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What is it like for a Japanese engineer to live in a town like Alice? "Its quiet and laid back", says Tomokama Konno who comes from a city north of Tokyo with one million citizens. His city regret is that there is no place to go out.

Konno arrived in Alice two months ago as a volunteer at the Forte School of Science and Technology (FOSST) Discovery Centre. In basic English he explains that he makes hands on exhibits with beer cans for learners to interact with.

The difference between touching learners from a technologically advanced country like Japan and rural Eastern Cape, however are vast. In Japan, says outgoing volunteer Akishi Shimi, children often take learning science for granted because they learn basic maths from such a young age. They also many opportunities to encounter science through resources like books, and the internet.

But in Alice, the thirst for knowledge is immense among learners who have only seen pictures of batteries and resistors in textbooks. Shimi who speaks fluent English after two in South Africa, says his own inability to study from a textbook has inspires him to teach difficult concepts through practical activities like building circuits.

Shimi and Konno we both involved in organising the National Science Week in Alice from 11 August 2010, when the Department of Science and Technology donated a mobile laboratory in the form of a can to the centre so that volunteers can take their expertise to schools outside Alice too.

Do the volunteers miss anything about Japan? “Actually nothing except having a daily bath”, says Shimi who has been conscious about saving water in the Eastern Cape. Konno agrees, and adds Japanese noodles to the list. He has also struggled to get used to how people beg for money which he says doesn’t happen at all in Japan.

“To me it’s shameful,” adds Shimi “I can’t even ask my friends for money.” He says begging is frowned upon in Japan and cannot understand why people do it here. “They seem to throw away their pride. They don’t think of themselves as human beings” he says.

“What they enjoy about South Africa is enough food especially ice cream” and that it would cost up to R50 back home. For Konno, the variety of people is what gets him, “In Japan everyone is Japanese,” he says. “And in South Africa everyone is friendly” says Shimi in particular he will never forget the delighted gasps of science learners who got to connect batteries and light bulbs for the very first time.