Leeza Fernand travels to Japan to gain knowledge of the country's higher education structure

Oct 11, 2018

Leeza Fernand, associate director of NOVA’s Office of International Education and Sponsored Programs traveled to Japan this summer as part of the International Education Administrator’s Program, a Fulbright program run by the U.S. Department of State. Fernand had a desire to learn more about Japanese culture and higher education structure and to make inroads with the hope of raising enrollment amongst Japanese students studying at NOVA. She wanted to be an ambassador for the distinct benefit of community colleges, a higher education structure not widely known or readily available there.

“I would never have known as much about Japan as I do now, how different their educational system and structure are and what their students are looking for in study abroad experiences, had it not been for this trip,” Fernand said. “I did get to meet some students advocating for community college, which is not something you see in many Asian countries. They talked about the 2+2 model and how beneficial it was for them. One student had even completed community college in the U.S. and went on to an Ivy League school. She was an advocate for community colleges because of how cost effective they are and a great alternative to the expense of a four-year school.”

Fernand poses at a temple at Asakusa
Fernand poses at a temple at Asakusa

The group of ten academics, consisted of U.S. educators focusing on international students. It was a very diverse cohort with provosts, directors, assistant directors and coordinators from Ivy League schools, public and private institutions, state schools. They were mostly from four-year schools, but Fernand and one other were from two-year community colleges. The group represented virtually all facets of U.S. higher education. 

Members of the group had the opportunity to explore, together and separately, the major sites and cities of Japan. To learn about the higher education structure within the country, they visited the Education USA Office, the State Department’s advising office for those interested in studying in the U.S. The group also visited the Japanese Ministry of Education, public and private institutions and women-only institutions. The cohort also got a chance to meet with various Fulbright alumni. To learn of Japan’s beautiful and colorful history, they visited Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima. Osaka was also on the agenda, but there was a 5.5 magnitude earthquake, which required they cut their visit short and return to Tokyo. Nevertheless, according to Fernand, it was a full, rich and incredibly rewarding experience. 

“The goal is to promote mutual understanding between the United States and the host country, and to promote understanding of educational systems between the two countries,” Fernand said. “And, ideally, we want to promote partnerships and build relationships between institutions in the U.S. and Japan. We had a representative from The Teacher’s College at Columbia University, which was a big hit among the Japanese Fulbright alumni. Also, the two community college representatives had a chance to meet representatives of Meiji University, a maverick in promoting partnerships with community colleges.

Fernand beneath a lantern at Asakusa
Fernand beneath a lantern at Asakusa

Fernand feels Japanese education officials may naturally gravitate to the West Coast when building educational partnerships with the U.S., however, her goal was to see how NOVA could expand partnership possibilities. Attractive opportunities that NOVA offers are the chance for speakers of other languages to learn English and the possibility of sending English-speaking students who want to learn Japanese. Language learning is a great place to start. 

English language skill is a very hot commodity as Japan prepares to host the 2020 Olympics. The country is instituting new requirements for elementary school children that will require they take English starting in primary school. 

“We want to make sure the opportunities are available and affordable and that there is ample opportunity to send and receive students. Japanese educators are very interested in actual, one-for-one exchange of students—not just Japan sending students to study in America, but also having the same number of U.S. students go to study in Japan,” Fernand said. 

Leeza Fernand is associate director within the Office of International Education, and she leads the Community College Initiative Program, which is funded by the U.S. Department of State. Originally from Belarus, Fernand received both her bachelor’s degree and MBA at John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio and has been in the field of international education for over a decade. 


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