After arriving back in Japan I noticed it felt like nothing had changed with the world, although so much had changed within mine. This feeling of coming back to Japan only to find that everything was the same from when I left, created a huge impact on me, and in a way distress. Once I had come back to Japan, everything was so convenient and clean and I felt guilty for having it so easy compared to those who continue to live in deep poverty in Cambodia. I felt the great need to continue to support those in need. And yet, throwing money at the problems seems so condescending, and immoral, and even if that may help them have a better life in the moment, in the long run, ‘ if you give a man a fish, he eats for one day, but if you teach a man how to fish, he’ll eat for an eternity’. It dawned on me, that by coming back to Japan, I had distanced myself from the problem. This made me feel helpless, when I still wanted to help the community to grow and thrive, I had helped a bit and left the country with still many more problems to be fixed. I had a lot of fun getting to know those in different conditions than mine, and I will keep this valuable experience with me as I continue to live life with gratitude for the opportunities I am given.
Describe a time when you engaged with a different culture and the strategies you used to communicate effectively. Reflect on how this influenced your thinking about language and communication.
When I was in Cambodia, although most kids spoke minimal English, and my knowledge of Khmer was limited to how to say “hello” and “goodbye”, we managed to communicate through words, sounds, movements, and sometimes having others translate for us. They taught us numbers and words, while we continued to ask what their names were, how old they were and such. Scripted questions were definitely more comfortable for them with easy answers they had been taught. Other than that, when I attempted to compliment some of them, they wouldn’t always understand the message I was trying to convey. Although this was a struggle, and took a while to be able to convey to them what I wanted to say, through pointing to their bracelet that I liked, and saying that it was good or pretty instead of beautiful or nice, I was able to convey to them that I liked it. When acting as a teacher and teaching them English my group, I realized how difficult it was to teach someone a language when you don’t know their language. As I have a lot of experience when it comes to tutoring those who struggle with English in Japan, I thought that I would find less difficulty teaching those in Cambodia. What I realized when trying to teach the Cambodian kids, was that I only found it easy to teach English in Japan because I am fluent in both languages and when my students don’t understand something, I am able to explain it in Japanese. Trying to teach English without the ability to speak Khmer, we ended up saying words and pointing to objects within the room or having the teachers translate them. We did prepare for the class by using google translate at the hotel the night before to translate the words into Khmer, and said the word in English and then in an attempted Khmer, but it was still extremely difficult. Especially since the group was around 5 people, trying to teach using 5 people was more difficult as the group was not in sync with each other, and we were all uncomfortable to be teaching and in front of the classroom rather than looking at the board. I had also heard at previous points in my life that people are more grateful and nice to you if you attempt to learn their language instead of walking around as tourists and having the entitlement of them needing to speak your language even though you are in their country. As this idea seems quite logical and fair to me, and especially since during the trip I felt that as someone from a first world country, we are walking and intruding their lives, with our wads of cash, and observing these people as if they were intriguing animals and we were on a safari tour. The immense guilt I felt for being a foreigner who could not begin to understand their struggles became a big inner conflict, against the desire to help and have intercultural communication with them and learn as much as I could about them. I felt my sympathies through a glass and felt that I was not allowed to be truly there with them because of my background. This has continuously been a topic of conversation with my older sister where I say that I would like to go on service trips and help to make other’s lives better, and my sister telling me that my sympathies for them are rude, and that they aren’t some pathetic thing that needs saving. This is an inner conflict I continue to struggle with. How do you help those without being better than them? How do you learn to be with them instead of look over them? How do you take less than you give from the new environment? We are raised in an environment where education is a right not a privilege and it is normal for us and all those around us. We are raised in an environment where everyone speaks more than one language and also maybe even more. How can you from that point of knowledge and privilege go to those who are less fortunate and lucky to be born into that environment, how do you say to them “Hey I’m just better than you so I’ll teach you to be better as well.” It is no longer about hard work or life experience or age, it is about how lucky you were when you were born. Anyways, I realized that although it’s possible to communicate and make some form of relationships with those I met, we are also so used to being able to communicate with a wide range of people with our ability to speak more than one language, and not being able to communicate with our most comfortable language becomes a wall to being able to create deeper connections with those around you.
I am wondering if you can add some thoughts on how this you made a “connection with and provided meaningful action to some part of your community in a sustained way, and reflected on the value of having responsibility for your community.”
By considering your role and perhaps an expanded understanding of our ‘community’, then this would be more suitable for the GCD “Community Engagement” core value.