Familiar with Japan since childhood visits there, Principal Marion Flaman of Schaumburg's Dooley Elementary School nevertheless saw a different side to the country when she visited the slowly recovering Fukushima area earlier this month.
Two years after the earthquake, the scars were plainly evident to the members of the Japanese American Leadership Delegation, Flaman said.
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Though she knew the local school she'd be visiting was meant to be a temporary facility, she was surprised that it was an entirely prefabricated structure.
"I thought there would be a more permanent structure after two years," Flaman said.
But she was truly impressed by the way individuals and families had adapted to their changed circumstances.
"I was surprised most by the resiliency of the students," she said.
While some members of the community relocated to other parts of Japan, those who remained were dedicated to preserving the culture and traditions of the village they'd been unable to return to, even briefly, after what they thought would be a temporary evacuation.
One sign was that the folk tales of the village were alive to a possibly greater extent than before, Flaman said.
The ways of the community have adjusted to the fact that nearly a generation may go by before the village exists in even a remotely similar way that it did before the earthquake. Students just starting school now may never know another building than the current prefab facility before they graduate.
Flaman is half-Japanese and used to visit her grandparents in the region. Today she is principal of a school known far and wide for its Japanese-English dual-language program.
Fifth- and sixth-graders at Dooley Elementary in Schaumburg Township Elementary District 54 put together a video montage of encouragement for the people of Fukushima which Flaman brought with her on her trip.
While in Japan, people at all levels encouraged her and her fellow delegates to tell their stories of what they'd seen and heard in Fukushima back in the U.S.
"I got the sense that the relationship with the U.S. is still very, very important," Flaman said.
Shortly after returning to Dooley School, Flaman began telling students there of her experiences. While younger students were most fascinated by her meeting with the princess of the imperial family, older students were truly interested with how their peers in Fukushima were coping with their changed lives.
As the Japanese language is part of the curriculum at Dooley School, so too are some aspects of Japanese culture known by the students there, Flaman said.
For instance, they know that while in American society it is the person speaking in a conversation who bears the responsibility for being understood, in Japan it is the listener who is responsible for understanding the speaker.
Flaman won't be the only representative of Dooley School visiting Japan this year, though she may be the only one extensively exploring Fukushima.
Ten Dooley students will be visiting Schaumburg's sister city of Namerikawa, Japan this summer -- a time when they will be able to see Japanese schools in full operation.