The sheer amount of options available to me by living in Kyoto was honestly a bit paralyzing at first, but Nakata Sensei was quick to notice that I had a passion for working with children and helped me make the necessary connections. For my CIP, I dove into the deep end by volunteering at Aoi Jidoukan, a children’s hall. Every step of the process was a bit of a challenge, but it allowed me to use what I had learned in the classroom in a real-life setting. I first had to contact the head of the program by phone since I was unable to set up an interview by email. Thanks to conversation practice with Nakata Sensei, I was able to express my interest in volunteering at the Children’s Hall and practice my keigo at the same time.
During the interview, I was able to talk about my past experiences working with children, understand the rules and regulations of the Children’s hall, and set the frequency and times that I would volunteer at. I had to do several self-introductions with the staff members, as well as one for the children. The self-introduction for the children was the most entertaining as they had many questions to ask a foreigner.
The reason I said I had jumped into the deep end is because I worked with elementary school children that at most knew a couple of English phrases. There was also only one staff member that spoke some English. While it was quite a challenge, the setting allowed me to observe Japanese Culture in its truest form and pushed my listening skills to a whole new level. As this was an after-school programs, many of the activities were games and sports that allowed me to at least respond with simpler phrases and actions.
Although I am not the most articulate person in Japanese, I can confidently and joyfully say that I was able to make meaningful connections with several of the children. At first, most of the children would refer to me as foreign sensei, but by the end of the program many were calling me Joe sensei or Giovanni Sensei. If any forgot my name, they had been comfortable enough to come up to me and look at my name tag or ask me directly. Several of the children would also run up to me when I arrived and give me a good hug.
Overall children across both countries share enough similarities that allowed me to interact with them relatively easily. The language barrier was the biggest challenge to overcome in terms of cultural differences. Some of the toys such as Kendama and Koma where new, but many of the American games such as Uno and Set have made their way over.