Houston Fulbright Blog – 180906

Ohayō gozaimasu! 

(Good Morning!)

Kevin at Okubo Higashi elementary school waiting to meet with teachers

Phonetically you would say: oh-hah-YOH go-zigh-moss!  So this morning my “Japan Fulbright Blog” is written for you by Dr. Kevin Houston.  I like to say that Kevin is “The other Dr. Houston.”  Many of you know that he is also a faculty member at NMSU. He is in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. I am very fortunate that Kevin is here to share this Japan experience—he has been incredibly helpful and a wonderful father and spouse. Because of this and his great perspectives on life in Japan and in general, I asked Kevin to be a guest blogger for the week.  Enjoy!

Since Dr. J. Houston last blogged, there have been several new adventures during our time at Saitama University. The most important personal experience has been taking our kids to their first day of school at Okubo Higashi Elementary, the neighborhood public school.

A striking part of this experience was to see ~600 kids walking in near single file down the street toward the school with residents, parents, and crossing guards shouting out Ohayō gozaimasu! Since we live on the edge of the school district, there are not too many kids grouped together at the start of the walk, but by the time the students get to the school, the walking lane along the street is very crowded. It is amazingly organized and we eventually learned that our kids must walk with the walking group to which they are assigned.

The journey is about 1 km and mainly consists of walking through a dense array of houses and apartments. However, just before they get to the school, they walk by the 大泉院 Buddhist Temple. It seems rather out of place amongst the more modern-looking residential buildings. The garden around the Temple is amazing!

Other than one Canadian student that is in our oldest son’s class, all the other students speak mainly Japanese and all course instruction is in Japanese (not surprising). The school has been quite accommodating with regard to our kids’ lack of Japanese language skills. For example, our kids get individual Japanese language lessons led by the Japanese English Teacher (JET) while the other students attend English language class. I sure hope they are able to pick up some Japanese language skills while attending school here for the next 4 months. The JET also translates school documents for us so we know what is going on with the school schedule.  During the day, the students are responsible for cleaning up after lunch and cleaning the classrooms at the end of the day. The lunches are very traditional and our kids really like the food. Good thing they had plenty of practice with chopsticks before they started school! They are also spending time during the day preparing for an important all-day Sports Festival at the school next Saturday. We are looking forward to this community event and, from what the kids tell us, it will include some traditional Japanese song and dance routines that they have been working on.

While all these amazing personal adventures are going on for our family, I am also keeping up with my “professor” responsibilities at NMSU that include teaching and research. When the kids are at school, Jessica and I are in the lab working at desks that Dr. Suzuki provided for us. In addition to interacting with Dr. Suzuki’s research group at Saitama University, I have been able to keep up with my own research group at NMSU. I am fortunate to have a very capable senior Biochemistry Ph.D. student (Yan Zheng) to keep things going in my absence. I have been in constant communication with him and all my research students using email and various apps for messaging and voice calls. I am using most of my time here writing manuscripts for publication with Yan and, the usual, working on research grants.

Technology is great for working remotely (obviously); it has allowed me to teach my Fall 2018 class in the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department and view and interpret data that my students upload to the cloud. While my class is not technically “online” and there is a substantial laboratory component managed by the (amazing) TA SK Imran Ali, I am still responsible for providing content, assignments, and all the grading. I also communicate with my class by video conference from time to time.

Saitama University is between sessions during most of September, but the students in the lab are here working hard on their projects so there is plenty of opportunity to interact.  I am also seeking out other faculty members with which to develop research collaborations for future work and recruiting graduate students for our programs at NMSU. 

I hope the semester is going well at NMSU!

Kevin D. Houston, Ph.D.


Kevin, arigatou gozimasu!  (Thank you, Kevin), for guest blogging.

Also, arigatou gozimasu to everyone reading.  J

~Jessica P. Houston, Ph.D

Affiliate faculty, Saitama University Graduate School of Science and Engineering

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