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The Beginnings of Internationalism/ Interculturalism at YIS and 92 years Later
The Beginnings of Internationalism/ Interculturalism at YIS and 92 years Later

'The beginnings of internationalism at YIS and 92 years later'

By Dennis Stanworth, Head of Academics

Yokohama, Japan, 1924: Six founding members gathered shortly after the Great Kanto Earthquake to discuss the founding of a new school for foreign children within the Yokohama community. All six would form the school's first Board of Directors, led by a Swiss national, and a proposal was put forth to name the institution "Yokohama International School" (YIS), so launching YIS.

Classes commenced on October 27, 1924 in a rented room at the local YMCA with an enrolment of six students aged between 6 and 12 years old and a locally employed teacher. On November 27th, a Dr. Wild, also of Swiss nationality, arrived to take over as headmaster of the school. For the winter term of 1925, the school was moved to the Chaplaincy of the Christ Church, located in the foreign enclave of the city. By mid-February of the same year, the school had grown to eighteen students aged between 7 and 13 years old with eight different nationalities and seven grade levels. The school's vision was taking shape, heralding a commitment to fostering an ethos of both internationalism and interculturalism, and a curriculum was being constructed utilising best practices of various national systems.

Fast-forward to 1996: As a committed educator entering my 16th year at YIS, I was researching the history of international education. I fired a shot across the bow with an article I wrote for the IB World magazine, claiming that YIS could indeed be the first international school in the world with the name 'international' in its title. This sparked much discussion and was eventually challenged by George Walker, then head at the International School of Geneva, who had proof that his school had opened its doors three weeks earlier. 'Let's not argue Dennis' he exclaimed, 'the idea of "internationalism" germinating in two different countries at the same time across different sides of the planet is something we should embrace and celebrate'. Working together, three years later, we celebrated our 75th anniversaries as schools with simultaneous celebrations.

And so upwards and onwards; YIS in 2016: Our initial ideals of internationalism and interculturalism remain firmly in place today. Presently, we have an enrolment of over 660 students, offering three International Baccalaureate (IB) programmes across the school. In terms of demographics, 22% of our students are Japanese nationals (both parents Japanese) many of whom have experienced an international education overseas, 28% are bi-national with Japanese as one nationality and the remaining 50% are made up of other nationalities. 24 mother tongue languages are spoken at the school, 50 nationalities make up the student body and 14 nationalities are represented amongst faculty.

English is the lingua franca and language of instruction of the school, and with highly qualified teachers supported by a hard working and effective EAL department, we help those students requiring extra support to further develop fluency in English. Japanese, the host language, is taught within the normal school day to all students in grades 1-5 (except for those students requiring EAL support or taking Dutch Mother Tongue maintenance). In the MYP (grades 6-10), French, Japanese and Spanish are offered at the Language Acquisition level in addition to Japanese at the Language/Literature level. English is compulsory for all students, offered at both levels. Within the Diploma Programme, the choice of languages includes French, Spanish, Japanese and German, all offered at different levels with some students taking up a self-taught or online option if the language of interest is not available within the school's DP curriculum. Mother Tongue maintenance after school is offered to elementary and secondary students in Dutch, Korean, French, Mandarin and German. The support of and diversity in languages at YIS certainly extend the international and intercultural dimensions within the school community.

Using the framework of the IB across the school, the YIS curriculum truly maintains our original ethos in internationalism and interculturalism. Through the lenses of the transdisciplinary themes and units of inquiry within the PYP, the integration of concepts, contexts, inquiry, knowledge, skills and understanding allows for multiple perspectives to be considered within the students' learning. Students are able to gain a better understanding of various anthropological aspects of individuals and peoples, are able to relate to current issues of global significance and take on a more significant understanding of the environment and sustainable development.

Examples abound in the MYP and DP in the secondary as well through global contexts and key concepts. For instance, our geography course helps to explain the interrelationships between human and natural environments, examining issues that shape decisions within cross-border issues of urbanization, population development and environmental quality; psychology takes a holistic approach that fosters intercultural understanding and respect, where cultural diversity is explored and students are encouraged to develop empathy for others within and outside their own culture; biology helps students to better understand themselves and their place in the natural world.

Service is adding a significant dimension to internationalism and interculturalism at the school. Through engagement in meaningful and reflective service, students gain a deeper understanding of what it means to serve the community, both locally and globally. Service and its learning have become an integral part of what we do and what we believe in here. Each grade level in the elementary has at least one project on the go and in the secondary, students are committed to a wide range of service groups, many of which take on an international and intercultural dimension. Across this journey, we can see real, authentic growth, empowering students to become leaders, think globally and act locally. Evidence of this is seen in the numerous interactions with local orphanages, the homeless, government schools, areas stricken with disaster, combatting human trafficking, or building schools in rural Cambodia, to name just a few examples.


The Global Citizen Diploma (GCD), founded and pioneered at YIS allows students to curate their global citizenship experiences and involvements as individuals both inside and outside of the classroom during their high school days with an important focus on reflection. The intent of the GCD is to recognize and value the extraordinary things our students have achieved as internationally-minded global citizens at YIS.

There are many 'isms' out there in education, but what is clear is that the ethos of our school community -- global citizenship, social, moral and physical resilience -- help to promote the international and intercultural nature of YIS. Language, service learning, the curriculums on offer, the opportunities available to the students to exhibit empathy, tolerance, inclusivity and awareness while experiencing leadership in authentic contexts and among multicultural competencies further support this ethos. As a school, we value our commitment towards furthering the development of our students in the context of international understanding. May it forever continue.

Dennis recently published an article in IS, International School, on YIS's experiences during the Great East Japan Earthquake. Read the article here on page 21.


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