Juan Carlos Lozano: English Assistant + Wushu + Nico Nico Tomato Volunteer

So far this semester I’ve participated in more activities than I’ve expected, but I’m more than grateful as one rarely gets the chance to be a part of the Japanese community. The first CIP I chose was volunteering as an English teaching assistant at Kamigyo Middle School. I have considered for quite some time now the option of being a teacher as a career path so this opportunity was definitely one I couldn’t pass up. To my surprise, the first-year middle school students I was set to teach were extremely energetic and pounced at the chance to answer my questions in English. I also received an overwhelming amount of surprised looks when they heard me speak in Japanese, and without fail, I would here 「日本語が上手」. Of course, I responded with the humble phrases I was trained to give in return. I also noticed many of the students’ English conversation skills were pretty focused on set questions such as “Do you like sports?”, “What is your favorite food?”, and “Do you like food?” etc. This made me realize that around this stage of learning English most students’ English has been focused on conversation starter questions or 日常会話.

Also, as the rumor spread that there was an American teaching in one of the classes many of the students on the rest of floor gathered around my teacher and I as I walked through the hallway—it was as if I was a rare species just being discovered. Each student was very shy when speaking to me, but still very excited to learn. In fact, I found their eagerness to learn surprising as I look back at my middle school memories in which students would constantly dodge the teacher’s questions. I also found it very important to encourage (smile and say something like よくできた!) the students whether they answer correctly or not, as it motivates them to try to answer even more English questions. All in all, the students at Kamigyo Middle School have been incredibly endearing and make me excited to volunteer and learn something new every week.

However, since most students are out for the month due to Spring Break, I added the title of CIP to my Wushu (Chinese martial arts) circle. Every Friday I go to Higashiyama to train Wushu with two awesome teachers. One of the sensei claimed the 1995 Wushu World Cup title and is a great teacher! Usually I’m the only participant on Fridays so I’m very lucky to learn one on one. As Wushu is a martial art, respect for each other is definitely emphasized and is expected that students use Keigo with their sensei. Sometimes I feel very relaxed talking to my sensei that I almost forget the formalities altogether. Culturally, I believe respect and 上下 is very important in this type of setting. Also, thanks to my sensei I’ve painfully become more flexible that I ever thought possible!

Finally, I have also started volunteering at Kyoto University’s hospital Nico Toma. Nico Toma has so far been a fun experience that has shown me how much care hospital volunteers put into their work. Although most of the volunteer work has been arts and crafts oriented, every little aspect of our work has gone toward bringing a smile to the kids in the Pediatrics section. However, this week we got to play with one of the kids while we held a bazaar of donated goods and it was extremely fun, although I think I was probably more into the “Breaking the Tower” game then the little boy was. I can’t wait to continue my experience at Nico Toma and hopefully get to meet more kids!

4 thoughts on “Juan Carlos Lozano: English Assistant + Wushu + Nico Nico Tomato Volunteer

  1. You have done so many different activities! It’s so great Juan! Are you thinking of teaching English as a second language? The kids at the school sound so cute and they probably love you, what a great experience! Is there a kohai/sempai establishment within the other students at Wushu? If so how does this play out with sensei in the mix as well? How long are the kids usually at Nico Toma for or does it vary? Do you get to form bonds with them or just the other volunteers that work there?

    • Actually, I was thinking about applying for the Japanese Exchange and Teaching program, but I’m not sure whether that’s what I want to do. I definitely have enjoyed my experiences teaching English at Kamigyo, but I really miss the aspect of medicine and science that I originally decided to focus on. I might concentrate on advancing toward medical school instead, but who knows what the future will bring.

      In regards to Wushu, I actually tend to be the only student that attends on Fridays (besides an adorable five year old), so I haven”t had the chance to interact or observe a kohai/sempai relationship (but I would definitely consider it to be important if their were other members with different experience levels). Naturally, I would think everyone would speak very formally to the sensei since, well, he’s the sensei and he’s a super kungfu master who won the World Cup in 1995!

      As for Nico Toma, I’ve only had one chance to play with the kids so I haven’t formed a long lasting relationship with them yet, but kids in Nico Toma tend to have very serious illnesses so they are in Nico Toma for a prolonged period of time.

  2. What you said about a lot of English lessons for Japanese children being just conversation starters struck home with me because I think that if one really wants to teach a language effectively one has to start at the basics and then work up. That way a student actually gains command of a language and doesn’t just have a repertoire of set phrases to use and get responses to. When I hosted a Japanese student in high school I basically just knew conversation-starter Japanese, so I’d ask him a question and then be unable to understand what he was saying in response. Did you have to conform strictly to the curriculum or were you able to get the students to have more discussion-like classes (I personally wish my Japanese classes in high school/college were more discussion-based. I think it makes learning more interesting)?

    • I completely agree with you! I’ve also thought about the curriculum and teaching methods used by the teachers and have wondered whether they adhere mainly to conversation starters and set phrases. From my experience at Kamigyo, I have definitely noticed that the students are very knowledgeable about those small talk phrases, but they have also learned how to read and understand pieces of literature (probably elementary level/early middle school).

      I actually was expected to strictly conform to the curriculum since the teacher had a set plan for class which I was expected to execute. So unfortunately, there was not much discussion, but mostly Q&A sessions. I do wish there would be more of an opportunity for discussion as it would definitely make things more interesting and bring to light English’s practical usage.