My CIP experience, volunteering at NicoNico Tomato at Kyoto University Hospital (which I plan on continuing next semester), has been both relaxing and worthwhile. Every week would provide a respite from the seemingly never-ending workload. While I would help out with whatever activity or task needed to be accomplished, I always had the opportunity to communicate with others and actually use what I learned.
Having volunteered in a hospital in New York, it was interesting to note how the atmospheres and environments differ. NicoNico Tomato has a strong sense of community and volunteer base. Although it is volunteer run, they take their duties and commitment seriously. For example, they personally make handmade cards for most of the major holidays. They take several weeks to cut out paper in shapes of numerous characters and to create backgrounds for the card. I couldn’t wrap my head around the notion of spending so much time for one project. However, after I started distributing the cards to the children at a Halloween party and saw their reaction, I knew that it was time worth spent. It was occasions such as these where you realize the disparity between cultural mindsets.
In addition to realizing cultural differences, I have become less worried about making mistakes and to constantly engage in conversation even it if is just asking them questions about how to do something. While being the only foreigner at first made me uneasy, it naturally gravitated peoples’ attention and conversation to me (which was nice not having to always make the first initiative to engage in conversation). While the conversations ranged from talking with students, activity leaders, to other volunteers, conversations never ceased to be engaging—both interesting and allowing me use various vocabulary and formalities because of the varying range of situations. Engaging in conversation about varying customs to discussing similar music interests or even just hearing about someone’s day allowed me to not only to better develop my Japanese, but also allowed me to better connect and forge bonds with other members of the volunteer group.
Sounds pretty fun – what ages were all the volunteers? Did you meet many people the same age or was it a wide variety? Good luck next semester too!
The other volunteers were students from Ritsumeikan or Kyodai and middle-aged women. The range in ages added an interesting mix! Thanks, you too!