Chinatsu Sazawa is an Associate Professor of Japanese at Drake University and enjoys using service as a way to bridge American and Japanese cultures.

What is your role with the Office of Community Engaged Learning & Service?

Last year I participated in the Faculty Learning Community for Service-Learning, and this year I am working to incorporate both service learning and international culture into the classroom as well as the community.

What kind of service work do you do in the classroom?

I assisted my students in teaching the Japanese language and culture to elementary school students in the Spring of 2018. This semester, we are visiting the Dahl Adult Day Center through WesleyLife to conduct sessions about Japan to further help teach about the Japanese culture.

What kind of service do you enjoy doing the most?

I enjoy supporting Drake students in their work with children or adults in the local community. I am always impressed with their potential and ability to plan and conduct activities. I also enjoy communicating with local organizations. I am able to learn a lot about issues I may not be aware of otherwise. This connection makes me think deeper about our society and role as a global citizen. It is also fulfilling to see the excitement in others when they learn about different languages and cultures.

How did you get involved with service?

I used to go to local schools to introduce Japanese language and culture to school-age children. This evolved into me taking Drake students with me to help facilitate the learning, and my classes have further evolved from there. I haven’t been involved in these activities in recent years, but started them again after the campus-wide rise in interest in service learning. Renee Sedlacek, the Director of Community Engaged Learning, connected me with such local organizations.

What kind of opportunities have you and your students had through this service work?

The opportunity to spread Japanese culture and language to those who may otherwise never be exposed to it. I really do enjoy seeing the excitement on their faces, and it is something my students take away as well. Through successful service learning activities, the students and I learn about socio-political, economical, and cultural issues. We will also learn how to reflect and analyze issues and their causes critically, and how to initiate and become involved in appropriate, socially responsible actions.

Which classes do you teach that incorporate service into the curriculum?

It depends on the semester. This semester, my Japanese 140 students are working on a service learning project.

Do you find that your students enjoy doing service? If so, how has it impacted them?

It is clear that they see it as a valuable experience, both for the students and the community. Students always report how much they enjoyed teaching children Japanese language and culture, and regularly request that we do it again.

Are you involved with service outside of the classroom?

I have recently been communicating with a local organization and a non-profit organization to support children in poverty in Japan. I hope to start working with them in the near future.

What inspires your passion for service?

The personal growth of students and of myself is the primary motivator for me. I also hope our service will make a positive impact on the community, or, at the very least, make someone’s day a little better.


“This project has brought so much meaning into our daily programming.  Participants are given opportunities to interact with and learn from the young community in the Des Moines area and students are given the opportunity to not only present their Japanese knowledge, but also learn about Adult Day Services and memory support care.  The engagement thus far between participants and students have increased their learning and socialization.  We are very excited to continue our partnership and provide unique opportunities for participants and students alike.” -Elisha Cunningham, Dahl Adult Day Events Coordinator, Wesley Life.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.