Keio Program

From August 5th to the 20th, I served as a classroom instructor (CI) for the immersive Keio/W&M Cross-Cultural Collaboration. For two weeks, twenty-five students from Japan’s Keio University visited William and Mary to practice their English skills, learn about United States history and society, and complete a research project comparing American and Japanese cultures. Today, I’ll tell you about my experience as a first-time instructor in this special program.

The students and staff of the Keio/W&M Program, 2019.

Keio students had a full schedule from the moment they landed at Dulles, and for all activities, students were expected to speak, write, listen to, and think in English. A typical day included a morning lecture on a topic pertaining to American culture, a dialogue class, lunch, an afternoon research session at the library for their group projects, and dinner. Toward the end of their stay in Williamsburg, students presented their group projects to the rest of the class, with each presentation taking about 20 minutes. Topics included elementary school transportation, perceptions of elderly drivers, the nature and function of vending machines, cash-spending habits, and women-only transportation.

My wonderful dialogue class. I had nine students total. Left to right in each row. Top row: Koryu Ikeshita, Yu Horiguchi. Middle Row: Maho Arito, Miu Nishimura, Fumiho Tanaka. Bottom row: Kaori Sano, Manai Suzuki, Kimika Kariya, Haruna Fujimaki. These pictures were taken on the day we visited churches, hence why we’re all dressed up.

The dialogue class was my biggest responsibility as a classroom instructor. For an hour an a half every day, we’d talk about the content of the lectures we’d just heard, with the guest lecturer stopping by for 15 minutes to answer questions. I usually started the class by having students write down a question for the guest lecturer, as students could refer to the text when talking to the professor. While we waited for the professor to stop by, I’d have the students go around the room and share a thought or observation about the topic. Once the professor arrived, I’d have the students ask their questions. Since we usually couldn’t get to everyone in 15 minutes, I’d have the remaining students ask their questions to me, and I’d answer them as best as I could. I also had students occasionally break into pairs or small groups to talk about specific discussion questions, as it was less intimidating than speaking in front of the entire class. Finally, we’d usually wrap up with a few presentations of memory books, which were small autobiographical PowerPoints that each of the students had made before coming to the United States. Through these different exercises, I was usually able to get each student to speak in English at least three times during each class. In addition to dialogue classes, I also read and graded online journal entries from each of the students, where they would analyze their experiences in America using the lectures, dialogue classes, and comparisons with Japanese culture.

My other job was to transport students, which meant I drove my dialogue class around town in a 12-person van. I mostly drove around Williamsburg, but we also took trips to Newport News and Richmond. Driving the van was initially a little scary, I’ve driven U-Hauls full of art before but it’s different when you’re responsible for the well-being of 12 other people, but it got easier with practice.

In addition to the regular lectures and dialogue classes, there were also several field trips. During the two weeks, we toured the Canon factory in Newport News, went shopping in Richmond, and attended a baseball game. On a free day, students visited Colonial Williamsburg, York Beach, and went shopping at the Williamsburg outlets. On Sunday morning, we all went to different church services to see religion in practice in America, with my group going to New Zion Baptist Church. That was a particularly special experience for me, as it was the first time I’d ever visited a black baptist church.

The Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian was especially popular with students. Any why not? From airplanes to lunar modules, this place has cool stuff!

The culminating experience was a trip to Washington, DC. During the next few days, we visited different Smithsonian museums, took a walking tour around the monuments, and visited the Japanese Embassy. After an emotional farewell dinner and talent show, students headed back to Dulles Airport, while William and Mary Students returned home.

The program challenged me in a lot of ways. During the first week in particular, I worked a lot of 12-hour days. While I wasn’t with the students the whole time, I couldn’t go home either, since I needed to be available to drive the van. As an introvert, it was challenging to be “on” for such a long time, even when I knew it was only for two weeks.

My days were also filled with active listening. Since I wanted my students to feel confident when speaking English, I needed to pay extra attention to what they were saying to make sure I understood what they wanted to communicate. I can be a little hard of hearing as it is, so this meant I had to work extra hard on my end to make sure I could hear through my students’ accents, as well as mentally process their often very formal questions into more idiomatic English for myself. I also had to put more thought into what I was saying to make sure my students understood me, as I didn’t want them to feel lost or confused. All of this active listening and speaking was very draining mentally, so by the time I got home every night, I had to keep asking Brandon to repeat himself because I couldn’t remember anything he was saying.

The Natural History museum was another popular destination during our Smithsonian excursion.

Beyond the physical and mental challenges of so much active listening, the content of the conversations themselves could also be difficult. Since I had the most advanced group of English speakers, we could discuss the lectures pretty deeply, and a lot of them delved into serious subject matter. The lecture on race relations in America was particularly intense, as I had to explain the systemic nature of American racism to students who had not grown up in this particular environment or culture. The students, meanwhile, learned that the United States is not the ideal country portrayed in its patriotic mythology, but a highly complicated place that has yet to live up to its ideals. Indeed, “it’s complicated,” became my catchphrase at every dialogue class.

I also learned a great deal from my students. During our dialogue classes, some of my students grounded the lecture material by comparing the topics with examples from Japanese history, which offered me new perspectives. Meals at local restaurants became opportunities to talk about different food cultures, and food accessibility. We also talked a lot about differences in transportation, hobbies, and why stores in Williamsburg close so early. Since a lot of my students were from Tokyo, Williamsburg was comparatively more provincial and rural, which brought its own experiences and challenges.

Kimika’s PowerPoint presentation for the Japanese Embassy.

Over the course of our two weeks together, I learned a lot about my students, particularly through their memory book presentations. Yu Horiguchi loves listening to vintage jazz. Koryu Ikeshita enjoys rap and hip hop. Fumiho Tanaka has lived in several different places, including Mexico City and New York. Manai Suzuki would like to work at a TV station when she has finished college. Haruna Fujimaki is learning how to do magic tricks with playing cards.

I also had plenty of opportunities to watch my students engage with their peers during classes and projects. Kaori Sano was extremely supportive of her fellow students, particularly during the focus group projects. Miu Nishimura and Maho Arito always asked thoughtful questions in the dialogue classes. Kimika Kariya rounded out our experience by giving a lovely presentation on her experiences with the program at the Japanese Embassy.

The Directors and CIs of Keio. I couldn’t have done it without the help, experience, and humor of these fantastic people. And I guess I was all right too.

Ultimately, the Keio program was a very rewarding experience, not least because of my wonderful coworkers. Ravynn Stringfield, the program director and experienced CI herself, was meticulously organized and made sure we always had rosters and checklists that made field trips and other excursions much easier to implement. She also suggested the pairing and sharing technique that became a key part of my dialogue classes, and always took care to check in on our mental and emotional well-being. Laura Beltran-Rubio, the assistant director, also provided plenty of emotional and logistical support, whether she was picking up food for catered meals, or figuring out how to get baseball tickets for more than 30 people. My fellow CI instructors, Chris Slaby and Adrienne Resha, were equally helpful, sharing potential discussion questions and other ideas for dialogue classes. Chris, a CI veteran, was my go-to person regarding anything pertaining to teaching with Keio, while Adrienne suggested the idea of writing down discussion questions for guest lecturers. They all helped me become a better CI.

Keio’s Peer Advisors, a fantastic group of undergraduates who stayed with the Keio students and worked with them every day for two weeks. From left to right: Jessie Urgo, Daisy Zhang, Roger Zhao, Laurel Detert, and Kelly Shea.

The undergraduate staff members who worked with the students as Peer Advisors (PAs) were also indispensable. They, along with the directors, stayed at the same hotel as the Keio students, so they were always available if someone needed assistance (CIs, by contrast, got to go home every night, aside from DC). During the afternoons after Dialogue Class, they worked directly with each of the focus groups to ensure that everyone contributed and remained on task, and kept us CIs informed of their progress. They also coordinated most of the meals, deciding where to take the students to lunch each day, for instance. They also served as navigators for field trips, reading off directions to me while I focused on driving the van.

Keio is definitely a collaborative adventure, and I could not have completed my job without the help, support, and humor of my colleagues.

My students and I did a gift exchange at the farewell dinner. I gave each of them one of my prints, while they gave me fans, snacks, and other surprises. Of all the things they gave me, however, the thank you card by far meant the most, as each student wrote me a note. I didn’t think I left much of an impression on them, but the card told me otherwise.

The Keio program pushed my limits in so many ways, but it also expanded my skills and introduced me to new perspectives. Engaging in dialogue classes every day was especially helpful, as I’ll be a Teaching Assistant this coming semester, but I also benefitted in other ways. The Keio program is an exercise in endurance and flexibility, all taking place in a rich environment of cross-cultural dialogue and exchange. It demands patience, versatility, and above all, an open mind and the willingness to listen and learn.

I’d like to think that my students learned something from their experience here in the United States. I certainly learned a lot from them, and I will always be grateful for that.

A Space of One’s Own, Part Three

Last week I told you about the personal issues I worked through while getting a new desk. Today I’ll show you what the finished study looks like.

Left: My books after I brought them all to the apartment. Right: The books on their shelves.

The first thing I did was get the bookshelves set up. It took me several hours and three car trips, even after weeding out 1/3 of my books, but it was satisfying to get them all back in one room at easy disposal. We also moved my art supply chest in here, as there wasn’t much room for it downstairs.

In addition to Brandon’s mother getting me a new desk, my own parents offered to get us each a new chair or another useful thing for the house. I don’t like shopping for chairs online, so this time around I went to one of the local office stores and tried out different chairs for comfort and ergonomics, eventually settling on this one:

Once the furniture was in place, it was just a matter of putting up a few pictures. And so we end up with this:

As much as I enjoy sharing space with Brandon, I’m excited to have a room where I can focus on my writing. I also like having so many windows, as I’ve always preferred natural light.

Every object has a story. The glass bottle is full of shells my dad collected at Cape Porpoise, Maine. The jar filled with pens originally held Dijon mustard and was a souvenir from the opening celebration for The Mourners at the Dallas Museum of Art, which I was fortunate enough to see. The mug is an original piece from ceramist Aria Finch, who runs the fabulous clay studio at the Roswell Museum.

It’s especially nice having my art center map in the same space where I’m working. At City Lofts, it was in Brandon’s study because that was the only available wall large enough for it, but I never liked working there due to the lack of windows.

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The walls feature art and other objects I’ve collected over the years, including two Venetian carnival masks and an original work from printmaker and paper artist Martie Zelt.

I’ve really enjoyed using this space so far, and have already noticed a change in my productivity. Since I’m on the second floor, away from the kitchen, I’ve cut down on my snacking. When I need a break, I walk up and down the stairs for a couple of minutes, getting a little exercise in the process. With the TV is downstairs in the living room, I’m not tempted to turn it on and tune out. Sure, the internet is always there, but since this space feels different from the other rooms, with its formal furniture, I feel more compelled to do useful work here that suits the surroundings. In other words, this room proclaims itself as a workspace, my workspace, so when I’m in here, that’s what I do. If we ever have guests, we can always move the desk against the wall and bring out an inflatable mattress. First and foremost though, this is my room, and I’m glad that I prioritized my working needs.

On second thought, it’s really the cats’ room. They’re just gracious enough to let me use it.

A Space of One’s Own, Part Two

Last week I started talking about our recent move to New Town, and the decision to turn one of the bedrooms into a study for myself. Today I’ll talk about the process of setting up that space, and the personal challenges I had to reconcile along the way.

Getting a new desk can be harder than you think, especially when feelings of unworthiness get involved.

It all started when Brandon’s mother kindly offered to buy us each a new desk. For the last several years, I’ve used whatever furniture happened to be in the offices assigned to me. The last time I had the opportunity to pick out a desk of my own was in high school, so this was an exciting occasion.

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The desk I had at home in high school looked something like this, as I was really into the serpentine lines of the 18th century at the time. The main thing I remember about it now was that it was heavy as hell and a royal pain to move. Image courtesy of https://www.loveantiques.com/antique-desks/victorian-(1837-1901)/painted-and-gilded-victorian-rococo-desk-28503

Initially, I had planned on going to Goodwill and taking what I could find there. I also considered taking one of the castoffs by the City Loft dumpster bins, as people throw out all the furniture all the time in a desperate attempt to clear out before moving. Either way, I was originally going to do what I’ve always done in just about any situation: take what’s available and adjust to it.

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You can’t beat free, right? Image courtesy of https://www.thirdshift3.com/2017/05/30/question-ever-taken-something-free-pile/

When Brandon’s mother offered to buy a desk for me, however, that changed the picture, not least because her proposed budget was far more than anything I’d ever allow myself. Now, instead of looking for whatever was available at the lowest cost and change my work habits to suit it, I was being asked to evaluate what kind of desk would work best for me.

It was a fabulous offer, but it wasn’t long before old, familiar feelings of unworthiness started cropping up. Between my Catholic upbringing (it was pretty perfunctory, mind you, but enough to instill the guilt), the example of my frugal New England relatives, particular my Depression-era grandparents, and the background intellectual noise that is Imposter Syndrome, I’ve long been dealing with a wicked guilt complex. Additionally, as a woman, the ether that is American pop culture has ingrained the idea that I should not be a bother to anyone, lest I be deemed, god forbid, high maintenance. In short, the idea of anyone spending any large amount of money is anathema to me, as I’ve convinced myself a thousand times over that I don’t deserve it. After all, I’ve managed to get work done without a fancy desk until now, and why buy something new if the one outside the dumpster is still serviceable? Surely my work isn’t important enough to warrant that kind of extravagance, and besides, isn’t there enough rampant consumerism as it is?

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Initially, I looked at desks like these because they were less costly and could be moved out of the way easily. Image courtesy of https://www.westelm.com/products/mid-century-mini-desk-acorn-h833/

Such were the thoughts going through my head as I started looking at desks. Even as I started getting excited about the ones I was looking at, I couldn’t help but feel guilty about it. Because in spite of my frugality, I prefer beautiful, well-made, fair-sourced objects, so instead of settling for plywood, I found myself looking at solid wood pieces, handcrafted pieces, in other words, expensive pieces. It was all still under budget, but I didn’t want to appear exploitative either. Oh, maybe I should just forget it altogether.

Fortunately, Brandon knows this self-sabotaging side of me well, so he talked me through it. When he noticed I veered toward smaller desks because they were less costly, he encouraged me to concentrate on my work habits rather than price. So what if you wrote the Magical and Real essay with no desk at all, he’d say? Wouldn’t you have rather had one and not have to balance the computer on your legs? So what if you’ve always managed with whatever was available? You now have the opportunity to create your own workspace, so what works best for you?

In other words, he reminded me that my work is important, that I am worthy, and that I should have a space that enables me to do that work as best as I can. And for me, that means getting off the couch and behind a good desk.

So I stopped thinking about cost, and instead began focusing on work habits. I thought about all the things that had frustrated me about working at the old apartment, and how a new desk could begin addressing those issues. And what I needed, I realized, was not a tiny desk that could easily be hidden away, but a large workspace, where I could spread out my books, notebooks, and computer all across one surface. I needed the space, in other words, for intellectual sprawl and exploration, a desk that would loudly proclaim: “this is a work area!” through its presence.

Which eventually led me to this desk:

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Image courtesy of: https://www.westelm.com/products/mid-century-desk-acorn-h209/

I wasn’t always into the midcentury look, but I’ve come to appreciate its elegant simplicity as I’ve gotten older. This desk, in particular, reminds me of a Shaker-style table I used in Shelburne, but more robust, and with drawers to boot. I also accepted that if I’m going to get a desk, I may as well get a high-quality one that I can use for decades. I also like the fact that it was fair-trade and sustainable because I want other people to benefit from the money spent on it.

When the desk finally arrived and was moved to my future study, I knew I’d made a good decision.

A little different from the Rococo-revival number I had in high school.

So much for the desk. Next week I’ll show you the study.

A Space of One’s Own, Part One

Brandon and I recently moved into a new place here in Williamsburg.

The exterior of our new home. I’d show you more of the inside but we’re still getting things in place.

While our old apartment at City Lofts had an unbeatable location in terms of convenience, being about a mile from campus and within walking distance of grocery stores and restaurants, it was a little small for our needs. Also, being primarily an undergraduate-populated building, we were constantly reminded that we are definitely not at that stage in our lives anymore, between the 2 am workouts in the gym next door, the hallway meltdowns, late-night parties, and so forth. It was a good place to get our bearings, especially considering we were moving to Virginia from 2,000 miles away, but we didn’t envision it as a long-term living situation.

Our street at The Pointe, so to speak.

These days we’re out in New Town at an apartment/townhouse complex called The Pointe. It’s more expensive and a little further from campus, but we have more room, and better amenities. Brandon’s excited because now he can finally get all of his things out of storage, most of which remained boxed up due to limited space at the old apartment. The cats like living here because of all the windows they can sit at and look out of now.

As for me, I’m excited to have a personal study space for the first time in years.

Mind you, I had an office at the Roswell Museum, which is where I did 90% of my work. I rarely worked from home, because on days when I did need to work late, it was usually in the galleries themselves, whether for exhibition prep or after-hours events.

The living/bedroom at my second place in Roswell. If I needed to write, I usually worked at the table on the left.

When I was living alone and needed to do some writing, I usually worked at my dining room/art table. Once Brandon and I moved in together, however, our spaces became shared. This wasn’t a big deal in Roswell, as again, I did most of my work at the museum. The only time I worked from home consistently was when I was writing my essay for the Magical and Real catalog, and even then I only did that one a week over two months, so working on a laptop in Brandon’s study was sufficient.

I started feeling the effects of not having a workspace of my own at City Lofts, however, where I did most of my work on the living room couch. As much as I love libraries and coffee shops in theory, being a probable misophone makes it challenging to concentrate in public spaces, so home is where I do most of my work these days. In addition to learning about my work duration habits (small increments, usually timed, with short breaks in between), I realized that I focus better in a more formal workspace. Sitting on the couch is a relaxing way to work, but it’s also tempting to take a nap, watch tv, goof off online, walk to the kitchen and start snacking mindlessly, and so forth. Conversely, when you’re trying to relax and watch a movie, work keeps popping up because you’re sitting on the same couch where you were writing earlier that day. Some people are fine with blurring the distinctions between work and leisure spaces, but I personally need clearer separation between the two. Call me old-fashioned, but I like having a space designated specifically for work, particularly writing.

So when we moved into the new place, we decided to turn the second bedroom space into an office for me. That’s when things started getting interesting.

Stay tuned for Part Two.