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Waseda Hoshien Student Christian Center
Creating a place where people find new friends and opportunities

This month's Close UP features Waseda Hoshien Student Christian Center, which was originally established in 1908 as a student dormitory named “You-ai (friendship and love) Gakusha” by an American missionary Dr. Beninninghoff in response to a request from the founder of Waseda University Shigenobu Okuma. Since the opening of its seminar house in 1970, the Hoshien has been widely used as a public gathering place for a variety of lectures and workshops, study group meetings, citizen group gatherings, and many other occasions. For this interview, we spoke to managing director Hiroshi Yoshida, seminar house coordinator Akiko Uejima, Asian language program coordinator Yukari Yamamoto, and Japanese volunteer instructor training program coordinator Kiwami Kojima.

Ms. Kojima, Ms. Uejima, and Ms. Yamamoto (from left to right)
At Scott Hall Gallery

Ms. Kojima, Ms. Uejima,
and Ms. Yamamoto (from left to right)
At Scott Hall Gallery

Please tell us how the Hoshien was first established.

A. ■Mr. Yoshida: The Waseda Hoshien Student Christian Center was originally formed as a dormitory for students of Waseda University with a goal to nurture a broad, global view among students. Since we officially became a juridical foundation in 1972, the Hoshien has been focusing its activities to promote international exchanges and has been offering Asian language classes, managing a dorm for international students, educating Japanese language volunteer instructors, and such. We have about 160 exchange students currently living in the dorm, and we offer various extra activities for them to enjoy friendships with others such as study tours and home visits. In 2011, the Hoshien changed its organization to a public interest incorporated foundation, and further intends to continue its effort to achieve the founder’s mission to help young people broaden their international view. Among our many projects, we would like to introduce our seminar house and adult education programs today.

To begin with, can you briefly explain about the seminar house?

A. ■Ms. Uejima: At the Hoshien, we rent halls and meeting rooms to public groups of adults and students for a variety of purposes. The facilities have been used for meetings and activities by study groups, student clubs, hobby clubs including chorus, calligraphy, haiku, or waka groups, volunteer organizations offering free Japanese language classes, and more. We use our halls to provide gathering opportunities for members of the Hoshien and residents of our international student dorm, such as welcome parties and Christmas parties. Our facilities include some historic buildings such as Scott Hall and a central courtyard in the treed campus, which make our place special and inviting where visitors can take a break from everyday stress in the big city.

Scott Hall; a landmark of the Hoshien© Waseda Hoshien

Tell us more about Scott Hall, the Hosien’s landmark.

A. ■Ms. Uejima: Built in 1921, the brick building of Scott Hall is a historic architecture officially registered with the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. In addition to its function as a worship hall for the church, the hall has also been used for weddings, music concerts, and shootings for movies, TV dramas, commercials, and magazines. Last year, we opened the Waseda Scott Hall Gallery in the basement of the hall, which was formerly used as a pool room by the students. In the remodeling, we decided to keep the graffiti that had accumulated on the brick wall to commemorate its history. The gallery has been busy with a variety of art exhibitions including photography, painting, and such.

A newly opened gallery at Scott Hall
© Waseda Hoshien
Photo by RYO HATA

Which Asian languages are taught at the Asian language program?

A. ■Ms. Yamamoto: We have classes for Thai, Hindi, Khmer, Vietnamese, Bengali, Mongolian, Lao, and Korean. From entry to upper levels, each class is taught by native instructors. Most of our classes are offered on weekday evenings, so the majority of the students taking our classes are adults, especially women. They come to study these languages for different reasons, such as using the language to work at an NGO, for research study, to learn a mother language of the family, or to understand the language better so as to enjoy music or movies from the country they like. Many of them continue taking classes for a while. We have a student who has been working on the translation of poetry by Bengali poet Tagore as a kind of lifework.

(Left) Students of Bengali class (Right) At a Lao class
© Waseda Hoshien

To which aspect do you pay the most attention in running these language classes?

A. ■Ms. Yamamoto: I would say it is a mutual interaction between instructors and students. We always ask our instructors to spend some time during the class communicating with their students over such topics as culture and customs of their home country, rather than just teaching language in a one-way approach. Some instructors find topics such as the latest news or popular music from movies and internet resources to discuss in the classroom. They often have cooking classes at a dormitory kitchen, which are very popular as students can learn both language and culture while enjoying cooking together. Our instructors are passionate about introducing Japanese people to their language and culture and therefore try to find unique and fun ways to teach them. To encourage communication between students in different classes, we hold social events at least once a semester for our Asian language program, English conversation program, and Gospel program, respectively, by inviting students from all levels.

(Left) Vietnamese cooking class (Right) Mongolian cooking class
© Waseda Hoshien

What do students say about the program?

A. ■Ms. Yamamoto: We had a student in a Thai class who had a Thai mother and a Japanese father. She grew up in Japan and didn’t understand Thai, and felt so sad when she visited Thailand and could not communicate with her family. After that, she began taking classes with us and worked hard. She recently went back to Thailand and was able to speak to her family in Thai this time. She was so happy especially when her grandmother started crying and gave her a hug to see her speaking their language. That made her instructor and me and other staff members really happy too.

Tell us about how the Japanese volunteer instructor training program is operated.

A. ■Ms. Kojima: From April through September, we offer a six-month course for entry level I. At the completion of this course, students have learned the basic skills and knowledge that are required to teach Japanese language and can register as a volunteer instructor. For those who want to continue improving their teaching skills, we offer an entry level II course from October through December and then intermediate and advanced courses from January through March. Many of our students are women of middle and older age, but we also have retired gentlemen in the courses as well. The common goal for most students is to become a volunteer instructor for local community-based Japanese classes, but we find a few students every year who enjoy teaching Japanese so much and eventually decide to pursue a new career as a professional instructor. We also have students who are scheduled to move overseas due to job transfers and want to learn teaching methods so that they can teach Japanese to people over there.

Japanese volunteer instructor training program © Waseda Hoshien

Can you tell us about the Waseda Hoshien Volunteer Group of Japanese Instructors?

A. ■Ms. Kojima: The group was formed in 1998 by graduates of our former training program for Japanese volunteer teachers who wanted to make the best use of the skills they have learned. Currently, 67 Japanese instructors are registered as volunteer members of the group. The members are graduates of our volunteer training program who want to help our Japanese language program and related events at the Hoshien. We offer three Japanese classes on Wednesday and one class on Friday on the second floor of Scott Hall. The teacher-student ratio is nearly one to one. We have students with different backgrounds, such as employees at local restaurants, exchange students, wives of expatriate businessmen, and so on. In addition to regular classes, a variety of events are organized by board members of the group, including a New Year’s party, class presentation day, study tour, and tea ceremony, to offer more opportunities where the students can get connected to other students as well as to Japanese people while being exposed to cultural aspects of Japan.

(Left) All volunteers and students get together at a New Year’s party
(Right) A popular tea ceremony offers students an opportunity to experience Japanese culture
© Waseda Hoshien

Do you have any episode to share that would highlight the friendship between the volunteer instructors and the students of the program?

A. ■Ms. Kojima: One of our volunteer instructors was traveling in China when a major earthquake hit there. We and others in Japan completely lost contact with her, but one Chinese student in her class used all kinds of local networks and connections she had to search her whereabouts. The student eventually confirmed that the instructor was safe and was able to deliver good news to her family in Japan. We were all impressed and moved so much to hear the story.

Do you have any suggestions to those who are interested in learning Asian languages or becoming a Japanese volunteer teacher but are not yet confident enough to take action?

■Ms. Yamamoto: I understand that some people may feel hesitant to make a commitment to studying a foreign language. Our Asian language program offers free trial lessons where you can meet your future instructors and classmates and experience an atmosphere of the class. We encourage anyone interested in the program to feel free to join the trial lessons.

■Ms. Kojima: Our Japanese volunteer instructor training program also offers a free orientation for prospective volunteer teachers. We would like to share the pleasure of teaching Japanese as a foreign language to foreign people in Japan. If you are interested in making friends with foreign people in local communities, please come and join our orientation to find out how you can do.

(Left) Classmates of the Khmer language class (Right) A courtyard in front of Scott Hall
© Waseda Hoshien

Lastly, please give a message to our readers along with your future goals.

■Ms. Uejima: We are so excited about possible exhibitions and events that we may hold at our new Scott Hall Gallery that was opened last year. As the upcoming event, we will have an exhibition of contemporary art including performances by artists, using the entire campus of the Hoshien. We want more people to know about our gallery and would like to continue presenting social opportunities for many people.

■Ms. Yamamoto: Some people might wonder what we are doing at the Waseda Hoshien because of its name. As we explained, we organize various activities to provide people with an opportunity to meet others, which may then lead to another new opportunity. Please plan a visit to our facilities and feel free to ask questions to our staff.

■Ms. Kojima: We would like to make our facilities a place where visitors, whether they are Japanese or non-Japanese, can spend good times here, get refreshed, and make many good friends.