For my CIP, I joined Klexon, an international conversation club where English speakers help Japanese members practice their English and vice versa. We met on Tuesdays from 7-9PM at Wings Kyoto, unless cancelled. Upon arrival, everyone sat down, Japanese members in odd numbered rows of tables and English speakers in even rows, and everyone mostly kept to themselves; some people started conversations, and were met with little (if any) resistance, but most people kept to themselves before the meeting started. However, promptly at 7PM, the meeting began, and the Japanese members turned around. The room quickly burst to life with conversation and laughter. I would speak with my partner for 10 minutes, at which point the Japanese speakers would shift over to the next English speaker, so most people had a chance to talk to each other. After meeting with 6 partners, for a total of 60 minutes, the second half of the meeting began, and we were (relatively) randomly assigned groups of about six people. From there, we would have a conversation as a group, usually about a different topic, then the meeting would end. Topics were provided, but I found that almost everyone I spoke with was much more engaged when talking about a topic that came up naturally instead.
I’m not a very outgoing person, so participating in Klexon was a great way for me to make some friends. Although many people went out for dinner and drinks afterwards, I wasn’t able to attend because I talked myself into believing that there would always be another chance. I was wrong. Because of the outbreak of COVID-19, I had to return early; not going out with everyone else is one of my biggest regrets. Still, I had a genuinely wonderful time. Even though I don’t consider myself advanced, by any stretch of the word, having to struggle through translations (mostly questions from English to Japanese and answers from Japanese to English) was one of the most fun challenges I brought upon myself.
Along with this, Klexon brought a lot of time for me to reflect on language as a tool. My Japanese is far from perfect, but I generally manage to communicate what I want in spite of this; likewise, the Japanese members at Klexon don’t have perfect English, but it’s not difficult for me to understand what they’re saying and what they want to say. My reflection came in the form of a realization: the way I use a language isn’t as important as the ideas I can communicate. Along with this, I noticed a few mistakes where I knew exactly what grammar structure or mechanic from Japanese matched the mistake, having only recently learned the grammar structure or mechanic and made the inverse mistake.
Klexon is one of the most important things about my study abroad experience and one of the things I enjoyed the most. I’m not sure if I can be positive enough to reflect my time at Klexon. I am an introvert, but even with that I had an amazing time meeting new people and talking with them about all variety of topics, from stock trading to slang (both real conversations I had). While I am also fairly awkward, everyone I met was so kind and friendly that asking for their LINE to stay in touch was no issue. Klexon was a truly fantastic experience, and I absolutely recommend it to anyone who would like to make friends. The only tip I have is to be genuine; it’s a lot harder to make friends if you hide what you think and feel all the time.