Thomson High School teacher Kelly Flanders is living a dream come true as she prepares to visit Japan later this year as a participant in the Fulbright Memorial Fund Teacher Program.
The drama and English teacher has long been interested in the Far East and, at one time, even considered teaching in Hong Kong. Now, she will get a first hand taste of the culture while observing the educational system as a guest of the Japanese government.
"My plans of going to the Far East are realized," said Mrs. Flanders, who was named McDuffie County teacher of the year in January.
"This is an incredible opportunity -- one that I am blessed to have happen to me," she said.
Mrs. Flanders is one of 200 educators selected nationwide to go to Japan for three weeks starting Nov. 14. After returning, they will share what they learned with students and their communities.
As part of the Fulbright Memorial Fund Teacher Program, participants will undergo an orientation to Japanese culture and etiquette, including tips on such diverse issues as the proper way to receive business cards.
"They (business cards) are considered a gift. You must treat them with respect," Mrs. Flanders said.
After meeting with government and education officials in Tokyo, the American teachers will travel in groups of 20 to outlying areas. Mrs. Flanders' group will be based in Isahaya, near Nagasaki.
The American teachers, who will be staying with host families, will study the nationally run education system which claims a 100 percent literacy rate. Although there is no kindergarten, the school day is longer in Japan and students attend more days per year, Mrs. Flanders noted.
Otherwise, the system is similar to that of the United States with a primary level of education for grades 1 to 6, a middle school for grades 7 through 9, and high school for grades 10 through 12, she said.
In addition to studying education in general, Mrs. Flanders, a drama teacher, will focus on the Kyogen style of classical Japanese theater.
She will learn the intricacies of Kyogen theater and return with props and ideas on how to incorporate it into the program at Thomson High School.
"Next year, my students will do a Kyogen play," she said. "It (Kyogen) is a humorous type of theater with big gestures."
Kyogen, marked by stylized movements, contains a lot of action and uses a certain number of plots over and over, she explained.
In addition to studying the Japanese education system, the American teachers will visit cultural sites and will have one free weekend. Mrs. Flanders said she hopes to visit the ancient city of Kyoto during that time. Kyoto, which has about 2,000 shrines and other numerous interesting sites, was largely untouched by bombing during WWII.
The Fulbright Memorial Fund Teacher Program allows distinguished educators to study and travel in Japan in an effort to promote greater intercultural understanding between the two nations, according to a news release from the Institute of International Education.