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Unfamiliar/Familiar: AJ Fouts ’18 Traveling Abroad for the First Time in Osaka

For my fourth and final co-op experience, I’m living and working in Osaka, Japan. I studied Japanese for three years at Antioch, and am putting my learned language and culture skills to the test. My job is working at Suisen Fukushikai, a social welfare organization, at one of the organization’s daycare centers. Suisen Fukushikai was incorporated in 1956, and has since grown to 27 centers, serving infants, pre-school, and school-aged children, as well as children and adults with intellectual disabilities and the elderly.The organization’s mission is to “support people who have difficulties in a social life by applying the old spirit of settlement. We respect their independence and use social systems and social resources as a mediator for supporting them”.
Check out their website, in English, at http://www.suisen.or.jp/english/

My job itself is reminiscent of my first co-op where I went home to Detroit, Michigan, and worked as a kindergarten aid at a local alternative elementary school. My core daily responsibility, in both my first and present co-op, is playing with the children, promoting cooperation and fostering friendships, in an educational manner. Of course, now my responsibilities fall heavily on teaching kids English, as well. To do this, I’ve employed strategies such as holding ‘dance parties’ to English pop songs, reading English children’s books to the class, and creating educational posters that will hang in the classrooms after I leave.

Just as exciting, if not more: I have ample time to explore the Osaka area, seeing sights and soaking up as much of the culture as possible. I have never had the opportunity to travel abroad before (nor has any of my immediate family, so they’re all very curious!), so I’m trying very hard to see, learn, and do as much as I can while in Japan. I have been here for about a month and a half, and I’ve already done so much! Seen Osaka Castle, been to local music venues to see acquaintances’ shows, attended multiple community festivals, explored the train and subway system, tried (and liked!) a lot of local food, and found several restaraunts and cafes in different parts of the city I like. I rarely get home early ever. Whether I’m helping out at Suisen’s English classes, staying later at work, exploring a new part of the city, or going out to dinner with my coworkers, I’m always busy, always cognizant that I’m in an incredible and totally different place.

My biggest struggle so far has been the language, of course! Just like English, learning a language in a classroom is very different than how normal people speak. Real-life situations are quicker, with less opportunity to ask questions. The pace of conversation overwhelmed me, and in the beginning I had to shut out others’ conversations to hear and understand people closer to me. Not to mention the children at my work! Children’s Japanese is so far from what I learned in the classroom, the first couple days at work I understood next to nothing! But, just like children’s English, it’s just over-simplified grammar, with tendencies towards set phrases, so I came to understand very quickly. As for my life outside of work, I can more than get by. I’ve had conversations on trains with locals, been to several work parties, and have ventured to plenty of restaraunts and stores, where my Japanese language skills have served me well.

I look forward to continuing my stay at the daycare center (called a ‘hoikuen’) – I love the kids. They’re (mostly) so sweet, and smart! I can’t wait to show them the posters I’m making – I plan on giving them to the hoikuen right before I leave as a goodbye/thank you gift. In the mean time, the kids LOVE Justin Bieber, The Outkast, and Carly Rae Jepsen, and they always run up to me asking for certain words in English.

Being that this is my final co-op, meaning I’m starting my fourth year at Antioch, there’s a lot of added things I need to be thinking about – senior thesis, senior language capstone presentation, post-Antioch opportunities. I am working on finding a balance between preparing for my future at and after Antioch and living in the moment, making the most of my time in this amazing city, with amazing people!

Regardless, my time so far in Japan has lent me a great deal of adaptability, level-headedness, and independent motivation and ambition. I’m growing a lot as a person. Working with children necessitates that you are easily adaptable. Being in a different country, with unfamiliar surroundings and somewhat limited language skills, even the simplest tasks often become stressful situations, but my collected calmness had enabled me to maneuver these situations eloquently, in a culturally-sensitive manner. Oftentimes, it’s difficult to convey to my coworkers my plans and ideas, so I largely have had to move forward with my projects independently, instilling a great deal of independent motivation.

Here’s to more than a month left in Japan – I hope to continue seeing many new/old/unfamiliar/familiar things, meeting many more people, doing good work for Suisen’s children, and learning all that I possibly can. Who knows if I’ll get an opportunity like this again!

One the classrooms I was in opened the plum juice they had been brewing and held a ‘plum party’. I took this picture during their ‘kanpai!’ -Japanese phrase similar to ‘Cheers!’

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I am 4th-year Political Economy Antioch College student, with a Japanese language focus. My academic interests include housing, law, and the politics of place. I consider Detroit, Michigan my home, but have been to New York City, Philadelphia, and Osaka, Japan, for my co-op experiences. I love exploring new places, working with animals, and riding my bicycle.

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