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August 08, 2019

Six students from two Japanese universities jump into community work as part of a new program

by Hannah Erickson

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Six students from two universities in Japan joined the Center for English as a Second Language at Southern Illinois University Carbondale and the local community for an intensive cultural experience this summer.

From working in a food pantry to serving at the Women’s Center, the Community Engagement Program offered a new approach to learning for the international students, while also giving them practical opportunities to volunteer and serve in the new environment.

Hands-on learning

More than simple classroom instruction, the program includes hands-on experiences that the students cannot get in their native country.

“While English is the medium of instruction, this is not an English program, but rather a contextualized experience in the community,” William Hellriegel, director of SIU’s center for English as a second language, said. “It involves students in the efforts of local organizations to serve members of the local community.”

The six students in the program this year are from Kyoto University of Foreign Studies in Kyoto, Japan and Reitaku University in Kashiwa, Japan. All of the students for this year’s pilot program were already on campus since March for SIU’s intensive English program, which gave them additional exposure to the culture and community.

“This program gives the students an experiential component to their studies at home,” Hellriegel said. “This will play a key role in helping the students attain their degrees.”

Community engagement

The three-week program does not focus on intensive English teaching, but rather immerses the students in real life cultural activities. While the students do spend some time in a classroom, this works to prepare them for their work in the communities and help them understand various aspects of the culture.

The students visited and volunteered at multiple organizations in the area, including The Villas of Holly Brook Assisted Living, Camp Little Giant at the Touch of Nature, St. Francis CARE Animal Shelter, Green Earth, SIU’s Sustainability Office, Good Samaritan House and the Women’s Center.

For Ryo Wakabayashi, a student from Saitama, Japan, one of the best activities was visiting with the residents at the Villas of Holly Brook and learning new games and pastimes.

“When we visited the Villas of Holly Brook there were many older people playing Bingo, and while I didn’t know how to play the game, they were so kind and helpful,” Ryo said. “It was difficult for me, but it was a good experience.”

Another new experience for many of the students was their interaction at Camp Little Giant with persons who have mental, physical and cognitive disabilities. The students taught the campers origami, and they all visited Castle Park to relax and have fun together.

“The experience was new, but we enjoyed hanging out with everyone and learning about their lives and activities,” Riku and Yuna, two other students in the program, explained.

The students also spent two days at Green Earth, hiking and learning about the environment; and they made Christmas ornaments for an upcoming fundraiser, which was one of the highlights for Tamaki Wakamiya.

The second week wrapped up with the students assisting at the Women’s Center in Carbondale and working in the food pantry at the Good Samaritan House.

In the final week of the program, students were encouraged to make their own appointments at one of the non-profit organizations they previously visited. The goal was to give the students more autonomy and direct engagement with the community by prompting them to take initiative.

United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals

All of the activities in the three-week program focused on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. The 17 goals include elimination of poverty, zero hunger, quality education, good health and well-being, peace, justice, strong institutions, and climate action, among others.

The overall goal of the program was to engage the students in valuable learning that encouraged them to work to meet these goals and to become more prepared and active global citizens.

Looking toward the future

While still in the pilot year for the program, CESL is already looking to future collaborations with other schools.

“We are already in discussion with one of our partner universities, Kyoto University of Foreign Studies,” Hellriegel said. “They have been sending students to us for intensive English for a long time. They have a college of global engagement in their university, so they are interested in exploring options with us.”

The program hopes to bring further exposure to SIU in the global education network, while also creating and strengthening partnerships across the world.

For more information about the Community Engagement Program, contact William Hellriegel at 

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