A Rewarding Way to Spend Your Summer
Here in APU after a long semester of early-morning classes and late-night studying, students are rewarded with a full two-month break. Many students use this time to return to their home country, travel within Japan or overseas, or even do part-time work here in good ol’ Beppu. Last summer break, however, I spent mine a little differently. I traveled to Biwako (in Shiga Prefecture, Japan) with 31 other APU students, and we embarked on a three-week journey as camp leaders for an English Immersion Camp.
What is this English Immersion Camp, you ask? Well, it’s an annual program held by Kumon for Japanese elementary school students, where they spend around a week experiencing English with “camp leaders” (that’s us!) from all-over the world. It’s a lot of fun and it’s especially rewarding being able to help Japanese kids improve their English, while also getting to work with other APU students from so many different countries. I got to experience the ups and downs of working with children, made so many great friends throughout the whole journey, and finally came to understand why so many people continue to participate in this program year after year.
How It All Happened
It all started after seeing a Facebook post in late April. A few people who had previously participated in this program posted about the recruitment for the next camp, and upon seeing the posts, I found myself in a classroom with 200 other potential applicants—all of whom were eager to land a spot as one of the next 32 camp leaders. It was a long recruitment process that included an online application, interview, and interacting with elementary school students for Kumon’s English Immersion Day; this all before actually making it to the final selection process!
When I was finally accepted into the program as a camp leader, I had four days of training before hopping on an early morning bus to Oita Airport, a plane trip to Osaka, and then another bus ride to the Biwako area.
3 Weeks, 3 Camps, and 31 New Friends
My time as a camp leader was comprised of three different camp—each around 4-6 days long. The participants were kids from all over Japan, who came to Biwako by train, car, plane, with their parents, and some even on their own. I was amazed at how far they were willing to travel just to practice and learn English. That alone made me want to try my best to make sure the kids got the best experience possible. At first, they were all obviously shy and nervous about using English (and to be honest I was a little nervous as well). But as time went both the leaders and kids became more comfortable with one another, and that’s when we finally started to bond.
Even though the main goal of the camp was to help the kids improve their English, the lessons were not done in a typical classroom setting. Instead, we encouraged the kids to be excited about using English by incorporating each lesson into fun activities. One example was an activity where we taught the kids about shopping by simulating a marketplace and giving them a shopping list to complete. We taught them some phrases to use when bargaining and shopping, and they went to try it out for themselves.
Life at Camp
A typical day in camp went like this: wake up, wake the kids, head to morning exercise, have breakfast, drink (tons of) coffee, and then conduct group activities until night—when we would finally drop the kids off at their rooms, and then come together once more for a nightly meeting. Basically, every day was packed from morning until bedtime.
In the beginning, every time I heard my alarm ring at 6 a.m., I wanted nothing more than to turn it off and go back to sleep. But despite the daily craziness and hectic schedule, it was all worth it to see the smiles on the parents’ faces when they came to pick up their kids, telling us how proud they were of their sons or daughters.
It was three weeks of laughter, tears, and everything else in between. Three weeks of not getting enough sleep, because you were chatting the night away with your new friends and forgetting you had to wake up bright and early the very next day. Three weeks of coffee (which I normally don’t drink), and three weeks of seeing shy kids turn into their most confident selves because of the impact you made on their lives.
Saying it was a memorable experience is an understatement because it really was so much more than that. I had applied for this camp thinking I’d be the one teaching these kids and showing them something new, but who would’ve thought I’d also get to learn just as much. When I came back to my apartment in Beppu, I found a letter from Tokyo sent by one of my students, and it read:
“To Bella, I miss you every day and I cried many times. But I don’t forget you! I love you! And thank you.”
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