Dr. Kazuko West
Like many entering freshmen and sophomores at Keio Academy of New York, I, not so long ago, was a new student in the US far away from Japan. A few years ago, my husband showed me a speech at a memorial service for a Chinese graduate student majoring in statistics at Boston University, who was tragically killed in the Boston Marathon bombing in April 2013. She, too, was a student away from home. Summing up, her professor said,
“Finally, she was a student, like so many international students at BU, who struggled with - but ultimately overcame - the considerable challenge of living a new life here, far from home, conducted nearly 24/7 in her second language, a challenge that you really can only appreciate if you have tried it yourself.” *
When I read the last part “a challenge that you can only appreciate if you have tried it yourself”, I felt as though I finally met a person who can recognize how much challenge I had struggled with. I immersed myself in an English-only environment, and made myself swim although I was almost drowned at times.
In the 37 years of teaching mathematics in high schools in Japan and in the US, there is the increasing realization that I have been trying to immerse my students in the mathematical world, an immersion that formed who I am now. My hope is that my students will experience a similar immersion that will go into forming them, and that they will emerge as deeper, more fulfilled human beings.
In a presence of a mentor who knows how deep and how long you can be under water, you will be able to bring to immerse yourself in a challenge. For example, mathematics teachers can guide students to immerse themselves in mathematical world where they have to use mathematical rules and logics to proceed different from ways of thinking in daily life. English teachers can guide students to immerse themselves in English world where they have to use words and sentences and writing structures different from those of their native language.
Finally, the school is the place for students not just to acquire knowledge but also to immerse themselves in a challenging world new to them. With teachers who know their students and their particular strengths and weaknesses, students can be guided, to help them swim under the water and through the challenge, which will become a part of essence of who they are.
* “In Memorial” Boston University Arts & Science Magazine, Fall 2013 issue, accessed at http://www.bu.edu/cas/magazine/fall13/lingzi/