The Global English/Español Training Programme (a.k.a. GET) is a longtime staple of Peace Boat's global voyages and a fixture of Peace Boat's presence in Tokyo. GET is a unique language school that teaches communication through task-based learning and recognizes the value of language as a peace-building tool. But this beloved Peace Boat program has not always been around – and, in fact, came about almost by accident.
By 1998 Peace Boat had been organizing voyages for fifteen years, and was about to launch its first voyage from Liverpool, England. In an effort to internationalize the onboard community, Peace Boat posted an ad in British newspaper The Guardian announcing an opportunity for Brits with an interest in peace-building to join the upcoming 24th Global Voyage. One such peace-builder was future GET co-founder, Rachel Armstrong.
Rachel had just returned from teaching in Japan with the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET), a Japanese government program that places foreigners at public schools to teach English and foster international exchange. She saw the ad for Peace Boat in the paper over breakfast. “I thought, oh wow, this is so exciting, this is what I want to do,” she says. She had long been interested in anti-nuclear issues and peace-building, so Peace Boat was the perfect fit. She remembers thinking, “I've got to get a place on that ship.”
So Rachel submitted an essay and went for an interview at a Peace Boat office in London. Less than two months later, she and friend Daniel Vincent, another former JET teacher, boarded the ship as two of ten selected scholarship students. These students would come to be known as the Guardians, so named for the newspaper ad they responded to.
At first, the Guardians weren't sure about their role on the ship. However, they soon discovered the secret that makes Peace Boat voyages so rewarding: jishukikaku, or self-organized events. “We started to understand that to enjoy this, we should contribute,” Rachel says. They started to think about what they could do, and for Rachel and Daniel, there was a clear answer. “We had just finished two years on the JET Programme,” Rachel says. “So what we knew how to do was eikaiwa.” Eikaiwa is Japanese for English conversation lessons.
Rachel and Daniel decided they would use their English teaching experience to make engaging, fun English classes, open to everyone on the ship. The lessons proved popular, and the two teachers organized three of these open lessons a day, one for each level of English learner: Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced. “It was a huge hit on board,” Rachel remembers. Soon enough other Guardians got involved, and they began organizing other events such as treasure hunts and a language olympics.
However, about half-way through the voyage it became clear that some Peace Boat participants were interested in more serious language learning. For these participants Rachel and Daniel organized smaller English classes that would meet ten times for more intensive language lessons. By the end of the voyage, this organically grown program became a central part of the onboard community, and both Rachel and Daniel were invited to continue teaching on the next voyage.
In late 1999 Peace Boat decided that what Rachel and Daniel had created was something all future voyages needed. This new language program would support in internationalizing the community and fulfill Peace Boat's mission to build a culture of peace in the world by giving participants the language tools to connect with people from beyond the borders of their own country. In order to fund class materials and support bringing on more volunteer teachers the program would charge students for tuition in the intensive classes. The first formal English program launched on the 35th Global Voyage in 2001, and Spanish was officially offered on the 36th Global Voyage.
The open lessons, events, and small group classes Rachel and Daniel had organized had laid the ground work for what became the Global English/Español Training Programme. Daniel recalls the idea for the name came about over drinks with key Peace Boat staff in the small bar and restaurant that once existed in the basement of what is now Peace Boat's volunteer center in Tokyo.
Global English/Español “tied into the idea of Peace Boat,” says Daniel. “So students would be learning the language for communicating with other people around the world and on Peace Boat, not necessarily learning British English or Spain's Spanish, or Ecuadorian Spanish or American English.” The word “training” was chosen for the name to reflect the practical nature of GET's approach, and because students would be “using the language immediately”.
Under the leadership of one of Peace Boat’s main staff members, Yoko Furuyama, and with a dedicated staff team in support, the program continued to evolve, attracting more and more students on the ship as well as volunteer teachers from around the globe eager to join a Peace Boat voyage. The value of GET became clearer as time went on and people could see the impact the lessons had on the students and their experiences both on and off the ship. “Even exchanging a few words with the people you are meeting makes a huge difference in the quality of the interaction,” says Rachel. “We all understand the value of this I think, of being able to interact with others in their own language. These were the years where the importance of having GET was made so very clear.”
The GET Programme has been held on every Peace Boat voyage since, taught by peace-oriented, passionate volunteer teachers. Open Classes are held in much the same way they were on Rachel and Daniel's first voyage, with the addition of volunteer interpreters, known as Communication Coordinators (CCs), assisting teachers by offering interpretation into Japanese, Chinese, and Korean. There is now a well-practiced language level assessment system designed to place the one hundred students who typically join the paid program. Teachers meet with their students for group and private lessons throughout the voyage, and create opportunities for them to use their new language on the ship and in port through events and excursions.
These days, Rachel still works for Peace Boat, and continues to be instrumental in supporting the voyages and the GET Programme from Tokyo. Daniel currently teaches English for the British Council in Madrid, Spain, but he recalls his time in the early days of Peace Boat and GET fondly. “It was one of my life's defining experiences to be a part of that,” he says.