Volunteering in Japan: Day Trip to Uji and Byodo-in Temple






Byodo-in Temple as depicted on the 10 yen coin in Kyoto, Japan

If you know me or have read my bio, you know that I’m currently working toward obtaining my TESL certificate. So far my study abroad experience has been excellent, but I’ve almost like I’m falling behind by not continuing my tutoring/teaching practice. To combat this,  I’ve been searching and asking about ways that I can continue to practice or learn new skills while abroad.

One of the opportunities I found was through a volunteer sign up with a local Japanese high school. The high school itself has a English program, and has partnered with my college to match an English speaker with a Japanese student, and take everyone on a one-day field trip. For this trip, we spent the day in Uji, Kyoto and also went to Byodo-in Temple, the famous temple on the 10 yen coin. Though this trip was a lot of fun, I still kept in mind that this was a very big learning opportunity for both of us. As a volunteer, it’s always important to keep the coordinator’s objectives in mind.

The goals of this trip were:

  • To give these Japanese high school students a chance to speak English, even if only a few easy words
    • The school noted most students were likely to struggle with grammatical structure (who doesn’t!) so I did my best to give my partner as many opportunities to speak as possible
  • To enjoy time with overseas students while working as voluntary tour guides.
    • This particular school has developed different electives that encourage students to do volunteer work and promote international understanding. This day trip gave them an opportunity to do both of these things.
  • To experience the importance of mutual understanding of different cultures.
    • Of course, I had a lot to gain on this trip as well! Even past language barriers there’s always more to learn.
  • To be further motivated to study foreign languages including English.
    • (Intrinsic and extrinsic) motivation is one of the key facets of language learning. An opportunity like this can be something that really helps cultivate a student’s interest in pursuing 2nd language study.

From the moment we met each other, my partner, K (name redacted for anonymity) and I clicked. We were lucky to have each other. She was very easy to talk to, and even though her English was very good sometimes it helped that I knew enough Japanese to help bridge the gap. We had a really fun day together walking around Uji and buying omiyage for friends and family. After we walked around Byodo-in, which admittedly she didn’t know too much about, but I was happy that she spent a lot of the time talking to me.

If you’re working with someone that speaks ESL, I suggest that you definitely give them opportunities to speak. Ask some basic questions to gauge their level and adjust your speech as necessary. Furthermore, give them time to answer questions that you ask them. I had a couple of my friends mention that their partner seemed totally uncomfortable talking to them – in either English or Japanese. This is okay! Production of a second language is difficult and requires a lot of brainpower – just because they’re not speaking doesn’t mean that they don’t want to respond or that they don’t understand you. Be patient, be kind, and do not give up on them. If you are interested in ESL-based volunteer opportunities in Japan I suggest reaching out to the schools in the area. You never know what kind of programs are in place!