Sirin Trinetkamol: Volunteering at Kyoto Animal Center

For my CIP, I volunteered at the Kyoto ani Love Animal Shelter for cats and dogs. Since this was the first time KCJS students volunteered at the shelter, Nakata-sensei went along with me and another student during our first visit to the shelter. Since I got to volunteer alongside another student, it made the first few sessions a lot less daunting.

During the first session, the staff members gave me a presentation which explained the purpose of the shelter, the situation of stray or abandoned cats and dogs in Kyoto, the laws that the shelter has to follow, and how the shelter generally operates. I also got to discuss how the situation and shelter differs in the U.S. and in Taiwan and ask any lingering questions I had. Despite the abundance of new words that I haven’t learned at that point, the presentation itself was easy to follow. During the following volunteer sessions, the volunteer work I did at the shelter was similar to those of a normal animal shelter although a lot less taxing. I got to take the dogs on a walk, teach them to follow orders such as ‘stop’ and ‘wait’, and help the staff members groom them. Most of these activities involved giving them treats as rewards. The staff member was always there with me to help guide me through each volunteer work. I also had a chance to play with the cats and help the staff members clean their cages. My favorite part was that I got to bathe and groom one of the puppies at the shelter and help him become familiar with interacting with humans (since he was born as a stray dog). It was amazing to watch the dogs’ progress (e.g. in following orders) and to watch the puppies grow over the weeks I was there.

I was surprised by the amount of hospitality shown by the staff at the shelter. They were very welcoming and friendly. After the volunteer work was done each day and during the breaks, I had a chance to talk with the staff members. It was during these moments that I became much closer to them and this made it easier to work with them. I felt slightly bad that the staff members kept providing me with snacks and drinks since sometimes it made me feel like I was more of a guest than a volunteer. Nonetheless, it was during these moments that I got to learn new Japanese words related to the volunteer work. Many of the staff members had chosen to work at the shelter out of their love for cats and dogs.

Overall, I enjoyed the time I spent at Kyoto ani Love Animal Shelter and I feel truly grateful to have had the opportunity to volunteer there. If I have the chance to visit Kyoto again in the future, I will definitely drop by the shelter to visit the staff members and the dogs and cats there again. If you love animals or you’re missing your pets at home then this is a great CIP that I recommend.

Cristina Ammon: Assistant English Teacher

I continued my CIP as an assistant English teacher at 末光先生’s cram school this semester. Although not much changed from fall semester, I noticed new things this time. I paid a lot of attention to Japanese communication styles last semester, but this year I couldn’t help but think about the state of English education in Japan.

In the two years I have been studying Japanese, none of my Japanese teachers have ever spoken English extensively during class. However, from what I’ve experienced through the CIP, the teacher says most things to the students in Japanese because they don’t understand much of what she says in English. I don’t know if there’s a reason for this, but I feel like using the target language would be a good way to enhance listening skills and expose the students to new vocabulary even if it’s initially difficult. Also, when the teacher would say something brief in English and ask the students to repeat after her, I imagined that mimicking the pronunciation of a non-native English speaker would probably make it trickier to apply to real-life conversations later on. 

I came to the conclusion that maybe a good way to teach English to Japanese students is to have two types of people teaching alongside each other: a native Japanese speaker who has thoroughly studied English and an English native speaker who has thoroughly studied Japanese. That way, both teachers deeply understand the process of learning a new language and can respond appropriately to the feelings of students, the students can aspire to be like their Japanese teacher who has mastered English, and they can absorb and copy the sounds of a native English speaker who is more comfortable with the nuances of the language. 

I’m so thankful for 末光先生. Between Halloween celebrations, a birthday party, several dinners, and much more, she has devoted herself to her students and KCJS in many ways. I saw how she used English as a tool to teach her students life lessons and communicate the things she cares about most, showing the next generation firsthand the benefits of learning a new language. She has taught me so much along the way as well. I would be honored to meet with her again someday.

Sandy Jen: Volunteering at Kyoto Animal Protecting Center

For my CIP, I volunteered at the Kyoto Animal Protecting Center. The building was brand new, but the shelter has been in Kyoto for decades. My supervisors were Mr. Kawano and Mr. Hirai, and I volunteered with Rin at the shelter. On the first day, Mr. Kawano gave us a lecture on the overview of stray animals in Japan, which I liked a lot because, during the presentation, Mr. Kawano asked our feelings towards the situation of stray animals in Japan and questions on our countries’ own shelters to make comparisons. It’s not only us who were learning from this CIP, but Mr. Kawano and Mr. Hirai were learning new things from us too. Our interaction with supervisors made me feel like I was not volunteering but making new friends at the shelter. 

At the shelter, I walked the dogs, cleaned cat’s cages, helped puppies be socialized, and bathed puppies. We did not get to interact with cats a lot because it was not a cat’s breeding season. Every time we finished the work, Mr. Hirai discussed with us what we would like to do for the next time. Mr. Hirai let us try as many works as possible. Each dog had its own personality. Some of them liked to have human attention on them, so they barked quite a lot. Some of them bit, but only if we touched the parts that they did not like to be touched. The dogs and cats at the shelter were friendly and cute. Although Mr. Kawano said there might be some occasions that we have to watch dogs get euthanasia, we did not experience it once. 

People who worked at the shelter did not speak English very well, which was great for us because we could practice our Japanese. After the first day, we realized there were many words and phrases we wanted to but did not know how to say in Japanese. We looked up the dictionary quite a lot to have a conversation with Mr. Hirai and learned new words every time. 

This CIP was an amazing experience. Everything went smoothly. If letting me choose a CIP again, I would still choose this one. The environment of the shelter was very nice, clean, and comfortable. The people and animals were nice and friendly. I really enjoyed volunteering at the Kyoto Animal Protecting Center.

Katarina Stewart: Pottery Lessons

When we were asked to decide what CIP to do based on our interests, I knew I wanted to take up an activity that had to do with art. This led me to taking pottery lessons at Fujihira, a pottery shop in Higashiyama. Fujihira is a pottery shop with a number of artisans that specialize in traditional Japanese styles of pottery, like many shops in the Higashiyama area. My goal during the semester was to pick up a new style of pottery, but also come to understand the art community in Japan.

Taking pottery lessons at Fujihira was different than I imagined, coming from a background in arts in the U.S., where individualism is prized when it comes to art. It is oftentimes the case that something deviating from the traditional is the goal in contemporary art. However, Fujihira demonstrated that in Japan, the expression of individuality comes from the details. Most importantly in Japanese art, the artist is recognized as having perfected his craft by being able to replicate traditional designs to a T. Fujihira taught me this through interactions with my teacher where he showed me different methods, like coiling to build cups, and reiterated that the measurements and thickness were important to achieve the desired result. This was also evident when my teacher showed me the pieces he was creating, that they were uniform in shape, but differed in how he painted the details on them. My relationship with my teacher is probably more indicative of the art world than any normal teacher-student relationship in Japan, in part because I was his only student at the time. We talked often using short form, but occasionally in long form, as opposed to using formal. We also joked a lot, mostly about how I was doing learning the techniques from him. It was a more relaxed relationship than I expected going into the shop, but it was nice that in addition to the pressure I felt to live up to his expectations as a student, I was able to look forward to him joking about how difficult it was when he was in my position. I still maintained some aspects of the student position in that after he showed me where things were, it was my job to clean up after lessons and put things away for next time. I was able to understand through my interactions and by observing other artists’ interactions in the studios, how the art community in Japan works.

There were some difficult aspects of my CIP, such as unexpected translating between my teacher who only spoke Japanese and foreigners who came to the workshop to look around and only spoke English. By translating, I was able to use my Japanese in a way I hadn’t inside of class, which allowed me to push the boundaries of what I thought I was able to do in Japanese. Besides this, the biggest difficulty was perhaps that I was the only student. This meant that while I had the sole attention of my teacher, I was not able to form a community with other people my age and interact with other students. I was able to compensate this with making lots of Japanese friends in other areas, but it would have been nice to experience that type of Japanese community.

Alex Thomas: Volunteering (子ども食堂)

My CIP was working at a Kodomo-Shokudo (子ども食堂) at St. Mary’s Church under Fujiwara-san. My time there was priceless and extremely gratifying! Of course at the beginning I was very nervous because I felt like my Japanese was not up to par enough to help everyone out, but it ended up being a much more relaxed and familial atmosphere. Leo Chau a friend and fellow KCJS study abroad student and I volunteered at this same church which made the experience even more enjoyable! The first day at the Kodomo-Shokudo we noticed there was already a huge number of staff there cooking and preparing the area for everyone to eat, so Leo and I were told to play with the kids. From then on Leo and I would go to the Kodomo-Shokudo every week and play with the kids for 2 and a half hours, and in my case I would always end up being sore the next day! Together we ran around playing tag (鬼ごっこ), while I pretended to be a monster and chase them around the church. I definitely wasn’t prepared to be worked out that much, but the kids had so much energy that I ended up having to bring sweat pants to volunteer! After playing with the kids we would all help set up the tables, chairs, and serve the food! Then Leo and I were able to have a short break as well as talk with everyone. Originally, I thought that speaking with kids would be easier and amazing practice because they would probably use simpler words. But, I ended up know less of what the kids were saying, and it seemed like they spoke to me as if I could actually speak the language fluently. I also noticed that the kids used completely different vocabulary from anything I learned in the textbooks which made me have to ask them to repeat everything a billion times. Despite this though, I think that this was an incredible eye opener for me, and I was able to understand more the differences in speech style as well as the type of vocabulary kids use as opposed to adults. Over the weeks I got to speak more and more with everyone and I definitely started feeling more comfortable speaking Japanese with everyone there! I learned a ton, played a ton, and I’m pretty sure I lost weight from all the running and carrying kids! It was an incredible experience and I am very grateful I had the opportunity to volunteer at this Kodomo-Shokudo!



Alexis Metoyer: Koto

My CIP was learning the koto with Iwasaki-sensei. Christine (who was learning the shamisen instead) and I would go to her place every Monday, where we would have about an hour or so of learning our instruments along with the other students. The other students were all older ladies and two gentlemen (one of which was Iwasaki-sensei’s husband), who I feel like would have become like grandmother/father figures for me, if I had had the chance to stay longer. The atmosphere was fun and lively, and the others would often crack jokes and tell funny stories. The actual learning process helped to encourage a rapport between the others, as sensei liked to teach by doing; therefore, my first day in, I had already started to play the opening lines of Sakura. Unfortunately, because the koto is such a large instrument, I could not bring it back home in order to practice, but I think the bonds I formed with the others were more of a priority anyway, and way more worthwhile.

After our lesson, sensei and her husband would treat us all to dinner. I remember feeling very awkward the first night when we went to ChaoChao Gyoza – it had only been my second lesson, so I still didn’t know anyone very well; however, the atmosphere was light, and sensei ordered course after course, and we all shared the various dishes and shared our thoughts on them. This pattern continued for the remaining weeks with Iwasaki sensei. I gradually became a little more outgoing in storytelling, even managing to explain about my long and complicated family ancestry over traditional okonomiyaki. At first, beyond being shy and unconfident in my Japanese, the hardest part about communicating with the group was the fact that understanding the Japanese of older people is a lot more difficult than I thought it would be. I am still not an expert, but you do get better eventually. But through this, I really started to accept that it was okay to make mistakes, and that learning to explain and interpret is just as important as being correct.

What I found helpful was setting a goal for each week in the CIP, not necessarily for the koto, but conversation topics for everyone. One week, my goal was to learn more about what got sensei into learning traditional instruments and her background, and that gradually led to the conversation about my family tree. I would recommend that in any CIP, have a goal for the week if you feel afraid of not having something to speak about. Also, take advantage of spending time with those in the CIP, because those bonds will last a while as well.

Rih Hae Jun: Volunteering at Kyōgoku Kindergarten

For my CIP, I chose to volunteer at 京都市立京極幼稚園, a kindergarten located just three minutes away from Shōkokuji Temple near Dōshisha University. I took interest in this field as I had had previous experience working with younger children throughout my time in high school and Johns Hopkins and wanted to seize the opportunity to be able to practice my Japanese while participating in an activity I both enjoy and am familiar with. While my time at the kindergarten was curtailed in light of the outbreak of the Coronavirus, there is no doubt that the Fridays I spent playing 鬼ごっこ(tag) with the energetic four-year-olds were the highlight of my time at KCJS.

My duties as a volunteer at the kindergarten consisted mainly of two jobs: playing with the children of 花組, the class I was assigned to, and assisting the homeroom teacher in areas such as, helping the children eat lunch, getting them ready when going home, and cleaning up the classroom. While such tasks had initially seemed manageable when the 園長先生(principal) explained what I would be asked to do as a volunteer during our first meeting, executing them proved more difficult than I had imagined. What I found most challenging was ironically that I simply lacked the physical energy to keep up with the lively, tireless four-year-olds. Whenever 中田先生 would ask me how my CIP was going in the first few weeks of the semester, my answer would be 「体力が足りません」(I don’t have the physical strength or endurance). Contrary to what I had expected, playing 鬼ごっこwith seven vibrant kids proved to be difficult as they did not seem to get tired from running around constantly. However, my endurance improved with time, as I began to look forward to playing tag with them and running away from the園長先生, who was always the designated 鬼.

The most memorable moment I had during my time at the kindergarten was when I felt that the once shy children whose only method of communicating with me was to call me 皿先生 (皿means ‘plate’ in Japanese, and is pronounced the same way as サラ) began to warm up to me. Most notably, instead of designating me as the 鬼in playing tag running away from me, they would take my hand and excitedly tell me to hide with them from the teachers. This was a special moment for me, as it was the first time I felt the children were letting me into their “circle” and seeing me as one of them.

I will truly miss walking into 花組’s classroom to be greeted with seven smiling faces and energetic screams calling out, 「お皿先生!」every Friday afternoon. Being able to practice my Japanese with people of varying ages, ranging from adult teachers to whom I would speak in 敬語 (honorifics) to four-year-olds whose speech styles I was not accustomed to listening to in a classroom setting, in the kindergarten was a very rewarding experience like no other that I believe I would not have been able to have had I settled for a different CIP. While my time at 京都市立京極幼稚園 was abruptly cut short, it truly was one of the highlights of my time in Kyoto.

Michelle Lee: Kickboxing Classes

      For my CIP I did kickboxing at a small training studio near my apartment. Every week, I would either work 1-on-1 with the trainer, or work with a partner to complete a workout. When I first contacted the studio, I introduced myself as an abroad student and was surprised to find out that the one of the trainers had traveled to America in the past and the other had just started self-learning English. During my first lesson, the trainer Takahashi-san, would explain the moves in Japanese first, and I would translate it to English for him. This exchange continued through each lesson, and I found that because every word was matched to a movement, it was easier to follow along.

      Some weeks, I was also able to work with a new partner depending on if schedules lined up, and Takahashi-san would always be kind enough to introduce me as an abroad student for me. I was very happy how kind each of my partners were and they would always ask a lot of questions about America, or my reasons for coming abroad, and we would be able to carry these conversations through class. One class in particular that was memorable was during a partner exercise, where we played a game called “shiritori”. This made me feel, again, so welcomed and I found it funny how we would try to just think of words together instead of competing against each other.

      After being able to work in pairs for a couple weeks, I noticed that a lot of the time, I would be asked to compare Japan to an American lifestyle. I would usually compare the cleanliness of Japan compared to America, as well as how Japanese public transit has been a much better experience. But sometimes we would even talk about the how different American culture is in terms of manners. I was shocked to hear that one of my partners said she might actually prefer a more “straightforward” American approach, than a typical Japanese response. She explained that sometimes she found it hard, even as a native speaker, to have a meaningful conversation when a lot of the times people will only agree with what she says to be polite. This was definitely very interesting and put things into perspective for me as well.

      Overall, I think that through this CIP I was able to practice having a lot of casual conversations and being able to exchange information, whether it be thoughts and opinions, or plain vocabulary. Using the fact that I was an abroad student to my advantage, I was able to ask a lot of questions that I was curious about or raise conversations that might be interesting to hear about, and because everyone was so friendly and understanding, it worked towards my advantage. I found it to be a great way to meet new people and talk about a variety of topics, and get some good exercise, and I will definitely miss the this studio and everyone I met going there!

Maya Taliaferro: Microbiology Research at Kyoto University

For my CIP I worked in a microbiology lab at Kyoto University under the supervision of Dr. Hosokawa. As a STEM major at my home institution (neuroscience to be more specific) I was really inspired to pursue this as my CIP as it aligned perfectly with my interest in scientific research. I had some previous experience working in research labs in the United States, so I was really interested to see how the Japanese lab environment compared. 

I was extremely nervous going to visit Dr. Hosokawa at first because, while I have experience in microbiology, it’s not my primary focus at school. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I had a lot of experience with the methodological aspects of the work being done in her lab. With this in mind, a lot of the work I helped with in the lab was technical; I set up and helped collect data from Western Blot, gel electrophoresis, and protein transduction analyses. However, the primary focus of her work revolved around the observation of cellular organelles via confocal microscopy. This technique is something that is used quite frequently in neuroscientific research and was, therefore, something I felt extremely confident using. This experience allowed for a seamless transition from being shown how to work with the microscope, to being supervised while using the microscope to finally being able to run slides on my own while Dr. Hosokawa worked on other things. That was one of the best things about working with Dr. Hosokawa — she treated me as an assistant to her research rather than just a student and this was reflected in the type of work she trusted me to do on my own. 

Overall I learned a lot about the research process in general, about the Japanese research environment specifically, and about Japanese language and culture from Dr. Hosokawa herself. In terms of the universal research experience, I learned a great deal about the amount of time and effort that goes into getting a research manuscript published. She had been working on the research we were conducting for 2 years and still hadn’t been able to get her manuscript published, something I learned was quite normal in the world of research. In terms of the Japanese research environment specifically, it seemed to me that compared to the United States, Japanese research is far more independent.While there were other researchers in Hosokwa’s lab working on the same project they tended to work on their own and only came together to compare and assess findings. From my experience, the United States has a much more collaborative approach to research work where almost nothing is done without discussion amongst team members. I also found the gender divide in the lab to be interesting. Like in the US, it seems that research is a predominantly male dominated occupation in Japan. While Dr. Hosokawa is female, every one of her 6 research graduate students were male. In addition, all other research professors that I interacted with from other labs were also male. This, while slowly changing in the US, seems to be a trend in the STEM field across the world. Finally, in terms of Japanese language and culture I was able to learn quite a bit from Dr. Hosokawa. Since research of this nature is very hands-on, I was able to follow much of the instructions given to me in Japanese by observing while listening. At first this felt very difficult as I didn’t want to mess anything up, but over time it began to get easier as I became more familiar with the Japanese terms. I think this allowed me to pick up a lot of Japanese in a more natural way — by listening to the words and seeing in real-time what they meant. Also, since the type of tests run in microbiology often take a long time, there were many times when Dr. Hosokawa and I were left with free time together to just chat about anything. These were amazing times to learn about the Japanese perspective on many different topics as well as an opportunity to utilize Japanese I had learned in a conversational way. It was a great time to increase my cultural awareness as well as my Japanese skillset. 

My advice for future students when considering their CIP is to choose something they are really interested in and to view it as more than just a time to practice Japanese, but a chance to form close bonds with those you meet. Even in a CIP such as mine where I didn’t really interact with peers my age, I was still able to form a great bond with Dr. Hosokawa. This included exchanging cookies on Valentine’s day and even taking a trip together to a nearby shrine for the Setsubun Festival. The CIP can be an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience, but sometimes that requires you get out of your comfort zone.

David Massart: Volunteering at the Higashi Kujo Children’s Soup Kitchen (子ども食堂)

My CIP consisted of volunteering at the Higashi Kujo Children’s Soup Kitchen located at
Kyoto Southern Church. On Thursdays every week, Pastor Baekki Heo, his wife, and some
volunteers (ranging from lower school to university to parents) would prepare a delicious dinner for community members — anyone was welcome. These affordable meals would cost adult customers around ~3 dollars, and no charge for children. I would arrive at around 5:30PM and start working. Due to afternoon classes, I was only able to volunteer from 5:30PM – 9:30PM. During my shift, I would spend the first two hours serving customers, and the last two hours cleaning dishes (including a ~10 minute dinner break). Serving customers was pretty straightforward: put food plates on a tray and bring the tray to the correct location.

The space in the church wasn’t too big but every week a little under 100 customers would
come and sit with their families, friends and loved ones to enjoy a meal. The pastor and his wife do incredible work to build a community full of people that care about each other. One of my most memorable experiences was when one of the customers, a mom, came to the kitchen and helped us clean dishes because we were a little understaffed that day. It’s times like these that made me appreciate my CIP and the generosity of the community surrounding the church. Beyond learning my way around a kitchen in Japanese and serving customers, I was also given the opportunity to interact with a Japanese community and observe a different facet of society in Japan. However, the friendliness and casual atmosphere at the church and amongst volunteers and customers completely crushed any preconceptions. As a beginner Japanese student, I wanted to impress (or rather not disappoint) and use keigo on my first day. During the subway ride I quickly memorized whatever formalities I knew and told myself I would try to use them as much as possible. Believe it or not, within the first 5 minutes of talking to the pastor, I threw keigo out the window and never looked back. The friendly manner in which I was treated and the casual atmosphere amongst everyone there quickly made me realize that it was impossible not to answer back in casual fashion. Apart from kitchen vocabulary and formalities, another big barrier for me to cross was the Kansai dialect. I already knew that I was coming in as a beginner and that I probably wouldn’t be able to keep up with the speed of most of the volunteers, but add a different dialect to that and my head was just spinning at the end of the day. On the bright side, I was able to learn a lot from the volunteers and felt that I had a better grasp on the dialect and the language after only a few times volunteering!

Throughout my “CIP journey” I learned to be more independent in regards to learning
Japanese. I quickly found out that many of the other volunteers at the church wanted to speak to me in Japanese, but were often hesitant to spark up a conversation. I learned that most of the time, the onus was on me to try and start the conversation. A big piece of advice I can give to prospective or current students at KCJS (regardless of your CIP) is to take advantage of the opportunities that you are given to learn and try to engage with the Japanese community as much as you can. It’s the best way to improve and a great way to make friends in a foreign country!

Hearing from other students’ CIPs it seems that my experience with formalities in Japan may be a pretty rare and unique one, so I would not advise on relying on my experience alone. However, I can say that at my CIP and at most places in Kyoto, locals are always friendly and willing to help you! I am so incredibly honored for the opportunity I was given to volunteer at the church and temporarily be a part of their community — I will most certainly miss it.