When Doug Odell walked into an elementary school assembly in Yonezawa, Japan, the students burst into song,"It's a Small World After All."
"I thought, 'yeah, this is a small world after all,'" Odell said. "We all have more things in common than we do different."
As part of a program funded by the Japanese government and organized through the Fulbright Memorial Fund, the Mark Twain Elementary School physical education teacher was selected as one of 200 American teachers to spend three weeks in Japan.
The program is designed to increase awareness not only of the Japanese school system but of its culture and politics as well. Participants are then obligated to share what they learned with students and community members when they return.
Odell plans to speak to various civic organizations in Carson City and give presentations to fifth-graders at Mark Twain Elementary School.
"I have a passion for traveling," he said. "As a teacher, it's a perfect marriage. I can bring the world to the kids. It makes it a real place for them."
Since his return Oct. 25, Odell has been telling students about Japan and its schools. He said one notable difference is that there are no custodians.
Instead, schools from elementary to university, pause for about 45 minutes every afternoon so students can clean.
"I thought it was wonderful," Odell said. "It was clear to me that it instilled a sense of pride in the students. They like to show off their school because they are the ones who keep it neat and tidy."
It's the same dedication to order that keeps the country essentially litter free but also lends itself to a stereotype of rigid citizens.
However, Odell found people who were welcoming and fun loving. He spent two days with a host family who took him parasailing.
"I'd never done it before but I'm game," he said. "So I said, 'Hai,' which means 'yes.'"
He was also able to witness the blooming of a Moon Flower, which blooms only one night a year for about five hours.
"I took it as a good omen for the whole trip," he said.
Odell was selected for the trip out of about 1,200 applicants. He and his wife, Jenni, moved to Carson City a year ago from Montana where he was an elementary school teacher.
He has visited every continent except Antarctica and traveled for six months in South America. In 1997, he traveled to Iran through a program with the National Geographic Society and is a teacher consultant for that society.