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.