Shauna Moore: International Exchange Team: Giving Directions and Event Planning

I’ve learned a lot from my CIP experience with regards to both culture and language, and I’m certainly glad I participated in it. The primary function of the “International Exchange Team” was to plan events in which native Japanese speakers and foreigners could converse and exchange ideas in a fluid and unassuming environment. However, on a day-to-day basis, we visited tourist hotspots in hopes of finding people who were in need of directions. Naturally, we congregated near maps, floated meaningfully around significant temples, or otherwise foraged through wide, brightly lit streets. I’m still not very aware of what the other volunteers, interns, or part-time employers do in their working or university lives, but, we gathered in Higashiyama for these purposes.

In general, the act of guiding people and giving directions did not prove fruitful for me because I was almost completely useless in this task. When I first started to volunteer with this team, I understood the conversations between my peers and senpai fairly well, but the conversations often lapsed into the casual, and I’m sure the other team members kindly tailored the conversation to my needs. When asked for directions, I understood the language surrounding the locations, but was unable to understand the precise locations they were looking for, and I certainly could not tell them how to actually reach said destination. (I, myself, got lost on the way to my CIP every day except for one, as a result experimenting with faster transportation methods).

However, I realized that my primary job within the volunteer group, unlike the other members, was to deal primarily with foreigners. In this situation I could communicate with them, but not an entirely concise or accurate way. We ended up working with a rudimentary methodology in which I translated any English questions into Japanese, and then translated the responses back into English. This was a very uncomfortable experience for me because I always felt as if information was lost in the rapid exchange and I would worry afterwards. However, having vague and slightly warbled directions was slightly better than being completely lost, I supposed, with no slight mortification.

Among the other volunteers, thanks seemed to be a primary motivating factor. Hearing one’s gratitude was well-worth the experience of appearing shady and conspicuous, holding up ghostly signs in the rain. When we weren’t helping lost souls, I had many great opportunities to practice Japanese with people my age as well as people who were just a bit older than me and had recently entered the workforce. The oldest man, whose age was never verbalized, already had two daughters and a wife, and treated me in a very avuncular manner. He constantly assuaged my trepidations, telling me, “We’re not like normal Japanese, so if there’s anything wrong, tell us!” He was an important contributor in the team, as well as several other volunteers who came and went, including many warmhearted and charismatic young ladies. My main correspondence was with a twenty-four-year-old employee who had studied abroad in Australia. He had been lost many times in Australia, but kind strangers had always been present to direct him to his destination. This, he expatiated, was his impetus for heading the International Exchange Team. For this reason, most of my conversations were with him, and he spoke with me patiently in Japanese throughout the evening. Typically towards the end of the evening, he would switch into English, and we would continue in that vein until it was time to call it a day.

The Japanese conversations were an interesting blend of keigo, often quickly switching from very humble forms to very casual forms before I could properly assess my position within the conversation. This really helped me practice how to adjust my level of formality according to the flow of conversation. I also learned things like how to accept a business card (although most of the keigo slipped right off of my brain without entering it), and how to conduct a meeting which we plan activities, events, etc.

The “guiding” and event-planning by itself was a truly difficult experience for me, quickly becoming something I largely preferred to avoid. However, the people who I worked with were such compelling folks and I really enjoyed working with them. They, likewise, were not impervious to the fatigue of such monotonous tasks, and seemed to generally be able to sympathize with the Japanese-induced headache behind my eyes. They were all very hard workers and generous with my mistakes, often glossing over them completely. I didn’t want to burden them, but I have certainly learned a lot from them, and I hope I have been able to contribute in some capacity to their English education. I cannot thank them enough!

2 thoughts on “Shauna Moore: International Exchange Team: Giving Directions and Event Planning

  1. Wow! Its great to hear how things have progressed since your last blog post! It sounds like you had an incredibly meaningful and inspiring time volunteering with the International Exchange Team! What sort of system, or tactic for approaching foreign people worked best with your group in the end? Do you think you would want to do similar volunteer work next semester, or are you thinking of trying something completely different?

    • Ife! Thank you for your comment. I’m thinking about doing something completely different. This was a little stressful for me, and so I’d like to try something in a completely different vein! In the end, the system that we ended up using was me approaching foreigners and translating how to get to different places from japanese to English. I didn’t like this process, but it was ultimately the only thing we could think of!