Mingtian Ouyang: KLEXON

I joined KLEXON since the beginning of last semester. It was a circle with plenty opportunities to make Japanese friends and many fun activities. Most members of KLEXON are either college students or company employees. Among the company employees, engineers and designers make up a great portion. These two fields require them to use English more frequently than other company employees. During the meeting I noticed something very interesting. Before the meeting starts, Japanese KLEXON members would stay in their own seat, busy looking at their phone, while entire ignoring their surroundings. Meeting starts at 7 pm, however, around 6:55, even though most people have arrived, no one seems to bother start any conversation with others. I found this strange. Their goal of coming here is to practice colloquial English, but why do they have to wait till the last minute to do so?  

      When entering the room, some college students tend to greet their friends, who also happen to be in KLEXON. However, the rest members would normally just walk straight to their seat and start playing with their phone. Meanwhile, when foreign students come in to the room, they would greet people they know, and start a conversation right away. I think there are many reasons behind this difference. First of all, there is a different concept of time in Japan. For example, “everything is on time”, “low tolerance for being late” are some impressions Japan has left me. The idea of “doing the right thing at the right time” is critical to Japanese society. Maybe it is currently 6:55 pm and the meeting starts at 7:00 pm, but 6:55 is not 7:00. To the Japanese members in KLEXON, these two times are very different. Therefore, it is not the time to start practicing English because it is not the “right time”. I also asked a Japanese friend from KLEXON to prove my idea. His answer was that this phenomenon has to do with the idea of the “shyness as a national character of Japan” (シャイな国民性). He explains that it is not customary for Japanese to start a conversation with anyone he or she meets. Almost all conversations begin with a formal self-introduction.  Also, some worry that talking to someone before meeting starts might bother them, because strictly speaking it is not the “right time”.

ウィリアムズ・ベイリー:Kyoto Hub

中村先生がKyoto Hubについて紹介してくださった時、気になった。アメリカ以外のコミュニティーを作る機会なので、面白いと思ったのだ。Kyoto Hubに入り、インターンになってから、様々なイベントに参加した。一番目のイベントでは、写真やビデオなどを撮ったり、修験道について習ったりした。修験道というのは、仏教と神道を合わせ、修行のために僧侶が山に行くという宗教だ。内容が難しかったので、えりさんという担当者が発表していた男の方の話を通訳してくださった。私は初めて日本語を同時通訳しているのを聞き、驚いた。私の夢はペラペラに通訳したり翻訳したりすることなのだ。だから、他の人が私の夢を達成しているのを見たら、感動した。




「KLEXON」は英語を練習したい学生と社会人向けに創立された京都のサークルです。活動の場所は地下鉄四条駅の付近にある「WINGS KYOTO」というビルの二階で、今出川キャンパスからそこまで二十分しかかからないから、とても便利です。一週間に一回例会(レギュラーミーティング)があって、時々いろいろなイベントもあります。毎週の例会は二時間で、一時間目はマンツーマンで面接のように話します。二時間目はグループになって、一つのトピックについて会話を交わします。



Mingtian Ouyang: Volunteering at KLEXON

Before coming to Japan, I had thought about many options as my CIP activity. When reading the list of extracurricular activities that previous KCJS students participated, I was really excited to see myself also becoming a member of a team, or a performance group in Japanese society. In the beginning, I only considered of learning a traditional Japanese skill, such as archery or a Japanese instrument, and avoid signing up for anything that is not “Japanese enough”. The main purpose of CIP is to let you be more submersed in Japanese culture outside of the classroom. However, everyone’s goal differs. It took me a few weeks to figure out what I truly want from my CIP experience. I want to improve my Japanese by communicating with people of my own age. Rather than joining an intense circle of sports or performing arts, where members focus more on practicing instead on communicating, I chose to join KLEXON, a circle that helps Japanese with any background to practice speaking English.

KLEXON is not an easy activity to participate. Members are usually expected to speak for 2 hours straight, in both English and Japanese, which is quite exhausting. Nevertheless, it is very rewarding. So far, I was able to not only meet many new friends who are from various backgrounds, but also gain knowledge and a deeper understanding of the Japanese language as well as Japanese society as it is today. When I went to a dinner party with friends I made in KLEXON and started having natural conversations in Japanese with them, I feel as if I have finally become a member of this society, a society that is very different from the classroom, and it is introducing me to Japan from another perspective.

KLEXON also helped me improve my Japanese colloquial ability. There were a couple of things I noticed which answered my question about Japanese language. For example, back in U.S. I was taught by my Japanese teacher to use honorific form when speaking to Sensei or Senpai, and use formal desu-masu form to strangers. However, in real life, situations are not always clear as to when to use what form. In KLEXON, I was surprised to hear people of the same age using different forms of speech (formal/informal/honorific) in the same environment or situation. More girls tend to be more formal than guys and people are generally more formal when speaking to foreigners. However, there were also some people who would use short form to start a conversation with a stranger. Finally, I realized that, the “rules” of using formal or informal speech that I learned in school are a collection of general social norms, which are safe to follow for the most of the time. Nevertheless, a native speaker’s speech style can be very flexible, because for them, the language is merely a tool to reflect his or her emotions. The form they prefer to use shows their character and personality. Therefore, regarding the proper use of formal/informal form, there is not a set rule that everyone should always follow.

Last but not least, I feel fortunate for choosing KLEXON as my CIP activity. I did not expect I was going to receive so much out of it. The relationship I have forged and the deeper understanding of Japanese language I have gained are valuable, and greatly enriched my study abroad experience.



「KLEXON」は英語を練習したい学生と社会人向きに創立された京都のサークルだ。活動の場所は地下鉄四条駅の付近にある「WINGS KYOTO」というビルの二階で、今出川キャンパスからそこまで二十分しかかからないから、とても便利だ。一週間一回例会があって、時々様々なイベントもある。



Yumee Cho: Assistant English Teacher at Ohara Gakuin

Volunteering as an assistant English teacher at Ohara Gakuin was a tremendously rewarding experience for me. While I had never taught in a classroom setting before, I had always wanted to do so and through the friendly and supportive faculty at Ohara, I learned many things about Japanese, English, and teaching overall.

Ohara Gakuin is a combined elementary and junior high school, so the grade levels go from first to ninth grade in one building. The classes are small, ranging from 6 students in the smallest and thirteen in the largest. But regardless of class size, the students were all friendly and energetic, and the small town vibe gave it a close knit air. Yet I felt easily welcomed by the students and faculty and after a few weeks some students began to recognize me in the hallways, and I started to recognize students I’ve taught before.

Fortunately since Ohara is a combined school, each week I would be in a different class, with the exception of the first and second graders who I met for a few weeks combined. This way I got a chance to teach at a variety of levels, but I have to say the lower levels were definitely the most fun because of the sheer energy.

Maeda-sensei, the Head English teacher at Ohara is a wonderful teacher and really knows how to get along with children, and how to get them to learn at the same time as playing group games and activities. When she told me how she was glad that I spoke in a loud and clear voice to the children, I felt immensely proud because at some points I wondered if I was shouting, the overall atmosphere in Japan being much quieter than the States.

I’m extremely grateful I had this unique and rewarding opportunity in the midst of such friendly and welcoming people here in Japan.







Alex Breeden: Volunteering with Agricultural Groups

I did my CIP through a volunteer agricultural organization called Mori No Megumi, or “Blessing of the Forest”, where I worked both on small vegetable plots in northern Kyoto and larger, more remote rice fields in the mountains east of Kyoto. What kind of activity we did varied every time we went there. The first time we did rice harvesting which was a really great first experience since I hadn’t ever worked with rice before. Moreover, the work required conversations about exactly how the rice should be cut, bundled together, and then put through the machine. On other occasions, we fertilized cabbages, cut weeds, and sorted rice. Even activities which sound like they would be boring, like hand sorting rice, turned out to offer their own unique rewards such as creating more opportunities for conversation. In fact, rice sorting gave me the chance to practice keigo as one of the volunteers spoke to me using honorifics. Thanks to recent class discussions I was able to understand her pretty easily and then follow her shift to less formal speech. It also provided a chance to reflect on what sorts of situations polite speech should be used in since I would have never expected someone to use keigo when speaking to me since the volunteer group was pretty laid back.

 I also went to the Kyoto University agricultural circle twice, though we didn’t do much and for whatever reason my friend and I didn’t really connect as well with the people there as we did with the people at Mori No Megumi.
 There weren’t any real language problems, or really any major problems for that matter. I was a bit worried about having to get boots and not being able to find them, but I was able to borrow boots from the group representative every time.
 One of the parts I enjoyed about my CIP which I don’t think you necessarily get in other groups was the wide range of ages of the people participating. This allowed me to see how age groups interacted with each other and myself get interaction not only with people my own age but also with older people. Also, I got to see some of the cultural differences in more rural settings, like the burning of pretty much anything that’s considered trash which occurs on a much larger scale than in the US. 
 My advice to future students is to try and do your CIP with someone else because if a group has two people asking about participating it’s much more likely that at least one of you is going to get a reply. That and when you suddenly blank on vocabulary you know but have momentarily forgotten the other person has your back.





Melanie Berry: Volunteering at the Kyoto International Manga Museum

Volunteering at the Kyoto International Manga Museum has been a fun and interesting but occasionally demanding experience. I have definitely learned a lot there, not only about manga itself but also about tourism in Japan, how the Japanese tend to view their own pop culture and foreigners’ perceptions of it, and the culture of the workplace. Adjusting to such a new environment, though, is not exactly simple. The main two difficulties I’ve encountered while volunteering are switching sets of social cues between the Japanese staff and foreign guests and interacting on a casual basis with the staff.

Overall, I have found that for the most part I can communicate fairly effectively with the staff of the museum, but occasionally I have had trouble switching between Japanese and English when conducting tours and answering questions. Switching between the languages themselves is not necessarily the problem, although that is sometimes difficult. Moreover, the various social cues you utilize while in a setting like a museum seem to differ to a certain extent between Japan and America. Though I’ve volunteered in an American museum before, it was difficult to bring a lot of what I learned there to this experience, as the way one greets customers and generally behaves around them seems to be generally a bit different here. It can also be rather jarring to switch from using formal language in Japanese with our supervisors to using English with the guests. One suddenly feels the instinct to make one’s language more formal toward the guest, although my intuition developed while working in an American museum tends to push me to want to seem friendlier, more welcoming, and therefore a little more informal. This has definitely been more interesting than it has been difficult, though. Figuring out the different ways to interact with both the guests and the staff makes every day fascinating.

In addition, bonding with the staff has been a little difficult, mainly because we are always in a constant work environment. I regularly talk to the two employees who supervise us, Yasui-san and Uramune-san, who are both extremely nice and friendly and also have occasionally been able to speak to some of the other employees, such as the kamishibai artist who performs shows at the museum. However, because our breaks are at different times from the rest of the employees, having time outside of the main areas of the museum to speak casually is rather rare. Because of this, it has admittedly been difficult to get to know people at the museum. Overall, though, I’m glad that I’ve gotten to know the employees I have met at the museum! It has been a great experience.