GCD: Community Engagement (GIN Sanagitachi)

Small thin layers of cardboard on the sidewalks, old grey haired men dressed in unwashed layers of clothes, and the smell of urine. I remember when I was in the fifth grade, I would see a homeless man lying down on his uncomfortable-looking cardboard ‘house’ and surrounded by a couple of garbage bins as if trying to hide away from the world.

Motomachi street during the day

Motomachi, the area where I live and spent my childhood in, is full of clothing stores, cafe’s and restaurants all lined up along the clean street, people and visitors from different parts of Kanagawa Prefecture and Tokyo,  would usually walk along them, taking photos, window shopping and even walk their cutely-dressed dogs. Although further down the street near Ishikawacho station, turn right and walk approximately three-hundred meters, you will enter a district called “Kotobukicho” where we meet the non-profit organization, Sanagitachi that do direct visits to serve for the homeless people. There was a drastic difference between the environments in Motomachi street and the Kotobukucho area, such as the colors and quality of the buildings and houses, and what people wore, and even the luxurious cars that were frequently parked along the side of the streets. During middle school, I had joined the GIN Chiku group, where we had mainly served food for the homeless, but joining the GIN Sanagitachi group had made me see where the homeless had spent their nights and the living conditions that they were facing. The main feelings that I had usually taken out of the experiences during the patrols were appreciation and gratitude for the lifestyle I had, and the need to raise awareness of the homeless community in the Naka-Ku area. 

Patrol at the Yokohama Stadium during the baseball game

I have been able to achieve indirect service such as planning for group awareness through events such as the school Food Fair, but I was also able to partake in the direct service such as going to the patrols on Thursday night. I have been to patrols at least two times this year, one in the winter and one more at the beginning of Spring, and was able to see the differences in needs, such as warm clothes and blankets for the winter, and socks and clothes for the warmer season. One of the strengths I have that are useful to this service group is being able to communicate in Japanese, as the Sanagitachi leaders outside of YIS are non-English speakers. By communicating with the Sanagitachi leaders, I was able to learn more about the conditions that the homeless had to go through.

One of the things I learned was that the homeless were appreciative of the Sanagitachi group and the patrols, as they had felt safe from the possible dangers of living without a shelter, such as violence and discrimination. Although we learn about homelessness in Japan as part of the research, being able to directly experience and hear about the homeless was a lot more effective and educational. Although I was usually at Kannai station for patrols, I was able to go to Yokohama Stadium for this patrol. At the same time of the patrol, there was a baseball game happening and there were crowds of people outside of the stadium (Watching baseball games are huge in Japan and there would be a number of games in a month at Yokohama Stadium). The homeless were scattered about around the stadium (most of them near the park, and some near the stadium gate). This had questioned ‘fairness’ as the homeless were not taken care of and excluded from the crowd. There was a similar situation in Kannai station. Although people were aware of the homeless, they were simply walking pass by them as if the homeless were not there. This had encouraged me to go to the patrols more often and experience the situation physically. In addition, the more patrols I attend, my goal was to communicate with the Sanagitachi leaders and make the bridge between non-Japanese speakers of the YIS Sanagitachi group. Sanagitachi as a community engagement had helped me interact with another aspect of the Japanese culture and the Naka-Ku, Yokohama area that I was familiar with.

It is difficult to imagine a life without more than one pair of clothes and shoes, unlimited food and water resources, and even a proper shelter. It is most difficult because we are used to having them and they are part of our ordinary. However, by putting myself in their shoes, being in the position without the lack of necessities of life, receiving the kind of support and donations from the Sanagitachi patrols would be helpful and I would feel a sense of ‘safety’ within me. Negative stereotypes against homelessness still exist today, and this social group is sometimes looked down upon, rejected, and discriminated. For this reason, it is no help if we are just witnesses’ to this issue, sitting back and waiting for someone else to deal with this, but rather, come face to face with the issue and observing the reality of homelessness.

GCD: Multilingualism (Trilingualism)

三ヶ国語・Trilingualism ・三

Whenever people ask me what my first language is, I often struggle to make a decision between Japanese and English. From a very young age, around the age of four, my parents had put me into the current school that I attend; the Yokohama international school up the Motomachi-chukagai station. It is difficult to remember specific events in my experience at the ELC, but I know for sure that the classes were taught in English with English-speaking teachers. Although, because my parents were non-native English speakers, they would speak to me in Japanese and Chinese, and these two languages would be what use at home. Yet, out of the three languages, I would prefer English over them. Growing up, I had usually surrounded myself with friends from a Japanese background, as I had felt a sense of comfort and familiarity with the language and culture. At the same time that I entered the ELC, my parents had put my sister and I, into a music school every Saturday at Ferris University (Yamate campus). The environment there was a huge contrast to the internationalism at school, as my classmates were Japanese, who attended a Japanese school, surrounded by Japanese teachers and school traditions. I was part of two worlds and language was a tool that helped me survive and socialize with the people around me.

Although my ELC days have passed, as I had approached the end of MYP (Grade 10), I have become stronger in my English that I decided to take the Higher Level (HL) English Language & Literature (LangLit) course at school. I read, wrote and spoke English more, that I had started to lose my Japanese skills. Sometimes, it would be difficult to express things in Japanese because my vocabulary bank was not as huge as my English one. With classes taught in English, the Standard Level (SL) Japanese A LangLit class was a time that I could improve the language. Despite my ups and downs with the assessment tasks, I learned to be grateful that I was given a chance to enhance the language that would help me communicate better with my family.

I noticed that I would often add English to my Japanese, and the conversation would be a mix of these two languages. It was tempting as my mind would think in English whilst I spoke Japanese, and vice versa. This had become a habit, but a bad one, because I would not be able to use this if I were talking to someone who did not have the language ability on one or the other. As I wrote in my TOK response: To what extent does language shape my experience of the world? One of the real-life situation examples I had used was an Atlantic article on The Bitter Fight Over the Benefits of Bilingualism by Ed Young. Bilingualism was like a form of multitasking such as the constant switching of the languages and it was a natural process and part of my intuition. Although I had always feared that someday, one language may dominate more, and I would lose my other languages. I had particularly felt this way when my Chinese speaking and reading ability was not as strong. I realized that I was always used to listening comprehension and my mind would automatically translate that to Japanese or English. This skill was particularly useful when family and I would visit our family in Taiwan and when I would help out with church and children who did not have a Chinese-speaking ability.

With the increasing Chinese population, Chinese has become a widely-spoken language in the world. Through my love for Korean pop culture, I have discovered that my favorite groups had non-Korean members who were from China, Taiwan, and Japan. Although I had lacked the use of Chinese in my daily life, I have gradually taken more attention to the language. Training my Chinese listening comprehension through music had enhanced my motivation to keep the language with me wherever I went. Music was one of the ways that helped me relate and connect with my culture. It was a key tool that had made learning fun and engaging. This in return, had encouraged me to speak Chinese with my Taiwanese mother and my eldest sister who attended a Chinese school. I was taking baby steps and it had required a lot of patience. Part of me wished I had taken Chinese classes in my younger years so that I would have learned the basics. Although, before my father transferred to a Taiwanese university,  he had to learn the Chinese language, most of the learning took place during his university years. It is never too late to start learning a new language and as long as you had the right mindset and set yourself a goal, you could achieve it.

Multilingualism has become part of my life since early childhood, I would not know a life without this skill. Most of my high school experiences would not have been complete without my understanding of these three languages. From class discussions, writing and oral tasks, to having conversations with my friends, and even my time with my family, these three languages had shaped me and the many advantages that I had in the world. I have come to appreciate my ethnic background by engaging with the language, which had helped me engage with the people who spoke the language.

GCD: Global Understanding (Grade 11 Cambodia Trip) Part II

Part II: The Trip

Cambodia Trip from Eileen Chen on Vimeo.

We traveled a long way from the freezing winter of Japan, with my head covered by my hoodie, hands inside the pocket of my sweater, and then I had soon felt the heat. We had to deal with the heat for almost all of the trip. On the very first day, we visited the Khmer Rouge Killing Fields to experience the history of Cambodia, and the violent and cruel past. Before the trip, I remember listening to a group present this time and place in Cambodian history. Although it was a different experience when I had set my foot on the various killing fields site. The audio tour had blocked all the noise and distractions, and I had felt an authentic historical experience. The eight-day trip had also made me feel like I have lived my every day’s at a full-potential by physically being there to contribute to the lives of the children at rural Pursat and families on the waiting list for a well.     


With Cambodia being a developing country, a large gap between the rural areas and the urbanized city was seen. This was particularly noticeable after our first few days in the rural areas of Cambodia (Pursat) and our two nights in the village, and later in the city (Siem Reap) for the last two days. The city was much busier and louder, with large crowds of tourists from all over the world.  When we visited the Angkor Wat, I was distracted by the selfies, individual portraits, and group photos that people were carrying. This had questioned ‘fairness’ in me, as I had seen the city life through a different lens and could no longer see it from a tourist perspective. Although at the same time, tourism is a driving force in Cambodia’s economy (Nathan Paul, GLOBE).  Tourism as part of globalization had enabled economic growth through increasing supply and demands of goods and services. During my time at the night market, I have noticed that I had rarely heard anyone speak the local language, Khmer. I was speaking English most of the times with the shop clerk and some of them would speak to me in Japanese. English was a “Lingua Franca,” the common language spoken by many people all over the world. It was also a powerful tool for marketing and making business. This had made me reflect on what I learned during my English class on how language had value, with people instrumentally motivated to learn a certain language in order to provide for a living. In relation to my learning in class to the experience at the night market, language was an important part of communication with the local marketers.

Power and Privilege:

Further in my experience at both the Pursat market and Angkor Wat, I have noticed children on the streets selling goods. When we had stayed in central Pursat, we had the time to explore and shop at the market there. I had forgotten to pack my hat and since our trip had consisted of physical work in the sun, I wanted to buy a new hat. While walking the market street in Pursat, I have found a shop that had sold a collection of hats. Although, as I had searched for the right hat, my eyes laid on a small boy, about a third grader, who had smiled at me. He was trying to make me purchase the hat and complimenting me on how “nice” they looked on me. I wondered if he had said the same thing to other customers and foreigners. He had developed a sale strategy that was similar to what the clothing store clerks had used back in Japan–smile, be nice, and compliment the customer–this little boy had done everything on the checklist. There was a similar situation when we had finished the tour for the Angkor Wat. When we were going back to the car, there were groups of children, mostly girls, who were selling pins of the Angkor Wat. “One for only 3 dollars,” as one of the girls had approached me. I was walking slow and did not know what to say. “One for only 3 dollars,” as she repeated, but I was still speechless. As I was walking towards the car, she was following me this time, but instead of indicating the price, she had changed the pricing. 

“2 for 3 dollars”

I had never experienced this before, and I had struggled whether to buy the pins off of her by sympathy despite the fact that I did not need them, or ignore her completely. Mr. Pomeroy, the supervisor for the trip, was walking near me. He noticed this and told me not to buy off of them. One of the reasons not to was because of the poverty cycle and where and how the money was going to be used. Child beggars and sellers are still common in Cambodia, particularly in tourist areas with foreigners. Buying off of the child can ultimately trap them in the cycle of poverty, as it was easier to make money in the streets, and therefore, value income over education. (Herington, Sally) The children were also usually working for their parents, or in some cases, their “boss,” and the money that you pay for the selling goods, are not necessarily used for the child’s education.


The importance of education:

As an IB student at an international school, education plays a fundamental part of my life and the way I view the world. Having a child on the streets without any parent supervision is considered dangerous and risky for the child. Although it may seem like common sense, what if you lived every day of your life in poverty and was desperate for income? Will our perception change?

Education is a way that helped us obtain an understanding of the world, the knowledge of our society, and the ability to make decisions, but because we are part of the educationally privileged world, it was important to share and transfer what we know to a wider audience. I learned that teaching and the role of a teacher was also an important part of education. As part of my experience making mini-lesson plans for the children at Angkrong, my group and I had tried to make the experience as fun as possible–singing English songs, playing Pictionary and hangmen–teaching had to be fun and engaging so that the children would be motivated to learn and find pleasure in retaining knowledge.

The importance of water:

As the more we had stayed in the rural areas of Pursat and interacted with the local children and adults, including the HOPE Cambodia leader; Lee, I had become more aware of the importance of fundraising and the many possibilities that could be accomplished. We often take things for granted, but for the families, with the provision of a well, they could start a family business such as growing water-rich crops and not have to walk a long distance to the water stream (which was often unhygienic and harmful for health). As 60% is quite a large number for the amount of water in our body, water is a crucial resource in our lives. Reflecting upon this, I learned to be thankful and carry gratitude for what I already had, and work towards sustainable uses of my possessions. 


Being a part of a non-profit organization has taught me the value of volunteer work and seeing the world through your own eyes. Non-profit organizations are a reliable and credible source that we can trust to ensure that our donations are going in the right direction and right benefits. I had also learned that I should not be worrying about what kind of clothes I wore, how ‘tired’ I looked and whether I would be likable to everyone. What I had to think about was in what ways I could add something in my life that would help put more smiles in people beyond my personal world.      

GCD: Inter-cultural Communication

What is Language? Humans are social creatures who have the innate sense of belonging. We use language in order to communicate and socialize with the people around us. People use language to adapt to the world, as with the “Emergent perspective,” children in their early years have the ability to retain and learn a language quickly. Each and every individual of us have experienced language ever since we have set foot in this world, experiencing the many forms of language either through movement, sound, and even touch. 

Being a quarter Japanese and a three-quarter Taiwanese but born in Hawaii, I have felt that most of my childhood had consisted of Japanese, English, and Chinese. From preschool to secondary school, I was surrounded by people from different parts of the world from Germany, Korea, India, Australia, and much more, with a diverse environment. The English language was a tool for communication in an international culture. Although outside of school, I was surrounded by people who were from a Chinese speaking culture. My mother and Taiwanese family would speak to me in Chinese, and I would acquire listening comprehension of the Chinese language. However, I never took classes in Chinese and had rarely used it to communicate. Even with my parents, such as my Taiwanese mother, and father, who studied in Taiwan during his university years.

The Chinese good luck “Jiāyóu”

My mother always said the word “加油” (Jiāyóu) or “good luck” in English translation, every time I was about to take a test or completing assessments. The direct translation of the Kanji is to “加” (Jiā), “add,” and “油” (yóu), “oil,” in the sense that, you add more oil for more power (“力”) and energy. Although as a faith perspective, I interpreted the kanji as “Encourage others with your mouth and pour the oil of God.” (口で励まし、神の油を注ぐ)My understanding and perception of this kanji are modified because of my faith, and hence, language can be interpreted differently depending on people and their background. Despite my limited literacy in Chinese, I could see how this would be different in Japanese, as the Kanji would have different components and radicals and so the interpretation would change. The Japanese kanji would be “頑張って” (Gambatte) and you could see it seems like a completely new language.

Body language is another component part of my experience with inter-cultural communication. Instinctively, we use body language every day of our lives. Whether giving a thumbs up to say “good” or “okay,” and even how you carried yourself through your postures and facial expression, this seems natural for us to do. At my church, we use sign languages through our worships. Sign language was like storytelling. The sign language word for ‘Jesus’ is pointing your right finger on the inside of your middle left palm and vice versa. This was indicative of how Jesus was nailed on both of his hands on the cross. The word for “love” was having both your hands into fists and arms across the chest, giving an impression of protection, like love.

Another inter-cultural communication experience I experienced was when The Epic Arts team from Cambodia came to visit the school. The Epic Arts is an organization that brings people with and without disabilities together through the arts. Besides their performance at the auditorium and the senior graduation, they had planned an hour-long dance workshop with the students. During the introduction of the workshop, the team had introduced themselves but using sign language. It felt like a new experience, existing in a place and time with people from another country, culture, and lifestyle. There was only a warm and positive atmosphere, despite the unfamiliarity of language, and the language barrier. They say that sports are the universal language, but I would say that smiles and laughter would be one as well.

At the end of the dance session, they would put their hands together and bow down (Seen in the photo above). This had reminded my interactions with the Cambodian local people during my Cambodia HOPE service trip, the locals would hold their hands together, like giving a prayer, bow down slightly, and say, “Arkun,” meaning “Thank you.” I would feel the same kind of respectful culture in Japan, such as bowing, “Ojigi,” as part of the Japanese etiquette. Bowing, as a form of language, was used in different ways depending on the context. For instance, at my cram school, every time before class, my tutor and I would stand up and bow while I say, “Yoroshiku Onegaishimasu” translating to “Looking forward to your contributions” Additionally, after class, I would bow again, but not to say “Yoroshiku Onegaishimasu,” but rather, “Arigatou gozaimashita” to thank the teacher and her effort and time. At the very end of cram school, I would bow the last time, and say “Sayonara,” meaning, “Goodbye.” This was a different inter-cultural communication compared to my school life at YIS. Although I would have a different communication approach towards my cram school teacher, I would have the same respect towards my teachers at school. Rather than bowing before and after class, I would say good morning/afternoon before class and thank you’s after class.

Depending on the context, language can change, and sometimes, something specific in one language cannot seem to have the same kind of meaning in another language. In this way, language is special, and even in ways that makes us feel a sense of belonging.

GCD: Work Experience (Summer Break)

Over the course of the summer break, I was able to be involved in different work experiences. Since I always liked children, I was lucky to be able to work as a babysitter and an assistant at a Children’s English Bible study summer program at my church. I was also actively engaged in social media; Instagram, so I was able to start on a work experience with a clothing store to promote their clothes and jewelry products from an overseas brand. From these two distinct work experience, I learned the importance of organization and management; self and time, and I also achieved different skills for the work and even transferred some skills to the work experience from my learning based on my school extra-curricular activities.

I started babysitting from the beginning of April until the end of July for once a week. I had later worked as an assistant at the summer program in mid-July for a week every day. (A wellness version of my experience at the program can be seen here).

The family was Japanese but they moved to the states after my last month of babysitting, and so during these three months, I was responsible to interact with the child in English as much as possible. Communicating with children was already a difficult task because you had to simplify your language and talk to them in a clear manner. Although you had to be kind and gentle, but not too gentle.

Three skills that I worked on:

  • Communication: This was one of the most important skills for my babysitting experience because, despite the fun, I had to keep assertive in order to maintain a babysitter role. I was also using both Japanese and English in order for the child to become used to the English language before leaving to the states.
  • Patience: Children are full of energy and high-spirit, it can be overwhelming. I learned to stay calm in chaotic situations.
  • Creativity: A huge part of babysitting was to involve interactive games and activities to keep the child engaged. It is also important to use creativity as a way of learning. I tried to implement drawing and painting time in order to introduce colors in English and a picture-description card matching activity to introduce verbs.
  • Problem-solving and quick decision making: Attention and motivation of the child were important for learning. Although if the child could not listen, despite how hard I tried, and the child had rather played with Barbie dolls over reviewing picture cards, I learned to think of an alternative to still interact with English.
    Assistant at VBS (Vacation Bible School) summer program:
    This was not a paid job, but my role as a translator from Japanese and Chinese to English was extremely important for this job. The VBS missionary team were all English speakers, with some being fluent in Chinese as well. The class was taught in Chinese, but there were some Japanese-only speakers. An obstacle that I faced was self-management. Something other than work experience I had done during the summer was taking the TOEFL. The week of the test was on the same week, and I had been agitated and sleep deprived. Although I could not show a tired face in front of the children, so I had always kept a smile. Even when it was hard, I learned to keep positive-minded and avoid putting on a frown.

Instagram Business:

The other job I had was to use Instagram to promote the jewelry company and the clothing store. The jewelry company, Qudo, is based in Germany, located in the beautiful city of Hannover. The clothing store, Lea K, ran by my Korean friend’s mother, is located in Motomachi street. My main job was to update the Instagram feed by taking photos, writing captions, and staying active to increase followers, and most importantly to increase recognition. To do this, it was important to keep in mind the three C’s, as this was a paid job:

  • Content – Visual content
  • Creativity – Aesthetics
  • Consistency – Knowing your intention and purpose

    Similar to my other work experiences, I was also required to use my Japanese skills. Although, I was more used to English and less in Japanese, and therefore, I was learning as I was posting. I was careful about this because this was a business account, and was important to “focus on advertising the product,” as the shop owner had said to me during our conversation.

Time-management: As a rising senior, I had to work on school work and preparation for university applications during the summer as well. Photographing, editing, organizing, and captioning can be time-consuming. Without a good time-management, it was easy to become absorbed in the world of Instagram. With negotiation, we discussed what was realistic in terms of the number of products to photograph, to edit, and post. By collaborating with my friend, we combined the Japanese and English caption with Korean hashtags, increasing the number of likes and followers from different countries.

Transfer: In order to fulfill good visual content, photography skills were a component part of this job. Due to my experience as a photographer for the MIMI fashion page of the school Chowa Yearbook, my photography has drastically improved. Hence, helping me with the photography for the account. Additionally, as an IB Visual Arts student, I take careful account of the overall composition and balance of the visual content, helping me stay consistent.

At the very end, what I learned the most is the importance of language and communication skills in a work experience.

GCD: Artistic Expression (Performing Arts & Visual Arts)

The Arts were always one of my passion. I have always been involved in music, from attending music school on Saturday’s, learning the piano, participating in choir, and learning the Music theory. I also remember, way back for in our fifth grade PYP exhibition, I had chosen Visual Arts as my topic of research and presentation. Entering the IB, I have decided to continue to pursue Visual Arts as one of my classes as well. Although one of the greatest sources of inspiration for my persistent involvement in the Arts would be my parents. My father was a drummer and a guitarist, and my mother would sing, but they had long-served in the church choir. In spite of their passion for music, they were both from a science background, with my father as a medical doctor, and my mother, a nurse. Yet, this has not stopped me from exploring the Arts both in and outside of school.

One of the greatest things about YIS is that they provide students opportunities to express themselves in various ways possible. For instance, a student with a passion for solving real-world issues and public speaking would join Model United Nations (MUN), and a student who was passionate about photography would join the Photography Club, or even if a student who was always interested in robots, they would join the Robotics club, and the list goes on and on.

Events and student lead concerts is a huge part of our school as well. Through this, I had the chance to be in a band (YIS Music Production). This was an opportunity to work with people who were equally as passionate about music and talent instrument players. As a vocal singer and frequent backup singer, I had slowly acquired harmonizing skills quickly without the piano, since our practice was dedicated for performances, we had a limited time to learn our own parts. Through my background in classical piano for eleven years, I became used to reading music sheets, attaining counts and rhythms, and hearing the main melody and chord progressions as well. During my experience in Solfège, we were frequently tested by our abilities to listen and write down a set of melody on piano played by the teacher. Since then, playing the piano by ear was something I was grateful for, particularly under time limits.


Further on, I had used my harmonizing skills on other performances with both the lowerclassmen and upperclassmen. I had felt that despite the differences in grade level, I was able to get along with them through music and work in harmony towards the performance. Harmonising is an extra touch to the vocals, bringing a sense of unity. The music sounded better and soothing to hear. Even though I had no longer took the music course at school, I always felt that by performing, I was able to connect with music and utilize my vocal and piano skills.

Outside of school, I would use music at the church by playing the piano. My church had both a Chinese and Japanese service, but I was mostly involved in the Chinese service. One of the difficult things was working with people who spoke Chinese because I was not as fluent in the language. I had felt that I was not able to communicate my intentions and suggestions clearly because of the language barrier. Although through music and worship, I slowly overcame that language barrier should not stop me from praising and serving at church, and using music for beneficial ways.

Apart from my participation in music performances, I had started to dance as well. Although I had taken ballet classes for seven years, after joining the Dance Company, I had become interested in developing dance skills for hip pop. In our recent performance, we had combined two different dance genres: One group in charge of the Hip-hop part and another for the Contemporary. Although I was more comfortable with hip-hop, I wanted to try something new so I decided to take the Contemporary part. I was no longer flexible as I was in my ballet years, but I had learned to appreciate a dance genre; one that I would have never thought I would cover. Dance had taught me to go out of my comfort zone and accept all

kinds of styles.

Spring Concert 

Although at the very end, the most important components of the Arts would be my passion for the Visual Arts. Out of the Seven Learning Styles, I was always a Visual and Aural learner. I had not realized that by pursuing music and visual arts, I carried these learning styles throughout my life, and classes like the IB Visual Arts. Although it was required to keep an art journal,  I wanted to expand the unit: Culture and Place more, and hence, started on my own personal journal. What I love about art is that you are able to explore your own interests and style, so I collected a number of artists and examined their art techniques and aesthetic.

My first studio piece for the unit: Culture and Place

I discovered that I had an eye for colors and lines, and found artists who were known for their use of bright, primary colors, like Keith Haring; Jordy van den Nieuwendijk; Margaret Kilgallen, as well as, artists who had more of a simple and minimal work like Frédéric Forest and Ellsworth Kelly.

The more I researched, I saw a connection between the different, yet not so different artists. Haring, Nieuwendijk, Kilgallen and her former husband, Barry McGee (also an artist), all were involved and/or started with street art or graffiti in their art career. They were engaged in a specific place, a shared public space: the streets and street culture. Art can be made anywhere at any time and place, and something I come to realize was that art itself is a culture in a way, because it brings people together, inspires people, and a significant component of defining myself as a complete individual.

GCD: Global Understanding (Grade 11 Cambodia Trip) Part I

After my trip to Phuket in ninth grade, I wanted to continue to do direct service work globally when I had the chance. I was inspired to be physically there to see the world beyond Yokohama and enhance my understanding besides reading and research off of the laptop screens.

“Is it really safe?”

That was what my parents had first asked me when I told them about the Cambodia Trip, provided every year at school. Of course, the safety of their child was the first thing on their mind. After all, parents are good at worrying about their children. The word ‘worry’ is an inconvenient thing. People worry all the time and too frequently to the point that we use the word for even the smallest things. Although my perception of ‘worry’ has been shaped throughout my experiences in the Cambodia trip and the direct service opportunity that I was privileged to partake in. (Click here to continue to read my journey in Cambodia)    

Before the trip, every trip participants were required to reach a goal of 75,000 yen. At first, I felt that the number was unachievable, however, with the help of my fundraising group and the brainstorming and discussing, I was able to generate several possible fundraising ideas. From classic bake-sales, Starbucks runs, crowdfunding, tutoring, raising awareness from family relatives, and new fundraising opportunities such as planning an event. Some were more successful than others, and some much more time-consuming and challenging than others.

Two of my memorable and perhaps favorite fundraising experience, with one being small, and another one that involved a wider audience, both consisted the process of scratching an idea and compromising on a new one. It sounds quite strange, as I basically rephrased the fact that I enjoyed failing on an idea I worked extremely hard on, and move on to start on a new one. Although, you will see why I think this way.

I had always wanted to plan an event, although, most fundraising groups had already signed up to organize existing events at school, so I had to gain some new perspective. During a conversation with my past PE teacher, he talked about how someone had planned a “Lip Sync Battle” in the past but the idea was suddenly lost. I was very keen on the idea and had gathered different roles for my fundraising group to help make the idea come true. We had a set date of the event, I had made the setup plan, and all we needed was teachers to lip sync. However, there was a crash between schedules, and the idea was starting to become less achievable. Until one day, we came to the realization that it was not going to happen. At this stage, I had felt both disappointed and embarrassed. Perhaps it was a mistake, I thought. Since I wanted to raise awareness amongst a wider audience, I didn’t want to give up, so I had ended up setting a small activity of “Guess the Song” during a school event; Studentainment, with the help of my friend and successfully raised donations at the end. Although I was not expecting any of this, now that I reflect on it, I was thankful to have gone through that process because I wouldn’t have learned the hardships of fundraising.

The second important fundraising experience was my individual fundraising for teaching art for an autistic child. Before the experience, I remember I was anxious and afraid because I had never encountered a situation like this. Although, with my passion for both Visual Arts and Psychology, I was motivated and encouraged to do the experience. A significantly important part of the process was my initial research on autism and art therapy. Since I was not experienced with interacting with an autistic child, I had to plan and prepare for the experience. First, noticing the child’s skills were important to plan the lesson. Secondly, the structure of the plan was important to create a prepared lesson. However, not everything will go along with the plan, therefore flexibility was another factor that had to be implemented, which was the most challenging part of the experience.

During the experience, the first lesson was the most difficult because the child had spoken Chinese with his mother, and I was not a fluent Chinese speaker but only preferred listening. Although I had come with a plan and bought new art tools, the lesson did not go as well as the child had preferred to stick with his usual drawing, and I could not follow my plan. This was not like an event, where I could plan another event. I had to think of alternatives on the spot and improvise. I had noticed that he was skilled in writing Chinese characters–short and precise lines–and I had thought about exploring with lines through architectural drawing and perspectives. I became aware of and appreciated the fact that taking Visual Arts had helped me greatly because of the Elements & Principles of Arts. Learning the basics was always useful in developing skills and techniques. By the end of the experience, I had noticed that the child was able to follow my plan, even when the skill was not what he was used to. I was also developing more options for the lesson plan for the flexibility. I learned that although fundraising was a difficult and challenging process, taking the time to think about helping people benefited me as a person, not just a student who was concerned about school and academics.

GCD: Wellness (Spiritual and Mental/Emotional Wellness)

This was my second year, along with my younger sister, as an assistant for the Vacation Bible School (VBS) missionary team from New York. Before the trip, my family and I had visited Seattle for the first time for a university campus tour. One of the schools I had been interested in was a private liberal arts university; Seattle Pacific University, located near the city. During my visit, one of the things I had remembered was the welcoming community and professors with strong faith. Despite the cultural differences between Japan and the United States, I had felt at home back in Japan like the warm feeling I had in my church when talking to the administrative staffs. Despite this four-hour campus visit experience, I had felt better prepared for the VBS program by turning on a different mindset and focus.

This years’ concept was “The God Who Saves,” featuring the story of the life of Moses from when he was born as an Israelite, becoming an Egyptian Prince, and the man who saved and lead the Israelite slaves by crossing the Red Sea and escaping to Canaan. Perhaps the story would sound more familiar when God told Moses about the Ten Plagues of Egypt or the Ten Commandments later in his servings, which is applied to our lives. During my childhood, this was one of my favorite stories of the Bible, and I was encouraged to share some of the concepts with the children.

As an assistant, the central role I had was becoming the Japanese translator from Chinese and English. Every year, a majority of the students would come from a Chinese background, but, some would not understand the language, and others would come from a Japanese background who had no experience with Chinese. For this reason, I had to make sure to read and translate the essential vocabularies of the story, and the discussion question for each day before class so that the things would run smoother. During my readings, I had felt that everything was a review for me, recapturing my past memories and knowledge of the story, and noticing that I had forgotten the small details and only remembered the major events. There was one particular discussion question that had stood out to me the most.  

“Do you ever make excuses for not wanting to help others?”

The word “excuses” had stood out to me the most. As an assistant, it was easy talking about the Bible’s teachings, but as a student, it was not easy following the basic rules. I had felt that I was being dishonest and lying in front of the students. I had reflected on the many times that I had tried to find excuses for not going to church, not doing my readings and regular devotions, but most importantly,  not taking a moment in my life to make a prayer. In return, I was always emotionally unhealthy and worried every day, despite the fact that the Bible clearly says not to worry–”Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Mathew 6:34) As a rising senior, I felt pressured under the competitive academic environment and unconsciously compared myself to others.  Another discussion question in the booklet had asked, “What do you do when you need help today?”. During difficult times, I realized that the most effective help that I could receive was by seeking God’s help by doing my readings.

Even if I understood the stories, it was not always easy teaching them. The third and fourth graders questioned the Bible and the existence of God. How could Moses communicate with God even if He could not be seen? One VBS teacher had asked the students if they had believed in His existence, but a student had answered, “No, because you cannot see God.” This was often a common way of thinking. Although, there are some things I learned from others and through my experiences that can be a possible reason for believing. My mother used to remind me that His presence was like air; although you cannot physically see him, you needed His powerful words as a healing to live, just as you need air to live. Another reason is that because He could not be seen, I had to seek Him more and open my eyes, heart, and mind for the changes that can be brought into our lifestyle.

With the VBS Team

The change that I had felt over the summer and my experience as an assistant was more than I had expected. During the two weeks of VBS,  I had spent yet another quality time with the staffs who flew all the way from New York every year to do missionary work during the summer. One of the greatest things besides their interest in Japanese anime, they were people that I could openly talk about the Gospel, strengthen my faith and relationship with God, and continue to be thankful of my everyday. In addition, I became encouraged to spread the same kind of kindness, genuineness, and purity that the team had brought into my life, and share it amongst my friends and school classmates.

With the VBS Team (2)

Despite the great memories I had made, there are still several things that I need to work on. At the current church that I attend, every Sunday at three o’clock, my sister and I, and a couple of friends from school take part in Bible study group, “Vision,” for high schoolers. As a student, it is always tempting to outweigh school work over learning the Scriptures, but I learned that ‘I am busy” should never be an excuse. The VBS team were busy people. They were students, they were adults, they were working and making earnings like ordinary people. Although, despite their personal lives, they had devoted themselves to God, used their time and energy to teach the children about God’s accomplishments because He is always there and working for us 24/7. With this in mind, I intend to manage my time to strengthen my faith by reading the plans on the Bible app, share the Bible scriptures with my parents, and apply my learning with people in my life.

GCD: Wilderness Engagement (Grade 11 Field Studies Nakasendo)

Every year, our schools’ field studies provide us with experiences that are different in their own ways, and I was always excited and eager about the day of field studies. When I think about wilderness engagement, the Nakasendo trip in my junior year comes to my mind. The junior field studies, despite it being our last field studies before the final exams, the learning trip had taught me a student life beyond academics, extracurricular activities, and friendship, but our appreciation of the natural surroundings and the world as it is.

The trip this year was on an off schedule. A few weeks before the Nakasendo trip, my calendar, filled with deadlines, had kept myself in school mode. On the back of my mind, I was thinking about when and where I had to buy equipment lists for the trip. It was evident that I was struggling to set my mind off anything besides trying to accomplish each deadline, and I could not be as excited about field studies as I was in my previous years.

The first day of field studies had arrived. With my 60-liter camping backpack, foot tightly fitted in my new hiking shoes, we began to walk. First, on a smooth flat surface, but the road was not as simple. The more we walked, the more the trail became steeper, and I had begun to feel the heat under the layers of clothes I had worn. I was used to steep hills, but I realized that my pace was slower than usual because of my backpack, and one by one, my group members were passing by me.

I began to breathe heavily, but the air was clean and fresh, and there was a hint of a cold breeze in the bright and sunny weather. The heat did not bother me anymore, and I had felt the vast and spacious sky turning clearer and bluer as I had walked along the Nakasendo. My worries and distress about school were hiding somewhere behind the clouds, and I indulged in the tranquility that nature had prepared. Things like this, not even our advanced and developing, the fast-paced world could offer. It is no doubt that our world has become more convenient, but it could not be replaced by the artificiality.

We arrived in a small, old postal town of Magome, our first stay along the Nakasendo road that connected Kyoto and Edo, where we had stayed in a traditional Japanese Inn. We were required to follow a “no cell phone use rule” in order to interact and socialize with one another. I was not keen on this idea at first, but I realized that I was in a social environment away from school settings, and I had the chance to become closer with people I see every day in the halls, classrooms, canteens, and anywhere in the school campus.   

The next day, we left Magome and continued to walk up the hill along the old highway. A few walks past, we were welcomed by an endless path of trees and had walked along the unevenly shaped rocks, where in ancient times, horses used to step foot on.  Different color shade greens had surrounded us, but on other days of the trip, we were walking on top of pure, white, ice. The snow had piled up deep that it was tough to walk through. One of the tour guides had shown me a photo of a different day, during the winter, when the snow was just above her stomach, and it could not be compared to the one I was struggling to get through. I noticed that I was not used to the snow, and the obstacles. This was not just because it had barely snowed in Yokohama, but I was also too used to living in an urbanized lifestyle and forget to take time to engage with the natural environment. From afar, we saw Mount Ontake that had erupted four years ago, that had exerted great force and power. It had reminded me of how people, under great pressure, undergo mental breakdowns and release all the negativity out, and the outcome may be messy and unpleasant at first, but gradually, it can bring a positive result. This made me think about how nature was a different organism in comparison to people, but you could find similarities when you open your eyes and observe carefully and expand your wonders and imagination.  

Getting ready for the “no cell phone use rule”
Golden hour in Magome Chaya

The trip had turned out to be a perfect getaway from the busy schedule. The school’s competitive academic environment may have shaped my ability to persevere in the challenging uphills, but perhaps my journey with nature had brought me a positive mindset; a refreshing experience that would prepare me for the next challenges in my life that I had to overcome. Even unpleasant moments, like walking in the mountains on a rainy day, or walking on deep snow, we are unable to control the weather, and the wonders that nature offers, just as we have no control over everything in our life. Yet, you had to keep moving forward and meet your goal, despite the negativity in life and grow as a person. This experience had reminded me of a time in my childhood when I was first introduced to the benefits of nature. Back then, the Motomachi-Chukagai Station that connected Motomachi street and Yamate was not yet built, and my mother, sister and I, had to walk to preschool by the stairs next to the cemetery. Whenever it was pouring heavy rain, I would put my raincoat and boots on, and walk up the slippery stairs, cautious of every step I took. This was not easy for my four-year-old self, but I had gradually become stronger and ready to face any challenge. The extreme weather strengthened my mental health. This year’s field studies had motivated me to take the time to explore and carefully observe the natural surroundings despite our daily distractions.     

Although we had finished our journey through the Nakasendo, with our final stop at Narai, another beautiful small town located in Kiso Valley, traditional style wooden buildings stretched across the narrow road. I began to see that my trip had offered me both the importance of preserving nature and the Japanese culture. Being in my mid-teens, I felt the responsibility of carrying down old traditions in our modernized world and conserving the environment in innovative ways.

HOPE for the children in Cambodia

Despite the economic growth and improvement of Cambodia during the past few decades, many still live in poverty, receiving only $0.45/day. In the present day where education is valued and believed to strive future success, they are not yet available for everyone. Families in Cambodia still struggle to provide education for their children. With HOPE’s partnership with YIS, our goal is to provide educational opportunities for these children for a brighter and sustainable future.

As part of the HOPE group, a student-based project made in 2007, the YIS HOPE group has supported 10 schools in Pursat, Cambodia where constructions have been done in different villages. In most cases, students perform additional constructions for existing elementary buildings. As the school construction project has been going around for nearly nine years, the relationship between the YIS committee and HOPE has impacted over 1,700 children. The requirements of this project are that each year, a core group of 11th graders engages in fundraising and school-wide awareness-raising activities to help fund the construction of a school.

What you can do to help us continue this project and support the children receive the education they need is donate here to makes this happen!

Other ways you can help is to share this blog post or link above and share our story with a wider community!