Do you want to do English volunteer work?
By Yuri Jody Yujobo
With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics a few months away, many Japanese young adults have signed up to volunteer. Of course, “おもてなし” is a strong part of Japanese culture, so it is not surprising to see that 200,000 people signed up to volunteer for the 80,000 official Olympic volunteer positions. As Tokyo and Japan will welcome over 11,000 athletes from over 200 countries and over “920,000 spectators a day” (Bank of Japan Report, 2016, p.3), it will be a chance to communicate with people from many cultures using English as a lingua franca, which is the shared language between people from different countries.
Unfortunately, many high school students did not reach the age requirements in order to apply as an official Olympic volunteer, and many of those who did apply will not be chosen. But, if you are really interested in making a difference as a volunteer, what else can you do?
The most exciting part of volunteer work is that you do not need an advanced level of English to help others. The reason is because the other person you may be speaking with may also not be a native speaker of English. The both of you will be communicating in English as a lingua franca and more important than words are your actions. Your kindness and passion to help others will easily be translated through your actions and body language.
For example, several years ago, I helped organize a small group of Japanese young adults to visit the city of Philadelphia in the United States for two weeks to take part in community service projects in English. Many of them did not speak English well. First, we volunteered in a “Soup Kitchen”. What is a “Soup Kitchen”? In many cities across the United States, several local churches and community centers open their doors daily to provide free hot dinner meals to the homeless and families in need. We cooked Japanese curry rice and explained our menu to each person. In return, we received a friendly smile and handshake. We also volunteered at an inner city gardening project with the local high school students and planted many flowers in abandoned plots of land. These small gestures make a big difference to the local people through the bond of community service.
But you do not need to fly overseas to be involved with volunteer work in English. There are many opportunities right here in Japan to connect with the international students and families already living in your local ward and cities, or tourists. This is a great chance for you to improve your English skills, too. And at the same time, you can help them to improve their Japanese language skills which will help them to adapt easier to their Japanese stay. Recently, I volunteered to help guide a group of Chinese students and their families on a summer study tour from Shenzhen. Now, there are many organizations where you can sign-up and become a free tour guide in Tokyo’s popular tourist areas: Asakusa, Harajuku, and Shibuya.
Whatever the reason, we can agree that volunteer work provides an opportunity to interact with other cultures and helps us understand the importance of human connections. Regardless of your motivation, remember that volunteer work is not only associated with the Tokyo Olympics as a one-time event, but it can become a challenging and rewarding part of your own personal journey.
Economic Impact of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. (2016). Research and Statistics Department, Bank of Japan. Retrieved from: