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Bringing the world to UW-La Crosse

Posted 11:55 a.m. Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Students from Japan visited K-12 schools in La Crosse and taught students origami and Japanese calligraphy. (Photo credit: School District of La Crosse)

Students from Japan visit UWL to learn about American education system

Since 2012, students from the University of Teacher Education—Fukuoka (UTEF) in Fukuoka, Japan have visited UW-La Crosse for a short-term stay to learn about the U.S. education system. 

Miranda Panzer, international student and scholar advisor with UWL International Education & Engagement, has been the program coordinator for the UTEF visit since 2019.  

“Fourteen students from UTEF spend a total of three weeks with UWL, two with a host family and one in a hotel,” Panzer, ’10 & ’12, explains. “Their days are busy with visiting K-12 classrooms in the La Crosse region, scheduled activities and classes.” 

The UTEF students observed both the similarities and differences between Japanese and American schools, noting the interesting practices in lunch arrangements, dress codes and teaching methodologies. In Japan, students typically eat in their classroom, wear a uniform to school (private and public) and use straightforward exercises to learn course material. 

The group of UTEF students shares that, after experiencing American classrooms, they are interested in incorporating the U.S. values of individuality, respecting and valuing diversity, and utilizing learning-based activities and color in their classrooms. 

“There was so much color and art in the classrooms! It makes the whole room feel happier,” the students say. 

When visiting K-12 schools, the students share aspects of Japanese culture with American students, teaching origami and Japanese calligraphy, and showcasing traditional attire called yukata.

Japanese students wore traditional attire called yukata. (Photo credit: School District of La Crosse)

“It’s a special experience, especially for adults and students who may not get to travel to other parts of the world,” Panzer explains. “It ignites curiosity and breaks down barriers. We’re bringing the world to our home.” 

While at UWL, the students attend an array of classes, ranging from Japanese language courses to race, gender and sexuality studies. They also connect with their “buddies,” — UWL students, most pursuing Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) or another education major — who volunteer to facilitate cultural exchange and friendship during their visit. 

Todd Jay Leonard, a professor at UTEF and coordinator of the program, says it “has only gotten stronger with time.” 

Leonard emphasizes that the partnership's core goal is to promote cross-cultural education and understanding. He highlights the homestay experience as particularly valuable, as it enables students to interact and share cultures despite language barriers. 

“After students return from their trip to La Crosse, they show motivation to improve their language skills, an upgrade in confidence, and often return with more interest and intention to study abroad again,” Leonard says.

While at UWL, the students attend an array of classes, ranging from Japanese language courses to race, gender and sexuality studies.

For Leonard, one of the most rewarding aspects of the program is witnessing his own culture through the eyes of UTEF students. Having grown up in Indiana before relocating to Japan, Leonard finds joy in sharing the wonders of La Crosse with his Japanese students. 

“La Crosse is heaven on a stick,” he says. 

At the conclusion of their three-week stay, the UTEF students embark toward the Twin Cities, making stops at attractions like the International Owl Center and the Mall of America before heading home. 

“I want to extend a big ‘thank you’ to the whole community for making everyone feel welcome and at home during our stay,” Leonard says. “You’ve gained 14 students who have truly fallen in love with La Crosse.” 

To learn about becoming a host family or a student buddy, email Miranda Panzer (  

Visit the UWL International Education & Engagement webpage for information about all international programs. 


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