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.

Rose Gellman: Doshisha Hiking Circle and Kyoto AcroYoga

For my CIP, I joined Doshisha University’s Hiking Circle and did Acro Yoga in the Kyoto/Osaka community.

Hiking Circle

I wanted to join a Doshisha club to meet students my own age, so I decided on hiking circle. The first time I went, we hiked Daimonji (a small peak in the city). It was thrilling to make small talk with other people who enjoy the outdoors in Japanese. The hiking day was fun, but most of the meetings are training (short runs along the Kamo or through the Gosho). If you are someone who likes to get outside for long day hikes, I might recommend a different CIP. Having a commitment in the middle of every Saturday can make it difficult to do other things with your weekend. That being said, the club members were warm and welcoming and are used to having foreigners join for a short time.

One thing that is different about hiking in Japan compared to the US is that trails are so accessible. I loved being able to hop on a bus and go for a short hike anytime I had the day or afternoon free. Most trails have some sort of religious significance, which was fascinating to learn about and worthwhile to experience.

Acro Yoga

I am in the circus club at JHU and have been practicing Acro Yoga for a few years, so when I found out there is a thriving acro community in the Kansai area, I was thrilled to join. In Kansai, most of the acro is in Osaka, but there is a small and growing community in Kyoto. The Kyoto community is extraordinarily warm, and has a nice mix of Japanese people and foreigners. Hearing Japanese in a class environment was exciting because I could understand the directions, and already knew the poses. The Osaka jams had more advanced acro, but also more foreigners, so I used my Japanese less. In both places, I met really lovely people who were open and eager to communicate.

The acro class environment was a great place to practice casual speech. I spoke to the teacher using です/ますform, but even though most of the participants were older than me, we were all students, so we spoke casually. Acro involves detailed communication between the flyer and the base, which is hard even in English. It is especially difficult in Japanese, where both the language and culture emphasize deferring to others. I’m grateful that I had this safe place to practice both Japanese and Acro and was able to engage with the local community doing something that I love.