After another semester participating in the Miconos Swimming Circle at Kyoto University, I feel I have come away from the experience with a new understanding of Japanese college life that one cannot learn from class, and a group of friends that I sincerely hope I can keep in contact with. The members of Miconos were all incredibly nice, and accepting of me from the first time I entered the pool.
However that does not mean that my transition from an American Water Polo club to a Japanese Swimming circle was flawless. There were several steps along the way were I felt distanced from the other members of the circle, but at this point I feel that is not the case at all. For example, the lack of swimming that occurs at this swimming circle initially was an alienating aspect of the circle as my club at my home college is especially strict on ensuring all members participate at hundred percent. Yet, I eventually found myself adapting to the conditions of the circle, and even valuing engaging other members in conversation over swimming. Another aspect was reconciling that the President of the circle was in the same year as me. While in America, seniors usually occupy the roles as leaders within the club. But, the president’s kind nature, and friendliness helped me overcome this cultural difference. Although he is no longer the president, before the transition occurred, I had already resolved my discomfort with this difference and even started to no longer refer to him as 会長, but by his circle nickname, 岩ちゃん.
While I feel I have mostly adapted to some aspects of Miconos that are certainly quite different than what I am used to, the end of one term and start of another brought forth various other difference from the college situation in America. As the end of the term drew near, I noticed that many of the upperclassman would forsake swimming for the entire practice period, but instead congratulations cards for the members of the circle who were graduating. Considering that I had been practicing with the club for five months at that point, but had yet to see any of these seniors participate in the practices, I did find this practice a bit strange. Furthermore, the graduating seniors had apparently created a similar card, but for the restaurant Tsumura which has housed the after practice meals of Miconos for at least five years. The reason I know this is because within the restaurant, the walls are littered with these cards from the Miconos members in previous years. This and the circle itself arbitrarily deciding that the ending of the 2014-2015 year and beginning of the 2015-2016 at the start of April, a week before the University`s actual new year begins are two aspects of this transitional period that differ quite a bit from my experiences in America.
Through my short time with Miconos, I have found that joining a circle that you have a profound interest in can really help you overcome the initial awkwardness distancing a foreigner with Japanese students. By taking advantage of these common points, and actively engaging the circle members one can easily find their place within the circle. There may be times were you feel like an outsider, or like you’re being ignored, don`t be shy and try to engage members in one on one settings rather in a larger group. You will find that in most cases the members want to converse with and be friends with you, just as much as you want to converse and be friends with them.
I’ve been following your blog posts on Miconos since last semester, and I’m so glad that you’ve been able to find community among those who share your love of swimming.
You gave some great advice at the end there too!
Taking what you’ve learned here, and thinking about application, how do you think your approach to the Water Polo Team at Hamilton will change?
Thanks for commenting again, Ife!
Considering that I will be returning to the team as one of the few seniors, I honestly feel my approach to the boys will not change next Fall. Since we compete against other water polo teams, we can not really allow members to practice at their own pace. Additionally, the role of the 会長, who takes care of responsibilities, but does not really lead, and the role of the captain, who takes up the role of key player, leader and head motivator for the team, are simply too different to compare. For the captain`s position, one can not really leave that type of role to a sophomore. While the two clubs share the aspect that they take place in a pool, that is where the similarities end.
I have always been impressed by your dedication to your swim club. It’s cool that you felt like you became part of the group.
It surprised me that the president used to be a third year…that seems very not Japanese. Also, I’ve heard that a lot of circles and clubs, like yours, are more about being together as a group than actually doing what the club title states. How important did you find swimming to be in your club? Would you recommend it to someone without experience in competitive swimming or swim teams?
Thanks for the comment, friend!
I believe the reason for the president being a second year is that the position is more about administrative responsibilities than it is about leadership. You bring up a very good point in that a number of Japanese clubs seem more focused on the events than the actual activities. I can tell you that while going to the pool is an important part of the club, swimming for the whole time certainly is not. Many people do one or two laps and spend the rest of the time chatting in the pool or sweating in the sauna. As I myself am someone with zero experience with swim teams or competitive swimming, I can certainly recommend it to others in the same position.