Jill Barcelona-Suzuki has been living in Japan for several years. She first came here in 1998 as the Philipine delegate to the Ship for Southeast Asian Youth Program, currently named Ship for Southeast Asia and Japanese Youth Program (SSEAYP).
SSEAYP aims to promote friendship and understanding among youths from Japan and ten Southeast Asian countries (Republic of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Republic of the Philippines, the Republic of Singapore, the Kingdom of Thailand, Brunei Darussalam, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, Lao people’s Democratic Republic, the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, and the Kingdom of Cambodia). The program’s agenda is focused on broadening world perspectives, and strengthening the spirit of international cooperation, while teaching practical skills for international collaboration.
Jill Barcelona Suzuki: I fell in love with Japan at the time and that is why I am back. In language school, I took Japanese for a year and continued my studies, taking an MBA course. My thesis was focused on local mango growers in my hometown Butuan City, in Mindanao island, Philippines.
I got lucky because my husband is half Japanese and half Filipino. So we are able to stay here. Maybe we will go back when we retire. Really, we hadn’t planned to stay this long, but we are still here.
John Cunningham: That’s what happens. I came in 1998, too. Had planned to stay for five years and I’m still here.
JBS: Exactly, I have that kind of feeling too. I can speak a bit of Japanese but I don’t use it at home or even at work.
JC: What kind of work do you do?
JBS: I’ve been working as a business English teacher for 15 years. I like meeting people from different areas or from different walks of life and we can really learn from them.
JC: There is a large level of respect when you are both subject matter experts.
JBS: Yes, if you give them more than they expect, that is definitely a bonus for them too.
JC: Why did you decide to be a volunteer for the olympics?
JBS: First off, It’s the Olympics, right!?
As a student, I was always an athlete. I played volleyball in elementary school, but that sport didn’t really like me. So in Jr. high I switched to badminton and represented my school at a tournament, but that wasn’t a good fit either.
JC: You were one of the best players in your school, but you weren’t satisfied with your skills?
JBS: Yeah, well… Then I became fascinated with softball and played pitcher. I played in high school and university, but softball has 9 players, and it was hard to get enough people to field a team.
When I stopped playing softball, I became a coach. That was the time when I went back to university, not as a student but as a teacher. Ultimately, it was kind of sad because we didn’t have good equipment. So it was hard to develop the team. It may seem like I am blaming the equipment but…
JC: That’s true. I’ve heard that one reason Africa has so many great runners is because it’s a sport that requires virtually no equipment. Soccer is another good example. You don’t need much equipment to play soccer, just a ball.
JBS: I believe dealing with these kinds of issues makes one a better athlete. Can you imagine just having two softballs during practice? That is really not enough. I know how hard it is for every athlete from less affluent countries to get the training needed to become great.
JC: That is so different from the US where you can buy softballs by the bucketful at most sporting goods stores. Regarding training, I agree with you. I also believe that it is true in any field. The more training you can get, the better you will perform.
JBS: Still, hard work, self-discipline and focus are the keys to becoming a successful athlete regardless of if you reach a level that makes you happy to compete or you become an Olympic athlete, I believe this is true in life too.
JC: I couldn’t agree more. So, what are your expectations of the volunteer experience?
JBS: I am hoping that volunteering will give me a chance to understand more about the needs of athletes, how events are organized and to hear other people’s stories about the experience. It is just so sad that we have limited ability to interact.
JC: What is your role?
JBS: My assignment is to work at the surfing competition and we’ve done on-line training. I actually went to the location as well. It is better to go to the place and figure out what it’s like. This gives you an idea of what to expect. I had hoped to get some photos, but they would not let me take any pictures.
In my role, I’m a Venue Protocol Team Leader. My request was to work indoors, because I know how hot and humid it is here in Japan during the summer, but I am in charge of this for surfing. You have to accept the role and be positive. It is a good thing that it was given to me. The live training was really good despite us being divided for Covid protocol.
I am scheduled from July 25 to August 1st, but if the waves are good, they can finish the event in just four days.
JC: What are some of your other volunteer experiences?
JBS: After my time as a delegate at SSEAYP. I supported the program in the Philippines. There are really a lot of countries in Asia, and many of them could use some assistance. That experience was really life changing.
JC: Is there anything else you would like to share?
JBS: Yes, it’s been a long wait, since 2018. I am very certain that I would volunteer regardless of the situation, why wouldn’t I? I knew that the Olympics were eventually going to happen, and it could be risky, but it (this experience) maybe is my calling.
JC: You wrote a book too, didn’t you?
JBS: Yes, it was published at the beginning of the year. It’s called Sad And Funny Experiences Of Japanese People – YNNUF (=ENOUGH) Being SAD. These are stories of my students’ journeys. Learning is something we have to do alone. And these stories are difficult for them to share. I hope this book educates people about culture and understanding Japanese people more. You can get the digital version on Amazon.
JC:: That seems in line with what you learned as part of SSEAYP.
JBS: Funny, but that is right. SF’s goal is to broaden cultural understanding, and in a way I’ve been doing that my whole adult life.
JC: Thank you very much for sharing your story, Jill.
JBS: You’re welcome, John.
Nima Esnaashari has been living in Hyogo prefecture since 2010. He moved to Japan from the United States. He originally came to Japan on the Japan Exchange and Teaching, also referred to as the JET Program.
Today will be my 13th day of volunteer activities, and along the way, I have enjoyed every day. You can check my previous post for evidence of that. One thing that has really become an interesting measure of the ability of each one of us volunteers to make a difference is the number of pins we receive.
Using simple language like, “How are you today?” or “Looks like you’ve had a busy day,” are simple gambits that often lead engaging conversations.