Cassim - Community Work in Japan

Cassim in Japan- Lattitude Gap YearAt first it all seemed like a dream. Six months in Japan on a voluntary placement? I was writing a new page of my life and little did I know that this would have an impact I could never have imagined.

I climbed to the summit of Japan’s highest mountain, Mt.Fuji (3,776 metres high) and saw a night sky I thought never existed. A glorious sunrise and the world beneath me. I tasted food I thought I’d never eat and found I loved it. I learned to speak, read and work in a language I’d never have imagined I’d learn. Japan truly deserves to be a hot spot for tourists. Especially those with a keen desire to immerse themselves in such a different culture.

Once I had started working in the Red Cross hospital in the city of Nagoya I was amazed by the incredibly high standards of one of the world’s most powerful work-forces. I will always cherish the memories and the opportunities given to me.

Within 4 months, I had picked up a significant amount of Japanese. The Director of the hospital allowed me to work in the emergency room. I gained so much hands on medical experience that I knew I’d have no problem getting a place at medical school when I returned home. It was truly a privilege to be trusted to work in such a challenging environment doing something I loved.

By the end of the placement I didn’t want to come home. I decided to extend my placement for another 6 months. Between these two placements, I returned home for 2 weeks to see my family and attend an interview for a place at medical school that I had applied to while in Japan. The next six months in Japan passed a lot faster than the first. I adapted to the culture and lifestyle so well that by the end of my placements, I was nervous about coming home.

I sincerely hope others will take the chance to transform their lives into something so insanely wonderful that their former selves would beam with pride. To this day I am envious that my own country does not match up to the standards I witnessed in Japan. My only regret is that I had enjoyed myself to such an extent that I can’t help but crave to return to the country that transformed my life: Japan.

I am now back in London as a medical student – I know in my heart of hearts that my Lattitude Global Volunteering experience was the key that has enabled me to achieve my dream.

Jack - Community Work in Japan

Keira - Community Work in Japan

Sally & Bronte - Community Work in Japan

Aliya - Community Work in Japan

Aliya in Japan- Lattitude Gap Year

I am having an amazing time working at a care home for physically and mentally disabled people. The residents here are varied in their capabilities. I get to work closely with each of them and have got to know all their unique personalities.

We spend most of our time assisting with their daily living: helping to feed people, making beds, putting away laundry and so on, but the work involves much more than that. The home runs many clubs and activities such as flower arranging, cooking class and a singing group. These are always really enjoyable to help out with, making sure everyone can get as involved as possible.

Also we make sure the residents get to be as independent as possible. We often take them out for a stroll or to go to the shops, and are always ready to help with their individual requests. Anything from painting their nails to playing them at checkers, there is always something new and unexpected! We also do exercises with them every day to keep their muscles in use if they find movement difficult.

I have learned all kinds of skills during my time here and had all kinds of incredible and valuable life experiences. However I think the main skill I have developed here is communication. Learning Japanese by being constantly surrounded by native speakers is amazing. It is very different and more effective than formal lessons and much more interactive. However learning to communicate here is not as simple as overcoming the language barrier.

Working in this setting has really opened my mind. It makes you realise how many different ways there are to communicate! For instance there are people here who can speak fine but whose learning difficulties mean they forget we are not fluent native Japanese speakers. There are others who can only communicate in written notes or with alphabet cards. Others cannot speak or write but use gestures and expressions. Once you get used to it is just as effective! And most importantly everyone responds to a smile!

Aliya in Japan- Lattitude Gap Year

Being a volunteer is great. By living and working in a different country you get to understand the culture in much more depth than you ever could as a tourist. You can always see the contribution your efforts are making and you always know you are doing something valuable. It is really rewarding and uplifting.

The people here are really welcoming. They seem to love helping us experience different aspects of Japanese culture. We have also been lucky enough to visit lots of interesting historical and cultural places: ancient castles, beautiful temples and fascinating museums. We have even participated in local festivals, which is an amazing experience and very different to anything back home!

I have got so much out of this experience. I’ve become so attached to this country that I intend to stay longer in Japan and undertake another Lattitude placement. I know I will always have strong links with this place.

I have not decided what I would like to do in the future. But after having this wonderful opportunity and meeting all these challenges, I feel like I could do anything and that any opportunity is open to me. I know now I will have the confidence to succeed in whatever I choose to do.

Lauren - Community Work in Japan

Lauren in Japan- Lattitude Gap Year

Most people my age rush through the transition of school to university to career, not thinking that they can pause for a moment and really experience the world. I am thankful that I have had this opportunity and that through the help of Lattitude Global Volunteering, others will do the same.

My typical day in Japan began with rushing to get breakfast in the dining hall of Harima Home. I’d hurriedly eat the fried egg/banana/ham and spinach (and ALWAYS some jam on toast!) in the staff room, before rushing off to the independent living section to help with the breakfast care. The Japanese have an almost religious view of time keeping, and so we often had to race to be there at 8.25am with a smile on our faces.

I’d prepare coffee and breakfast for the 8 residents, whilst aiding people to take medicine if required. On my first day, I was taught how to feed Aota-San. He had to be helped due to his epilepsy preventing him from holding his head still to eat. Initially, I was terrified – I’d never done this kind of thing before. I didn’t want to spill hot coffee on him if he jerked the straw too fast. But, Aota-San’s encouraging smile and his daily bellowing of ‘Thank You’ in English made us firm friends and boosted my confidence. He would always make sure that it was me who helped him in the mornings (and woe betide any staff who got in his way!). Gradually, I got to know all the residents, celebrating New Year’s Day together with a feast of traditional sushi.

Lauren in Japan - Lattitude Gap Year

At 9.15am, I’d say goodbye to Rose House and walk back over to the main building to board the minibus to Shiso Home. The Shiso Bus drives backwards and forwards between Shiso and Harima Homes every day, swapping residents between the Homes for activities and programmes.

The bus would bring Lee (another Lattitude volunteer) from Shiso Home, who would then spend the day working with Julia at Harima Home, whilst I would go to Shiso Home to work with Luke (also a Lattitude volunteer).

At Shiso Home, my duties mainly involved running arts and crafts programs – paper collages, making 3D sculptures, calendars and wall displays. In addition, once a week Luke and I organised our own project. We did things such as baking, English lessons, day trips out to scenic walks, film days and bowling competitions. Our key aim was resident participation, as many were mentally handicapped. We focused on simple ideas designed to stimulate their senses.

At 3:00pm I’d set back off to Harima Home. We’d stop on the way over to help load the Shiso Bus with bread from the bakery. The staff at the bakery were really lovely people. They’d often give me a bag full of goodies to take back and share with the other volunteers!

Lauren in Japan - Lattitude Gap Year

Initially, I struggled to see the individual underneath the disability at Shiso Home – many residents struggled to interact with those around them. However, once I had settled into my stride, their vivid personalities began shining though. The really fulfilling moments are very difficult to put into words.

I picked up many skills whilst in Japan: arts and crafts; care for the disabled; social networking in a foreign country; how to cope under extreme pressure and stress; how to look after myself and keep a home and also rudimentary Japanese.


Kerri - Community Work in Japan

Kerri in Japan - Lattitude Gap Year

I have had an amazing time volunteering in Iizuka hospital in Japan. I worked as a helper/care worker on the wards and I also helped out in the library, with administration and in the pharmacy.

When I first came to Japan, I had never lived on my own. I hadn’t really taken into consideration that I was going to have to cook, clean and learn to budget my money all by myself! Fortunately, my volunteer partner helped me learn to cook and gave me loads of advice on budgeting, which really helped. Some of our Japanese friends even taught us how to make some Japanese food!

Being in a small town like Iizuka, there aren’t many foreigners, but we made so many new friends and everyone was so friendly and patient with us. Quite a few of our friends couldn’t speak English, and our Japanese was limited to begin with. We learnt quite a bit just by hanging out with our Japanese friends (I watched a lot of Japanese movies too), we always had such a great time together!

Kerri in Japan - Lattitude Gap Year

Japan is such a beautiful country, the history is fascinating, and the people are so kind! Now I am planning on continuing my travels for at least another year – something I never thought I would ever have the confidence to do!

I have grown and changed so much as a person, I feel more confident, happier and free! Before coming here I was not ready to go to university, but I am now and plan to go after I finish travelling. I know that my experience and all I have learnt in Japan will help me in the future!