Concordia Japanese tea ceremony
Program Insights

Innovation and Connection: Concordia Educators Visit Japan

By The Room 241 Team August 29, 2018

Traveling abroad with other educators can expand your thinking and provide personal and professional inspiration. Lori Sanchez, EdD, professor in Concordia’s College of Education, recently led a graduate study abroad experience to Japan with 15 graduate students. We connected with a few of these Cavaliers to find out what they learned from Japan’s education system and how they benefited from this unique group travel experience.


A Higashi Agano Elementary School student teaches others how to do a math problem. In another area, a boy teaches a different group.

Examining Japan’s education system

Observing and analyzing a different education system can benefit teachers in a variety of ways. Cavalier Bonnie Atwater says, “As an educator, I wanted a firsthand experience with Japan’s education system. I really enjoyed the interaction with the students and instructors. Students were intensely engaged in learning even during our group’s presence, which reflected home and cultural expectations.”

Margarita Gibson said she learned that “educators in Japan have many of the same struggles that we have in the U.S. and are willing to share their experiences with us and learn about ours in order to help each other. For example, they are learning that rote learning has limited benefits; it is also important to give students room and time to use their creativity and technology as they learn.”


A vocational school in Japan.

Unexpected findings

Ashley Schmitt, who is pursuing her EdD in Higher Education, said that it was “eye-opening” to see different higher education institutions in Japan. “Their vocational school was amazing with the different classrooms designed as either an airline cabin, hotel room, train car, or ticketing counter. I thought this was quite innovative and helpful to their students. Higher education institutions are very similar to our own in that students must take an entrance exam and prestige is factored into which schools students want to attend and in hiring decisions.”

Bonnie Atwater said, “It was surprising to witness the universal level of recycling efforts in each city we visited. Recycle containers are everywhere: city streets, hotels, stores, train stations. The country supports the commitment to cleanliness and recycling by providing staff to regularly collect it.”

View from the group’s hotel in Hakone, Japan with Mt. Fuji in the distance.

Traveling with Concordia and EF Tours

Schmitt said she enjoyed traveling with a trusted company that took care of all accommodations and excursions. “I could really enjoy the trip because I did not have to worry about those things. We traveled to a number of locations and it was like an insider’s guide to Japan.”

Schmitt also loved connecting with other Cavaliers. “We were able to have great conversations about what we were seeing and doing. I was able to meet others in the EdD program and discuss our dissertation topics and research. The connections made were great and we are now able to help each other with our dissertations.”


Japanese Wishing Tree: Wishes are hung on bamboo trees. Bamboo tends to grow very tall and straight, allowing wishes to rise to heaven. More info here.

Appreciating small moments

Sometimes it isn’t about the big, landmark moments on a trip; small moments can be just as meaningful. Gibson said she enjoyed the “mystery walks,” which were “early morning walks to the park or temple to join the community for daily morning exercise.” She loved being able to connect with locals. “It was so wonderful to feel welcomed by the people in the neighborhood. It was an authentic cultural learning experience.” Even chatting over breakfast was an enjoyable time since they were able to share insights with colleagues and “talk about our experiences during the trip and in the program, and about our research and give each other advice and encouragement.”

Memorable experiences abroad can fill teachers with fascinating stories and professional insights, and as Gibson says about their time in Japan, “there are too many benefits from this trip to mention.”

Looking ahead: the next graduate abroad experience

If you are a current student or alum of Concordia’s College of Education, you’re invited to join Lori Sanchez, EdD and other educators on their next adventure with EF Tours: Finland in March of 2019.

More information

9 Ways Japanese Schools are Different From American Schools

Japan Might Be What Equality in Education Looks Like

What Graduate Students Can Expect When Studying Abroad with Concordia

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