Teaching English Education in Japan: Robert Schalkoff

Robert Schalkoff ’88 admitted he “had no interest in international work” when he came to Annville from his home in New Jersey to study music education— which is ironic, since today Schalkoff may well be the alumnus living furthest from LVC. He works in the field of international education: Schalkoff is professor of English education and director of international education at Yamaguchi Prefectural University in Yamaguchi Prefecture, Japan.

Schalkoff originally moved to Japan in 1989 to join his old high school sweetheart. The relationship didn’t last, but Schalkoff’s fascination with the country did, and he soon found a niche teaching English to Japanese students. “I found that I really enjoyed English education,” he said. “I’ve taught and/or been a teacher trainer in nearly every context you can imagine—private schools, public schools, prestigious private academies, and, since 1996, higher education.” Over the years, he has gone on to earn a master’s degree in Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), and is a doctoral candidate in adult and higher education at Northern Illinois University.

“LVC provided me with a really solid liberal arts education and a number of opportunities to pursue new interests in a supportive environment—I think I developed and honed my sense of adventure there,” he said. “LVC also provided me the opportunity to exercise my critical thinking skills and to encounter and reflect on, rather than judge, ideas that were at times very different than my own. These are skills that I use daily as I interact with my Japanese colleagues and students.”

After nearly 25 years, Schalkoff said he’s still fascinated by Japan. But there’s more: “Japan has also afforded me the opportunity to live in a context where I’m not a member of the dominant culture,” he said. “Confronting prejudice and discrimination has allowed me to look critically at my own prejudices and privileged position in society as a member of the dominant culture in the U.S. Living in another culture has also brought me a greater and deeper understanding of my own values and beliefs as an American. At the same time, living here has taught me that there are always more than two perspectives on any given subject, and that I have to respect different views even if I don’t always agree with or embrace them.”

Not surprisingly for a director of international education, Schalkoff is a strong proponent of study abroad. “I fully and strongly believe in the power and transformational possibilities of international experiences for college students,” he said. “International competencies are not only imperative in an increasingly globalized work market, they enrich our lives in ways we can only come to understand years after these experiences are over. Moreover, the friends that we make through these experiences connect us to whatever part of the world we visit and make it that much harder to enter into conflicts or war with those people.”