Rachael Miller: Doshisha University Ping Pong Circle and Anime Club

My experience with the Community Involvement Project has afforded me the opportunity to witness two phenomenon which, I believe, are equally common, but which are opposite in nature: timidity versus openness towards foreigners. Having participated in two different CIP activities during my time at KCJS, I feel that I can say with a fair degree of confidence that I’ve seen two sides of the same coin, and that the difference in my treatment in each setting had a significant impact on my enjoyment of the CIP activity as a whole.

To begin, I initially set out to join Doshisha University’s Ping-Pong Circle. I’ll confess that I don’t have much experience playing ping-pong, despite being somewhat competitively intrigued by it in my high school days, and so for the Japanese students who were already in the club – and who appeared to take their practice of ping-pong very seriously – playing with me must have been extremely frustrating. That being said, apart from their apparent unwillingness to step up to whichever table I’d staked out, I experienced a further unwillingness to even engage in conversation. Despite multiple attempts to get to know my fellow club members, to learn more about their club and its members, etc., my attempts to start conversations were repeatedly shut down by their mere unwillingness to provide me with answers.

Interestingly, while this experience certainly sheds some light on the degree of comfort these students have interacting with foreigners, Joey Ye – who joined the club before I did, and who was at a similar skill level as I was – didn’t seem to have much of a problem interacting with the club members. Thus, I couldn’t help but wonder – was their unwillingness to interact with me also because I’m a woman? I did notice that female members of the Ping-Pong Circle seemed few and far between, and it occurred to me that potentially, my  being a foreigner was not the only source of hesitation that the Doshisha students felt in interacting with me.

Unfortunately, after several weeks of repeated, failed attempts at making conversation, I came to the conclusion that perhaps the Ping-Pong Circle was not the right CIP for me. Given that the goal of CIP participation is to involve oneself in the community, I felt that rather than being involved, I was more being made to observe – regardless of my own desire to be more engaged in my activity. Feeling that I might strike better luck with a group of people with whom I had more in common, I ultimately made the decision to leave the Ping-Pong Circle in pursuit of another activity: participation in the anime club.

It was here that I found myself truly enjoying my CIP activity. The response that I received from the members of the anime club was, in almost every way, different from the response I received from the members of the Ping-Pong Circle. I was welcomed enthusiastically into the anime club, apologized to repeatedly for some minor inconveniences surrounding my membership fee, and spoken to often and willingly by the various members who would come and go without, it seemed, adherence to a strict schedule. Rather than gathering together for the purpose of cultivating a specific skill, the members of the anime club seemed to be more a group of friends who found enjoyment in one another’s company than anything else.

Although I will confess that my language skills – or lack thereof – prevented me from engaging with the members on an especially deep level, I found that they were more than willing to help me get my membership fee squared away, figure out a schedule for coming and going, helping me read various kanji, etc. In the instances that I experienced a lack of communication with the club members, the reason seemed sourced more in lack of ability than lack of desire.

Ultimately, I’ve found that my experience with the anime club has been entirely pleasant, and I am glad that I was able to find a CIP in which I felt more comfortable. While I certainly am not able to make any sociological generalizations based on my experience, again, I feel that I can accurately summarize the difference in my experiences by pointing out the different attitudes held by Doshisha students toward interacting with foreigners. While one is neither better nor worse, right nor wrong, I will admit that after my experience in the Ping-Pong Circle, I will absolutely go out of my way to interact more with foreign exchange students at my home university. Because although I have finally found a setting in which I feel more comfortable, that initial experience of discomfort was a bit disheartening.

Jordan LaPointe: Assistant Language Teacher at Ohara Gakuin/Yoga at Tamisa Yoga Studio

For the Spring semester, I split my time between teaching English as an ALT at Ohara Gakuin (which I go into detail about in my Fall semester post) and doing yoga at the Tamisa Yoga Studio on Teramachi. Ohara was very engaging and it was nice to see the students mature a little over the past 6 months as well as become more comfortable with my presence. Because of this experience, I now have some insight into teaching English to a variety of grades, which may come in handy if I decide to pursue an ALT position with JET.

In respect to yoga, I am learning A LOT, mostly that I am as flexible as a tree trunk. Fortunately, the studio has bilingual instructors so the transition into yoga with virtually no experience hasn’t been to bad. It is also a nice change of pace, to go from being a teacher to being a regular student. Also, I’ve gotten more opportunities to practice my listening skills and silent observation as I have attempted to discreetly check the actions of my fellow yoga practitioners to ensure that I’m doing things correctly…Overall, yoga has been a great experience and I recommend it to anyone interested, regardless of prior experience.

Jordan LaPointe: Assistant English Teacher at Ohara Gakuin

For my CIP I went to Ohara Gakuin every week as an Assistant Language Teacher. Once a week, immediately after class I would take a train and a bus to Ohara, then a short walk to the school. (On a related note, Ohara is a beautiful place during the fall and has a few reputable walking paths leading into the mountains. I highly recommend exploring the area after your CIP or on your own time. ) Part of my reason for pursuing this CIP was to determine if I wanted to apply for a JET teaching position after graduation. First, I would eat lunch with the students, and then I would either play games or assist with English instruction, ranging from vocabulary to reading comprehension. In addition, I was able to go to a school festival and watch the students perform skits and musical pieces.

I think the Ohara experience was unique in that I was able to interact with a wide range of students, from grades 1 to 8, going to different classes every week. This allowed me to observe how students of different age groups interact with each other and the forms of Japanese they use. I was also able to see the different teaching styles used by the English instructors depending on the age of the students. In respect to my participation, I enjoyed almost all of my interactions with the students and teachers. Although I was initially instructed to pretend to not understand Japanese in the presence of the students, I quickly realized that I would need to utilize my Japanese skills from time to time to coax the students into talking with me. However, this proved to be good practice for me to develop my language skills, particularly when helping students translate what they wanted to say from Japanese to English during our conversations. English Professors Kameda and Morimoto were also very easy to get along with and actively encouraged the students to interact with me during lunch and instruction time.

My main suggestion to students seeking to do this CIP is to have patience. You’ll be interacting with elementary and middle schoolers, with the latter group beginning to deal with the challenges of young adulthood. While a student may be difficult to communicate with one week, it might be a completely different experience the next week so keep an open mind. Additionally, the English instruction, especially with the younger grades, may seem too slow at times, but it’s important to remember that language instruction not just about communication but also about exposing students to a new culture and way of thinking; at the very least, just your presence can have an impact on their lives.