Hearts and places united through volunteers: Continued face-to-face support

Yuki Oide Third-year student
Department of Psychology, Faculty of Psychology
In November 2020, Yuki Oide received the 1st Meiji Gakuin University Volunteer Award for a presentation regarding her volunteer work at the “Egao” Japanese language learning support center, which she started in September 2019, and what she is learning in college. She is currently studying in a seminar conducted by Professor of Psychology Aya Nishizono-Maher. She is furthermore involved in a wide range of activities, including as a Department of Psychology student counselor, a One Day for Others program leader, and until March 2020 in the Volunteer Center Overseas Program Division. Her hobbies include watching movies, swimming, and watching rugby. She is a black belt in karate, which she practiced for ten years since age four.

Why I started volunteering

In my second year at university, I learned about “simple Japanese”* through a Meiji Gakuin elective called “Humanity in the World Today: Advanced Study of Multiculturalism.” Previous to that, I had tried to communicate with foreigners using a curious kind of Japanese mixed with English. In a Psychology Department class called “Cross-Cultural Psychology,” we learned that immigrants are prone to depression and negative emotions due to loss of their mother tongue, home country, relatives, friends, and people they depend on, and due to the stress of becoming a minority in their new country. That made me wonder what I can do for the many people around me who had moved to Japan from other countries, and I stumbled upon the idea of helping them learn Japanese.

I love children, to the point where I kept teaching at the tutoring school I taught at part-time during high school. I’m also good at teaching children in easy-to-understand language, so I wanted to make use of that skill.

* “Simple Japanese” is a form of Japanese that uses simplified expressions for ease-of-understanding by nonnative speakers.

Volunteering at the “Egao” Japanese language learning support center

I consulted with the University’s Volunteer Center, telling them I wanted to help nonnatives learn Japanese, that I wanted to find someplace near the school so I could volunteer for a long time, and that I wanted to provide one-on-one support. That’s how I discovered the “Egao” Japanese language learning support center in Tokyo’s Minato Ward.

There are currently ten volunteers at Egao, where I help elementary and junior high school students with family overseas through one-on-one conversations and course learning. We play games based on Japanese seasonal events and holidays so that they can experience Japanese culture, and we bring in local guests for activities ranging from experiments to magic lessons. As of February 2021, we still aren’t able to have face-to-face classes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so we’re conducting lessons online.

I’m happy when the children are happy: The importance of direct, long-term support interaction

I started volunteering at Egao in September 2019. I’m currently teaching a second-grade elementary school student two or three times a month. He’s an introverted child, who at first would only give one-word responses when I spoke to him. I heard that at school he was having difficulties making friends, communicating with teachers, and with his classwork, which made me worried. For our lessons I create PowerPoint presentations that include animations and illustrations that show Japanese culture, and I try to explain them in a fun and easy-to-understand way. He cheers in delight when we watch the animations. I also heard that he enjoys crafts, so we often chat while we fold origami, and in each lesson we read picture books to each other.

Reading Kon to aki (Akiko Hayashi, Fukuinkan Shoten)

Over the approximately one year I’ve been teaching him, he’s come to be able to speak much better, to the point where he’ll keep talking until I make him stop. I prepare lessons that get him to speak as much as possible, so I feel reassured when I see him having fun talking about school events and episodes with his family. When our sixty- to ninety-minute lessons end, he often tells me what he wants to do next time, or that he wants more of what we did that day. When he does, I can really feel how close we’ve become. That feeling of accomplishment provides me with motivation for wanting to continue my volunteer work. It makes me realize that what is important to me is direct, face-toface support and a continuous form of support where I can see the other person change.

I’ve also become friendly with his parents, to the point where this year we exchanged New Year’s greeting cards. I’m careful to use simple Japanese when I speak with his parents too, so they can learn to give him the support he needs at school. I feel a much stronger connection than a superficial teacher–student relationship, and I feel like I can continue for a long time because it’s something that I myself truly enjoy.

The future of Egao

Egao is a small-scale organization with only a few volunteers, but out long-term goal is to grow larger so we can reach more unsupported children. We are currently only able to conduct remote teaching, so we’re limited to teaching lower-grade children primarily through conversation, but we’re also consider how we can support upper-grade students with their course learning, as well as adults. To that end, we volunteers continue to study by sharing lesson ideas, participating in forums related to nonnative support, and taking courses for Japanese language learning support volunteers.

I hope to continue activities for Japanese learning supporting, remaining involved in some form even after I graduate university.

On winning the Volunteer Award

I’ve been participating in the Meiji Gakuin Volunteer Certificate Program since my first year at university. I’m not a very good public speaker, but I went ahead and applied for the Volunteer Award as part of that program. I was very surprised when I won the award for my presentation, “Volunteer practice based on psychological support for nonnative Japanese residents: How I got involved in Japanese learning support.”

At an October 2019 meeting of the Overseas Program Division

One of the questions on the application form asked, “What does ‘Do for Others’ mean to you?” Responding to this provided a good opportunity to reflect on and put into words the volunteer activities that had become my foundation since my first two years at university. I wrote about activities I’d engaged in during my first two years at university, such as supporting the UN World Food Program through the One Day for Others program, and my activities in the Overseas Programs Division’s Table for Two program (an initiative toward eliminating the world’s food inequalities). I also deeply thought about what my psychology classes taught me about my activities at Egao, simple Japanese, and the anxiety and sense of loss migrants experience. It was wonderful how faculty from various departments seriously listened to my online presentation and gave me their feedback. Another third-year student in the Nishizono-Maher seminar, Shogo Yajima, also received a Research Division Award for his activities at the Totsuka Ward Life Support Center. During a seminar meeting, we received a round of applause from our professor and our fellow students.

What I feel from listening carefully

I think carefully listening to what others have to say is important not just for volunteers, but for human relationships in general. But it is difficult to learn through solo study things like how to ask questions, the manner and attitude with which you should listen to others, the importance of silence and knowing when not to speak, and how to organize your thoughts while you are speaking, so as part of the One Day for Others program, two other psychology majors and I planned a lecture for Meiji Gakuin University students titled “Close listening for volunteers.” We conducted this lecture online on 22 November 2020, with eleven students participating.

We started with talks by a specialist, and conducted listening workshops titled “What is your vision for volunteering?” and “Activities during the COVID pandemic are difficult, but what kind of volunteer work do you want to do?” Participants provided us with feedback like “I’ve never had anyone listen so closely to what I have to say; I’m so happy,” and “For the first time, I felt the power of words.” Of particular note, while our goal was to learn about methods for listening closely, the participants themselves experienced being closely listened to, allowing them to feel its importance. I myself am applying what I learned about careful listening and dialog in my own volunteer work.

Increasing my thinking power through active psychology courses

My psychology courses are always stimulating, and frequently move me. In a third-year course called “Group Approaches,” I was inspired by active experiences such as group therapy and sandplay therapy. In lectures, we students are often able to think for ourselves, having discussions and roleplaying with each other. Through such daily experiences, I feel the joy of learning new things and always enjoy my classes.

For three years now I have been studying psychology and clinical psychology, and through volunteer activities I have met people from other countries and those with disabilities, allowing me to truly feel the individuality of each person. These experiences also made me keenly aware of how I had previously been ignoring how difficult life can be for others.

I realized how particularly in the field of welfare, there are needs for support with more psychological knowledge. Both those you are close to and those you don’t know may be experiencing difficulty in their daily lives. I now want to continue learning so I can help them lead healthier, more individualized lives.

Volunteerism is an important effort when aiming for an inclusive society. Rather than discounting an inclusive society as a pipe dream, I believe that my growth through college life, including my studies of psychology, allowed me to discover problems on my own and to have the bravery to take the first steps toward addressing them.

Advancing to graduate school to obtain a position in mental health and regional healthcare

I am currently working on my graduation thesis, but I am also interested in the psychological burden of ongoing home care and how we can mitigate that burden. In the future, I would like to study how we can support those who are caring for family members.

I would also like to support not only those with physical or mental illnesses, but also their parents, children, siblings, others around them, and other professionals. Support reduces the suffering of those with problems and allows them to lead a more individualized, fulfilling life. Rather than trying to eliminate problems, I want to contribute to a society where everyone can live comfortably by interacting flexibly and skillfully through the cooperation of many people.

Realizing that will require learning and acquiring skills for engaging with clients in the field, as well as specialized knowledge and ethical norms, because these will be important factors for lending sufficient support. After graduation, I would like to go on to graduate school to acquire more advanced expertise, providing the knowledge and attitude required in a counselor. During spring break, I’ll be studying for graduate school and writing my graduation thesis. In the future, I hope to acquire qualifications as a clinical psychologist and a certified public psychologist, aiming to become active in my community in the psychology profession.