Japan Summer Service-Learning Program

The Japan Summer Service-Learning Program (JSSL) is a collaborative, intercultural service-learning program that brings together undergraduates from Middlebury, International Christian University (ICU), and multiple member universities of the Service-Learning Asia Network. Participating students work, learn, and engage with local residents in the Tokyo metropolitan region as well as in Tenryumura - a small village in the mountains of Nagano Prefecture. While this is usually a four-week summer program, our summer 2020 session will be for three weeks, ending prior to the start of the Tokyo Olympics.


Piloted in the summer of 2016, the Japan Summer Service-Learning program is co-administered by Middlebury’s Center for Community Engagement (CCE), the Middlebury School in Japan, and the Service Learning Center at International Christian University (ICU) in Mitaka, Japan.

The program has four primary phases. The first is orientation. This includes the general aspects one might expect of any program – including recognizing, exploring, and establishing goals; sharing and addressing concerns and challenges; establishing group guidelines and agreements; and providing the information and resources necessary to support the health and safety of all involved.

As a service-learning program, the orientation also includes community and cultural introductions. Students are introduced to the demographics and current and historical contexts of the communities in which they will be working. Core principles and practices of community engagement and service-learning are both incorporated and discussed - such as reciprocity; community collaboration; the importance of ethical and competent communication; the import of learning about the communities with which we will be working; the experiential learning cycle; and the importance of reflection to deepen, expand upon, and integrate the learning.

Elements of intercultural competence – such as communication, self-awareness, knowledge of other cultures, postponing evaluation, and perspective-taking - are introduced, explored, and experienced throughout the program. These explorations begin during the orientation phase and continue throughout all phases and activities.

The second phase of the program is service and learning with local community collaborators in Mitaka – the community in which ICU is situated. These activities have included classroom programming in local elementary schools; volunteering at elderly day care facilities; and working with community farms and environmental programs.  

The third program phase is service and learning in the village of Tenryumura in Nagano Prefecture. One notable aspect of life in Tenryumura, in addition to its being a rural mountain village with one of the highest rates of depopulation in Japan, is its challenging and complex history during and before World War II – and how the residents have coped with the war memories over time.

The fourth program phase is wrap-up and evaluation - and a closing presentation to which all community collaborators – from Mitaka as well as Tenryumura - are invited; and a time to say goodbye as a group.

In developing a purposeful and collaborative team that is diverse in culture, language, and education, JSSL offers students a facilitated immersion in intercultural engagement - one in which they may learn as much about themselves as they do about the communities they have come to serve and learn from and about.


In the words of a recent participant:

Through this program, I was able to discover another side of Japan that I didn’t know existed, but I was also able to discover another side of myself that I didn’t know existed. We all worked together to plan programs for local children, learn about urban agriculture, and carry out oral history interviews in Tenryuumura to discover more about the lives of the aging population, and throughout this process I was able to push my boundaries. I tried new things and gained more experience, and also challenged and changed many of my beliefs, both about Japan and other countries.


The Japan Summer Service-Learning program is an exciting example of “learning in the world and the world in learning,” illustrating the value and impact that engaged learning provides to a 21st century liberal education.


Hear and see more from recent program participants here


Application Process

The application for summer 2020 will be available in February 2020.

Questions?  Email Kristen Mullins at kmullins@middlebury.edu