“As someone who could not speak English, I tried to live by the following mantra during the year and a half I lived in the International Dormitory: ‘Communicate your opinions a little more than you did yesterday, and you will become able to elicit and accept the feelings of others.’ All I wanted to do was to be able to converse with international students in their own element.” This is what a smiling Taisei Sakaguchi shared with us about his time working as a Resident Mentor (RM)* at the International Dormitory. In the fall semester of his first year, Sakaguchi was not afraid of the fact that his English skills were not up to par, so tapping into his innate enthusiasm, he immersed himself in the International Dormitory and his English skills improved tremendously. Now that he has reached the point where he is preparing to join an exchange program, he talked with us about his time as an RM and the new goals that that experience has led him to.
* RMs live together with the international students in the international dormitories on each campus and assist them with administrative procedures as well as their studies and daily life in Japan.
“I wanted to experience multiculturalism and diverse values”
"At the beginning of my first year, I took the TOEIC test and got a laughable score of 235,” recounts Sakaguchi cheerfully. RMs live with international students in the dormitories, so the positions are usually reserved for students with excellent language skills, but Sakaguchi said he had no hesitation in applying.
“I like to interact with people who have different ideas and values from mine. I really wanted to become an RM because I felt strongly that it would be an enjoyable experience to live with international student who come from different cultures. I was not worried at all about not being able to speak English," he recalls. During the interview, he answered all the questions in Japanese, and although his English was not very good, his passion for helping people was recognized and he was hired as an RM.
When he started living in the dormitory with non-Japanese roommates, Sakaguchi could not understand anything they were saying. He always needed his fellow RMs to translate and interpret for him, but he never let that deter him from trying to talk to exchange greetings with the international students. "Even when I knew I couldn't carry on a conversation, I kept trying to talk to them. I can say with confidence that I tried to be as friendly as possible and speak more than anyone else, even though everyone in the dormitory knew I couldn't speak English, said Sakaguchi.
He kept a memo pad on hand as he communicated with his roommates, and he studied English every day until late at night and when his roommates were away. “My roommates did not always need support, but I tried to maintain communication with them by exchanging pleasantries like ‘Are you doing okay?’ or 'How are your classes going?’ with them every day. Little by little, they started to rely on me,” explained Sakaguchi as he let a smile slip out. While building a strong relationship of trust with the other dormitory residents, he rapidly improved his English skills in just six months, and in the spring of 2020, he became the leader of the RMs.
Living in the unprecedented era of the COVID-19 pandemic
Just when Sakaguchi was ready to step up his activities as a leader, the COVID-19 pandemic struck. "Some of my roommates wanted me to refrain from going out because they were afraid of getting infected, while others wanted to go out and learn about Japan because they were only going to be here for a short time. The pandemic really shed a light on the differences in everyone’s mental states and opinions,” he explained.
He decided to gather the RMs and formulate an infection prevention plan for the dormitory. "Even if the RMs decide on rules, they are meaningless if our roommates don’t follow them. It was important to me that we didn’t create barriers between the RMs and the international students and that we didn’t just end up as strangers living in the same building. I held multiple discussions with all the dormitory residents so we could create a plan that would satisfy everyone,” recounts Sakaguchi. In the midst of difficulties that no one had ever experienced before, he overcame obstacles by drawing on various values and working together with his fellow dormitory residents.
Heading into the world to pursue further growth
After a year and a half working as an RM, Sakaguchi achieved a TOEIC score of 900. The days of working as hard as he could have helped him grow significantly as a person. "If there is someone right in front of me who is having trouble, I can help them solve their problems and make them happy. That's what I find most appealing about the RM position. If you are interested in foreign countries and want to help others, you will not regret becoming an RM," he says confidently.
Sakaguchi has been selected to study abroad at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia in 2022. There he will study business administration, which is his major. "In Australia, like I have been doing here, I want to communicate proactively, meet and interact with people who have different values, and further refine my worldview and way of thinking," he remarked enthusiastically. "I realized that by improving my English and growing as a person in the international dormitory, there is so much more that I will be able to offer to others. I want to keep helping the people I meet while I study global management and strive to grow every day,” he stated. With his eyes set on a big goal, Sakaguchi is preparing to head out into the world in search of bigger and better things.
Sakaguchi graduated from Takamatsu Shogyo High School (Kagawa Pref.). He fell in love with soccer at a young age and devoted himself to the sport until his third year of high school. In addition to soccer, he likes anime, manga, and watching movies. He spends his days off reading and studying English. Sakaguchi's tip for improving your English is to make sure you look up example sentences that use the vocabulary words that you have learned from situations in daily life. Recently, he has been busy attending internship interviews and information sessions in order to learn about marketing in a wide range of industries.