This semester, I set out intending to continue volunteering at Bazaar Cafe. However, when I was approved to conduct research at a local Korean school, I figured it would be an excellent opportunity to try a new CIP. With the help of a Doshisha student, I arranged to lead some of their middle school English classes. Being a foreigner and a complete novice at Korean (this school requires students to speak only Korean while on campus), I was worried that I would be eyed with suspicion or even flat-out rejected. But when I arrived, the students and faculty greeted me warmly — students would wave and say “Hello” when they saw me, as did teachers. Classes centered around speaking: class began with a Q&A where the students and I took turns asking simple questions. Then, I guided students in reading aloud from their textbooks or gave a short speech and quizzed them on the content. We ended each class by learning and singing a song.
I think I learned more about Korean culture than Japanese culture during my CIP, but I imagine there are some overlaps in the culture of Japanese and Korean schools. Little things, like the fact that students greet teachers in the hallway or that everyone knows at least three Disney songs, did not surprise me. What did surprise me was that at this particular school, teachers and students interact almost casually: outside of class time, teachers seemed more like older cousins, especially to the high school students.
I had expected a rigid barrier of formality between teachers and students. I think the difference stems from the school’s importance beyond education in just history or math — Korean schools are one of the pillars of the Korean minority community in Japan. At school, students are treated as young members of the community, which in my experience is a bit like a large family. Even though I am not exactly a member of this “family,” the friendly atmosphere helped me feel at ease.
If you are good with middle schoolers and speak Korean and English — or simply have an interest in Koreans in Japan — I highly recommend this CIP. The teachers I spoke to expressed interest in having more native English-speaking volunteers. Who knows, you may even get a feature in the nationwide Korean school magazine like I did!