by Nasci Lobo, Director of Communications and Marketing

The popular Japanese phrase, お帰りなさい (okaerinasai - welcome home), uttered daily to welcome family members home from a day at work or school, is heard in every Japanese city, neighborhood and home. We are delighted to say okaerinasai to former YIS staff Monna McDiarmid and Ben McKeown, who join us for a second time as staff at YIS. We spent some time with both veteran Dragons to get their thoughts on the Honmoku campus and their return to YIS.

MM: "The new opportunity at YIS was an exciting way to come back to Japan to finish a chapter in my life that I felt was unfinished", says Canadian native Monna McDiarmid. A High School Counsellor and academic advisor, Monna worked at YIS from 2011 until 2017 in the same role. When she returned to her home of Nova Scotia during the pandemic, she felt that her chapter in Japan wasn't over. She continues her work this time with students in grades 10 to 12, teaches Wellness in grades 9 and 10, and is teaching the Theory of Knowledge course in the Diploma Programme for the first time.

"I find it really easy to be filled with wonder, and Japan provides plenty of opportunity to do so", Monna adds. "I want to spend time noticing the things in Yokohama that I liked the last time I lived here, and also those things I hadn't noticed before like the small shrines and temples tucked away on local streets that I walk on regularly, or hoping on a train to Kamakura for a simple afternoon visit. These are ordinary things to some people, but are extraordinary to me."

"The Yamate campus will always be special in my heart because it was my first YIS experience and was a small campus on which to get to know people." Upon seeing media of the Honmoku campus, Monna was impressed by the scale, architectural beauty, wide hallways, and the large field, but felt that it couldn't be as good in real life. "The campus feels even better than in pictures!", she exclaims. "There is so much light and life, and it feels like a healthy place for students to learn, and staff to work in. I'm very excited to be on the new campus", she adds.

High School Counselor and Academic Advisor, Monna McDiarmid

BM: "The first time I walked through the Honmoku campus was with my young daughter Ella, all I could think of was how happy I was that she would be going through school in such a wonderful environment", says Montréal native Ben McKeown. "Now that I've been here for a week, I really like how open my classroom feels; students and teachers walk in and out like one would a living room, which makes it a safe and comfortable place to learn. I know it will very soon feel like home", he adds. Ben also feels the design of the campus is wonderful for collaboration and creativity. "I have never been at a school where the hallways and outdoor areas are all learning spaces, and I am already looking for reasons to take them out and make the most of the environment", he says enthusiastically.

Ben worked at YIS from 2011 to 2019, teaching Middle School and High School Individuals and Societies and Geography in the Diploma Programme. He also supervised several clubs and activities including the popular Snow Club which introduces the joys of winter sports to underprivileged elementary school children in Tohoku, and baseball. He decided to leave the coaching of the baseball team to more experienced colleagues, he says with a slightly embarrassed smirk on his face.

Ben returns to YIS as the proud tutor of 10M, and teaches Individuals and Societies to grades  7 to 9 as well as DP Psychology. He will most definitely be returning to supervising the Snow Club and the HS Chiku Service Learning club, but will defer to colleagues when it comes to coaching baseball.

Gr. 10 Tutor, Individuals and Societies, and DP Psychology teacher, Ben McKeown.

Why did Ben return to our school? "YIS has been very formative for me as a professional, and has shaped the teacher I am today. By coming back, I knew that I would be in an environment in line with my values, where I would be given the freedom to teach through inquiry, without some of the restraints I find in most other schools. I also wanted my daughter to be a YIS student, with all that it entails", he explains.

Monna, and her partner Damian Pitter, who also worked as a counsellor at YIS with Monna on the Yamate campus, are excited about reconnecting with former friends and colleagues. She will be working with Secondary English teacher Tina Post to guide the High School Student Council, which is a role she had on the Yamate campus. " I love working with StuCo because I see how students grow and develop leadership", she explains.

She and Damien have already visited their favorite ramen shop in Minatomirai, look forward to hearing some jazz in Yokohama and Tokyo, and soaking up the soothing energy of Shimoda on the Izu Peninsula. Hokkaido, where she hasn't been yet, is also on her list of places to go to.

BM: "Right now I am happy just biking around the parks and neighborhoods and soaking up the memories and energy of Japan, like stopping for a bite in a restaurant where the owner cooks your food. Once we are settled, I am looking forward to going camping, hiking, biking and snowboarding with my friends and family. Ella will shred this winter!" Ganbatte Ben; we'll look for you on the slopes, and on the sidelines cheering on our baseball team.

Monna and Ben, who coincidentally both joined YIS in 2011, join us again, together, and are part of the diverse array of 16 experienced international teachers that joined YIS this August. Oh, and in case you were wondering what the returnees say upon their arrival home - the appropriate phrase is ただいま (tadaima - I'm back!). Okaerinasi, Monna and Ben.