My Community Involvement Project (CIP) is helping the PR officer edit and compose reports in English. Every Tuesday, I would spend 2-3 hours at the small office of Nippon International Cooperation for Community Development (NICCO) located in a machiya (Japanese traditional house) that serves as a casual office complex. The atmosphere therefore is naturally homey. NICCO is like one big family united by a common vision and goal to make the world a better place. Despite the fact that the people of NICCO are really warm and kind, I had difficulty feeling like I was one of them. There are several reasons why I am still an outsider. The first and most obvious reason is because showing up at the office once a week was not enough. Secondly, I did not share the same amount of dedication and stamina as the people of NICCO did. The people at NICCO are very serious about their work. Although we all sit very closely to each other in the tiny office, people do not make small talk or chit chat.
I have done volunteer work since high school, but I never thought about actually pursuing a career in this sector. Sadly, volunteering is a side-project not a top priority to me. The opposite, however, goes for the people of NICCO and I truly admire and respect them for that. These people would travel to countries such as Malawi, Pakistan, and most recently the Tohoku region to rebuild the lives of the disaster victims. But because my selflessness and passion did not measure up to their level, I did not feel like I belonged there. Furthermore, because the nature of my responsibilities did not require frequent interactions with others, I also could not develop deep relationships with my colleagues and the other interns.
The most interesting thing I experienced at NICCO was when I had to write two letters of apologies. One of them was an actual letter of apology and the other one was somewhat a different type of letter of apology. The reason I call it different is not because the NICCO staffs intentions were not sincere, but because we had to apologize to the person that had to cancel last minute. At least in the West, the party that cancelled last minute would be the party that is expected to send the letter of apology to the organization. But as I have learned from this situation, in Japan, if a person had to cancel last minute, it is because they were forced to. Therefore, in Japan, you have to apologize to that person for causing them to make a last minute cancellation even if you really had nothing to do with it.
I am positive that if my Japanese skills were advanced, I could contribute more to NICCO and also fit in to the organization better. Due to the nature of my responsibilities, and the fact that my supervisor can speak English, there have been times when I had to resort to English. I try my best not to, but because I need to make sure that I understand her instructions perfectly, I have committed the crime of using English during my CIP. Because my tasks involved public relations, it is crucial that I know exactly what I am doing or else the results may reflect poorly upon NICCO.
Nonetheless, my CIP experience at NICCO has been a positive one. Despite the fact that I never became a real member of the organization, the people of NICCO are perhaps one of the most caring and selfless group of people I have encountered and for that I am truly grateful.
First of all, I was very amused by “I have committed the crime of using English during my CIP”…but it seems clear to me that you used it for a good reason which doesn’t necessarily reflect badly on your desire to use Japanese to fit into the organization. Other than that, it sounds like even though you never felt like a true member, you gained a sense of what volunteer organizations are like in Japan, which I think is also a good contribution of the CIP to your learning experience. You were able to honestly recognize that you did not have the same level of commitment that your coworkers did while still admiring the work that they performed, which I think is definitely a positive thing.
Thanks for your comment, Cecille. You are definitely right when you said that I gained a sense of what volunteer organizations are like in Japan. I would have never gained access to that insight if I had not participated in my CIP.