Sean Corley: Volunteering at Muromachi Jidokan

For my CIP, I volunteered at Muromachi Jidokan, an after-school care center for elementary school students. I was interested in volunteering here because I have previously mentored children through a program at my university, as well as at home in New Jersey. At the Jidokan, my role was to help students with their homework and to play games with them once they were finished.

I was initially daunted by the idea of helping students with their homework. I was not confident enough in my own language skills to be able to explain how to solve math problems or other homework questions in Japanese. Moreover, I often found it difficult to understand the students when they were speaking. I had been used to hearing adults speak in Japanese during my school instruction, but I did not have much practice with listening to young kids, who sometimes mumble or say words incorrectly. Thus, interacting with the kids at Muromachi became a great language experience for me. I learned how to understand the kids when they spoke and how to communicate my own thoughts to them in a way that they could understand. For instance, during one of my visits to the Jidokan, a first-grade student asked me for help with her math homework, in which she had to read the time on different images of analog clocks. I had forgotten how to say “hour hand” and “minute hand,” so I explained them as “the short one” and “the long one” instead. Even though I didn’t use the correct words, the student understood what I was explaining to her, and she was able to figure out the rest of her homework. I was happy to find that her and other students began asking me more and more for help with their homework, as they started to see me as a teacher instead of a temporary volunteer. 

One of the best moments of my time at Muromachi Jidokan was when the students finally referred to me as “Sean-san” instead of “gaikokujin sensei,” or “foreigner-teacher.” During my first few visits, I always pointed to my name tag to remind the students of my name, but it didn’t seem to stick, and most of them continued to call me “gaikokujin sensei.” A few weeks in, the students started to call me “Sean-san” all of a sudden. Although I found it funny when the kids called me “foreigner-teacher,” it was nice to finally be seen not as a foreigner, but as a part of the community. 

I really enjoyed my time volunteering at Muromachi Jidokan. I will miss going in on Tuesdays and seeing the kids get excited that I was there again. They were all so friendly, funny, and full of energy that I left the Jidokan smiling every week. I recommend the Muromachi Jidokan to any future KCJS members who are looking for an exciting and rewarding volunteering experience.

2 thoughts on “Sean Corley: Volunteering at Muromachi Jidokan

  1. Hi Sean! I really enjoyed reading about your CIP experience. It looks like you had a great time, and were able to apply your Japanese in a new environment. Your anecdote about teaching one of the kids how to read an analogue clock reminded me of some of my own experiences explaining things to kids in Japanese. This semester I tried teaching my host family’s granddaughter how to finger knit, and realized I lacked a lot of necessary vocabulary. However, through lots of hand gestures and repetition of the verbs she was using to describe my actions, I was able to convey my instructions. It was a challenging but rewarding experience for me, and I think it’s so cool that though going to the Jidokan every week, you were able to feel more confident helping kids with their homework in Japanese. I also enjoyed your story about being called “gaikokujin sensei” at first, but then noticing them shift to calling you by your name. It’s gratifying when you can pinpoint a tangible moment at which you become more incorporated into a community.

    You said that you’ve volunteered with kids before–were there any major differences or similarities between your previous experiences and your CIP?

    • Hey Mira, thanks for commenting on my post! When I volunteered with kids in the past, it felt great to be seen as a role model, and the kids always made me smile, just as they did at Muromachi Jidokan. But I’d say the major difference between my CIP and my previous volunteering is that I was expanding my Japanese language skills in my CIP. I was getting both a rewarding volunteering experience and a Japanese learning experience at the same time. In the future, I hope to do volunteering again in Japan, as it was an awesome feeling to be helping the community and improving my language skills simultaneously.