CWU News

CWU exchange partnership benefits two nations

Tokyo Gakugei University (TGU), a national university in Tokyo, has an established reputation in education-related fields. The university has helped lead development of educational policy and innovations in teacher education.

It also has established international partnerships with numerous schools worldwide, including Bridgewater State University, in Massachusetts; Michigan State University; the State University of New York; University of Hawaii; and University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand.

CWU is now added to that list, as an exchange program between the two universities was recently established. The first TGU students recently came to CWU to participate in student teaching at local K12 schools.

TGU student Kei Shu, who taught art, explains how to make a craft with newspaper to Lincoln Elementary School students.

“My university is the largest educational university in Japan,” said professor Naoki Suzuki, who is leading the seven TGU students on the short-term exchange. “My university is very interested in global education. Our role is to educate teacher-leaders in Japan. So, I believe my students need to have a more global perspective.”

CWU Office of International Studies and Programs officials traveled to TGU last year to explore the possibility of an exchange. Suzuki noted that CWU’s emphasis on and reputation for quality teacher training were important in developing the partnership.

“Our university is focused on teacher training,” he added. “So, we decided to have an agreement and send some students to this university [CWU].”

The agreement also allowed 11 CWU students to recently visit Japan to get a global perspective on teaching abroad. “Having that type of dual exchange makes this program unique and exception,” Suzuki stated. 

TGU student Riko Motokane with kids during recess at Lincoln Elementary School.

“They [the CWU students] took a very similar program in Tokyo,” Suzuki pointed out. “They visited schools for their teaching practicums and they came to my university and communicated with [their Japanese student peers].”

Mi-Rae Kapelak was among the CWU students who went on the exchange trip, where she team-taught lessons with partner TGU teacher candidates. 

“Given full control and trust of the classes there was great,” she says. “It felt great getting to engage with the kids. Being in an entirely different culture, I thought would be more uncomfortable for me. But I fell right into place and it  was wonderful to see the schools there. That’s what I was primarily excited about— to see how another educational system works.”

Kapelak, and her peers from both universities, found out how different those education cultures are in the two counties.

“Our country has a national course of study, so there are very similar lessons in Japan but here it’s quite different,” Suzuki acknowledged. “It’s a student-centered approach here—there’s a lot of chatting in the lessons. In Japan, schools are very quiet, no conversation. The teaching style is very different.”

Other differences include such things as students eating lunch in their classrooms in Japan rather than a cafeteria, classroom arrangements and seating assignments, and longer days for teachers there, which can extend from 7:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., including instruction and additional responsibilities.

“And your country doesn’t have any blackboards now, that’s very interesting,” Suzuki further explained. “In Japan, generally, we have blackboards in class.”

Online access to grades and other technological innovation used in classrooms here are also not presently commonplace in Japan. While those will likely be developed in the near future, what’s already developed, and is likely to continue for years to come, is the camaraderie established between the CWU and TGU students.

“They were so helpful and did so much for us. It was nice to be able to reciprocate and do something for them,” Kapelak says, adding that included offering a place for them to come and relax, providing meals, and being available as a guide. “They were so selfless. I was immediately able to connect with them and I hope to visit them in the future. I’m now also thinking about teaching abroad, whether in Japan or somewhere else.”


Media contact: Robert Lowery, Department of Public Affairs, director of Radio Services and Integrated Communications, 509-963-1487,

Photos:  No. 1—TGU student Kei Shu (right), who taught art, explains how to make a craft with newspaper to Lincoln Elementary School students.

No. 2—TGU student Riko Motokane (right) with kids during recess at Lincoln Elementary School.