Throughout eighth or ninth grade there was a leadership conference at YCAC and I was invited due to the Student Service Committee. There I learned a lot of things but the main thing I remember is what leadership really is. It is not bossing people around and telling them what to do but listening to what people want and bending things to their needs. It is a lot more about leading people in the right direction and helping them to reach their goals and full potential.
One of the places where I applied these leadership skills was in Library Council. Here we hosted events such as the yearly overnight LockIn. As the Library Council is just a group of four students, we all had to take major roles in preparing, organizing and running the event. As this year’s LockIn was mainly addressed to lower middle school, it was going to be a lot more chaotic than last year. However, as we had planned in detail for who is going to lead what and when it all seemed to work out. Of course, there were still parts that did not go as planned but I think that is part of the learning experience. We had to improvise a few times as we did not quite have enough food and people we had planned to run an activity canceled the day of the event but it all ended up alright.
Another place where I had to take leadership throughout the LockIn was when we were planning to play capture the flag at night. There were quite a few students who showed up to this event so it was somewhat difficult to manage all of them and get them organized into teams and tell them where the boundaries were and other features of the game. To make it a bit less confusing and controlled, we let the supervisors explain the game and then were divided into teams. Me and the other library council members then became the leaders of the teams. I was alone with my team so it was my responsibility to get everyone organized, make sure that everyone knew each other and knew the rules. Something I often do when someone seems to have a question but does not want to ask, is that I either ask them directly or try to figure out what they want to ask and then ask for them if they want me too. I do this in situations outside of this and think it can be helpful, not just for others but for me to clarify the information as well. Making sure that everyone understands what is happening and what they are supposed to do, definitely is an important part of being a leader.
This is not the only time I have had to take a leadership role but it was definitely one of the most memorable as it was so much fun to do. I know that it can be stressful at times but when things work out it is worth it and even if they don’t you will have learned something from it.
As my mother tongue is German, I joined the joined the mother tongue program at YIS as soon as I came here. This was important to me and my parents as we were going to back to Germany after three years and I am going into German A language for the IB. I have now gone to the weekly one-hour long German class after school for three years. Of course, this is going to mean that my level of German is not going to be as high as that of my friends back in Germany who have German as frequently as English but it is definitely better than if I did nothing.
But not only do I think that learning and practicing languages is important but that it is fun as well. Learning languages is something I enjoy greatly. Not only am I fluent in German and English but I have also been taking Spanish for almost five years now. I enjoy learning and practicing all of these languages (plus one year of Japanese) as it is different from all other subjects in the way it is taught and developed. However as it starts off as something we are completely unfamiliar with, it has a similar approach to an introduction to most other classes, such as math or history. The only difference is that that we start learning our second (or in my case third and fourth) language a lot later in life. This is something that fascinates me about humans and their relationships with language. When we are little we learn languages incredibly quickly but once we reach a certain age it gets more difficult. I think this might also be another part that I love about languages, the fact that they can be a challenge for us and our minds.
Another practical use of speaking multiple languages is that I can talk to and understand people from many different countries as two of the three languages I speak are in the top three spoken languages. This makes traveling easier and more comfortable to me and my family.
Another advantage of being able to speak multiple languages fluently is that it has practical uses. One of these is being a translator for my family. As I speak German at home with my parents and both German and English with my siblings, I have quite a bit of practical practice with languages and translating what my siblings are saying to my parents when they don’t quite understand. This gives me practice for when my parents and I are around English speakers with an accent or who speak incredibly quickly as this can be difficult for my parents to understand. I then translate what people are saying to them to help all of them communicate.
Other ways in which I have been a translator are in school. As I go to an international school, sometimes there are new kids that are not fluent in English but speak German, who I can help. I have done this multiple times when a fluent German speaker is at a loss for words as they are thinking in German and just can not think of the right words in English. I then ask them to say what they want in German and I try to convey what they want to say into English. This is a very nice experience for me as I am doing two things I love at the same time, using languages and helping others.
I have never had a chance to officially translate for someone but I would like to some day. When I was in the Combing Human Trafficking group, there was an opportunity for a Japanese book to be translated into English. I wish I could have helped as languages are a passion of mine and I want to use this passion to help others. This is why I would like to do something with languages when I grow up. Either read and recommend or translate books professionally. I would really like to be a professional translator as I want to share other people’s works with a wider audience by giving it to people who speak a different language.
What I learned from translating between languages is that there are many things we can only express in certain languages. Not only are there words that only exist in some languages but also the way we convey things vary from language to language. I tend to find that Germans are very direct in what and how they express their opinions. When translating this into another language I need to be careful that I say it in a way that is accepted by their culture. For example, Japanese are generally a bit more hesitant to say no so if a German answers their question with a direct no, I might translate this as they don’t think they will rather than just NO. This is one of the hardest things I have to deal with when translating. I have to find a mid-ground between being honest and true to what they said but also respect the other person’s culture. This can sometimes be hard for me as I am German and thus tend to often be more direct. In this way, I believe going around the world has helped me become more aware of this and has helped me become a better translator.
Coming to Japan most definitely opened my eyes to a whole new culture. As before moving to Japan, I had only known very western cultures (USA and Germany), this was a whole new experience for me. Not just is the culture very different but in Japan, they speak a language, unlike anything I had ever heard before. Whilst German and English originate from the Germanic branch of languages, Japanese does not. This means that it is a mostly unrecognizable language. Additionally, the letters are completely different to the ones I was brought up with. I studied Japanese for one school year and within this year I was astonished by how different yet similar languages can be.
This makes me think about how countries communicate with each other and how the people within these countries exchange information. Because cultures vary from one country to the next, it must be difficult for people to communicate, even without the language barrier. Luckily, at least the language barrier is starting to become less of a problem as more people are learning English as a global language. However, although it is great that we can now exchange information between cultures, I hope that the cultures of the countries do not get destroyed. This is important to me as I love experiencing new cultures and I think it is important for countries and their people to have individuality. Of course, we can not avoid globalization but we can hold onto our origins and pass on our culture.
As I am not a great fan of sports but still want to stay active, I decided to join Yoga this school year. At first, I was unsure about a lot of the poses and my ability to complete them. However, throughout the year I have become more confident, comfortable and able to complete each of the poses.
As we are such a small group, it was easy to adapt the yoga sessions to what our energy level was like and how we were feeling mentally. This was useful as we then did what was appropriate to how we were feeling.
What I learned most about in yoga is that there are many different ways to do different, helpful things to your body, such as stretching your back or opening your chest. I enjoyed learning this and can now do this in my own life. Another reason why attending this type of yoga was helpful is because it is simple and never so challenging that we give up. This means that we did poses we can do alone at home when we feel like we need it.
Something else I have experienced physically during yoga is the strengthening of my ankles. I generally have very weak ankles and yoga has helped me improve the strength here. A pose that is especially helpful is the downward dog. The way this pose helps me is that it is a very adaptable pose. This means that you can change and adapt the pose to fit your needs. For me, I used to never be able to get my heels all the way to the floor (like the figure in the picture below). Now I can do it without being in too much pain. The pose hurts a lot less in my entire body now but the main chance has been in my ankles. I am now a lot more sturdy in my poses and am shaking less in my legs. This improvement has also been evident in other parts of my life. I used to twist my ankles very frequently but ever since I started yoga, it has been happening a lot less. I am glad that this change has happened.
I am incredibly glad that I joined yoga this year as I now know a lot more ways to stretch and relax when I am feeling stressed or down. Also, I know about things that affect our mood and what we can do to stop outside forces from influencing us too much. And even when I did not feel like going to yoga, either because I had too much homework or wanted to just go home and relax, I always went and always left the room feeling better than I did coming in. I think this is a valuable lesson to learn. Spending time on and with yourself and your mind is important for your mental and emotional wellbeing. I will most definitely continue practicing yoga throughout my life as it has already taught me so much but I still think there is more to learn.
I have been part of service groups ever since I came to YIS three years ago. When I first came to Japan and YIS, I was immediately intrigued by a number of activities you could choose from at this school. As I was still in Middle School, there was just one service group I could join in the beginning of the year. This was the GIN/CAS group. Here we split ourselves into smaller groups with a cause we wanted to support or further understand. For this, I chose to lead the Equal Rights group. Here we mainly focussed on gender equality and made posters that we hung up around the school.
Towards the end of eighth grade, however, Mr. Coutts introduced the Student Service Committee to the school. I was immediately interested and signed up as soon as I got home. I was part of this group for the rest of middle school and all of the ninth grade. In this group, we took care of and supported all service groups, started new ones and organized the Service Exhibition.
I was also part of other service groups outside of the Service Committee throughout my three years at YIS. Firstly there was Combating Human Trafficking. Here we mainly worked on educating the upper grades (8-12) on the massive issue with human trafficking in Japan. We also held events such as the speaker event with Lighthouse, the local group that we supported.
I am also part of the Library Council. Here we generally help out with shelving and organizing the library, host events and try to promote reading within our YIS Community. As we were and still are a relatively small there is always a lot of work and responsibility on each of us. However being a small group also has advantages as it is easier to bring your ideas across and make important choices as everyone “has to” participate.
Another group I am part of is the YIS Magazine. I am not sure if everyone sees this as a service group but I think that there are definitely some elements of service within this group. At our weekly meetings we generally discuss how we can encourage people to write more and how we can share people’s work. I see this as a service as we are not doing this for ourselves but for others to get their work out to the school community. I like this as I get a chance to see other people’s writing and help them improve it.
Finally I am also part of the VanderPol group. As there is one main event in this group, the christmas party for the local orphanage, this is not quite an all year long commitment. My main role in this group was in communications. For the christmas party, I sent out the daily bulletin posts and tried to help get people to do their roles. As I could not attend the final party, I decided to participate in one of the weekend outings instead. This was an amazing experience as we could play with the kids and see a completely different side of what life can be like. It also changed my perspective of what life is like for an orphan. Of course, this was only on children’s home that we visited but it was still eye-opening to see how happy all of these kids were.
Overall I have loved all of these experiences I got to have due to the fact that I joined this many service groups. Through this, I have learned that service is not just about helping others but that you can learn a lot along the way as well. Through most of these activities, I have learned new leadership and communication skills. This is due to the fact that I was part of a variety of groups that all required different skills. I learned leadership mainly in the smaller groups, or groups with sub-groups where I could help lead. Communication skills were needed in all groups and as I already had a few communication skills before I came to YIS, I took this position to learn more and help the groups out.
What I love most about these experiences though is that I got to help others. Helping others is one of my highest values so being able to practice something I love and value, whilst doing something for others as well, was amazing. I will most definitely continue doing service and helping as much as I can in the future as it is something I enjoy and know will help others too.
Here is some more deep explanation of which skills I developed and what knowledge I gained.
To achieve a personal accomplishment, I set a goal first. The goal I set for myself was to read 52 books in 2016. This meant that I would read one book every week. However, there were weeks during which I did not have enough time to read a whole book. Luckily for me, I then had periods during which I read 3 books a week which then made up for the weeks during which I didn’t read.
Here is the link to the good reads shelf I made over the past year.
My top 5 books were, in no particular order:
The Pause by John Larkin
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Every You, Every Me by David Levithan
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
The A.B.C. Murders by Agatha Christie
The reason why these books made my top 5 list was because they either helped me through difficult time/left a meaningful impact on me or because they were thrilled to read. I think the book that left the biggest impact on me was ‘The Pause’. It is a story about Declan who is about to commit suicide but then pauses. The book then tells the story of all the things that would have happened if he had not continued running towards the train after the pause. It was a rather deep but for obvious reasons but it also had quite a few unexpected life lessons and important messages within the story. I would definitely recommend this book.
My least favorite books were Ausländer by Paul Dowswell and The Crimson Cap by Ellen Howard.
The reason why is generally because I did not like the tone in which the books were written. Maybe it was also because I could not relate to the characters. However, I did not finish either of these books completely so maybe they got better towards the very end.
I really enjoyed this part of the GCD. Reading is something I do for fun but setting myself a challenge and using it as something that can benefit my future was great. Additionally, it meant that I always made sure I spent some of my spare time reading instead of going on the internet and doing nothing useful.
There wasn’t really any difficult part of this entire process, except finding enough time to really sit down and read and that towards the end I had to prioritize shorter books so that I could reach my goal. Overall, it was a great experience that was challenging but fun at the same time.
Would I do it again?
Yes definitely. Setting myself a high goal was motivating to get more reading done. As reading is also something I enjoy greatly and it is important to make time for things you enjoy, this was a win-win situation.