I have been volunteering at Nico Nico Tomato for the last four months, which is a volunteer organization based out of Kyoto University hospital. My time volunteering is usually divided between working with small children in a playroom within the hospital or spent organizing materials for fundraisers, events, and sometimes making presents for the pediatric staff. The work itself is fun and interesting, but I also enjoy observing the day-to-day operations of one of Kyoto’s largest inner city hospitals.
There were two approaches I took when participating in my CIP; the first was the “official” reason I was there: to experience Japanese in a setting besides my classroom or homestay, in which I think the volunteer work was an interesting and worthwhile setting and let my Japanese language skills develop more naturally. The second approach I took was from the perspective of a pre-medical student observing the operations of a hospital as somewhat of an insider, an opportunity I hadn’t had yet, but one crucial for any pre-med student’s application to medical school.
The last few times I visited Nico Nico Tomato, I have spent the first forty-five minutes or so folding pamphlets, estimating the prices of small toys to be sold for a fundraising “café,” or sticking stamps onto envelopes, all while chatting with the volunteers, who are mostly housewives. I often find myself listening to their conversations more than I participate in them, but as time has progressed in the semester, I’ve noticed that I comprehend a lot more than I initially did. I see this time as good practice for listening and speaking, and it’s usually pretty relaxing as well.
After a certain time or when I’ve finished my job, I’ll go down to the playroom on the floor below and hang out with the kids. I like to think of that as a more rigorous Japanese practice, but I normally am having too much fun to really focus on the language like how I do in a classroom, and rather more how I consider it when talking to friends or my host family. I also always get to bring a thing I made home as well, which is always nice.
I honestly never expected my CIP to be as enjoyable as it eventually became; the first few times I visited the hospital were tiring, too hot, and, on account of not a small lack of confidence in my language ability, quite stressful. However, the hours I put in conversing with the volunteers in the staff office and children in the playroom quickly paid off and I think my listening ability became much stronger as a result.