Japanese ESL Teacher Who Experienced Earthquake Determined to Attend TESOL 2011

“I shouldn’t be here,” were the words that Yuko Shitara-Matsuo used to introduce herself to the group of teachers attending the TESOL Preconvention Institute workshop on pronunciation.  She and her husband experienced the earthquake in Niiza, Japan, not at its epicenter.  Yuko says she was eating a bowl of hot noodle soup, and it went all over the place.  Luckily, she was wearing a raincoat.  She and her husband were not harmed during the incident.

As a native of Japan, she states that she has experienced numerous earthquakes but nothing like this one. Yuko was glued to the television watching the subsequent tsunami hit the coast.  Mrs. Shitara-Matsuo is a first-time attendee from Jumonji University.  She feels partly guilty for coming to the convention during this national crisis and partly determined to learn and then apply her new skills and understanding with her Japanese ESL students.

Yuko fears for her husband’s family that lives near the nuclear power plant, as well as for everyone affected by this trio of disasters.  She feels guilty now for being in a safe place, like she is a refugee of Japan.  In preparation for her travel to the United States, Yuko stayed near the airport overnight because traffic was heavy in both directions by car—to the airport and to the disaster area—and trains were not running.  She hurriedly stuffed her suitcase while simultaneously watching the news and upon her arrival to the United States found that she had packed unnecessary items.

The Japanese television was airing uninterrupted news; it seemed odd for her not see any commercials.  It reminded me of the normalcy that ended abruptly on 9-11 in the United States; the daily activity of planes flying over the schoolyard in Los Angeles where I taught suddenly went quiet.  Yuko wasn’t sure if coming to the TESOL conference was a good idea since she isn’t in a good state to appreciate everything.  I interviewed her on Tuesday and have been deeply touched by her determination.  She has become my teaching hero.

Additionally, I’ve been worrying about Yuko, as news from Japan sounds increasingly apocalyptic.   I’d given her my information but had no way of contacting her.  On Thursday evening, as I was running from the convention center to the Hilton, I ran into Yuko at 7:45 p.m.  She was looking for another presentation on pronunciation.  I hugged her and almost cried right in front of her; I told her it was synchronicity and she said it was only coincidence.  Outwardly, she appears to be like any other conference first-timer, determined to attend as many sessions as possible.  Inside, who knows what emotional dilemmas she is facing.

About Sandra Rogers

Sandra Rogers
Mrs. Rogers has a master's in TESOL, as well as the TESOL certificate in the Principles and Practices of Online Teaching. Currently, she's enrolled in a doctorate program for instructional design. She has a K-12 bilingual (Spanish) teaching certificate from California. Her areas of expertise are in bilingual education, culture, language acquisition and development (BCLAD), reading, quality assurance, and technology. She's active in the CALL-IS of TESOL and volunteers to provide free professional development for the Electronic Village Online (EVO). Mrs. Rogers spends her days scoring the TOEFL and TOEIC online for ETS. Additionally, Sandra founded a nonprofit charity to help job seekers find employment utilizing social media as a career tool. Find her on twitter @teacherrogers to learn about tips on integrating technology into the classroom.
This entry was posted in TESOL Convention Blog and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Japanese ESL Teacher Who Experienced Earthquake Determined to Attend TESOL 2011

  1. Sandra Rogers sandra rogers says:

    Thanks for the compliment.

  2. javier says:

    we always pray for Japan,…

    and Sand, nice writing…

  3. Vivian PR says:

    I am a TESOL member who attended the Boston Convention last year. I plan to go to Phila next year. I am concerned about the situation in Japan because my daughter, who studies at Simmons College in Boston, is planning to go to an Internship this summer in Tokyo, Japan. I am worried that the radiation will reach Tokyo and she will be affected. Does somebody know anyone who lives there and can tell me what she can expect? I will greatly appreciate your advice and comments. Thank you! (My daughter has learned Japanese in college and wants to practice the language. She also knows Spanish and English. She is 20 years old.)
    Vivian M, San Juan, PR

    • Sandra Rogers sandra rogers says:


      I understand your concerns. I suggest you follow the US State Department’s guidelines on travel to Japan. Here is the link:

      It states that nonessential travel to Tokyo, as well as many other Japanese cities, is discouraged. Hopefully, her internship will find an alternative and safe location. Perhaps they could also provide their assistance/internship online via Skype in the Classroom or other online learning platforms.

  4. Sandra Rogers srogers says:


    Thank you for your thoughtful comments and personal story. I support your suggestion to donate to the Red Cross on behalf of Japan. Sometimes we get overwhelmed with the sad news and feel powerless, but we can all share our hopeful words, prayers, and donations with those affected.

  5. Nina Ito says:

    I’m glad that Yuko was able to attend TESOL, and I hope that she was inspired by all that went on. I can sympathize with her on a personal level. When I flew into New Orleans and saw how flat the terrain was, I could imagine Katrina coming ashore and killing all those who weren’t able to evacuate. This saddened me, and I was also sad that I had just left my husband in Los Angeles. My husband’s hometown is Sendai, Japan. His family home and family business were destroyed, but fortunately his immediate family was able to survive. Other relatives were not so lucky and he’s receiving bad news every few days. I hope that Yuko is able to attend another TESOL in the future, in happier times. If anyone can re-build their country, it’s the Japanese. In the meantime, though, please donate to the Red Cross on behalf of Japan. It only takes a few minutes to donate via the website!

    • Dear Nina,
      Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the Japanese earthquake. I hope that your husband’s family can rebuild their business and create a wonderful new home. I always wonder what happened to Yuko’s extended family, as I have not heard back from her. Moreover, I hope she liked the article that I wrote about our interview. I’m fairly certain that she will continue to attend TESOL conferences due to her determined nature to excel at teaching and teacher-training.

Leave a Reply to sandra rogers Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.