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Web Extra: Japanese Students Learn about Education and Social Issues


Japanese Students Learn about Education and
Social Issues

Two students from the Tokyo University of Social Welfare teach elementary school students in Washington Heights about Japanese culture.
Photo by Bruce Gilbert

By Patrick Verel

A 23-year-old link between Japan and Fordham was strengthened last summer when the Graduate School of Social Service hosted a dozen students from the Tokyo University of Social Welfare.

The students were in New York City to learn about social issues and services in the United States as part of a course that ran from July 15-25. During that time, they experienced a mix of lectures and tours that took them all over the city.

On Tuesday, July 22, the students learned how the New York City public education system has been radically overhauled in a presentation by Anita Batisti, associate dean of the Graduate School of Education at Fordham and director of the Fordham Center for Education Partnerships.

Afterward, several students said they were intrigued by the way American teachers share counseling duties with others. Hisami Matsumura, a native of the city of Shibukawa, was impressed that the New York City government, board of education and higher education institutions such as Fordham are working together to improve public education.

“These things are very interesting to me, because in Japan only the board of education works for students,” she said. “Sometimes teachers don’t share their opinions with universities. They don’t work together.”

Batisti’s presentation was reinforced the following day when the students toured Public School 325 and Public School 4 in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, two schools for which Fordham is a Partnership Support Organization.

In addition, they traveled to agencies including Highbridge WoodyCrest, a residential center for people with HIV; Children’s Village, a residential treatment center for abused children in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.; and a senior center in Flushing, Queens, run by Selfhelp Community Services, according to Martha Bial, Ph.D., director of the Japanese and American Institute in Gerontology. She added that most of the students are interested in careers in social work, but had never left Japan.

“They learn something about social problems and social solutions in this country that will give them a point of comparison in their own society,” she said.

Some of the differences that they encounter are obvious, such as the misperception that everyone in the United States owns a gun. But Bial added that the students were surprised to see how happy residents of Children’s Village were.

“Much like kids here, they have an impression of old people as withdrawn from society, so when they go to Selfhelp and see people doing all sorts of things, they enjoy that,” she said.

Likewise, American culture places much higher importance on seniors staying active than in Japan.

“Their statistics will tell you the number of people who are bedridden; we don’t have anything like that,” Bial said.

This is changing though, as the percentage of Japanese families with an elderly resident living in their home has plummeted recently to 50 percent from a high of 80 percent. By contrast, Bial said the figure in the United States is about 15 percent.

“There are global trends, such as women working and people living longer, so countries all over the world are facing the same challenges,” she said. “In many ways, the countries are more alike than dissimilar.”

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