Before coming to Japan, I had thought about many options as my CIP activity. When reading the list of extracurricular activities that previous KCJS students participated, I was really excited to see myself also becoming a member of a team, or a performance group in Japanese society. In the beginning, I only considered of learning a traditional Japanese skill, such as archery or a Japanese instrument, and avoid signing up for anything that is not “Japanese enough”. The main purpose of CIP is to let you be more submersed in Japanese culture outside of the classroom. However, everyone’s goal differs. It took me a few weeks to figure out what I truly want from my CIP experience. I want to improve my Japanese by communicating with people of my own age. Rather than joining an intense circle of sports or performing arts, where members focus more on practicing instead on communicating, I chose to join KLEXON, a circle that helps Japanese with any background to practice speaking English.
KLEXON is not an easy activity to participate. Members are usually expected to speak for 2 hours straight, in both English and Japanese, which is quite exhausting. Nevertheless, it is very rewarding. So far, I was able to not only meet many new friends who are from various backgrounds, but also gain knowledge and a deeper understanding of the Japanese language as well as Japanese society as it is today. When I went to a dinner party with friends I made in KLEXON and started having natural conversations in Japanese with them, I feel as if I have finally become a member of this society, a society that is very different from the classroom, and it is introducing me to Japan from another perspective.
KLEXON also helped me improve my Japanese colloquial ability. There were a couple of things I noticed which answered my question about Japanese language. For example, back in U.S. I was taught by my Japanese teacher to use honorific form when speaking to Sensei or Senpai, and use formal desu-masu form to strangers. However, in real life, situations are not always clear as to when to use what form. In KLEXON, I was surprised to hear people of the same age using different forms of speech (formal/informal/honorific) in the same environment or situation. More girls tend to be more formal than guys and people are generally more formal when speaking to foreigners. However, there were also some people who would use short form to start a conversation with a stranger. Finally, I realized that, the “rules” of using formal or informal speech that I learned in school are a collection of general social norms, which are safe to follow for the most of the time. Nevertheless, a native speaker’s speech style can be very flexible, because for them, the language is merely a tool to reflect his or her emotions. The form they prefer to use shows their character and personality. Therefore, regarding the proper use of formal/informal form, there is not a set rule that everyone should always follow.
Last but not least, I feel fortunate for choosing KLEXON as my CIP activity. I did not expect I was going to receive so much out of it. The relationship I have forged and the deeper understanding of Japanese language I have gained are valuable, and greatly enriched my study abroad experience.
You are definitely right about sports teams focusing more on practice than communication. I’m glad you found KLEXON and introduced me to it as well after I left the frisbee team. It really is interesting how much the speaking styles can vary between people, and even if you are paying attention sometimes it isn’t clear as to why they change. But KLEXON did offer great insight to the fact that people are not textbooks or robots and the spoken Japanese language is more complex than the rules we learn about Japanese in the classroom.