Everett Zelson: Volunteering at Happiness Children’s Cafeteria

I volunteered at Happiness Children’s Cafeteria this semester. Every Wednesday I would help serve free meals to local children. The nonprofit also runs a cafe and does study sessions for the students on Mondays.

Volunteers would set up, serve food, eat and play with the kids, and clean up. There was essentially no English spoken, so I was able to practice my Japanese, too.

Advice: Try to help as much as possible. I found that they didn’t usually tell me what to do, so I had to be proactive in offering.

William Huang: Volunteering at Bazaar Cafe

The CIP activity I chose to do this semester was volunteering at Bazaar Cafe. At the cafe, you will likely be washing dishes and spending your free time afterwards talking to to the other staff/volunteers.

During the first half of my time at Bazaar Cafe, I stayed in the backyard shed with the other staff/volunteers to eat snacks and have fun chats. The second half was mainly centered on washing dishes.

Although volunteering at Bazaar Cafe was a bit unsatisfying at times, I still enjoyed it overall. The memories I made in the shed are what I will remember when I think back to this CIP and it definitely lessened my dissatisfaction with the second half of my time there. If you’re looking for a more low commitment CIP and you’re interested in developing more day-to-day speaking skills, I would recommend Bazaar Cafe. However, my biggest piece of advice would be to volunteer in the last 1-2 hours before it closes on the day you choose to go. This is when the cafe is least busy and is when you can spend more time talking to the other staff/volunteers instead of doing dishes the entire time. If I had done that more often, I would have likely enjoyed this CIP throughout the semester rather than just the first half.

Jiarui Yang: Volunteering at Children’s Cafeteria (子ども食堂)

This semester I volunteered at Happiness Children’s Cafeteria. In this cafeteria, every Wednesday dinners are offered for free for kids from low-income families. Every Monday, the cafeteria also serves as a study room for kids to do their homework.

I went there every Wednesday from 5 pm to 8 pm. Volunteers’ duties include serving dinner, washing the dishes, cleaning up, and playing with kids. There were plenty of opportunities to communicate with kids and other volunteers.

Advice to incoming students: the children’s cafeteria had a chill and casual atmosphere. It is great for anyone who enjoys hanging out with kids. Plus, volunteers can also enjoy free meals with the kids.

Ben Leviloff: Nagaoka Zen Juku

For this semester’s CIP, I volunteered at Nagaoka Zen Juku! Nagaoka Zen Juku is located in the southern part of Kyoto and is a small Buddhist temple that focuses on giving college students and working people the opportunity to engage in Zen Buddhism and monastic life. At the time of volunteering there, three people lived there: the head monk, a monk in charge of day-to-day life, and a Japanese college student. If you wish to learn more about it, here is a link to their website: https://nagaokazenjuku.or.jp/english/ .

As a part of my time volunteering there, I visited once a week and engaged in a variety of activities: practicing zazen meditation, cleaning the temple, and talking with the other inhabitants. I had a lot of fun volunteering there and I’m thankful I got to meet lots of awesome people and learn a lot about Japanese Buddhist tradition. Furthermore, after this semester, I actually have the opportunity to stay there over the summer, so I’m excited to continue learning more.

Although this CIP is a little far away and requires quite some time to arrange, I highly recommend it to anyone who is inquisitive about monastic life.

Jordan Green: English Assistant Teacher at Ohara Gakuin

I struggled at first with finding a CIP that called to me. However, I eventually settled with joining a friend from KCJS at being an English teaching assistant at Ohara Gakuin. I hadn’t thought of this idea at first, but after hearing him tell me about how he’s able to help students learn English, it immediately piqued my interest. I find that working with kids can be a refreshing change of pace from working with people your age or older, because they are more energetic, and remind me of my I was also very curious about the Japanese English classroom functioned. I wondered how Japanese students learn English differs from learning a foreign language in America and wanted to compare my experience.

I was absolutely stunned when I first arrived in Ohara. It was tucked in the mountainside, and while I occasionally felt weird, likely because of the altitude, it remains to be one of the prettiest places I’ve seen in Japan, and maybe anywhere The most picturesque spot, however, was the path leading to the school. With a colorful spring of flowers on one side, a calmly flowing stream on the other, and a backdrop of the mountains, I couldn’t help but take pictures and share it with friends and family, even though I’m not a big photographer. The beauty of the town was a great introduction to my experience at Ohara Gakuin.

After making my introductions to various teachers and administrators in the office, I began my first period as an assistant English teacher. The activity we had planned for the day, was for me and Jesus, the other KCJS member, to give introductions of ourselves and our hometowns to the class, and have them vote on whose hometown they’d rather visit. The competitive nature of the activity was surprising at first, but it was a fun activity that engaged the class and inspire me and Jesus to sell our hometowns as best we could.As someone who speaks quickly,I was aware I should be conscious of my talking speed.I thought I was talking slowly during my presentation,but the teacher gestured for me to speak more slowly.I then realized this was going to be harder than I thought it would be.he congratulated me for doing a good job but pointed out I should still speak more slowly.He also recommended asking questions as I went through my presentation to make sure everyone was following along.I supposed I should have been expecting that difficulty going into this for the first time, and I told myself I would do better next time.

It was fun getting a chance to interact with the students. While some of them were shy, some were goofy and energetic. It was refreshing to see such a variety. One student even started talking to me outside of class. I was a bit flustered because I wasn’t expecting it, and was worried I would mess up my Japanese. One of the most interesting things, however, was learning the students’ knowledge of America, or American culture. For example, I was surprised to find out that none of the students knew who Elon Musk was. I suppose Elon Musk isn’t only well known in America, and that may just have been because they were too young to know of him. It made me wonder if kids in America are familiar with Musk. I also had the students guess where my hometown is, which gave me a glimpse into how much they knew about American geography. I think my relatively Euro-centric view of the world had me under the impression they would know more when in reality many Americans couldn’t even tell you where the capital is. It made me realize how different of a world we, as Americans, live in from the average Japanese student. They know more about Japan and Japanese culture than I’ll ever know.

I’m really happy that I participated in this activity as my CIP, and I know it will be something I never forget.

Amanda Mihovilovic: English with Kindergarteners

Nearly every week beginning in October of the fall semester, I began volunteering at Fukakusa Kindergarten. A small kindergarten nestled in a residential area on the other side of the Kamo River, I remember how nervous I was my first day! However, all the staff were extremely kind and helpful, making sure I knew what I would be doing with the kids. My time with the kids was comprised of lots of English picture books, random vocabulary the kids wanted to know, and lots of free play time!

I was pleasantly surprised by how enthusiastic the kindergarteners were! Every week they entered the room full of excitement, and would come right up to me to ask to play together or just to ask me how to say certain words in English. As excited as they were to learn from me, I approached every visit just as excited to learn from them. Although not in any formal capacity, through the children and staff I learned so much about how schools operate in Japan! From how snack time and free play time works, to just simply how removing your shoes inside the school is a strictly adhered by custom. I was treated with the utmost respect as just a student visitor, and I was blown away by how much of a positive experience my CIP ended up being. More practically, I learned a lot more about Kansai-ben! While this dialect is often heard in Kyoto, across the Kamo River it’s almost all you exclusively hear from the locals. Picking up Kansai-ben in my interactions with the staff and the students really helped me feel more confident in my Japanese as a whole.

My CIP experience is one I’m eternally grateful for, and I’m so glad I got the opportunity to participate in it thanks to the help of the KCJS office. Exploring an area of Kyoto I had previously never seen, interacting with a dialect I was unfamiliar with but wanted to learn, and simply being able to be around the cutest children I’ve ever seen are memories and lessons I will never forget.

Dina Cui: Assistant English Teaching

For my CIP, I chose to be an assistant English teacher because I find kids interesting, but also because it partially relates to what I want to do in the future (work with children). The kids range from age three to maybe about high school age, though I specifically asked to work with younger children since I find the way they are so different from adults very interesting. I go about once a week for an hour, though I have gone twice a week a few times as well. The lessons are always in the afternoon, since that is when the kids are out of school! Also, since the lessons are private or semi-private (one child or a very small group), they are at Suemitsu Sensei’s home. It almost makes me feel like the next best thing to a homestay, since she also often gives me homemade snacks or desserts after the lesson that she or her sister have made. She is super sweet and I feel like I have experienced some cultural immersion in this way!

During each lesson, Suemitsu Sensei typically starts with a song (recently, we have been singing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” since it is almost Christmas), and then we go through the lesson for the day in the kids’ textbooks. I assist her in pronouncing parts of the books for the kids to repeat after me, and I also play games with them towards the end of the class! She also held an event at her house in the middle of the semester (a Halloween party!), which was very fun. We performed a little skit (Snow White), played games with the kids, and judged costumes. There were maybe 15-20 children, so it was pretty lively (much more than the usual lessons).

I have really enjoyed my CIP throughout the semester, especially because I had a fairly smooth experience since I was introduced to Suemitsu Sensei through Nakamura Sensei, one of the Japanese professors at KCJS! I feel like I learned a lot about Japanese culture, especially in watching the ways the children interact with each other and hearing some stories from them and from Suemitsu Sensei. It was also really fun teaching them about my own culture and showing them pictures, sometimes of my own past experiences and sometimes just pictures that I have been sent from home (today I showed them pictures of my family’s Thanksgiving meal)!

As for language immersion, I do wish in some ways that I could have spoken more Japanese for my CIP, but I also think I got plenty of language practice through my daily life and in speaking to my conversation partners/Japanese friends. It was a little difficult to interact with the kids at first, though, because it felt like there was a solid language barrier between us (since I was asked to speak only English to them). However, I also appreciated that the kids spoke Japanese freely to each other, because it was really interesting to observe the differences in the ways that they spoke and the ways that adults spoke. I think especially because they are pretty young (6/7 and 9/10), they did not adjust their Japanese for me in the way a language partner probably does, and I think I could learn a lot about their slang because of this!

Marin Powers: Volunteering at a kindergarten

This semester I participated in helping out at Fukakusa Kindergarten every Monday for two hours, one hour of that being 「英語遊ぼう」(English Playtime) and the second hour being free play time with the children aged 4-6. It was such a blast, and such a good opportunity and experience that I would not have had at any other time in my life.

I feel like I got to learn from the kids, playing games with them and then individually with them outside of “teaching” English. I got to see how the kindergartens operate, what they value, and how many Japanese people spend their early childhood years — something we don’t get to see in the classroom. In particular, I think that the day is spent differently than in US kindergartens — from what I was able to observe, they have a lot of free play and are able to really hone motor abilities, communication with each other, and also get to be energetic kids without consequences. I felt like I got to see the basis for what I knew before — how societies, and in this case, Japanese society, are built when people are young.

In regards to learning Japanese, being able to hear the children and the staff speak in Kansai-ben was so informative and the kids using it was just so adorable! I feel like the teachers using it was also just a confidence booster and helped me understand it quicker when they didn’t need to use “standard” Japanese. Getting that experience outside of the classroom was so valuable.

I also thought it was interesting that they sit down and eat together after assembling their tables and chairs alongside the teachers, which is abnormal in the US, but again, I think it reinforces community and that idea of collectivism versus individualism. Physically the space is different as well; it it super conducive to the collective/communal environment by being open, connected to the outdoors/playground, and generally having larger rooms.

I am really grateful that not only the children were awesome, but the staff at the kindergarten as well. It was great to interact with them, learn from them, and help them out when they were busy or had their hands full with other responsibilities. I only wish that I could have started earlier and known about this opportunity sooner!

Kaela Brandt: Assistant English Teacher

At my home school, I am majoring in CSHD (Child Studies and Human Development), so for my CIP I really hoped to do something where I could work with kids. I am also interested in education, so when I explained my wishes to 中村先生, she was able to connection me to 末光先生 (Suemitsu-sensei), who is a private English tutor for young children.中村先生 called 末光先生 ahead of time to explain my situation, but I was also able to make the phone call and talk to 末光先生 myself, to ask if she would take me on as a teaching assistant. I really appreciated this initially process, because I was able to receive some assistance while also having some agency in pursuing my CIP.

末光先生 holds private English teachings at her house, where she and her sister live. Her sister teaches in arts and crafts, so not only is their home decorated beautifully, but the room dedicated to 末光先生’s lessons truly looks like a real classroom! They have visuals and posters of all kinds, games, calendars, abc and counting frames, and books in both Japanese and English for kids as young as kindergarden all the way through late middle school/early high school. I typically attend lessons once a week, for around 1-2 hours. The lessons I assist with are for two young girls, one 10 years old and the other 12. Transportation to and from my CIP is quite easy, as 末光先生’s house is close to Kitaoji Station, only 2 stops away from Imadegawa on the Karasuma line.

I have truly had the most wonderful time during this CIP. I very much enjoy the learning process, so having the opportunity to see and participate in these classes is such a privilege. Linguistically, seeing the way English is taught and experienced by native Japanese speakers is super interesting as well. Many of the materials 末光先生 uses are similar to what I used when I was younger, but seeing firsthand the small differences and approaches to how English is taught has been fascinating. There are many references to American culture that even 末光先生, someone who has studied English the majority of her life and even lived in the U.S. at one point, is puzzled by. I was usually able to shed some light on these elements, but sometimes even I was stumped as well!

The two young girls I worked with were shy at first, but quickly opened up after a few lessons, and we have now grown quite close. What surprised me most was how funny they are after getting more comfortable! We are often able to laugh about various things during our lessons, whether it is bizarre American culture references, the difficulties of grammar in both English and Japanese, or the events of our days. Something that definitely helped us feel closer was when we started to incorporate some more Japanese into our lessons. At first, 末光先生 only wanted me to speak English during the lessons, since it is important to have the exposure of a native speaker for any language learning process. However, 末光先生 also gave me many opportunities to practice Japanese, which helped with my confidence, and made the kids feel more comfortable as well. Before the lesson begins, I explain the events of my day and ask questions to the kids in English. At the end of the lesson, we normally do the same thing, but in Japanese. Also, 末光先生 will sometimes have me read short children’s books in English, but then repeat the same thing in Japanese.

I have also had the opportunity to speak Japanese at events outside of the lessons. For example, 末光先生 held an Oden Party, which was attended by myself, 中村先生, and a few of her students. We all ate oden while taking turns reading our book of choice to the group, all in Japanese. I read Urashimataro, and I was very nervous, but everyone was so kind and encouraging! Also, 末光先生 held a Halloween party, in which I met nearly all of her students and participated in a short skit of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Besides the reading of a short Halloween story, I spoke in Japanese to the children, which worked well, considering my level of Japanese is definitely still at elementary level. I found, also, that it is quite easy to get along with children even with a significant language barrier. Body language and overall demeanor carry much weight, and at the end of the day, many children just want to be around someone who will listen, which I more than happy to do.

Of all the good things to come of my CIP, I am perhaps most grateful for the relationship I have built with 末光先生. She is truly one of the kindest people I have ever met, and is inspiring both as a teacher and a human being. She and her sister have made me feel so welcome in their home, and even have me over for dinner from time to time. We have long conversations in a mix of English and Japanese, and they are endlessly patient with me as I try to match their very good English with my very poor Japanese. They are always excited to share all they know of Japanese culture, and ask many questions about America as well. This semester, KCJS was not able to have host families due to COVID-19 precautions. However, 末光先生 and her sister have made me feel a little bit of what that might have been like, to be so cared for and accepted in a way I did not expect. I encourage anyone who wishes to do a CIP in a classroom setting/working with kids to also engage with the adults in these roles as well; they are extremely passionate about what they do, are more than happy to share what they know with you, and you never know the bonds you may form along the way! My CIP experience is one I will cherish forever, and is definitely one of the most memorable aspects of my time in Japan.

Anson Alvarez: Kyoto University Board Game Club and Bazaar Cafe

During my time at KCJS, I actually participated in two separate CIPs, although I had much greater success and enjoyment with the second one I joined.

My first CIP was the Board Game Club at Kyoto University.  I really enjoy playing board games with my friends and family at home, and when I saw on their Twitter that they played some games I was familiar with, I was excited to go try out some new games and get some Japanese practice in the process.  Unfortunately, it was not exactly what I had hoped for.  Firstly, this was more of a personal problem than anything, but the location I was living made the commute to and from Kyoto University incredibly inconvenient, and given that their meetings were held more in the evening, I always had to make sure I had enough time to go to the club and then make it home in time to do everything else I had to do for classes.  In addition, the other members of the club were rather untalkative for the most part, and even though they talked a bit more with one another, likely due to the fact that had known each other for longer and were in general more comfortable talking with people who spoke native Japanese, it was for the most part a rather quiet atmosphere, which was not very conducive to me getting in speaking practice.  By far the biggest issue was the language barrier issue, which, especially when it comes to explaining game rules, was a much bigger issue than I had anticipated it being.  There were a couple times when I would ask someone if they could please repeat something, and it was clear that they were a bit frustrated by my not being able to understand the first time.  Again, perhaps over time they might have gotten more comfortable with me and my language skills would have improved to the point where we could communicate more easily, but with the limited time I had and the general untalkativeness of the club members, I would only recommend this club if you absolutely love board games and have the confidence in your language skills enough to play them with Japanese natives.

After much deliberation and some searching of old CIP reports, I decided for the rest of my time here to settle on volunteering at Bazaar Café, a small café very close to Doshisha’s campus.  Prior to joining, I had actually visited this café once with some friends, and the relaxed atmosphere and friendly staff made me encouraged that this would work out much better than my previous CIP choice.  Sure enough, when I showed up the work for the first day, the other staff members were very kind in showing me what to do, and, best of all, they asked me a lot about myself, allowing me to get a good amount of Japanese practice in, while also being able to experience what goes on in the kitchen of a café.  I mentioned before that it was a fairly small and secluded café, and this meant that in general, there was never a big rush in the kitchen, creating a very casual and relaxed mood for me.  In between orders, I was able to chat with the other staff about their lives, and opposed to the game club, there was not nearly as much slang being used, making it much easier for me to understand.  If you have absolutely no idea what you want to do for your CIP in the future, I highly recommend Bazaar Café.  You get to see a bit of how a small café runs from the background, and you might not be getting paid for what you do, but the work is not at all difficult, and the language experience is more than worth it.