Academic Profiles – Comparing the Dutch Education to US Education

Recently in the Orientation to Finnish Culture and Education course at EdGlo we completed presentations on our personal education background. This gave us the ability to reflect on the education system we are most familiar with as well as learn about our classmates’ backgrounds and their countries education systems.

While my most current experience is in the Japanese public education system, my formative years, and subsequently powerful memories and cultural preferences, were shaped in the US public school domain. My cultural upbringing in the states and work experience in East Asia made me believe I was quite versed in different education systems, but I found myself intrigued when a couple of my Belgium classmates talked about Academic Profiles in their secondary schooling.

Before I get into academic profiles, let me give a base line comparison between the US education system and the Belgian education system.

Belgian Education System

BSO = Vocational Secondary Education
KSO = Art Secondary Education
TSO = Technical Secondary Education
ASO = General Secondary Education

Today I’m only going to be focusing on secondary education in Belgium and specifically ASO academic profiling because I could spend all day just explaining Belgian secondary education. Also Belgium, and it’s education system, is so much more complicated then it appears. Click here to learn more about Belgium in general. It’s pretty funny.

American Education System

What is an Academic Profile?

As an American I liken academic profiling to picking a major in university, but instead you are a teenager trying to figure out what you are going to do for the rest of your life. Or at the very least what you want to study. Choosing a profile means choosing which courses you are going to take. Roughly (I’m not Belgian so please correct me if I’m wrong), the Profiles break down to:

  1. Math and Sciences
  2. Economics
  3. Languages
  4. Humanities and History

By choosing one, though sometimes you can mix, those are your electives classes until you graduate. With the assumption you with study the same thing in university. I also listed them in the hierarchy my two Belgian classmates indicated.

Comparing and Personal Thoughts

The US public school system doesn’t demand students to choose an academic profile. Instead, we have the freedom to choose electives (if they are offered at the school) in our own interests. If a student is interested in math and science then they will take more elective/advanced math and sciences class. The same is for art and humanities students. As students we are also encouraged to explore our interests. From my own personal example, I was very interested in music and language so I took orchestra and French all four years, but I also took an elective math course to be prepared for university math classes as I was not a strong math student.

This flexibility allowed me to explore my interests but not hinder my desire to be prepared for university. It also allows students to advance in subjects they like and prepare them for what they will study in university or in vocational training (my school an extensive agricultural and wood/metal working electives). I think my school really focused on providing opportunities for students.

However, I do relate with the hierarchy of subjects that my classmates expanded in their presentation. Event though the US doesn’t use academic profiles often schools will cut electives courses deemed unnecessary or unimportant, i.e. art, music, and other classes outside curriculum. Students are also pressured by schools and parents to take advanced courses in math, science and literature because it looks good on college applications and will prepare you for university.

Personally it seems silly to demand students to chose a profile that ultimately narrows your experiences. I understand that it’s suppose to prepare students for future jobs but most teenagers (and adults) have no idea what they want to do let alone like to do. It also seems to re-enforce classism and capitalism/neo-liberalism. As in you must be a productive citizen and the only way to be productive is to be prepared for your work, and to be prepared you must study in your field. I admit that last statement is a little hyperbolic.

It’s hard for me to imagine thriving in that academic system as I have many interests and love to study. I don’t like imagine myself in high school having to decide between what I like to study and what field I want to/should work in. It stresses me out just thinking about it.

What do you think?

Questions? Comments? Criticisms? I would love to hear about personal experiences in education systems with academic profiling.

A Profile of an EdGlo-19 Student

Avery Holm

Born and raised in a small town in Minnesota, USA.

Educational background

She grew up in the local public school system. In the local high school she joined the Arts Magnet Program where core subjects (English, science, social studies, etc.) were taught as interdisciplinary subjects with art. Across four years she explored creative writing and music, culminating in a senior capstone project. After graduating high school she ventured out of her hometown to attend Cottey College in Nevada (ne-VAY-da), Missouri.

Cottey College is a small women’s college that focuses on cultivating leadership and empowerment in young women. Originally a two year degree school it has started to offer four year bachelor programs in select fields. Avery spent her time there studying international relations, history, and French. Through her experiences in volunteering with after school programs and working as a student representative for the college president she became passionate about education. Through summer programs and her academic adviser she began studying Japanese outside of class hours. She also studied Social Justice on a school trip to Guatemala. Cottey became the springboard into her undergraduate studies.

After graduating with an Associate Degree, she transfer to Long Island University Global College (LIU Global) to finish a Bachelor’s Degree in Global Studies with a focus in comparative education. She studied in Taiwan, Thailand, India, and Turkey with the Comparative Religions and Cultures Program. She completed her independent semester and research project in Sapporo, Japan. For the last semester, Avery returned to Brooklyn, NYC to complete her thesis ‘How We Succeed: A Comparative Study of High Performing Public schools in New York City, Japan, and Finland’.

After university she work in Japan as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) for four years. She gained a lot of first hand experience with Japanese public elementary and junior high school education and that propelled her to find the EdGlo program.

Expectations for EdGlo

I have a lot of expectations for the program and for myself in the program. I’m really looking forward to a community of educators and education-loving people who can bring a lot of different perspectives from their cultures, education, work experiences, and life experiences. I want this program to challenge my views and beliefs in education and how we learn. I expect discomfort and challenges. EdGlo should be a program that forces and guides you to new perspectives and new ways of knowing so that you can build on your own experiences and knowledge.

For myself in EdGlo, I want my academic skills honed so that I can feel proud of my work. I want it to give me a critical lens for research and trends in education in my country and around the world. I expect it to be hard work and that I will work hard. I expect a lot of collaborative work with my classmates and potentially other classes or faculties in the university. I don’t expect (nor want) it to be an island with a choir singing to itself. I believe EdGlo with help me build knowledge and skills that will prove indispensable in my future. An much like my undergrad studies I want it to always be relevant and useless in any context, local or global.

Karatsu Kunchi: Feasting and House-hopping

Food and alcohol are undeniably an important part of Karatsu Kunchi. Locals open their houses to family, neighbors, friends, and even strangers to come and spend a little time eating and drinking. Most of the women and some of the men in the family will work tirelessly to prepare a variety and large quantities of food. Every year ALTs are invited to the homes of co-workers and friends. One house we visit always has an elaborate spread of local food.

Kunchi Feast
This giant delicious fish was the centerpiece of the entire meal! Photo courtesy of Jess 2014

The centerpiece of the feast is a large fish called Ara あら, or seabream in English. Families save up money all year-round for this massive fish. One fish can cost several hundred to a couple thousands of dollars. No corners are cut when it comes to a Karatsu Kunchi feast.

Kunchi Ara 17
Japanese Seabream in the centerpiece of a Kunchi Feast

People never stay too long as they will probably visit many houses during the festival and there are many mouths to feed. The alcohol is always flowing and I usually bring a decent sized bottle of sake to the houses I know I’m visiting as a gift to help replenish supplies. Beer is always on hand as families tend to stock up on crates of beer.

Sashimi Platter
A beautiful presentation of sashimi

Sometimes you get spontaneous invitations from friends going to other houses or running into people you know. Last year I ended up in the house of a firefighter who was friends with one of my teachers. There we got a front row seat to the hikiyama parading through the neighborhood.

Food Platter

For Americans and Canadians, think of Kunchi as a Thanksgiving of sorts. Everyone is celebrating the good fortune of the year and show their appreciation by sharing food with not only family but the community and strangers as well. After pulling the floats, the men hop between houses in their home neighborhoods and those of their friends. Children and teenagers visit their friend’s houses or hang out at the food stalls downtown.

Top of Food Platter

Kunchi house fair is usually made up of raw and cooked fish, shellfish, rice balls,  hamburger steaks, sushi, tempura, bread, fruits, and cooked vegetables. This year I was fortunate enough to be invited to a very important house. The husband was a leader for one of the floats and he knew one of my teachers. We spent a good time chatting and eating delicious food. As we were leaving we thanked the wife and other women for the food.To my surprise, she gave each of us a hand embroidered dish towel and cute squid shaped sweet called youkan. It’s like a firm jelly and it pairs well with strong green tea.

Yuzu flavored youkan, a traditional Japanese sweet, in the shape of a Yobuko squid.

Karatsu Kunchi is my favorite festival in Japan. I love the food and hospitality that is given to old friends and strangers alike. As an ALT, Kunchi is the time I really feel like I am a part of the community. For foreigners wanting to experience Kunchi for themselves, I don’t recommend just popping into any old house. Enjoy the parades and the delicious stall food. But if you get an invitation, I recommend stepping out of your comfort zone and take the chance to experience a true Karatsu Kunchi.

Return to Ikebana: Arrangement 1

After a year I am returning to Ikebana. I am excited to get back to my flowers. Originally, I was taking Ikenobo classes at the local community center in my neighborhood but it became too expensive in the long run.

after a few months of quitting the community program, I found out that one of my Japanese teachers knew the woman who taught the community class. At first, I was embarrassed because I hadn’t given any notice to the teacher (which is kind of a big no-no). I explained to her that it had become too expensive in the long run especially if I missed classes. She understood and over the following weekends she started dropping hints about me starting Ikebana lessons again. A comment one week, an ikebana magazine the next three – from the ikebana teacher, and finally she mentioned that the teacher also hosts individual lessons at her house.

I was immediately interested and flustered. The ikebana teacher had told my Japanese teacher to offer the lessons to me and tell me that she wanted to keep teaching me. It was impossible to refuse after that.

Later that week, we went to her house for the first greeting and lesson. The atmosphere was much more traditional and formal, the lesson taking place in a large tatami room with beautifully carved wood beams and my Japanese teacher walking me through respectful Keigo greetings which I don’t remember how to say.

After the greetings and agreeing on when lessons would take place. My re-instated sensei instructed me to grab a bundle of newspaper-wrapped flowers just outside the front door and get started.

I was familiar with this process as it was the same at the community center. Greeting the teacher, grab your flowers, make your arrangement, and finally call for the teacher to critique your work and give you tips and lessons. And if you are like me, snap some before and after pictures with your phone.

I was surprised to find that I wasn’t too rusty. I still have a long time before I can make arrangements like my teacher’s. But that comes with time and a good teacher. I’m excited and thankful to be given a second chance. I won’t waste it.


Arrangement 1
Side-by-side comparison of my attempt and my teacher’s lesson



Is Homework Compatible With Personalized Learning? (Autumn Hillis)

This post is originally from EdSurge and was posted on October 3rd.

I really like the idea of personalized homework. While it might take time prep assignments and build resources (hence one of the tips being ‘take it slow’), I believe it is worth it for both students and teachers.

Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice

Autumn Hillis works with middle schools in the middle Tennessee region as an open educational resource curriculum specialist. She has taught at the middle school and high school level for six years with a focus in life and physical sciences. She is also currently working with Tennessee universities to train Tennessee science educators about personalized and project based learning.”

This post appeared in EdSurge, October 3, 2017

Differentiating content and instruction for each individual learner was once considered the pedagogical holy grail. Yet it could be tiresome. Offering three tiers of worksheets, four centers with varied ways to access content, or five levels of text was what defined a master teacher. But just as continual development of the iPhone eventually renders older prototypes obsolete; so too are new educational technologies pushing us past differentiation towards personalized learning.

Transitioning to a personalized learning environment doesn’t happen overnight—it’s a process. There…

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JLPT Failure: Life Lessons, Culture Clash, and Sunburn

Life will send you important lessons to learn. And sometimes life has to send them again because you didn’t learn your lesson the first time. That is what happened last weekend when I went to take the N4 JLPT. I studied for months and took two Japanese lessons per week so I could pass the exam.

I was confident in the visible growth in my Japanese. I could understand and respond to everyday conversations. I could read a lot more kanji than when I took the exam the first time. Overall, I just felt better about my ability to pass the test. And this time wasn’t going alone. My friend Itty was also taking the N4 with me.

It was the two of us and four other ALTs taking various levels. We decided to carpool with two other ALTs to save money and gas. We arrived about 30 mins early but because examinees are not allowed to park at the university we had to walk about 15 mins to the test building. And that’s where life reminded me:

Assuming makes an ass out of you and me.

Upon arriving at the building we see a giant board with the exam levels and their assigned room numbers. We read, N1, N2, N3, N5……but no N4. This was the exact building I took the N4 exam in last year. I was sure this was the place. Our test cards said Saga University on them. We thought we might be in another building. A few Japanese women were at the door so we asked them if they knew where the N4 exam was.

Her response (translated) was as followed:

“The N4? Oh, dear. It’s on the Nabeshima campus.” She looks at her watch. We asked her where that was. “It’s a twenty-minute drive north.”


We were flabbergasted. How? How could we have made such a mistake? We only had fifteen minutes before the exam started and if you aren’t in the room when the door closes you are disqualified from taking any part of the four-hour exam. There was no way we could make it in time.

The real irony here is that I had been nagging my friend to sit the N2 exam she had signed up for but didn’t want to take. She sat the exam while I sat in a park. We had wished them luck and then found a shady park to wallow in for four hours.

We weren’t angry. We were disappointed, embarrassed, and resigned. Both of us are well traveled and travel teaches you that things go wrong. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how much you prep or double-check, sometimes things don’t work out and you have to deal with your lot. This was an avoidable human error. You learn your lesson and move on.

The Cultural Difference

As we sat in the park we reflected on our situation. I started to fall into the trap of “at an American test, they would have tried to keep the test in the same building or at the very least on the same campus. Why would you move only one level to a completely separate campus? That’s really stupid.”

Itty reminded me that there was a cultural difference here. One that he experienced in France. In both Japan and France, the test examiners have the final say. It doesn’t matter what is convenient for the customer because you have already paid for the product. If you want the product you paid for (in this case a test) you will go where ever they tell you to go. End of story. Didn’t read the instructions properly? Not our problem.

In America, if the building didn’t have enough room for all of the examiners they would probably try to move it to a nearby building or find a new test site that could accommodate everyone.

Neither one of these thoughts is wrong. They are just different.

I made an honest mistake by assuming this Saga University was the same campus as the Nabeshima medical campus and that even if it wasn’t in the same building it would be in the area. So, I learned my lesson. I will read the entire test card next time. I will look up the address on a map. I will arrive at the test site an hour in advance just to be safe.

And maybe next time I pack some sunscreen, too. Just in case I get stuck in a park again for four hours at high noon. I look like a lobster.

On the bright side, I wasn’t alone.

Zo Many Zakura


2017 Zakura Title.jpg
Big thanks to David for thinking of this title while we enjoyed the zakura.


Last week I posted about the Karatsu Hanami on Kagamiyama. This post is all the other Sakura pictures I took during the season – and by that I mean one or two weeks.

2017 Zakura
So pretty but so fleeting

Cherry Blossom season is very special to Japan. Sakura or cherry blossoms are the unofficial national flower, it welcomes spring, and reminds us that life is beautiful if not short. The short blooming season makes sakura a unique experience and plays well into Japan’s seasonal marketing. Japan might is king of seasonal goods. Throughout the year you find snacks of incredible taste and variety but only for the short period. Many things are sold in limited quantities as well so you have to be quick. Sakura season is no different.


One of the most popular places to view cherry blossoms in Karatsu is at Karatsu Castle. Whether it’s during the day or enjoying a lantern lit night viewing it provides an experience bursting with pink and a great view of the city, too.

2017 Zakura 52017 Zakura jo 22017 Zakura Jo2017 Zakura 42017 Zakura 3


It’s too bad that the weather was poor this year. The fog was beautiful though. I’m glad the rain held off so we could enjoy a full bloom. Many of the streets in Karatsu are line with Sakura. You can check my sakura post from last year here.


Sakura in the Fog


One of the best things about living in Japan is being able to experience Hanami 花見 or cherry blossom viewing. Newspapers print when and where the sakura will be in full bloom. It’s important to plan ahead especially if you want to travel, and many local venues with fill up quickly with viewing parties if the weather is good.

This year in Karatsu spring was quite chilly and the blooming was delayed. Full bloom or mankai 満開 lasts about a week. This year full bloom was pushed back to the first full week of April.


This year I wanted to check out the park and observatory on top of Kagamiyama or Mt. Kagami. I had been there a few months before to finally check it out. Since this post is about Sakura and I will save it for another post. Anyways when I was there I realized that many of the trees surrounding the fields and parks were Sakura trees. Thus, I decided that this year’s Karatsu ALT Hanami would be at Kagamiyama.

This year we were plagued with cold weather and rain. Luckily the rain was light and most of the blossoms stayed on the trees for the weekend. On the Saturday of the party, the morning was free of rain and actually had a bit of sun. Excited that the weather had turned in our favor we packed up our cars and took the winding drive up the mountain. I regret not having pictures of the drive up. The sakura trees were big, beautiful and in full bloom creating a pink tunnel around the road.


By the end of the party, we couldn’t see this bridge!

Once at the top, we parked and started to unload. Many people were still skeptical of the weather so there was plenty of space to park and find a perfect viewing spot. But we hadn’t realized that while the weather below the mountain was partially clear and sunny, on top of the mountain the fog was still hanging around.


2017 fog3

A stone table all to ourselves


I didn’t mind the fog. It made the park mysterious and oddly beautiful. We nabbed a viewing spot near a stone table with a past peak tree hanging overhead that dropped pink blossom onto our picnic. In an odd way, it was sort of perfect.


2017 Sakura Fog
Look at al those cherry blossoms falling!


Remember to take your shoes off!

Hanami commenced and the snack-age begins.

We got about 2 hours of good cherry blossom viewing, snacking, drinking (what’s hanami without alcohol?), and party games, before the fog thickened and started to rain. While it was a short hanami it was fun and special. It’s not often you get to see sakura bloom in the fog.




Karatsu Kunchi: Day 2 – The Sand Pull

That’s right I said sand pull. It’s the only way I can describe what you are about to see


The second day of Karatsu Kunchi begins mid-morning at a large sand lot between an elementary school and a major road. The road has been blocked to make way for the floats and hundreds of spectators who watch the 1-ton structures dash into the loose sand. It doesn’t take long to get stuck. Each team tries to pull their hikiyama as far in as possible. After the initial “pull” the ropes are reversed and the hikiyama is pulled to the far edge to line up with the others. This is a true test of strength


Taiyama – one of the most popular floats. It is also one of two floats the swing to and fro.



Shuten Doji on samurai Yorimitsu Minamoto’s Helmet (wow that’s a mouthful!) preparing to dash onto the sand.



My friends and I were lucky to find an open spot across the street to view the event. The sidewalks were packed with people and those in our group brave enough to venture off found it difficult to move. It took some of us more than 30 minutes to reach our main group. We took turns climbing on a concrete ledge with a fence to get a better view. Most of my pictures were taken this way with someone bracing my legs so I wouldn’t fall over.

It takes a lot of muscle to move the floats through the sand.


After the floats are lined up spectators are allowed to walk onto the field, take pictures with their favorite floats, and find participating family members.


So there you have it! But wait that’s not the end of Day 2! Stay tuned for Karatsu Kunchi Day 2 Part 2 – Feasting and House-Hopping Kunchi-style!

See you next time




Kyushu Festivals: Karatsu Kunchi – Day One

If you ever find yourself in Japan at the beginning of November, I implore you to make your way down south to the island of Kyushu to a city called Karatsu. It’s nestled on the west coast of Kyushu and quite easy to reach from Fukuoka.

November is the busiest time of the year for Karatsu. For three days people from all over Japan and the world come to eat, drink and watch great floats be pulled throughout the city.


Since moving to Japan two years ago I have seen a lot of festivals and hands down Karatsu Kunchi is my favorite (I might be a little biased). There is something about Kunchi that makes even an outsider feel welcome. It’s a festival that brings everyone together.


So let’s talk about the first day …. well night actually. The always kicks off the night of November 2nd. The city spends an entire week setting up food and game stalls along parade routes and the downtown area, concentrated around Karatsu Shrine (唐津神社). Once the sunsets thousands of people line the streets and wait to hear the call of “En-Ya! En-Ya! En-Ya!” and the flutes and drums of musicians sitting at the base of every float.

file_006The road to Karatsu Shrine is lined with stalls. At the end of the night, the 14 floats (HIkiyama) pulled down this road to the shrine.

file_004Karatsu Shrine the first night of Kunchi



The float pullers are made up of people from the old neighborhood where the float is from. Each float has a different color and designed Happi (発表 はっぴ), a traditional workman’s coat. Young boys and girls can help pull but young girls can only pull the floats until their first year of high school. Boys and girls as young as 5 years old help pull though the youngest participants are at the front of the ropes while the older and stronger men pull near the base of the 1-ton floats. They help pull, turn, and stop the floats.

The Night Pull finishes when all the Hikiyamas are pulled down to Karatsu Shrine through the all of the stalls. They are lined up in an empty lot in front of the shrine and covered with plastic sheets for the night.




Stay tuned for Karatsu Kunchi: Day 2 The Sand Pull!