Fengsheng Zhu: Volunteering at NICCO

I have been volunteering as a translator/translation editor in NICCO (Nippon International Cooperation for Community development), a Kyoto-based NGO that has initiated and operated humanity support programs both within Japan and in poverty-stricken regions of the world. While my work does not directly relate to NICCO’s field work, reading and translating web posts and publications actually became an opportunity for me to follow up closely with NICCO’s activities.

Although it is my first time working with an NGO that is involved in international-wide activities, not to mention that it is a Japan-based NGO, NICCO did not strike me as being much different from the domestic NPO’s I have worked with in the States. All the staff are really nice, and the tightly packed office room adds to the cozy atmosphere. And it feels like that they experience the same problem as their American NPO counterparts- heavy workload that keeps them busy throughout the day. But to say that all staff do in the office is working is lying. The social atmosphere in the office is quite relaxed. Maybe also because I volunteer at the office on Friday afternoons, staff tend to chit-chat while snacking on some omiyage-food later in the afternoon. One interesting thing I noticed in inter-staff communication, is that whenever someone leaves the office briefly through the day (for example, to send a mail in the post office), the rest of the staff will say いってらっしゃい, and お帰り, upon the staff’s return. The use of these expression gives a homey feeling to the atmosphere within the office, and which I can take as a sign showing that every staff is recognized as an integral member of the organization.

Since one of the goals of CIP is for the student to become and be recognized as a functioning member of the group that he/she chooses to join, I will talk briefly about my status in this organization. A KCJS 23 Senpai who volunteered at NICCO last spring commented how she still felt like an outsider due to the limited number of work hours as a volunteer as well as a sense that she did not share the same dedication as the staff. Maybe my state right now is not too much different from hers when she wrote the post, another set of wording more accurately describes my experience.

Given that the product of my volunteer work is closely integrated into NICCO’s work, I do not consider myself an outsider. At the same time, however, I do not feel that I fall under the category of “member”, either. For one reason, I am not a formally employed staff, and likely have been in the office for a time period shorter than everyone else in the office. Another reason is that I have trouble locating a proper definition of a “member” in the NICCO office. If being an employee is a more literal and physical definition of a “member”, then the more figurative definition- what it means to be a “member”- is more fluid. The first criterion that comes to mind feels somewhat similar to the literal definition- dedication to NICCO’s work. And the rest seem quite common for an NGO office setting- whether one fits in the atmosphere and the social scene in the office. For the first item, I do not think that the homey environment in NICCO even requires time to fit in; the second item is more difficult to judge, since people naturally form little social groups, and it is hard to say where a conclusive social group even exists, the criterion itself is rendered obsolete in some sense. The criteria listed so far do not form a distinctive guideline that separates members from non-members, yet all of them seem to qualify as reasonable standard for making such judgment. Maybe there are other criteria that I am yet aware of, but nevertheless give me the feeling that I am not a member of the group. It is also possible that nobody qualifies as an absolute member of the group, due to the various criteria that apply. Regardless of the question of membership, I am still grateful that I have been able to fulfill the “functioning” part of the goal, that my work generates at least some value to the organization’s operation.

I consider my CIP experience a good one, given that NICCO is a welcoming organization. Although translating work might seem mundane and it does not require much communication with the staff around me, I still had fun doing the work. NICCO is a good place to experience the professional office setting in Japan, but probably not as suitable for those who seek a lot of on-work communication with Japanese people.

2 thoughts on “Fengsheng Zhu: Volunteering at NICCO

  1. I have similar experience with those aisatsu kotoba. I took me some time to learn how use these expressions, but the feeling of being accepted as an integral member is so warm. How do you feel about your translation project? Would you like to do any related work in the future?

    • The translation project was fun at times, when I encountered some interesting expressions, and had to come with the right phrase to convey the nuance. However, when I was working on the editting project for translated articles, I still felt hesitant to completely revise someone else’s translation, because I don’t think that my English proficiency grants me the right to alter other people’s work.

      It has been a great experience working on small-scale translation project like this. While I don’t know if I will get the same opportunity in the future, I have to say that at least I was grateful for being able to contribute to NICCO with my language skill.