My experience with the Community Involvement Project has afforded me the opportunity to witness two phenomenon which, I believe, are equally common, but which are opposite in nature: timidity versus openness towards foreigners. Having participated in two different CIP activities during my time at KCJS, I feel that I can say with a fair degree of confidence that I’ve seen two sides of the same coin, and that the difference in my treatment in each setting had a significant impact on my enjoyment of the CIP activity as a whole.
To begin, I initially set out to join Doshisha University’s Ping-Pong Circle. I’ll confess that I don’t have much experience playing ping-pong, despite being somewhat competitively intrigued by it in my high school days, and so for the Japanese students who were already in the club – and who appeared to take their practice of ping-pong very seriously – playing with me must have been extremely frustrating. That being said, apart from their apparent unwillingness to step up to whichever table I’d staked out, I experienced a further unwillingness to even engage in conversation. Despite multiple attempts to get to know my fellow club members, to learn more about their club and its members, etc., my attempts to start conversations were repeatedly shut down by their mere unwillingness to provide me with answers.
Interestingly, while this experience certainly sheds some light on the degree of comfort these students have interacting with foreigners, Joey Ye – who joined the club before I did, and who was at a similar skill level as I was – didn’t seem to have much of a problem interacting with the club members. Thus, I couldn’t help but wonder – was their unwillingness to interact with me also because I’m a woman? I did notice that female members of the Ping-Pong Circle seemed few and far between, and it occurred to me that potentially, my being a foreigner was not the only source of hesitation that the Doshisha students felt in interacting with me.
Unfortunately, after several weeks of repeated, failed attempts at making conversation, I came to the conclusion that perhaps the Ping-Pong Circle was not the right CIP for me. Given that the goal of CIP participation is to involve oneself in the community, I felt that rather than being involved, I was more being made to observe – regardless of my own desire to be more engaged in my activity. Feeling that I might strike better luck with a group of people with whom I had more in common, I ultimately made the decision to leave the Ping-Pong Circle in pursuit of another activity: participation in the anime club.
It was here that I found myself truly enjoying my CIP activity. The response that I received from the members of the anime club was, in almost every way, different from the response I received from the members of the Ping-Pong Circle. I was welcomed enthusiastically into the anime club, apologized to repeatedly for some minor inconveniences surrounding my membership fee, and spoken to often and willingly by the various members who would come and go without, it seemed, adherence to a strict schedule. Rather than gathering together for the purpose of cultivating a specific skill, the members of the anime club seemed to be more a group of friends who found enjoyment in one another’s company than anything else.
Although I will confess that my language skills – or lack thereof – prevented me from engaging with the members on an especially deep level, I found that they were more than willing to help me get my membership fee squared away, figure out a schedule for coming and going, helping me read various kanji, etc. In the instances that I experienced a lack of communication with the club members, the reason seemed sourced more in lack of ability than lack of desire.
Ultimately, I’ve found that my experience with the anime club has been entirely pleasant, and I am glad that I was able to find a CIP in which I felt more comfortable. While I certainly am not able to make any sociological generalizations based on my experience, again, I feel that I can accurately summarize the difference in my experiences by pointing out the different attitudes held by Doshisha students toward interacting with foreigners. While one is neither better nor worse, right nor wrong, I will admit that after my experience in the Ping-Pong Circle, I will absolutely go out of my way to interact more with foreign exchange students at my home university. Because although I have finally found a setting in which I feel more comfortable, that initial experience of discomfort was a bit disheartening.
I really liked reading about your CIP experience–especially when you decided to make the decision to switch CIP. I always thought (not sure where it comes from) that joining a circle would be really fun and that you would be able to meet plenty of people; however, that also depends on the club members themselves. I am really happy that you made the decision to switch clubs when you realized it was not the club for you!
Do you have advice regarding choosing a CIP? Or do you have any opinions/anything to say about the relationship between the female and male members of the ping pong club?
It was really interesting to read about your CIP experience–especially when you decided to switch clubs. I thought joining a circle at Doshisha (I am not sure what that idea came from) would be fun and automatically mean you get to meet/be friends with Japanese students; however, that really depends on the club members themselves. I am really glad you decided to change your CIP to something you enjoy 🙂
Do you have any advice about choosing CIP’s? Or do you have any opinions/thoughts about the female and male club member’s interaction?
Hey! Yeah, I think it has a lot to do with the people who are actually in the club. I mean, I guess it makes sense that not every person would be super thrilled about having a gaigin show up out of nowhere and throw off their ping-pong groove, right?
As far as advice goes…I would say that if I had stayed true to my interests from the outset, I probably could have avoided quite a bit of difficulty. At the beginning of the program, I was really interested in trying to expand my horizons and branch out to new areas for fear of pigeonholing myself. But now that I’ve had an opportunity to participate in anime club, I realize that it’s probably better to stick with something you know that you like, especially when you’re going to be meeting all new people!
I’m sorry you had such a difficult time with the Ping Pong club, but I am glad that you were able to have a much better experience with the anime club. Do you think the difference in experience may also have to do with one being more for honing a skill and the other more casual? Also, I feel like study abroad students and international students have a tendency to clump together in their programs; do you notice this in your home university as well?
Actually, I think that the skill-learning versus interest-based aspect had a lot to do with it! Not only am I a totally strange foreigner, but I’m also not particularly good at ping pong, so it’s likely that these factors compounded when it came to the members’ unwillingness to interact with me.
And yeah, I have noticed at my home university that study abroad students have a tendency to clump together. I think that it’s natural for people to seek out the familiar in an unfamiliar environment – that’s part of why, I think, when choosing a CIP, it’s important to go with something that you’re already comfortable with. 🙂
Yo that sucks that the ping pong bros didn’t treat you like a bro. Did you actually get to play any ping pong?
I’m glad that the anime club thing went well! I imagine that it helps that you have a VAST knowledge of anime, right right? What stuff did you watch? 🙂
I did play a little ping pong, albeit distinctly not well.
And yes, my VAST knowledge of anime was particularly helpful, though most of the time we didn’t actually watch anime. The other members did spend a considerably amount of time playing Smash, though. And I translated a bit of manga!
I didn’t think anyone would be saltier than me about their CIP, but alas here I stand corrected.
I’m glad to hear that joining the anime club ended up being a much more positive experience.