Sunday, October 18, 2009

Oi! Genki ka!? Article 7: IPA (June 2007)


At Japan Night with some of the 2000 Spring AUAP Group at CWU, probably in June.

The university I attended, Central Washington University, has a sister school relationship with Asia University in Tokyo, and every year many exchange students come from Asia University via an exchange program know as the Asia University America Program (AUAP). At five months, it is a fairly short stay, but the students that come to CWU study English and their respective majors while staying in the on-campus dormitories, sharing rooms with American roommates. I became friends with quite a few AUAP students, and while talking with them, I learned about what seemed to be an interesting part-time job: being an IPA.

What is an IPA? IPA is short for International Peer Advisor, and an IPA is a student attending CWU who helps the AUAP participants get accustomed to American university life and living in the U.S. The exchange students who come to CWU on AUAP don't know much about the university or the town that it's in (Ellensburg), so it is the IPA's responsibility to help them get acclimated to their new lifestyle as quickly as possible.

At the time, I was studying Japanese and had made many close friends through AUAP, and more than anything else, I wanted to know more about Japan. I figured being an IPA would be a good way to do that, so I went to the AUAP Office and applied for a job. After going through a short interview process, I got the job! Over the next year and a half, I worked as an IPA for three AUAP cycles, and did a lot of activities with the program participants during that time. We had Japanese food parties in the dormitories to promote exchange between the AUAP students and the American dorm residents. We went on camping trips and took part in volunteer activities. We made baseball teams and played in intramural leagues against other teams at the university.

And while there was a lot that was fun, being an IPA had an extremely tough side to it too. I had to work out difficulties between AUAP students and their roommates. At times, I wasn't able to get along well with the groups I was working with. Also, while the legal drinking age in Japan is 20, in the U.S. it is 21, and at times I caught underage students drinking and had to report them to my boss. It was extremely difficult to find a balance between being a friend and being an advisor.

I learned a very important lesson while working as an IPA. During my first cycle, a friend of mine, Rich, who had worked as an IPA previously pointed out, rather sternly, something that I was doing wrong. I thought I was being kind to the AUAP students by speaking in slow, simple English to them. Rich saw this and took me aside, saying, "What you're doing there, that's not being kind or nice or anything at all. You're being a jerk. They aren't stupid, so don't treat them like they are. Speaking slowly, or in simple English, isn't going to help them. Speak normally, like you would to anybody else." It was then that I realized that I'd been speaking in strange English to the AUAP students I was supposed to be helping. If our positions had been switched, I'd have hated that, and I really regretted my actions up to that point. I'd been acting like I was better than them; like I was above them somehow. And that was messed up.

Having that pointed out to me taught me a very important lesson. Even if someone isn't able to communicate well, they still need to be treated with the same respect afforded to all people. That's something I hope to keep in mind in my interactions with people from now on.

No comments:

Post a Comment