As I have come to find out throughout my time in Tokyo, studying abroad is what you make of it. It could be a positive experience or a negative one, it all depends on how you choose to spend your time and engage with those around you. I have been here for a little over eight months now and today as I reflect on my time in Japan I can honestly say that I’ve immensely enjoyed my time here. More than a year ago today I applied to be a part of CIEE’s year long exchange program, and since then I have had the opportunity to dabbling in the various social spheres and activities available to 留学生 (ryuugakusei) at Sophia. My very first semester at Sophia, I spent most of my time exploring Japan with other CIEE students, studying Japanese, and adjusting to living in Japan; and though last semester was a blast and I wouldn’t change it for anything, I decided that I wanted to do something different this semester.
Instead of staying within my comfort zone and making new friends only among the foreign exchange student population at Sophia, I opted to pursue the full Japanese experience before returning to America. In other words I decided to make more of a concerted effort to befriend Japanese students and immerse myself in Japanese culture. And the best way I have determined to do that is to join a club or サークル. There are actually two ways to find out about the various clubs on campus. The first would be to check out the university’s webpage to get a sense of what clubs are in existence and to read about them in the descriptions provided (as can be seen in this link: https://www.sophia.ac.jp/eng/studentlife/support/EA ), and the second would be to go to Sophia’s Freshman Week.
If you are wondering what that is, its essentially just a giant club fair that is held sometime in the beginning of the semester to introduce first years and foreign exchange students to the clubs and organizations on campus. Even though this event was a bit overwhelming for me at times as returners from numerous clubs were all vying for my attention and trying to entice me to join their clubs, it was a fun activity to participate in as I got a chance to sample the activities of various clubs before finally settling on one that I wanted to commit to. Choosing a club was not an easy task for me as my options were quite expansive with over 100 clubs and organizations in areas ranging from sports, to video gaming, to the fine arts, cultural activities, social circles and more to choose from, but in the end I decided to join Sophia’s 茶道部 (Sadoubu) club (Japanese Tea Ceremony Club). I chose this particular club for because it fulfilled my goals for this semester, as I am able to make Japanese friends, immerse myself in Japanese culture by learning/ practicing the traditional art of Japanese tea ceremony, while simultaneously helping me improve and gain confidence in my Japanese speaking skills. Though we are already a month into the semester and I am busier than ever, I am honestly quite happy with my decision. So my advice to future applicants would be to join a club, yes it might be a little scary/ intimidating at first but in the end it’s worth it. I love being a part of my サークル and I hope to tell everyone more about it in the future!