This blog post is a reflection from Chloe Fung about her participation in the Japan Summer Service-Learning Program (JSSL).
In the beginning of July, we started the JSSL program with 14 students- four from Middlebury College, four from ICU (Japan), two from Assumption University (Thailand), two from Silliman University (The Phillipines), and two from Union Christian College (India). In the past two weeks, we’ve visited different communities in and near Mitaka city, including elderly homes, public elementary schools, and an urban blueberry farm. We’ve cut down bamboo plants for a Nagashi Soumen event, cleaned the classroom floors after school lunch with sixth graders, made takoyaki and tempura with host families… The program has given us an opportunity to glimpse into the lives of local people, which would not otherwise be easily accessible as a foreign tourist.
Last week, our group visited two public elementary schools, Minamiura and Higashi. At the elementary schools, we participated in the activities prepared by the English teachers and also helped prepare for future activities. I was struck by the difference between the atmosphere and structure of the school compared to schools I had experienced or seen before. In my view, the students’ had learned a sense of responsibility already at an early age. This was most clear during lunch time, when all the students would prepare the classroom for lunch, bring food in from the kitchen, pass out food, and make sure everyone had a meal set on their desk. After lunch, students spread out to clean the classroom and also other rooms in the school. Even without explicit instruction or supervision, every student went to perform their assigned task. That diligence to me was incredible to see for sixth graders.
Experiences like this have inspired me to reflect on my own schooling experiences, started discussions with others in the program about Japanese culture, group norms, and English education, and also taught me more about group dynamics and teamwork. Whether it is cleaning classrooms with children, working with native English, second-language English, and native Japanese speakers in translating materials or having cultural comparisons about the streetside farm stands that run on an honesty system, I have been learning a lot about myself, the different experiences of other program students, and about Japanese culture. I am looking forward to future fruitful discussions and to going to Tenryumura soon and experiencing a potential cultural shift as we move into a rural space with an aging population.