Wednesday | December 6th 2017 | Chiba
When I was looking into study abroad programs, I knew I wanted to be in Japan, and I knew I wanted to have some (cultural) structure beyond classes and beyond travel. Ultimately, I chose IES Abroad Tokyo because of its distinctive Field Placement program.
The Field Placement program transcends the bounds of what is possible within an internship. Instead of only going through the motions of doing the work, there is an intentional regard for observation. We are encouraged, as American study abroad students, to observe the cultural differences between our placements and our prior experiences. Therefore, while we are expected to do internship-related work (this varies from placement to placement of course), we are also engaging in ethnographic research. How can we simultaneously exist in this space, but then critically analyze its functions and structure? What organizational structures exist, or don’t exist? How do people treat one another in the workplace, and how does this collide with race/ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and nationality? With all these guiding questions in mind, I was fascinated as a sociology major. I knew I had to participate.
The structure goes as follows —
Every Wednesday, the Field Placement cohort would not sleep in, and instead we would be heading off to our respective Field Placements. I had it quite easy going simply going to campus, but other students would venture throughout the greater Tokyo/Chiba area. My typical workday would be from 10AM-6PM, totaling 8 hours of work.
Given my prior work in education, I was placed on campus in the Self-Access Learning Center. Self-access learning centers are social learning spaces where students get to practice another language outside the classroom. These spaces are quite popular throughout Europe, but the SALC at KUIS in particular was a pioneer in Japan. At the time, spaces dedicated to cultivating lifelong language autonomy was not a priority for institutions of higher education. Not surprisingly, as a university focused solely on language acquisition, the SALC is stellar. It is the newest academic building on campus and is the hub for campus happenings, social gatherings, academic talks, and everything in between.
From my perspective, this space was easy to navigate. Since there is an emphasis on English, I was encouraged to speak English, to assist others in English, meaning I did not have the challenges of a traditional Japanese work environment. Instead, I was able to experience an international university from the eyes of an American, but also from a Japanese student’s perspective. This center is instrumental to their career paths, and being a part of the larger operation allowed me to understand the amount of hard work KUIS students put into learning English.
In my placement, I had four primary roles. Firstly, I conducted ethnographic research regarding the effectiveness of the English Lounge — how is this space functioning and how can it improve? What are the attitudes of KUIS students using this space? Further, I took on the role as a Language Practice Partner through which KUIS students could book me to practice their conversational English skills. I also jump started the SALC’s Instagram (@salc_eli) documenting moments and stories of students. Finally, I worked at the front desk doing library work and fulfilling miscellaneous duties. Notably, though, my time at the front desk allowed me to communicate with KUIS students. We were able to discuss our cultural differences, and I gained a lot of insight from them. Did you know, some students feel more comfortable using English even though it’s not their native language? And others associate English language acquisition with developing confidence; neat right? Naturally, other students struggled with English and came to KUIS specifically to gain fluency.
All in all, my work at SALC this semester has been invaluable. Knowing that I wanted this specific experience, my expectation was fulfilled. Even though work days were long, and not getting paid was tough, I would 100% participate in the Field Placement program again. The relationships and experience I’ve gained far outweigh not having Wednesdays off — by the way, even if you don’t participant in Field Placement, it’s more than likely that you’ll still have at least one class on Wednesday so don’t let the thought of having a free Wednesday deter you from participating. All that said, this is obviously a huge commitment for one’s semester, so carefully consider your intentions and goals before signing up.
Thank you Ishikawa-san for matching me with the perfect Field Placement! And thank you Jo for being the most supporting supervisor during my time at SALC!