An International school in the lead of character building:

Interview with Terence Christian, headmaster of Nishimachi International School, by Mary Rudow

The idea of Nishimachi International School came about in 1948. It started out as the idealistic notion of three young women (Founder Tane Matsukata, her sister Haru and a friend Yuri Murata) living in postwar Japan: to give Japanese children more than a traditional education. The idea materialized the following year when Tané Matsukata started teaching out of the Murata residence but soon found the need for a school building as the students multiplied. Nishimachi School was built in 1951 (taking the name of an earlier district). In 1966, the name was changed to the current Nishimachi International School.

Fast-forward to the present, I sat down with the headmaster of Nishimachi International School, Terence Christian, to learn the secret to his success and the essence which defines this iconic, six-decade-old school.

“I took up the post as headmaster of Nishimachi International School in August 2004,” says the jovial and energetic Mr. Christian, or Terry, as he prefers to be called, “I’d just completed five years as headmaster at Le Bocage International School in Mauritius and decided it was time for my family and I to move on. Japan and the school interested me, so I decided to apply for the position. I was able to secure interviews with a several other international schools in various countries, but none of the schools left the impression that Nishimachi did upon my first interview visit in 2003. I felt a real connection with the school board and that they were open to working alongside the headmaster to bring about continuous improvement at the school was attractive to me. The children, faculty and staff were also a determined factor, they just have such a spark to them.”

Terry’s accomplishments as an educator span across the globe. Over the last three decades, he has been able to contribute his talents to nations in four continents and two archipelagos. Originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland, Terry spent the earlier part of his professional life as an educator in the UK and then Jamaica.

“It was the two years teaching in Jamaica that really set the tone for my future career. It inspired me to continue on the path of an educator. I spent eight years in El Salvador teaching at an international school after that. Then I traveled to Bogota. There, I spent four years as the head of secondary and then headmaster of an international K-12 school there.”

From there, he went on to Istanbul where he spent three years at a Turkish educational institute establishing the International Baccauraleate (IB) program there.

Terence Christian in his office

Nishimachi International School head, Terence Christian, in his office during our conversation this month

During a pause in our conversation, I notice a guitar leaning up against the wall in one corner of the room. Upon enquiring, Terry revealed that not only is he fully immersed in his role as the headmaster of Nishimachi, he is a “singer-song writer” who is “passionate about music.”

“I lived in Denmark for a while as a musician and was able to work with an independent recording company to produce my music. Here in Japan I’ve had little time to get around to that but I’ve continued to write my own music, play the guitar and collaborate with different artists  – both semi-professional and professional – in my leisure time. I love my work but I believe it is important to have a passion for something aside from work. It makes you a more balanced individual.”

With a headmaster who realizes the importance of a balanced life in the lead, Nishimachi International School impresses upon its students the importance of being well-rounded individuals.

“Just as our students are encouraged and assisted to excel scholastically and to reach for their dreams, they are taught at an early age to be aware of the needs of those around them. They get involved with programs that help those in need and are therefore able to experience the joy that can only come through realizing the dreams of those less fortunate than they.”

In 2000, Nishimachi made the decision to participate in Japan Relief for Cambodia’s project to build schools in rural Cambodia (an NGO related to parents of Nishmachi International School alumni).

“With the support of the community, students of Nishimachi NIS have been wholeheartedly working to build and raise support for one of the schools supported by Japan Relief for Cambodia named Kirivorn.” Nishimachi International School’s parents association, dubbed ‘TNK’ (Tomo no kai), with the school, also organizes yearly events to facilitate fundraising to support charities both in Japan and abroad.

Kirivorn School’s aid funds were raised at events such as the annual Nishimachi Flea Market, the Spring Festival, the School Dance and the Volleyball Party, etc. Students in grades K-9 participated actively in these fund-raising endeavors to reach the targeted goal – enough to support the Kirivorn school yearly operating costs.

“Nishimachi International School Tohoku Relief group raised over 8.5 million yen (from the TNK organized fundraising auction) last year after the multiple disaster that hit Tohoku. Parents of the students at the school who knew people in the Sendai area recommended that we reach out to Shizugawa Junior High School in Minami Sanriku-cho. They had to cancel their yearly graduation trip to Tokyo because many of the students’ parents at their school lost their jobs after the tsunami and could not afford to sponsor the graduation trip.”

“We decided to target a portion of the money raised to sponsoring the school’s graduation trip to Tokyo. It was rewarding to see how elated the graduates and their parents were. We have since committed to sponsoring the next two years of Shizugawa Junior High School’s graduation trips. Aside from that, we’ve also been able to work with O.G.A., and other NGOs in Japan, to target the needs of those at Minami Sanriku-cho and the Tohoku region, as well as continue raising funds for the charities we normally support.”

Another factor that helps to shape the character of the students at Nishimachi International School is the Outreach Scholarship Program. “In 2003, a scholarship program was set up for the children of culturally diverse, lower-income families. We felt compelled to support the needs of these children who do well academically but have not been the opportunity to take part in higher quality education due to their less fortunate economic circumstances. Through fund raising events such as the annual Outreach Scholarship Golf Tournament, we have been able to receive financial assistance from companies and individuals for this program. We are very grateful for the contribution of these companies and individuals as we feel that it is an investment that will some day give back to society. Our reward is to see the metamorphosis that these children go through.”

“We have about 15 applicants every year and about half of them meet the Nishimachi’s entry criteria. Once these children enter and become a part of the school, they generally integrate extremely well as everyone at the school is accepting and supportive of others.”

“Our community and strong academic K-9 programs are what makes Nishimachi special. Our culture of respect, understanding of diversity, focus on active learning, trust and communication, and strong commitment to language learning, in both English and Japanese (all of the students have daily Japanese lessons) are what prepare our students for the world. Students leave Nishimachi thoroughly prepared to continue their education in first-class institutions around the world–as attested by generations of successful alumni. The goal is for all Nishimachi students to become academically, linguistically, culturally, and socially well-rounded citizens of the world.”

For more information, see the Nishimachi International School Website.