My experience with the community immersion project (CIP) consisted of two elements – Doshisha hiking circle and a community orchestra. Although I was in Japan for just one semester, my experience in Japan was greatly enriched by the CIP program.
I came to Japan as both an outdoors enthusiast and dedicated violinist. Finding a way to engage my passions felt critical to me in a new environment. However, I quickly found that the CIP experience was not only a way for me to continue these activities but an invaluable opportunity to engage with Japanese culture. Truly feeling like I was a part of something while studying abroad – particularly in a country with a foreign language – was rewarding to the highest degree. Both the hiking circle and orchestra were extremely welcoming, enriching and rewarding.
Though as an exchange student joining a club seemed daunting, Doshisha Hiking Circle lovingly took me in. Although I did not get to share very much time with the group – the 1:30pm Saturday time was very inconvenient, often conflicting with my class field trips – every bit I spent was very rewarding. Typically, on a given Saturday, we would either run on the Kamo River or Kyoto Gosho, or go for a short hike around the mountains surrounding Kyoto. As an avid backpacker and member of my home school’s cross country team, these activities were a great fit, although I would have preferred if the sessions were a bit longer. More often than not, I wished that there were more hikes and less runs. However, these meetings provided a great opportunity to both practice my casual speech and learn what it is like to be a college student in Japan. It was especially interesting to bond with the girls in the circle; out of twenty or so students in the circle there were only three or four girls typically. Although my experience with Doshisha Hiking Circle was fun, my experience was limited by the inconvenient time slot.
The community orchestra was perhaps one of my favorite parts about being in Kyoto for the semester. As a longtime violinist and member of various music groups on my home college campus, the community orchestra gave me the opportunity to continue pursuing music. Rehearsals were just once every two weeks, Sunday from 1-5pm. The only complaint I would have is that I wish that rehearsals were every week! We played primarily Western classical music, such as Brahms and Mendelssohn. What struck me most about this group was the incredible friendliness that they had toward both me and the other KCJS student who was doing the program with me. The elderly ladies in the back of the violin section loved giving out chocolates during every break, I laughed and chatted with my stand partner, I played my heart out although I had to sight-read the music almost every time. Every member treated me with such kindness and respect even though I wouldn’t even be able to participate in the May concert. I would recommend this group to anyone with an interest in pursuing casual classical music in Kyoto.
Being able to take part in both of these endeavors has been very rewarding in their own ways. This weekend I will be racing the Mt. Fuji International Marathon (42km) with a friend! We are looking forward to learning more about the culture around running in Japan.
[Update: Marathon went really well! LOTS of kilometers, Fuji views, Japanese children yelling “fight-o,” fun going to a beautiful onsen after!]