The People I meet and The Person I'm Seeing in the Mirror
Shhh, it's a special relationship I have to the person in the mirror. We aren't ready to go public yet.
I realize I haven't been able to write about the clubs I've joined, so this is a little late in coming, but still totally relevant to things that have happened recently.
I joined two: Rakukku ("La Cook," the cooking club), and Wandervogel, a hiking club. Hardly any time commitment, very social, and great ways to learn about my area. I still can't believe I managed to get one club, let alone two.
They say joining clubs is the best way to meet other students, and to meet other Japanese people. It's true. I enjoy my host family, and have met plenty of people on my program, but being in these university circles offers me something I can't find anywhere else.
The hiking club has an event once a month, and so far I've only been able to attend one (I was sick for the second one), when we went to Gunma Prefecture right after Golden Week:
We left on Saturday morning from Ueno Station, and this is where I make my first mistake: it somehow doesn't occur to me to purchase my own lunch, so I am foodless until dinner time. One of the senpai offers me some food, though, so we become quick friends (more about that later...)
We spend the night in their cabin in the mountains, after a short and hardly difficult hike (that is, objectively. Subjectively, I need to work out.) The afternoon was a game of "find the stinkbug" and "is it dead yet?" We swept and vacuumed the whole cabin, our activities punctuated by shrieks of newly discovered bug bodies, and lit the wood-burning stove to warm up. Here's issue number two: something in me thought we would be staying in Ueno, as that was where we met, and camping somewhere there (though, it now occurs to me, where in Ueno would one expect to go camping?) All I had was a thin hoodie, and let me tell you, it gets cold in the mountains. You'd think I would know these things, coming from North Carolina, considering I was in Asheville less than a year ago, but nope, never crossed my mind. So we went outside to play touch football and kickball.
Back inside for card games and guitar songs. People were talking to me, though the two senpai who had lived for a few (or many) years in the States had to translate for us (thank you, Yu and Sarah.) It was starting to feel more like a camping experience, as I found I was able to speak more comfortably to people. I knew this club was going to work out well. Unfortunately, they only have events once a month, so I think I'll only be able to see them twice more. I'll have to work up the courage to suggest karaoke to someone.
We had dinner by the campfire, but no ghost stories (I bet they would've been pretty sick, too), and then walked into the woods to see the stars. During dinner, my new friend pulled me aside and told me I reminded him of his favorite comedian. Here's how that plays out:
"I'm going to teach you something. Say 'kimi.'"
"It means, 'you.' Now, say 'kawaii ne.'"
"Good. Now say it like this, 'kimi, kawaWEE ne!' and do fingers, too."
"Come on, do it!"
"'Kimi, kawaWEE ne!'"
"Good. Now go say it to the girls by the campfire."
It was quite the adventure. I honestly wouldn't have traded it for the world, and (warning: here we get touchy-feely-sentimental), all my fears of potentially being the only international student on the trip disappeared immediately (I was one of three, as it turned out.) I realized then that, as much as I promised myself I wouldn't, I'd been spending all my time with CIEE people. My friend who came to Sophia last year said she tried not to hang out with CIEE ppl too often, so she could get out and explore. I've done just the opposite, and I ended up doing what I promised I wouldn't. From this weekend on, I had the faith to become more of a presence in these clubs and talk to the people I was meeting. And everything changed.
It isn't a proper camping trip without a bonfire guitar. Adele was the favorite of the evening ("Maybe someday I'll find someone like you...")
So, being an international student:
I will always feel like I don't belong.
I live in a house that doesn't feel like home, with a family that doesn't feel like family. And I, as a result, feel like an intruder.
I'm in a country where I don't implicitly know how to behave or react, and without even doing anything, I stick out as a person who doesn't belong. I don't get treated poorly as a result. People are very welcoming, and often they're excited to meet someone who can speak English with them (so they can practice), or even just a foreigner who can tell them about another part of the world. My favorite is when I learn that someone in my club or family has been to the States, and to a place I recognize.
Fun fact: Sophia University has a study abroad program with the university in my hometown (UNC-CH in Chapel Hill, NC), and someone in the cooking club was there last year (I haven't met the person yet.)
I feel like I will always make gaijin mistakes, and I'm not satisfied playing the gaijin card. I've been here two months and have two more months, shouldn't I feel like a true resident by the time finals are over?
I feel like a tourist who is taking up someone else's space.
I feel like a freshman again (to be expected when it's your first semester here.)
I feel like I'll never find a consistent lifestyle, or least a lifestyle that feels stable and productive simultaneously.
I have no issue with exploring and experiencing. I feel I've done a lot, though I took as many pictures during the first month as I did during the next 6 weeks after that combined, so I should really brush the dust of my camera and take it for a go one of these days. However, it's gotten to the point where things are feeling stale. Walking around Harajuku isn't new and exciting for me anymore, so I need to find another district to explore. Buying daifuku by the armful doesn't feel like a coily guilty pleasure, it feels like spending money.
I think I'm just in a slump and need to shake things up.
At least I have my clubs to keep me away from my comfort zone, even if for only a few days a month.
So I say, when the going gets tough, dull, or not going, get yourself going someplace new, even if it means leaving your desk chair when you'd rather just watch Community.