Simmons selected for educator trip to Japan


Erin Schilling

Aziza Simmons (right), who was selected for a trip to Japan by the International Educators to Japan Program, helps her students in her English to Speakers of Other Languages class.

Erin Schilling

Aziza Simmons doesn’t use the phrase “trip of a lifetime” lightly.

Born and raised in Morocco, Simmons has traveled all over the world including most of Europe, parts of Africa, and the United States including Hawaii.

This summer, she’s packing her bags to go to Japan for a two-week learning experience with the International Educators to Japan Program. “I think this is the most psyched I’ve been for any trip. I couldn’t even sleep when I got the news. I was like a little kid at Christmas,” said Simmons, who teaches English to Speakers of Other Languages.

Simmons applied for the program, which is open to all teachers, not just ESOL. The aim of the IEJ Program is to show appreciation to educators who teach Japanese students English and allow these teachers to experience Japan in order to have a better understanding of their students’ culture, history, and technology. Simmons is the only teacher selected from Georgia.

“I think they picked me because of the diversity that I bring,” Simmons said. “They’re interested in who I am.”

Simmons moved to the United States when she was 26 to attend graduate school at North Carolina University at Raleigh. She married a fellow student and became a citizen almost 20 years ago. All of her family still lives in Morocco, and she goes to visit them every two years. “It keeps me connected to who I am. I’m always thrown off by the contrast between these two cultures,” Simmons said. She’s thinking about going back to Morocco when she retires.

When Simmons first began working in the Unites States, she had a job selling advertising for newspapers, but she worried about her young son during her absences. She took up teaching because her hours would be similar to those of her son’s school day.

“I started teaching in 1997. I already had a master’s in English, so I just went back for the teaching degree,” Simmons said.

She learned English as a second language, which helps her teach it to her students.  As an ESOL teacher, Simmons works with students of various nationalities.  By spending some time in Japan, Simmons said she hopes to broaden her cultural knowledge to better her teaching techniques and to enhance her students’ learning experiences.

“This trip has everything: culture, history, business, and education,” Simmons said. “We stay with families, visit shrines, dress in traditional clothing, and eat Japanese food. We visit museums, which I’m looking forward to because I’m a history nut, and we also visit companies and schools.”

Teachers will arrive at the Tokyo airport on June 22, and they’ll begin their trip with an orientation and a tour of the city. Next, they will visit the type of schools they teach at and give a demonstration lesson in English. This allows them to assess the different teaching styles used in Japan.

The educators will then travel to their host homes in either Tokyo, Nara, or Ikaruga, their first step in experiencing Japanese culture. Each teacher will stay with a different family and be able to observe their everyday lives. Simmons said she’ll also go to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park as well as the Itsukushima Shrine, a Shinto shrine on the island of Itsukushima best known for its floating torii gate.

On their own time, Simmons said teachers will be able to explore Japan and learn more about the country. On July 3, she will board a plane back to America.

“I’ll be culturally and linguistically removed from my element. It will be so different. I’m a little nervous because everything will be in Japanese,” Simmons said.