Japanese teacher learns ‘life skills’

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Japanese teacher Nimura Michiko says she’s been the one doing the learning in classes at a remote northern Vietnamese school.

“It is actually me who has learned lots of things about culture and love from the students,” said Michiko when asked about what her kids at the Tan My Primary School in rural Bac Giang Province have learned in class.

“Tan My has helped give my life new meaning.”

For more than a year now, Michiko has been learning all she can about local life and speaking Vietnamese as often as possible. But she still greets everyone with a Japanese bow.

She landed the job as a physical education and art teacher in the mountainous area as a volunteer for the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteer Program launched by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

The 33-year-old from a middle class family in Nagoya, Aichi Province, said she applied to JICA because her travels had shown her that not everyone lived as comfortably as her and she had a duty to dedicate herself to others.

She said that’s why she was destined to end up in a poor place like Bac Giang.


The Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteer (JOVC) Program has thus far sent more than 270 volunteers to Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang and Can Tho and 13 provinces in Vietnam. The volunteers serve in different fields including health, sports, rural development, education, information service, tourism, forestation and Japanese language instruction.

Established in 1965, JOCV has gathered more than 1,400 young Japanese volunteers to provide official technical assistance at the grassroots level in developing countries. The volunteers work for two years to contribute their skills, knowledge and experience to socio-economic development in the host countries and to enhance the friendly relations between them and Japan. Living expenses for the volunteers are paid by Japan.

“Life is more valuable when we help others and it also helps us be more responsible to ourselves.”

She chose Vietnam because she wanted the hands-on experience of teaching kids directly, whereas with programs in other countries, she would have only been allowed to advise other teachers.

Her decision appears to have paid off, both for Michiko and her students.

“Michiko’s class is always cheerful and relaxing while the children remain focused. The children love her methods and she keeps kids interested in their work,” said Tan My principal Hoang Thi Minh.

Michiko, who taught at Sakae High School and the Kutsukake

Primary School in Japan for years, is Tan My’s first arts and gym teacher to have specialized in the subjects. Usually, the school just asks teachers from other disciplines to teach such classes.

But Michiko doesn’t think there’s anything less important about gym and art than math or science.

“Any subject, whether minor or major, can be valuable to students. I always prepare the lesson very carefully before class.”

She carries with her to each class a bag filled with handballs and jump ropes for gym and paper and materials for art class. She bought everything herself.

She’s taught her students to say hello and thank you in Japanese and given out candy from her home country anytime her friends or family visit from Japan.

“She’s taught me about cherry blossoms and I know about Japan now,” Nguyen Thuy Linh, a fifth-grader, said.

“She looks different and she’s funny,” said another boy.

The children call her “Cheery Michiko.”

Doan Thi Loan, a teacher at the school, said she felt no distance between Michiko and the children when they interact, according to online newspaper VnExpress.

“No one else in this school can do that.”

Reported by Phan Hau

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