Studying, Teaching and Eating Squid
AsiaLearn Student Volunteers In Elementary SchoolBy Kelli Modica AsiaLearn Assistant Manager
Taylor Read, a St. Edwards University student, is currently studying abroad at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University in Japan through AsiaLearn with people from all over the world and helping spread multiculturalism in a Japanese elementary school.
For Read, studying in Japan just wasn’t enough. He wanted to explore all aspects of Japanese culture and also give something back to the community that was giving so much to him. So he started volunteering as an English teaching assistant at a local elementary school through the Japanese Education Company.
In this Question-and-Answer, Read describes this experience in Japan:
Q: Why and how did you get involved with the Japanese Education Company?
A: I want to get a job in the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) program eventually as a teacher in Japan, and I thought that getting some experience in the classroom would help me get to know the job a little better, plus I was curious about how schools in Japan function. I don’t have classes on Wednesdays this quarter, so I asked Michael Chang (AsiaLearn Resident Coordinator) if he knew of anyone hiring Japanese teaching assistants who could work on Wednesdays, and a week later I had the job.
Q: What exactly do you do at the school?
A: I’m an English teaching assistant in a sixth grade class at Kaku Elementary School. The program is made up of about 8 other APU students from different countries that all help teach English at Kaku. We help the English teacher teach while exposing the kids to different cultural aspects of our respective countries.
The director of the program is trying to encourage multiculturalism in the classroom and it seems to be working. The kids have a really fun time.
Q: Do you feel volunteering helped you engage more with the community and get more out of your study abroad experience? If so, how?
A: Yes I think so. I have a really great time at work and it is definitely allowing me to see aspects of Japanese culture I otherwise wouldn’t be able to. I came with a pretty intense curiosity about the way things are done in Japan and this experience is allowing me to see the classroom environment, which is interesting anywhere outside of one’s home country.
Q: Tell us an interesting story or incident from your time with Japanese Education Company.
A: I didn’t really know what to expect on my first day on the job, so we get to the school and are walking through the halls, and I suppose I didn’t really anticipate being such a spectacle. But as soon as we walk in all the kids are peering out of their classrooms and yelling ‘Hello’ and running around in the halls acting very excited to see us. It is nice to be somewhere where everyone is really interested in you. It makes things a lot of fun.
Q: How do you think studying abroad and volunteering abroad will help you in your future endeavors?
A: Aside from the JET program looking really good on my resume, studying abroad has really opened my eyes to the vastness of the world. APU is filled with kids from all over the place, so I’ve been fortunate enough to be exposed to all sorts of different cultures. Before coming I thought I would only be around Japanese students, but I’ve met people from as far away as Finland. Now all I want to do is graduate and go travel the world. To me any experience in which you’re out of your comfort zone and learning new things everyday is a good one.
Q: What was the most unique cultural difference you noticed in Japan?
A: I wasn’t prepared for the emphasis on cleanliness in Japan. It really took me by surprise. They’re is a lot of importance placed on being clean and living in a clean place. At first I had a really hard time figuring out how to work Japanese toilets. They’re surprisingly complex!
Q: Tell us any other interesting tidbits from your time in Japan.
A: I really like how friendly Japanese people are. In America, people like to kind of keep their heads down and very few will greet strangers. In Japan it’s quite different. Most times when you pass people on the street they’ll smile and say konichiwa, especially in smaller towns. If you ever happen to be near a Japanese person for an extended period of time – for instance on a train or in a bath house – they will always ask you questions about who you are and where you’re from. Japanese people are very friendly and very curious.
Fun Questions for Read:
1) What is the strangest thing you ate in Japan?
I’m kind of a go-getter when it comes to strange foods so I’ve been going out of my way to eat weird stuff over here. All sorts of squid and octopus both cooked and raw. Dried squid is now my favorite snack food. It’s a lot like beef jerky except squid. Lots of raw fish of course. I’ve also had raw horse, which is actually very good. My favorite Japanese food is unagi, roasted eel. It’s absolutely delicious and I recommend it to everyone.
2) How are your karaoke skills now?
I can say with complete confidence that I am one of the best karaokeists in Beppu. Maybe even all of Kyushu.
3) What’s your favorite Japanese TV show?
I really like Japanese game shows. If you ever want to see a bunch of grown men doing the absolute silliest things just turn on a Japanese game show. Japan also has the funniest, most entertaining commercials I’ve ever seen.
4) What’s your favorite thing to do on a Saturday afternoon in Beppu?
On a Saturday afternoon in Beppu I’m probably hiking up to one of the wild onsen’s in the area. It’s about a 45-minute hike through the beautiful, lush mountains of kyushu to get to big geothermal heated pool next to a little stream. There’s nothing better than relaxing in hot spring after a good hike.