For my Community Involvement Project, I volunteered with an organization called NicoNico Tomato at Kyoto University Hospital. NicoNico Tomato plans crafts and fun activities for children with serious illnesses staying at the hospital. Because I am a pre-med student, I was interested in getting more patient experience while abroad, and while I admittedly did not have as much interaction as I would have liked, I have really enjoyed my time volunteering. Although NicoNico Tomato has many volunteers who come in with varying frequency, most are older ladies who have had their own children benefit from the organization. Each week they would offer me tea before setting me up with some small activities to do, like coloring, cutting paper, or blowing up balloons. It was nice to be able to take a break from classwork and do something relaxing, even more so when considering the good cause.
Although at first I was fairly quiet and only talked with everyone when they asked me questions, I gradually became more and more comfortable. I have shared a lot of cultural experiences and learned a lot about Japanese culture from talking with them, everything from the differences between how Easter is celebrated in America and Japan to how Japanese people pick up on different regional dialects. Everyone was very patient in putting up with my Japanese, and it was fun trying to find ways to work around the language barrier and describe ideas that the other culture did not have. Through everything I got to know the ladies of NicoNico Tomato, and I will miss them when this semester is over. The amount of time they dedicate to volunteering is amazing, as is the effect they are having on these sick kids’ lives. Spending time with them has helped me step back and realize that there is a world outside of KCJS in Japan. The couple of times I did get to do activities with the children, although it was fun, it was also sad when thinking some of them might not have that much longer to live. But seeing everyone come together to make things more bearable for these children was inspiring. Becoming a part of this outside community has been one of the highlights of my study abroad experience.