve known the name of the state, but I had no idea where the state was located and what it was famous for. When I was informed where I’d be going for J-LEAP, I needed to use a map to find out. It was then I realized, “Wow! It is very close to New York!! But extremely far from Japan!!”

-The Garden State-

New Jersey is located to the west of New York and is called “The Garden State”.  It is very easy to visit NY. For example I can even go to watch Broadway shows on weekdays after school. “The Garden State” is the perfect name because you can find a lot of green in this state. It was very beautiful when the leaves change their color and fall off the trees during autumn. New Jersey is convenient to commute to the city plus you can enjoy its magnificent natural landscape. However, driving on the highway here is quite scary because there are many wild drivers.

I live in Cranford, which is a small town. From here it takes about 45 minutes to get to NYC. When I arrived here, I fell in love with this small town. The houses are very old but are taken care very well, so they look very pretty. If possible, I would like to knock on each of the doors and ask the residents to see the inside of their pretty houses.

-Cranford High School-

Cranford High School, where I am teaching Japanese right now, was established in the early 19th century, so the history of this school is very long. It has about 1000 students from freshmen to seniors. Students here can choose which language to study, with choices like Spanish, French, Latin, German and Japanese.  Among the students, 104 of them are taking Japanese language. At our two middle schools, we have an additional 108 students from sixth to eighth grade learning Japanese. Currently, Wingate-sensei and I have five classes. From my perspective, about 80% of our students are Caucasian. Students have Japanese class three to four times a week and one class is 55 minutes. Some of the students started studying Japanese when they were 6th grade thanks to the Japanese classes in the two middle schools in Cranford. Thus, I think I can say Japanese language is quite popular and familiar here in Cranford. The students enrolled in the program enjoy Japanese language and culture every day. Many of them have personal hobbies related to Japanese, so they are very motivated to learn.

-My Work-

I am teaching Japanese with my lead teacher, Wingate-sensei. She is four years older than me, and she is very friendly, considerate, and open-minded. Since I met her at our initial training in Seattle, I feel she is like my elder sister but of course she is my colleague. She helps me with many things about my new life in the US. She always says, “The most important thing is that you enjoy your time and have a great experience here in the USA.” As she said, she is always concerned about me and she lets me have many experiences during my time here.

We are teaching students about not only traditional Japanese culture but also contemporary pop culture and its aesthetics. For example, we introduce seasonal events such as Otsukimi in September, and we took students on a field trip to Shofuso, a Japanese tea house in Philadelphia. It was built the exact same way as traditional Japanese houses and our students were able to partake in tea ceremony there. Wingate-sensei often shows Japanese pop cultures to students. I am very impressed by the reactions of our students and their eyes were very sparkly.

We have Japanese 1 to Japanese 4 right now, and each class has different students and atmosphere. It is not easy to teach but I can feel that our students are interested in Japan and really like the Japanese language.

Before I came here, I was teaching Japanese in Malaysia, but it was not a high school. Rather, it was for children to adults and the way to teach and how to communicate with students in the school there and here are very different. Therefore, in the beginning, I needed time to get used to the way Wingate-sensei teaches and how to interact with American students.

Lastly, the new chapter of my life has just begun. Wingate-sensei is always listening to my opinions and we share our thoughts to create fun, meaningful activities and skits for our classes. During these two years, I would like to learn class management and how to build good relationships with students like Wingate-sensei does. Furthermore, Wingate-sensei and I am going to create fun, engaging classes and continue to keep students interested in Japan and the Japanese language!

-Outside of School-

Currently, I have been residing with a host family Wingate-sensei found for me. Thanks to my host family, I could settle down and get used to my new life in the USA. I am very lucky that I could meet such a nice family here. Our house is very pretty and when my friends visit our house, they say, “What a pretty house!!” I have a host mother, two host brothers, and an exchange college student “sister” from China. My host mother takes me many places and she lets me have countless priceless experiences. Her sons are friendly and sometimes they become my English teachers. My new host sister from China teaches me what I don’t know about daily life in New Jersey. She understands me well because she also moved to USA three years ago from China, and she always introduces me to her friends. Because of my wonderful family, I better understand American culture, homemade food, seasonal events, and I have improved my English.

I appreciate all the support I've received from the Japan Foundation, the Laurasian Institution, my lead teacher, my host family, my friends and my family in Japan. Because of them, I've had such fulfilling and rewarding time in the USA, so far. One of my goals is for students to have more fun learning Japanese with me in a class and I would like to make students grow as active learners to be able to keep on learning. I will do my best to achieve my goal!

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