Dive into the NGO world & the life of an Expat: Masato


Dive into the NGO world & the life of an expat: Masato

Today, we want to introduce you to Masato from Japan. Masato has just started as an intern at Crossing Borders (CB) and was previously a CB student at the Krogerup Højskole in Humlebæk. The CB course at the Krogerup school is a course designed exclusively for international students, providing them with knowledge on different global issues. The Krogerup Højskole is a school based on non-formal education where there are no exams and a lot of visits so that there is a practical side as well as the learning. The students live together, eat together, clean together… you name it, they do everything together as a community. We asked him, among other things, about his experience in this school and the motivation behind his internship at Crossing Borders. Hope you enjoy! ?


 Have you always been interested in the NGO world or did you just take the opportunity that was offered to you at Crossing Borders?

Through my study abroad, I thought that I wanted to experience more practical things in the environment where many different nationalities and backgrounds are crossing, also I wanted to contribute to Crossing Borders, which I can do from my experience learning in CB international course at Krogerup Højskole.

I can say that my life has actually been connected to the NGO world. When I was 7 years old, my parents have donated money to UN Women, which is a body of the UN, to contribute to the promotion of gender equality, women’s empowerment, and education. My father worked at a company, meanwhile, he was also working in that organization as a secretary general. I think we don’t often have many opportunities to meet foreigners in Japan, so I really appreciate to be blessed with an environment where I can meet many people who are from outside of Japan, especially from Africa. Then, I was interested in what is happening not only in Japan but also in the world. Influenced by that environment perhaps, after I went to Soka university in Tokyo, I was interested in working abroad in the field of education, so I decided to do a Japanese language and cultural volunteering for 1 month in Indonesia via an NGO. Through that, I gained 2 things that I experienced and I had more confidence. Firstly, I was able to adapt to a new environment, which is totally opposite to mine, thanks to my strengths such as open-mindedness, curiosity, and “soaking-up-power”. Indonesia is known as the world’s 4th most populous country as well as the most populous Muslim-majority country. Religion, food, the way of socializing, and infrastructure are completely different from Japan. The place where I was sent was in the countryside, so there were not any internet connection or hospital, and black out often happens. Because of these conditions probably, their life is very slow and relaxing, also they don’t care about small things, and cherish the time spent with their family. By contrast, in Tokyo where I grew up, life goes on without a break, and people fray their nerves because they care too much about details. In addition, they were forced to work until midnight instead of staying with their children at home. That is why I really liked the Indonesian way of life. Although the environment and the people are totally different, I engaged with any community I encountered with my strong “open-mindedness”. However, the beginning was not so easy, and I was really struggling to talk with them because I could use neither English nor Japanese. Before, I was explained by NGO staff that I would be able to communicate with them in English, and especially in Japanese, because I was supposed to have a host family with a Japanese language teacher. However, this difficulty made me realize how important speaking local languages is to build trust, so I learned Indonesian and Javanese (local language in Indonesia) through ordinary conversation. As a result, I was able to build a trust relationship with more than 600 people, such as the host family, teachers, students, NGO staff, and even chefs at the store where we often went. Owing to this, our team-work worked very smoothly.

Secondly, I learned skills and attitudes to implement a project from the start to the end by myself. Some of the things I learned were how to find out problems by listening to the voice of those who are working, how to suggest ideas creatively, and how to implement and improve them. For example, nowadays, more than 600 students are studying Japanese because many Japanese companies have been spreading to the Indonesian market. Also, Japanese sub-culture has gained tremendous popularity. However, when paying careful attention to what is going on inside the classes, we find out that learning Japanese is based on reading and writing, the students don’t have any opportunity to speak with native speakers. Therefore, I suggested doing a workshop which is not only focused on reading and writing but also on listening and speaking, and on Japanese culture such as traditional dances and Origami (folding paper). In addition, we discussed things which can be improved. Thus, I have been working with NGOs in different aspects, so I would like to use this experience and contribute to the CB team more!

As you have some experience in the NGO world, would you consider working with another NGO or volunteering again for example?

Honestly, I would say I’m debating whether I should work in NGOs or companies right now. On the one hand, the NGO world is really fascinating for me as I have a mission which is to create an environment for children of the world to be able to achieve their self-actualization. CB and other NGOs’ visions correspond exactly to my life goal. NGOs’ purpose mainly revolves around finding solutions to social problems, so their activities relatively require effectiveness (at least in my opinion). Thus, given my goal, I honestly think working in an NGO is a good idea. On the other hand, I have also been thinking about working in companies. Their goal is profit maximization, so their every business activity requires “efficiency”, how they can make profits by comparing costs.

Therefore, I think a solution would be to obtain a specific skill in managing money and to support organizations and companies which are related to education from financial aspect. Honestly, now I am not sure which way I should go, but I would like to experience many different things and enjoy this amazing opportunity and the great CB team! Through this, I believe I will figure out my right way. I will see!

Why did you decide to come to Denmark?

There are mainly 2 reasons. One is because I wanted to learn the Danish way of thinking which is completely different from the Japanese one when it comes to the social system, working culture, education system. The other reason is that I wanted to study abroad at Højskole. I considered many options to study in other countries and different kinds of educational institutions, but I thought that it was the best way to learn those by experiencing life in a unique Danish school where there aren’t any exams. By the way, when I couldn’t decide which school I should attend whether Krogerup or International People’s College, the deciding factor was an interest in CB and the people who work there. And don’t worry, please, I can say that I’ve never regretted my decision, clearly!!

In which countries have you been living and for how long?

I haven’t lived abroad for a long term, but I have volunteered in Indonesia as I said. Even though I’m a Buddhist, they welcomed me to a mosque and introduced me to some traditional rituals. That was a very special moment. Also, I have been to the U.S., England, Hong Kong, Norway, Sweden, South Korea, Canada, Malaysia, Singapore, Italy, Spain etc… for holidays during my childhood.

What did you struggle with the most when you moved abroad?

It was definitely the language barrier. Japanese people are relatively good at reading and writing in English, but when it comes to listening and speaking, they are not good enough. This is because we don’t have many opportunities to use English in our ordinary life. When I came to Denmark, I was really struggling to communicate with students. I lived with a Danish student, my best friend, in the same room, and he is very gentle and so kind. However, sometimes I felt like there was only one bridge connecting us, and this bridge was very unstable and narrow sometimes because of my English.

However, I didn’t want to give up at all. I kept on thinking “I really want to be able to communicate and fully understand classes, and I want to be a person who can raise the quality of the classes in CB!!” Then, I started to write “Today’s challenge” in my diary every day and I pushed myself to progress. For example, I did some research about the places we visited beforehand to think about questions and have more opportunities to learn. Also, when we had “Krogerup Café” every Tuesday, I always tried to ask questions to a guest speaker with my friends after the lecture in order to raise my skill of both output and input. In addition, I asked Danish students to translate articles to English and discuss politics or economy every morning. Of course, I often studied new vocabulary and made sure the grammar I used that day was right. However, I preferred to focus on talking with students actively and absorb the necessary vocabulary and grammar.

As a result, I would be able to discuss intercultural understanding and integration which is a bit high level and do a presentation about my experience in front of the whole students very confidently. Although I sometimes get frustrated because I think “I could contribute more if I could speak English faster and more precisely!”, I am excited to be actively challenged and overcome walls gradually at the same time.

As a student at the Højskole, you lived in a sort of small community with people from all around the world. How was this experience? Did you learn anything from it?

In my opinion, experience in Højskole can be summed up as “Living together as one community.” To live together with people who have different nationalities, cultures, religions, age, and ways of thinking enables to think deeply about how we can create a space where all of us can feel comfortable.

At first, everyone acts following their own “common sense” which they have always known. However, after a few weeks, we realize it is not common. Then, we start to think how we can create mutual “common sense” in the community. Through this process, we learn how to discuss, understand, and cooperate with each other to create a comfortable space for everyone.

Our study trip was one of the best examples. We learned about sustainability, visiting some beautiful eco villages in Denmark for about 2 weeks in April. During the trip, we had cooking teams for each meal, and one day, an accident happened. When a guy from Ghana was in charge of cooking and was about to add a lot chili to make “a delicious meal”, all the Japanese students stopped him in a fluster, which turned into a great debate about “Chili or not Chili”. For Ghanaians, a lot of chili is essential for their delicious food, but for us Japanese people, that food will simply be a dish we cannot eat. As it turned out (eventually), we decided to reduce the amount of chili to a level that all CB students can eat.

“Chili or not chili” is a very very small example, but we learned the importance of understanding each other patiently and the importance of a little bit of compromise from our real experience.

Did you ever have issues because of the difference in the way of working and the difference of culture?

Yes, I did. Food, the way of socializing, the way of discussion, differences of thinking etc… However, eventually, I think that the most important thing in communication is personality. In our school life at Krogerup, we understand and respect each other even in times of conflict such as “Chili or not chili”. That is why we didn’t have any big problem because of the difference. To say “thank you” when you are helped by someone, to say “sorry” honestly when you make a mistake or do something that will be misunderstood by someone… the most important things are to listen to people’s opinions, to understand where and which kind of feeling this opinion is coming from, and sympathize with it, I think.

Would you consider living abroad in the long term?

Yes, I would. In Denmark, I was fascinated by working with people who have different backgrounds beyond the Sea of Japan. In addition, I feel that I can express “my color” and myself more here than in Japan, so living abroad is definitely something I want.

Can you name one thing you miss about Japan and one thing you don’t miss/could be improved about Japan?

What I really miss about Japan is their bath tubs, because here in Denmark I cannot soak in the tub with warm water reaching my shoulders like in Japan. When I found a bath tub in a youth hostel in Spain 4 months ago, I almost cried. What we can improve in Japan is the working culture. As it is known in the world, the Japanese working culture is very strict, and sometimes workers die from exhaustion which is called “Karoshi”. In addition, we are forced to work hard because of the working system, which is why it is not unusual to go back home after 9pm. In contrast, in Denmark, people think that it is stupid to work overtime, and especially that staying up all night is very absurd! Of course, their style of working depends on people, but they think it is basic life to work 8 hours, sleep 8 hours and spend 8 hours for their free time per day. Although we have many good things in Japan, we should learn and improve it to make the working environment better.

Did living abroad have an impact on the vision you have of your country? In which way?

I am becoming able to see Japan clearly from both a good and a bad perspective. Before I came to Denmark, I studied the sociology of work which focuses on countless problems in Japan, and I was getting tired of that. These days were very tough because I had to think about when it is good to start solving such problems and what we can do when confronted to a huge wall. However, while I was living in Denmark and during the school life in CB, I often saw that many Japanese companies’ names are shining such as TOYOTA, Canon, SONY, TOSHIBA and even small companies which are very specialized and have their headquarters almost at the opposite side of the earth. Moreover, I knew that many people love Japanese food and culture, and when I say “I’m from Japan”, many people said “Wow, Cool! I really want to go to your country!” Such situations made me realize how cool my culture is, and that I could be proud of my origins. Actually, an ice maker that we have in the kitchen of Krogerup is also made in Japan. Did you know that? (laugh) Now, I can see Japan from many more perspectives. Living abroad is actually much more impactful on learning about ourselves than about the outside world.

I’ll do my best in CB with this pride of my origins and appreciation of this environment where we have a powerful and amazing CB team as much as I can!! To conclude, I would like to share my favorite word which a historian, Dr. Arnold Toynbee, chose as his motto. “Laboremus!!” (Latin for “Let’s get to work!”)

Written by Chloé Ladeira, Crossing Borders National Coordinator for France

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