Nicole Tong: Kurama Gakai

For my CIP, I participated in Kurama Gakai, an art circle at Doshisha.

I can’t honestly say that I enjoyed the experience. Since COVID policies dictated that the circle couldn’t reserve meeting rooms in advance, it was necessary to contact the circle the day of in order to find out where it would take place. Out of the four methods I tried (Twitter, LINE, Peing, email), only the last one actually produced an answer. Once I went to two meetings, after missing several, I was able to get the LINE contact of one of the circle’s leaders, and she has been helpfully messaging me where to go. If you are interested in joining Kurama Gakai, I’ve heard that the circumstances will improve starting next semester, but in general I’d recommend joining a circle that has a dedicated club room (BOX).

The meetings last either 1.5 or 3 hours, and are centered around one activity. I had originally picked Kurama Gakai as my CIP because I thought it would be more freeform, and was sorely disappointed – if you’re not looking for structured meetings where everyone is expected to draw the same thing, don’t join. I would say the club activities hit the annoying point of usually being something I don’t particularly want to do – which is a good thing, because it pushes me outside of my comfort zone – but also taking up way too little time – which is a bad thing, because it means I can hardly improve from the experience. All in all, 1.5 hours a week isn’t a lot of investment, but it’s also a paltry amount of drawing time if you actually care about your art but struggle to find opportunities to work on it while cranking out daily Japanese homework and essays.

As for people who want to join so they can talk to Japanese people – I maybe talked for a total of ten minutes across seven weeks.This is probably mostly my fault for being completely socially inept, so I’m sure that those with either adequate social skills or Japanese skills won’t have much trouble as long as you pay for the admission and membership fees.

The earlier you pay your fees, the better. If you wait too long to make your move, you won’t be able to get reimbursed. Participating in a circle, multiple times, without actually becoming a member, just makes you feel like you’re being a burden and freeloading off of the people you’re trying to form friendly relations with. Assumedly it also makes them feel the same way about you, preventing you from joining the circle’s LINE group and leaving you perpetually outside the loop.

In short, I think your enjoyment of your CIP will depend primarily upon your attitude. If you accidentally land a bad CIP, the best thing you can do is to work proactively to change it to a better one, instead of throwing your hands up and accepting your situation because “It’s not really that bad” or “My teachers think I should keep doing it” or “I don’t want to send another email to another club.” Otherwise, you’ll probably regret it.

Anne Wen: Yosakoi Traditional Dance, Fly Dance Studio, Kyoto Student Impact (Christian Group)

I joined three different activities to fulfill my community involvement project, in part because each project lasted shorter than I expected and the circles in Japan had eligibility constraints. For starters, I spent two weeks practicing with Doshisha University’s Yosakoi traditional dance group. The practices culminated in a Yosakoi dance festival in Osaka, which later turned into one of my favorite memories in Japan because we performed three times, and I was the only non-Japanese person among a group of 40 Japanese students. Attempting to speak Japanese, given my second year language abilities, was challenging, but the awkwardness forced me to study the language even more. I also found a few Japanese allies who were crucial to learning the choreography and reading Japanese festival instructions. For Yosakoi practice, I went to the Kamogawa River twice a week and rehearsed for three hours. Beyond the dance steps themselves, I learned about the nuances of Japanese circle rules. For instance, Japanese students were extremely punctual, schedules were outlined down to the last second on Excel sheets, and many people wanted to speak with foreigners but worried that they lacked language skills. For future KCJS students, I’d recommend trying your best to find Doshisha university circles. I googled most organizations and expanded my search to Kyoto University affiliates, randomly emailing any address that I could find. I emailed seven different groups, nearly forgot which ones I emailed, and heard back three weeks later about the Yosakoi group. Though the effort was challenging at the start, interacting exclusively with Japanese people without international students to help you can make you grow as a person.

I also attended private lessons at Fly Dance Studio in Shijo. Given my lack of dancing experience, I worried that I’d be an awkward duck flailing my arms, but the teachers were super nice, and most of the students there didn’t consistently come to any one practice. Instead, students varied from week to week, and the studio’s EASY set one-month package ensured that I could show up to any class, any time of the week. Most of the classes hovered around dinner time, so I’d go once or twice a week and attend either their beginner or ultra-beginner hip hop and K-pop dance classes. For students worried about feeling awkward the first time, I’d drag a friend along and exercise together, then attend the next few sessions alone. A first once told me a mantra that I try to repeat: If you can talk, you can sing, and if you can walk, you can dance. Since I’m leaving the country after one semester, I didn’t feel as bad if I made dance choreography mistakes, and also knew that many of the teachers appreciated having more students because it created more energy. Plus, the chance to dance off all the gyoza I ate in the city was necessary, given that I don’t hit the gym.

Temporarily I attended one practice for ASH, a k-pop dance group, but the members weren’t super welcoming, so I spent my last few weeks working with Kyoto Student Impact, a Christian group in the city that’s unaffiliated with Doshisha University. I don’t think the ASH dance group members meant to be rude, but my lack of Japanese fluency proved hard to communicate with local students, and they rarely held practices, so the chance to meet friends was extra hard. Instead, through Kyoto Student Impact, which I found through the Mustard Seed Church that I attended, I met students once or twice a week and engaged in social activities. I went bowling in Japan, had a worshipping session, and as of this writing, will soon attend an international Thanksgiving feast in a country that hardly celebrates this November holiday. The experience with student impact surprised me for a variety of reasons, two of them being that Christianity is hardly practiced in this Shinto/Buddhist-dominated country and I hadn’t expected to attend church. Fortunately, it felt refreshing to practice my religion in a foreign country, and I wanted to speak English a few times, even though the goal of studying abroad was to learn Japanese. Having even a few international friends or Japanese speakers who spoke fluent English ensured that I could compare cross-cultural conversations and engage in deeper conversations. Also, church proved to be a consistent place where I could find friends and have deeper connections over a shared religion, so I resumed my religious practices.

Some tips for future KCJS students, since I found my project activities largely through reading past blog posts:

  1. Don’t email or Instagram DM one or two groups; hit more. I started by contacting seven groups, and two of them eventually got back to me three weeks later. You want to cast your net wide, and don’t worry if you don’t hear back since it’s nothing personal. Also, most groups have eligibility requirements. For instance, my Yosakoi traditional dance group didn’t allow foreign students because they wanted to recruit Japanese freshmen and sophomores for a full year. When I reached out to them, they only wanted international students for one specific festival, and though the experience was short, I still learned a ton of new Kansai dialect slang.
  2. Don’t chicken out of going to a project. As cliche as it sounds, feeling uncomfortable means you’re growing. There were multiple times when I felt awkward in all-Japanese spaces, and one time, I arrived at a practice location and wanted to turn around, for fear of awkwardness. Your first few times at a project won’t be the easiest, but over time, the more conversations you have, the better your experience will be. When you don’t know what to say to Japanese students, ask questions and pull the “gaijin card,” aka ask about anything on your mind because you’re a foreigner and confusion feels justified.
  3. It’s okay to change your projects, even multiple times. I hopped around different projects and felt that each one of them taught me something different. For instance, the Yosakoi dance organization taught me about language immersion and the international Christian group reminded me about the comfort of speaking in my native tongue. Given the number of people that you can meet in Kyoto, don’t worry you won’t make friends. Sometimes, even in Japanese spaces, you’ll meet many internationals. At my Christian group, most people I met hailed from foreign countries like Indonesia and China, and I’ve had fun exchanging cross-cultural talks with them.

Caeden Polster : Klexon English Speaking Circle

Since I am in the academic year KCJS program, and I am a fourth year, I will be graduation at the end of the program. After graduating, I plan to stay here and work in Japan as an English teacher. Due to this interest, I decided to do something similar to my future career in my CIP, and since I plan to work in an Eikaiwa school like AEON, something like the English speaking circle Klexon seemed perfect.

In my time participating at the Klexon English Circle, I met a lot of amazing people from all walks of life, all with a genuine interest in learning English. From what I have heard from those who volunteered at schools and taught children, and from my own experience tutoring and teaching English through an online program through Toshin cram school in Kyoto and their Global English program, most people still in school generally don’t have much interest in learning English, and see it as only another class or something necessary. However, at Klexon, everyone is there because they want to be, and it is a really casual and relaxing environment. Everyone is not only motivated to speak in English and practice what they know, but also to learn more and to ask questions, and to make new friends.

I found my conversations at Klexon very valuable, as not only did I get to hear a lot of interesting experiences, I also got help with information related to my future career, and recommendations on where to go and visit in Kyoto. There weren’t only local Japanese people there, although they were the majority, but there were also people from France, Russia, Izrael, and many other places, all learning English now as a second, third, or sometimes even fourth language. It was really interesting comparing our experiences learning languages, and the differences between education systems in all of our own countries.

My advice for those looking into CIP opportunities would be to first choose something that you are interested in and are motivated to see through to the end, but to also choose something that challenges yourself or pushes you to keep growing and learning as a person. Many of my friends chose to pursue easy opportunities that wouldn’t really make them go out of their comfort zone or meet new people, but I think it is important to break out of your original group and keep meeting more people, especially if you are in Japan for a limited time unlike my situation.

Overall, I would highly recommend Klexon for anyone interested in education or language learning, or anyone who just wants a casual environment to meet new and energetic people to be friends with and practice language together!

Lucy Shauman: Filmmaking Club

For my CIP activity I joined a film club at Kyoto University called “雪だるまプロ.” I have experience working on film sets, so I was hoping that I could use my technical knowledge to make some lasting friendships with Japanese people who share my interests.

Since I joined at the beginning of Kyoto University’s spring break, it took a little while for the club to start making any films; the members where engaged in final exams for the first few weeks I attended their meetings. However, I did finally get to work on one upperclassman’s film set and was offered the role of sound recorder right off the bat. The club’s weekly meetings were usually very short, and I found it difficult to talk to the few members who showed up. However, the set dynamic was much more relaxed, and I was able to interact with people more easily. I definitely felt like part of the team when I could contribute my skills and work with the other members to create a film.

Although I only got to participate in my CIP for about two months due to the unfortunate spread of the Coronavirus, I think I had a very valuable experience. I learned a lot about the differences in how a Japanese film set is run, and was able to develop a Japanese vocabulary pertaining to film terms and equipment; for example, lights (照明), shotgun mic (ガンマイク), and storyboard (絵コンテ) were all words members often used. To my surprise, the club did not begin a take with the classic “lights, camera, action!” directive, but instead started filming after recording the sound file number and counting down following an exclamation of “演技おおい!” I also got to practice operating sound on set, which is something I did not have a lot of experience doing before I arrived in Japan.

While I would say that overall my CIP experience was positive, I had some trouble with this group at the beginning and considered switching activities. My first interaction with the club was very welcoming; I was shown the clubroom and two club members asked me out to dinner with them. However, by the second meeting I felt like that initial interest had altogether vanished, and I spent what short time of the weekly meetings I could trying to get other people to interact with me without coming off as creepy. I usually managed to hold a short conversation with one or two people each meeting, but it was stressful to be the only one asking questions. I decided to stick it out until the first film shoot, and my experience drastically improved once I was able to demonstrate my abilities by participating on set, but for a while I had a pretty isolating experience.

My advice to subsequent students would be to find a group with members who seem genuinely interested in you. If you are not able to make connections within the first few meetings, try a different activity. Your time at KCJS is not nearly as long as you think it is, and ultimately, I think it is more beneficial to find a group that facilitates your ability to practice your Japanese rather than an activity that is directly in line with your interests. In the end, I was disappointed that we were called back from our study abroad just when I was starting to build relationships with my peers in the club. If I had had more time, I think I would have had an even more rewarding experience.

Kyle Matthews: DJ Circle

This semester I continued attending the Ristumeikan DJ circle “Label”. Every Tuesday we met for practice at a local bar in Kyoto-kawaramachi. Practice is usually structured so that everyone is able to DJ for about 20 minutes or so. We had some new members join this semester, and since I had been around for a while I was actually asked to teach them the basics by some of my senior members. Other than just practicing DJing we also had plenty of time to chat about music or school. This semester one of the things I noticed was more of the relationship between new members, senior members, the president, and the owner of the bar we practiced at. I was really surprised to see that attendance to the club was not strictly enforced at all. In my own school club back home if you miss 3 meetings you will he kicked out, however attendance in the circle here was not demanded of members. Because I attended often however, I was able to become close to some of the senior members of the circle. I found out as the semester went on that our circle was actually using the rehearsal space for free, and that there was a deal between the circle and the owner of the bar. Because of this, it was expected of you to order some food or a drink when coming to practice because we were able to use such nice equipment and space for free. We were very fortunate to be able to use that space.

As far as advice goes for choosing your own CIP I think it’s important to choose something you have an interest in. Not only will you be motivated to attend your CIP more often, but you will learn more Japanese words related to your hobbies or interests as well, which will make talking to your friends and expressing yourself much easier.

Megan Everts: Klexon

Originally, for my CIP I wanted to learn more about Japanese calligraphy, so I attended an introductory session where I met the teacher and the children taking the class. Although everyone was very welcoming, I quickly realized that children speak very quickly and are hence difficult to understand in Japanese. I thought more about what I wanted to get out of my CIP, and I realized that although my interest in exploring calligraphy was strong, I did not think it was the right activity for me to pursue. My main purpose of coming to Japan was to improve my ability to speak Japanese and to gain a greater understanding of Japanese culture, and I felt that there were other options that would allow me to pursue that goal more deeply.

So, I ended up changing my CIP to a language exchange club called Klexon, where both foreigners and Japanese individuals met to have conversations in English and Japanese. Klexon meetings were divided into two parts: one-on-one discussions and group discussions. The former had a similar format to speed-dating, where I would spend ten minutes talking with one Japanese individual and then my partner would switch. For the latter, the groups were randomly created to have a mix between foreigners and Japanese individuals, so I often got to meet more new people outside of the ones I interacted with in the group discussions.

I was able to gain a lot of interesting insights into Japanese culture through my interactions with these individuals. For instance, one thing I found very interesting when talking to the Japanese individuals is that they constantly commented on how bad their English was, even though I did not have much trouble understanding them at all. I thought that this was odd at first, but then when I switched to speaking in Japanese with one girl, I prefaced it by saying that my Japanese was not very good. She found it very funny that I said that and commented that she feels like sometimes foreigners start to “act more Japanese” after they begin studying the language, as she said that the way I talked down my ability to speak Japanese parallels the same way many Japanese individuals may talk down their ability to speak English.

Similarly, I had a conversation with another Japanese person about the differences between American and Japanese cultures. One of the interesting points she mentioned was that she said she felt like Americans were very aggressive and blunt in interactions, making them sometimes difficult to communicate with. This made me more aware of how to handle myself in future interactions with Japanese individuals, as I tried to pay more attention to the way in which I said things in order to minimize any awkward vibes I may have been giving off.

There were, however, some difficulties with my CIP as well. For example, when we transitioned to group discussions, sometimes the native English-speakers would take control of the conversations, causing the Japanese speakers to become more shy and talk less. This was frustrating, as my main purpose of coming to this club was to speak with the Japanese individuals, rather than other foreigners. For future KCJS students, my advice would be to not be afraid to reach out more to the Japanese individuals you interact with during your CIP. I wish I was able to get the Line information of some of the people I talked with to continue conversations beyond that short period of time.

Mira Gordon: Town Revitalization in the Kyoto Countryside

For my CIP, I participated in two different groups that work on 町おこし, or town revitalization, in the countryside outside of Kyoto. One of the groups was the Nantan Regional-Revitalization Cooperative, where I shadowed their young farming representative, Yoshida-san. The other group was the Kyoto Seika University Takarasagashikai, a student circle that works revitalizing the town of Utsu, in the northern countryside of Kyoto, under the supervision of Humanities Professor Tamura sensei. As I was participating in two different groups, I alternated visiting one group per week, sometimes visiting both in the same week. Combining my CIP with my independent research on Japanese town revitalization, I used it as an opportunity to conduct ethnographic fieldwork by meeting and talking with a variety of people involved in such efforts.

Because of the multi-faceted nature of my CIP, every day was different. On the days that I participated in the Nantan Regional-Revitalization Cooperative, I would take the JR train about half an hour outside of Kyoto to Sonobe, Nantan. There, Yoshida-san would pick me up and tell me the day’s activities. Yoshida-san’s farming specialty is sweet potatoes, so one day I helped him bury last year’s leftover sweet potatoes, in order to form new sprouts for this year’s crop. He also took me to meet one of his neighbors, a farmer who has kindly welcomed Yoshida-san into the Nantan community and given him a lot of practical farming advice. One day Yoshida-san took me to an 朝市, or morning market, which functions both as a farmer’s market and community gathering space. There I had the incredible opportunity to chat with and interview several community leaders, and witness 炭焼き, traditional charcoal-making, in action. For the Seika University Takarasagashikai, I attended two club meetings, and also visited Utsu’s morning market once. One thing I really enjoyed about the Takarasagashikai was having the opportunity to interact with students my age. The club had a casual and fun atmosphere, and there was a lot of joking and chatting as we put together an informational pamphlet about their club and planned activities and games to play with the kids of Utsu at an upcoming retreat.

Overall, I was blown away by the warmth and welcome I received from everybody I met. Though neither group had ever had an exchange student participant before, both Yoshida-san and Tamura sensei worked to accommodate me and kindly found me many opportunities to talk to different people. Thus, through my CIP I had the chance to use Japanese in a variety of settings with people of all different ages, some of whom had strong regional dialects. It was incredibly special to be able to get different local people’s perspectives on the declining countryside population, and hear what they think can be done about it. Another thing I valued about my CIP was that it enabled me to get out of the city and enjoy the breathtakingly beautiful mountains and forests of the surrounding countryside. 

Even for those who aren’t researching town revitalization, I would highly recommend the Nantan Regional-Revitalization Cooperative to anybody who wants the opportunity to experience the Japanese countryside, and I would recommend the Takarasagashikai to anybody who wants to interact with a very fun group of college students. Though it was cut short, my CIP was hands down the best part of my study abroad in Kyoto.

Nathan Koike: Klexon

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.

Kyle Matthews: DJ Circle

For my CIP I participated in the Ritsumeikan DJ Circle, called “L@bel”. Even though I had almost no DJ experience when I joined I can confidently say that joining the DJ circle was one of the highlights of my time abroad. I was able to grow and improve in a skill that I was very interested in all while being able to communicate in Japanese and participate in a Japanese University Club.

One of the things interesting about the DJ Circle was the fact that senpai-kohai (上下関係)relationship was almost nonexistent. I think one of the best lessons I learned from this is how different social hierarchies in japan are based on the environment you are in. As a new member in the club I had to introduce myself to a lot of the members and if I hadn’t they wouldn’t have introduced themselves to me. But after introducing myself I was able to build relationships with my peers and they were able to help me a lot in becoming a better DJ. Being a circle focused on music it was interesting to see what kind of music the Japanese students used. A lot of them were fans of hip hop and r&b but mixed all different kinds of genres in their playing. I remember one time specifically one of my friends played an older song from the 60’s or so and even then all the fellow members of the club sang along and knew the lyrics, which is pretty rare in America I think.

Practices for the DJ circle are on Tuesdays from 7-10pm at a bar called ルカ in Kawaramachi in the center of the nightlife. It was a great experience to practice with nice equipment at a very cool venue. Usually we practice individually on our laptops as we take turns using the speaker system and turntables. My friends were always very nice about letting me have ample time to practice and encouraging me to take as much time with the equipment as I wanted. Unfortunately, one of the issues with the circle currently is attendance. I was really surprised to see how relaxed the club president was about attendance, but on the other hand because I showed up every week I quickly gained some respect and was able to make connections easier.

I was able to learn a lot more about the hip hop culture in Japan which I’m really interested in. I have many Japanese friends in Boston who grew up in Japan before coming to University in the US and according to them hip hop in Japan is still pretty unknown and uncommon, but within my community of my circle it didn’t seem that way at all. It felt really great to be able to have conversations with my friends in the circle about hip hop, and made me feel a lot more accepted and normal.

I’ll have the chance next month to DJ at our live show and I’m getting a lot of support from my fellow members.

I’m glad that I chose this CIP because not only did I find a new passion in DJing but I made some great friends as well.

Tristan Kim: Animation and Voice Study Group/NASA

I switched my CIP for the last few months of my time at KCJS, away from the Animation and Voice Study Group and into another circle called NASA (not about space). The Animation and Voice Study group met in a designated club room on Doshisha’s campus, every single day from a little after noon when one of the key holders arrived and until 7-8 pm. There aren’t many formal club activities, and for the semester I studied in, there was only one event scheduled in November concerning a voice actor interview. As the for the latter circle, NASA has regular meetings at Monday and Tuesday lunchtime and Thursday afternoon. The room for these meetings is decided on the day of and sent to everyone in the LINE group by the time a free classroom is found. There are also occasional spontaneous outings, where invitations are handled similarly through LINE.

Honestly, when I first read that this program required you to go out and find a way to participate in the community, I was nervous. I’ve never actively sought out conversation and prefer to be left alone half of the time, if not more. Therefore, when I first starting searching for a CIP, I thought it would be simple enough to find a circle at Doshisha, or another university, that dealt with manga/anime/games, which was one of the driving reasons I wanted to learn Japanese in the first place. After learning that the gaming circles that responded to me were monthly meetings, and that I knew I couldn’t draw well enough to keep up with doujinshi circles, I thought I found a suitable CIP in the Animation and Voice Study Group. I had read in a previous one of these blogs that this circle was fairly free-form and casual, without set days, and I valued flexibility in setting up my own pace of engagement.

What I ended up realizing was that the clubroom was a place to relax, passing time through talking with friends, playing the various consoles or board games, or reading manga from the shared library or whatever books a member decided to bring on a particular day. Despite a good first CIP assessment, where I talked with the club president and a few others for an hour, I ended up falling into a routine that was counter-productive to the purpose of engaging in a CIP. I would walk in on a free day (if I hadn’t come before a member who could open the door, in which I would go home for the day), greet everyone with an “お疲れ様です”, stare at my phone half-heartedly as I worked up the nerves to strike up even a few minutes’ worth of conversation so I could say I learned something, realize I mostly wasted an hour or more doing nothing productive, and leave the room with everyone saying another “お疲れ様です”.

I can’t say if it was due to looking like I was peacefully reading, my poor social conversation skills, if the other members were as nervous as I was, or some combination of the above and unmentioned factors, but I ended up in my usual position of being alone in a room of people. I would answer a question of two, I’d try to interject in a conversation or two if I could actually understand and had something halfway interesting to say and try to scrounge up some reflection of Japanese culture by the time I decided to leave. By the time I decided to stop, I learned about the traditional “お疲れ様です” greeting, that people mostly talked with pre-formed groups, that conversations wouldn’t stop or dampen even when someone was asleep, and that the guys grouped around the playmat whereas the girls sat around the table. Honestly, if I were to transcribe everything that I felt I learned, more than half of that report would be the rules of the Power Grid board game.

When I was going over some of these grievances with Nakamura-sensei, she suggested that I switched CIPs, a suggestion that made me feel dumb about trying to salvage something that I was barely participating in. This is how Kyle, a fellow classmate, got roped into introducing me and a few others to the NASA group.

Within the very first meeting, through non-stop interactions with people whose purpose in coming to the club was to talk with foreign students, I came to multiple realizations about everyday conversation: about people who would always confirm “私ですか” even if the conversation had been one-to-one the entire time, about how people are understanding and flexible about switching between short form and ‘desu/masu’ form, about Japanese understanding on English words and the difficulty of perceiving a verb as a noun or vice versa (impacting, a fail), and even about how strong anti-piracy views concerning anime and movies (which I only got an impression of previously).

As a recommendation to any future extreme introverts with social anxiety, I would suggest trying to get outside of your normal comfort zone. I know that CIP is encouraged to be aligned with your interests, but it can be very easy to use that comfort as a crutch. I’m sure you’ve read through other blogs saying how the club members here are all very accommodating, and that can also work as a negative if you’re uncomfortable with social interaction and they pick up on that. Try volunteering and working with people who are happy that you’re there, introducing yourself to a new craft like crocheting or music, or finding a group that genuinely just wants to get to know you and your friends like NASA is for me. Maybe you don’t have to go as far out of your comfort zone as I do, or that your interests have a clearer objective with an active subculture and a dynamic vocabulary, but make sure to find a CIP where you won’t have any regrets about missed opportunities. Take it from someone with a few of his own.