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05/11/2016

Not so Lost in Translation at the Sophia University Club Fair

Sophia East Entrance

Making my way through the endless sea of students and dodging umbrellas like obstacles in an old arcade game was a casual part of finding clubs during Sophia University’s rainy Freshmen Week.

Various club members shouted words of encouragement, most of which I could not understand, to entice students to sign up. This brought back fond memories of my dog Yellow. My father tried his best to talk to Yellow. However, all Yellow could do was wag her tail in excitement and look back with her eternally friendly smile that almost every dog seems to share. I expressed interest in clubs by walking up to tables and nodding in ways that would make even the friendliest dog in a crowded park jealous.

The seemingly random placement of student organizations throughout the university’s Yotsuya campus makes finding the right club difficult, but the true challenge comes once a club catches your eye. While your eyes may glisten at the sight of brand new cultural ventures or your favorite athletic pastime, club members instantly see the reflection of passion in your eyes and attempt to catch you like fishermen reeling in a large fish with their last piece of bait.

As a journalism major with a love for crafting the smallest bit of informative, inspirational or helpful news into a story, I was naturally drawn toward the newspaper club. After walking around campus multiple times doing my best impression of Sherlock Holmes hot on the trail of a criminal, the club found me. I enthusiastically accepted the student’s greeting and the conversation quickly sped down a dark tunnel that I knew would never see the light. The paper was understandably, and unsurprisingly, only written in Japanese.

Deciding to search for experiences I can’t find back home at George Washington University, I met a few friends from the CIEE program and soon found I was not the only one overwhelmed by the large number of diverse clubs and large crowds. There were signs for clubs, except from my perspective the signs could have been written in some alien “Star Wars” language and still maintained the same ambiguous meanings. Thankfully many of the CIEE students have a good grasp on Japanese, although they’ll never tell you that, and made club hunting easier.

The weather worked against me as I realized I still hadn’t found a few of the clubs. Fortunately being a tourist came in handy as I rode the wave of students darting from the campus main road to a discreetly positioned side entrance between buildings. Seeking refuge from the rain and eagerly anticipating the discovery of more clubs, we entered the building and found student organizations occupying entire classrooms. The first classroom had no signs. Lively sounds and large groups of people within piqued our interest. What club could this be? Eyes from across the room turned to us one by one in rapid succession like a chain reaction of dominos as we stepped inside. Lively chatter erupted into enormous cheers. It didn’t take me long to realize we had made a mistake. Snickering to ourselves we left the room before a conversation could develop. The recognition was nice, but we weren’t going to join the American Football team.

If the club fair were a game of baseball I’d say I enthusiastically ran up to the plate, missed swinging at a pitch or two, fouled off at least five balls and ended my at bat with a line drive into the outfield gap that could potentially extend from a double into a triple. Playing baseball for most of my life means I never got to try racket sports. Signing up for the badminton club was an easy decision and I may even go to a few tennis practices if I’m feeling up to the harsh criticism and critiques that come with being a beginner.

Knowing I had at least one club to try meant my day was a success. Despite accomplishing my goal, the best part of my day was something else entirely. A vaguely familiar voice called out to me near the outdoor dining area. I figured it was one of the CIEE students since I’m not nearly social enough to befriend other students on day zero at school. The fact that the person said Timmy and not Tim also confused me because I usually go by Tim outside of my hometown. A tap on my shoulder ended the mystery. An old friend stood mere feet from me. For the first time I understood the term speechless and could only muster a, “wow I can’t believe you’re here.” We hadn’t seen each other since my sophomore year of high school. I hate to sound cliché, but really what are the odds? Maybe I should have entered to win the Powerball jackpot a few months back.

Club Fair picnic site

Two of my friends were nice enough to join me for the badminton club meet and greet. Different kids united by shared interests at the same university made the beginning comparable to a middle school icebreaker. We took off our shoes and sat on blue tarps underneath the row of cherry blossoms overlooking the campus fields. Three club veterans sat down and graciously offered us a colorfully diverse range of snacks and drinks. Fears of language barriers were quickly demolished. Despite being Japanese locals, two of the members spoke English fairly well.

Tales were told, smiles were shared and friendships were formed. Although we had yet to practice, we already made plans to have dinner the following week. There were a handful of times when I had to rephrase sentences so that they could understand, but less phrases will be lost in translation as our Japanese develops and we spend more time teaching our new friends English words and expressions.

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