Although the mission of public education is similar in both her home country and in Shelbyville, Japanese exchange teacher Misako Wakasugi appreciates the subtle differences.

“I really like the culture of giving compliments to each other here,” Wakasugi said. “Even kindergarten students will say to me, ‘I like your shirt’ or ‘I like your eye color.’ It helps people have confidence in themselves.”

Wakasugi is the eighth Japanese teacher to spend much of the year in Shelbyville Central Schools. The first was in 2014, with a new teacher coming each year until the pandemic. The program resumed last year, and Wakasugi, an elementary teacher, has split her time between Coulston Elementary and Shelbyville High School. She arrived in late July and is staying with retired teacher Susan Coers until leaving the country mid-March.

Living in Shelbyville has been a new experience despite at least 10 previous trips to the U.S.

“I loved Disney and movies (when I was a child), so in order to get more information about Disney, I had to learn English,” Wakasugi said, laughing. All of her prior trips have been to either California or Florida to, you guessed it, Disney properties. She has branched out during this experience, though, visiting Illinois, New York and Missouri.

Her services in Shelbyville add value to students at both schools. She works with 16 Japanese students enrolled at Coulston, who range from new to proficient English speakers, and works with the high school Japanese teacher, Steve von Werder, to teach local students taking all levels of the language, including Advanced Placement.

The teacher exchange program is part of Shelbyville’s Sister City relationship with Shizuoka in Japan, now in its 35th year. The Japanese language program at Shelbyville High School started in the 1990s, which von Werder has guided since 2005.

As she enters her final stretch in Shelbyville, Wakasugi will continue teaching and delivering presentations to churches and service organizations in town. Upon arriving home, she will make the circuit presenting on her experiences.

There won’t be much time to rest. 

“Our school year starts in April, so I need to get ready for the new year,” she said.