Volunteering in Japan: Yasmin’s memorable ISA experience

Volunteering is an experience that keeps on giving. According to the University of Sydney, it makes us happier, healthier and more satisfied. If you’re in high school or university, it is an easy means to try different careers and build crucial skills. If you’re reading this, chances are you are interested in Japan or the Japanese language? Yasmin McGarva recommends giving volunteering a chance – in Japan!

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We feel ya, Amy! GIF credits: Tenor

Yasmin is a recent graduate from the University of Melbourne, majoring in Japanese and Media Communication. She has travelled the road less taken aka explored the Japanese countryside. Inspired by her volunteering trips to Japan, I recently spoke to her about her experiences volunteering for ISA Australia. As a Group Leader, Yasmin helped students improve their English in schools in Wakayama, Hiroshima and even Gifu!

Photo credits: Yasmin McGarva’s LinkedIn

Yasmin recalls her experience and explains why you should try volunteering too!

Volunteering to empower Japanese students

As mentioned before, Yasmin volunteered in ISA Australia’s Winter Empowerment Program. Based in Queensland since 1994, ISA Australia provides leadership programs in Japan for Australian students. ISA aims to promote global education by supporting youth to develop valuable skills for the future. Being a part of ISA’s Empowerment Program allows you to improve your leadership, cross-cultural communication and problem-solving skills. Apart from that, you get the chance to help Japanese students. It is also a great opportunity to learn more about the Japanese education system.

Q. ISA Australia is a rare gem to come across. How did you hear about it?

I was able to participate in the Winter Empowerment Program the first year it was run with Australian students, so I actually found out about the program through an advertisement on Facebook. In the following years, I think more people found out about the program via word-of-mouth.

Q. What was your experience like during the program?

The program was around one month long and I was able to participate two times. Within Japan, the group leaders would change schools around once a week. So, I could be staying in the same place or travelling on a bullet train to a prefecture 6 hours away. It all depended on the schedule. I often stayed with a host family and was able to experience daily life in Japan, which is a great aspect of the program! As a group leader, I helped the students engage with the lesson content and work on different activities in English. Often we would work in small groups and discuss different topics; ranging from leadership to environmental issues. It was great being able to see the students grow and become more confident in sharing their opinions and speaking in English through the program.

Q. What was the application process like?

The initial application is online and if successful, you have an interview. Once accepted, ISA sends any documents you need to fill out before leaving. There is also an orientation session in Melbourne before departure and another orientation in Tokyo once you arrive. It was a very straightforward process. I would recommend that you prepare your application sooner rather than later though!

Photo courtesy: Yasmin McGarva. All of the group leaders make a speech as an example for the students. Being able to connect with students is the best part of the program.

Q. Volunteering trips can be expensive. Were there any fees for ISA Australia?

Fortunately, ISA covered the majority of the costs. Round trip tickets, overseas travel insurance, accommodation, meals and commuting (on program days) were all included. Personal expenses, such as shopping, and things like meals on your free days are not covered, and so it is recommended that you bring some money to cover those expenses. 

Although volunteering can appear expensive, there are a lot of programs like the ISA program that do not cost a lot of money. Plus, as a university student it is a lot easier to visit other countries and volunteer during your semester breaks than if you had a full-time job. You are also able to gain an experience you might otherwise never have had and build meaningful connections. For example, I was able to visit my host families from the ISA program again when I was studying in Japan.

Q. What was the most rewarding aspect of participating in the program?

The main purpose of the program is to empower Japanese students and so being able to see students grow in confidence was the best part of the program. Students also became genuinely more interested in English and other cultures, which was great. English learning in Japan tends to focus a lot on grammar and vocabulary, so students do not get many chances to practice speaking in English. However, through the program, students learned that speaking in English can be fun and making mistakes is okay. Some students struggled to say anything on the first day of the program, but by the last day they were saying their opinions and making speeches in English!

Photo courtesy: Yasmin McGarva. On the last day of the program, students make a speech in English and receive their certificates!

Q. Inspired by this volunteering experience, do you plan to return to Japan in near future? 

 I am hoping to return to Japan in the future and experience working there. One of my dreams is to further connect Australia and Japan through cultural exchange. Both countries are partners in many areas such as trade and tourism, so there is a lot of potential in that space. If you are interested in Japan, try connecting with people in the local community and keep an eye out for opportunities online. For people living in Victoria, I recommend checking out the Australia-Japan Society of Victoria (AJSV). You might even come across a mentor who could tell you about a new opportunity in Japan!

Contact ISA Australia

Check out ISA Australia’s Facebook page and their website to read about their eligibility criteria. Have any more questions? Shoot Yasmin a message or comment on this post. 

Photo Courtesy: ISA Australia

Get Involved!

To learn more about opportunities to work in Japan, we recommend having a look at GaijinPot Jobs, JobsInJapan and the JET programme. For study in Japan, make sure to check out scholarships such as the MEXT, JASSO and NCP scholarship.

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Varsha Patil

A MEXT scholar and an ex-intern for METI Japan, Varsha is a Japan enthusiast. She pursued Japanese studies from Jawaharlal Nehru University (New Delhi) and Asia Pacific Studies from the Australian National University (Canberra). Multilingual in Japanese and Hindi, she continues to explore Japan's affairs in the APAC region while learning Korean and digital marketing.

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