For my CIP, I participated in a Kyoto University swimming circle called Miconos (http://www.miconos.net/ ). This experience was great for me, and taught me about Japanese college social life. I met a lot of really nice people, had a blast swimming, and am happy to be able to continue participating in this club next semester.
Prior to coming to Japan, I had some presumptions on what Japanese sports circles would be like based on my own experiences studying abroad four years ago at Doshisha International High School, my playing Water Polo at the club level at Hamilton College, and from various TV shows and anime. I had believed that sports circles would be very strict, and that participating in practices and other events would be mandatory. This assumption stemmed essentially from my applying an even stricter hierarchical relationship, and expectation to participate to my surprising strict Water Polo club in America. But when I started participating in my circle, I quickly realized how wrong my assumptions had been. While there certainly is a stricter hierarchy relating to senpai-kouhai status, there is very little pressure to go to practice or other events. When I was first searching for a club to join, I found Miconos’ website which stated that swimming was to be done at one’s own pace, and that members were expected to participate in the after. After is the act of members of the club going out to dinner after practice. Despite the website’s claims, I found that even amongst the members who went to practice the number of members who participated in the after was less than those who don’t.
Additionally, I discovered the swim at one’s own pace part turned out to be a bit of an understatement. The club is much less focused on swimming than I had thought a swimming club to be. Although I did not expect everybody to be swimming for the full two hour practices, I was still surprised by the lack of swimming going on in the swimming circle. Most members would do a lap or two every now or then, but the majority of the time in the pool was spent chatting with each other. Most members were part of a swimming club at their High School, so they are definitely able to swim much more than they do, but instead most of them eventually spend a good amount of time in the pool’s Jacuzzi rather than swimming laps. In my college’s Water Polo team, we bond over overcoming arduous training regiments together, but in this Miconos that is not the case. I had assumed that the circle would be an incredible tight knit group that spends most of their free time with each other like a high school club. But Miconos did not reach the level of camaraderie that I was hoping for in a sports circle.
Although Miconos was not at all what I was expecting it to be, it is certainly not a bad experience. Because there is a larger focus on talking than swimming, I am able to better work on my Japanese by conversing with my fellow club members. Considering that most of our conversations pertain to past sporting events in High School, I believe that most of the members I converse with still love swimming. Yet, because they are no longer competing in meets, they are able to simply swim because they want to. Additionally through the club, they are able to meet people with similar interests, thus although the club does not have the athletic camaraderie that I love about sport teams, the circle appears to consist of several groups of friends, usually split by grade. Right now, I straddle an awkward position of foreign exchange student where I am friendly with most of the people in the circle, and their friend groups, but I am still an outsider to each one of the groups.
Overall, I am incredibly happy with the circle that I am participating in. It has taught me a great deal about Japanese college social and sports culture. It’s always a fun time swimming, talking and eating dinner with the members. Although I may not be completely satisfied with my current situation, I have a whole other semester to better get to know, and become better friends with my fellow club members.
I believe the most important point in picking a CIP is finding one that deals with something you have a lot of experience with, and are passionate about. Whether that be a certain sport, musical instrument or even a niche interest. Commonly shared experiences are some of the easiest way to make connections with people, and as foreigners, we really don’t have many with Japanese students when it comes to everyday life. But one shared experience you are bound to have in your CIP is an interest in whatever the subject of said CIP is. Therefore, you will have a lot more to bond over, and talk about if you are more invested in the topic which your CIP covers. This can come from connecting over long arduous practices routines you suffered through while in high school, songs you know how to play, and teaching others how to play them, or a show that you and those in your CIP have watched and enjoyed separately. It will definitely be awkward in the beginning, especially if you are the only foreigner in your CIP. But if you can reach out and bridge the gap between you and the members of your CIP through these shared experiences, I’m sure you will have a great time.