What Being Bilingual in Japanese and English Means To Me

I am a Japanese student, who has pure Japanese blood, as all my parents and grandparents are Japanese. Our first language is all Japanese and this can be said for me as well. However, I have lived in a few countries around the world since I was young, beginning with Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Switzerland. These experiences of living in foreign countries gave me the opportunity to go to international schools, where English is the first language. Through my school life in international schools, I was able to become fluent in not only Japanese but also English, making me a bilingual student. There are several things about what being bilingual means for me.

Firstly, I think being bilingual allows me to become a communicator, who is able to communicate with a very wide range of people. While Japanese may not be as spoken around the world as English, it is still a language that some other languages share some similarities with, such as Chinese. English, on the other hand, is one of the most spoken languages in the world and I am able to communicate in English in most countries that I go to. I feel like this fact opens up a lot of opportunities for me to do what I want and to have a voice in the society. An example when being bilingual helped me become a better communicator was when I translated some Japanese documents into English and vice versa for NGOs. One NGO is HOPE International Development Agency, where I did a short internship, as reflected in this post, and during the internship, I reflected a wide range of documents from Facebook posts to progress reports and letters.

Secondly, bilingualism makes me a better learner. This is because I am able to learn knowledge in two contexts, Japanese and English, and this not only deepens my understanding of the topic but also gives me more than one perspective to look from. Since I learned how perspective people look from even on the same topic is heavily influenced by the language they speak and their cultural background, being bilingual allows me to see from several cultural backgrounds and perspective, giving me ideas on the difference and similarities between countries.

Lastly, being bilingual helps me to become an inquirer. As I have experienced going to both Japanese and English schools, I realized how different they are from each other in terms of what we learn as well as how we learn them. This experience opened up more paths for my curiosity because there are unique learning to be had in both kinds of schools. For example, through my current international school, I became interested in playing badminton as well as learning about the issue of poverty. On the other hand, the Japanese school that I went to when I was in elementary influenced me to become more adaptive to the environment and made me a better collaborator with other people.

As these show, I believe that being bilingual has many meanings for me, that are all very important. Now that I have written this reflection, I feel glad that I was given the opportunity to become a bilingual student and I would like to make sure that I will remain bilingual throughout the rest of my life.

Personal Project – Raising Awareness About the Barriers of Escaping Poverty in Japan and Cambodia

As part of my Personal Project, I decided to raise awareness about the barriers poor people face when escaping the poverty cycle in Japan and Cambodia. A poverty cycle is when a poor person lacks access to more than one areas of basic needs such as water and food, creating a cycle that is very hard for them to escape from by themselves. To achieve this goal, I decided to make a choose your own adventure that provides a simulation of poverty in both Cambodia and Japan, showing what kind of barriers the poor face even in their daily lives. The reason I chose to Cambodia and Japan is because firstly, I am in the HOPE Cambodia Service Club and secondly, because I am Japanese and I recently learned how Japan has an unexpectedly high poverty rate. This goal was a challenging goal for me because I have never made anything like a choose your own adventure book with this much research put into it. As the topic of poverty is an issue that requires very specific and accurate knowledge, I had to make sure that I had reliable sources that I can trust as well as some opinion sources from different perspectives. In order to collect these research, I searched online for news articles, reports, websites, videos and other secondary sources as well as conducted an interview with Ms. Elena Omura from HOPE International Development Agency. The interview was especially hard for me because it required me to use my communication skill to a high level, but it was worthwhile because I was able to gain meaningful insights on the issue of poverty that I would not have gotten anywhere else.

When planning action for this project, I made an action plan, as you can see in the screenshot below. I used a table format because I find it easy to organize information this way. It is also easy to readjust the plan as it is digital. This action plan really helped me get through the project because I knew what I had to do by when and become organized with other school tasks or extracurricular activities. In the action plan, I have several columns: tasks, the time required, resources, notes/reflections and date completed. Although there were times when I had to change the action plan, it was still helpful.

 

Screenshot of Action Plan

Throughout the project, I recorded what I did on each step in my Process Journal, which can be seen in the screenshot below. In the Process Journal, I included reflection on what I did, what learner skills I used, and what I might do for the next step.

Screenshot of A Process Journal Entry

Here is the product I made, which is a choose your own adventure of the situations of poverty in Cambodia and Japan:

Personal Project Product

I am very proud of the accomplishments that I managed through this project because I have never done anything like this before and all the research that I conducted were very new to me. Moreover, the creation of the product itself was new to me too, and the time management that this project required of me was also another challenge that I was able to overcome. Through this project, I learned a lot of new knowledge on poverty, especially in Cambodia and Japan, and how it is extremely difficult for people suffering from extreme poverty to escape the poverty cycle by themselves. Therefore, the experience made me more interested and motivated to help combat the issue of poverty around the world through advocacy, donations, and other forms of services.

Cambodia Service Learning Trip

 

Local Children That Will Be Attending the School We Helped Build

School Construction

A Classroom

A Tool Used to Stamp the Rocks and the Sand

The Corridor of the School

Well Construction

From February 4th to February 12th, 2018, I went on a service learning trip to Cambodia to directly help out people suffering from poverty. Even before going on the trip, I was looking forward to getting a new inspiring experience because I have never done anything like this before. Moreover, since I have already had several background knowledge about poverty in Cambodia through my internship experience at HOPE International Development Agency and my Personal Project, I was excited to actually see the reality of what I only knew through data and research. However, there were mainly two worries which were that I did not know what kind of service I was exactly going to offer to the people of Cambodia and whether I was going to be able to adapt to such a new environment from where I currently live, Japan.

During the trip, I arrived at Phnom Penh, then moved to the poor province of Pursat and then moved to Siem Reap. It was in the Pursat province that I did most of my service activity. The Pursat province is known as one of the poorest provinces in the poor country of Cambodia and there are many people living in remote areas where they have no access to basic needs such as education and water. In the Ankrong village that we stayed at, we helped build a school there that was supplied by the donations made previously by the HOPE Cambodia Service Club at my school, which I am a part of. The school that we were building had three classrooms and was for children in the middle school. Since the base of the school was already there, we began with placing rocks on the floor of these three classrooms. Then, we carried piles of sand on top of the rocks and poured water all over the sand and rocks to stamp them down to create a flat surface. Children from the local area that will be attending the school came and helped out with the construction too. Over the period of three days, we continued this work and I was able to

become friends with some of the children even with the language barrier. After helping out with the school construction, we went to another part of the Pursat province to help build a well for a family living in a remote area. The family consisted of a grandmother, a mother, a father and two children. I was shocked to hear that the mother was 16, the same age as me. They were living in a small shack made of scrap metal and wood pieces. There, we used concrete to create a floor for the well that was already implemented. After the well construction, we visited two families that are on the waiting list for getting a well next year or the year after. One family lived in a house that had no proper roof and the other family had a mother that had a neck

tumor and a father with an injured leg. The two families both had to walk around 6km to get to a nearby river every day, where they can only collect contaminated water. It was hard to listen to their reality and how poverty affects their daily lives. However, it all taught me a very important lesson that I would have never learned anywhere else. As both the school and the well construction that I helped out with is a type of sustainable service, which means that it is not a one-time service that provides basic necessities such as water and education, I feel like I was able to contribute and make a small difference in the lives of people in Cambodia.

From this experience, I was able to gain a lot of new knowledge and my perspective on poverty changed drastically. One important knowledge I gained was through the construction of both the school and the well, where I learned how fortunate I am to be in a position where I have no trouble getting education or water. I go to school every day without any second thought and I would get clean, drinkable water if I just turn the tap. However, this trip taught me that this is not ordinary. Not everybody in the world has access to these. That I should not take them for granted. This became especially clear when I visited the families who had no wells because their lives were completely different from mine and I still remember how the mother of one of the family said: “I want a roof and a bicycle if I have more money”. This comment on wanting a roof and a bicycle really shocked me and I did not know what to say. Another important knowledge that I gained was about the importance of reaching out to other people. Everyone is born the same way and it is just a matter of chance that I was born in a Japanese family that does not have to suffer from extreme poverty and a Cambodian child was born into their poor household. This means that it could have been any of us suffering from lack of clean water or food. Therefore, I understood how important helping others is and even a small donation can add up to make a huge donation that creates things such as schools and wells. This trip made me recognize and rethink the purpose of raising awareness and fundraising for people in poverty, making me more interested and motivated than ever to further continue with this activity.

As mentioned earlier, there was also a significant change in the way I viewed poverty before and after the trip. Before going on the trip, I knew that poverty is an issue that needs to be dealt with and that there were many people suffering from it. I also knew how people did not have access to clean water or food, or even education or jobs. I even knew that people lived in shacks with diseases but without proper education. But, I realize now that these knowledge were just knowledge. It was not understanding. As I went on the trip and met actual people suffering to survive each day, the reality was added to each of this knowledge and they turned into understandings. I no longer viewed poverty as just a global issue but an ongoing, real-life issue that actual real people suffer from. An issue that I feel motivated to be involved in. Therefore, this trip opened my eyes to a brand new perspective and a new-found strong interest in combatting the issue of poverty.

This trip will not be the end because I rather feel like it was a new beginning for me in working for poverty. The experience that I gained from this trip will definitely transfer in many areas of my future life and will surely affect who I am. If I could go on the trip one more time, I would definitely choose to go but even if I cannot, I will keep supporting in the best way I can through indirect services like fundraising and raising awareness.

Tennis

I have been learning tennis since I was small and from the beginning of High School, I have joined the school’s tennis team. The tennis season is from September to November every year and our tennis team participates in a big tournament every year and small matches against other schools. After November to before September, I play tennis in a local tennis club twice every week. In Grade 9, I was one of the girl’s doubles 2 players at the school and participated in the AISA tennis tournament. This was a tournament between four schools, Senri Osaka International School, Seoul International School, Korean International School and Yokohama International School. In the tournament, my partner and I became 5th out of all the girl’s doubles group. In Grade 10, I became the singles 3 player of the school tennis team and participated in the Kanto tennis tournament, where several schools in the Kanto plain competed against each other. In this tournament, I went to the quarterfinals of the consolation. Even though I did not get the consolation award, I was proud of how much I was able to play. In my regular practices at the local tennis school, I practice some specific skills each lesson and apply them in a game at the end of the lesson. For example, in my last tennis lesson, we learned how to return low, sliced balls. When tennis balls are sliced, it means that there is a backward spin applied to the opponent and the ball does not bounce very much. This makes it hard for me to receive the ball, especially if it is low, so the coach taught us that we should return by applying forward spin to the ball and dropping our stance so that we are level with the ball. Through this regular physical wellness practices, I am able to keep my body fit and develop my muscles as well as other body functions such as the cardiovascular systems. I believe that this is important because I am still in the midst of growing my body and having regular practices help me to grow more healthily and strongly. Moreover, these practices sometimes become a good way to release my stress and just enjoy moving my body. When I have a lot of work due and am stressed out, I can exercise and play tennis, which makes me loosen up a little and restart my work refreshed, improving my mental wellness as well. In terms of mental wellness, I also feel happy and focused when playing tennis so even if there were disappointing or sad events previously, playing tennis lifts my mood greatly. Therefore, tennis has been a great part of my life as it improves my wellness in both the physical and the mental aspects.

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