I’m a couple of weeks into the spring semester at Waseda now, and getting back into the swing of classes, clubs, and other activities. The exchange student experience is a very transient one, as people in the dormitories and classes change every semester, but this has been even bigger than that. You see, in Japan the school year begins in the spring, not autumn. As such, several of my friends from last semester graduated and the clubs I’m in have been actively recruiting new freshman. I joined in the efforts (especially because the other clubs largely ignored me because I was a foreigner) and have had fun helping students to have a fun extra-curricular side of their college life.
Do you remember WIF? That’s the club where I danced soran-bushi at the school festival last fall. For some reason beyond my comprehension the leadership of the club asked me to teach that dance to incoming students this semester. It’s a very popular dance with a lot of people coming to practice, but somehow last week at one of our trial lessons the only students who came were Japanese. There I was, the white guy, teaching the Japanese dance to Japanese people in Japanese. That was definitely an experience I never thought I’d have, but they understood it well. I guess that’s a pretty good sign that my language skills are improving.
In addition, I’ve been interpreting things for some of the new exchange students when necessary, since a lot of them came here with no prior language study, and helping them to get involved in fun things on campus. As I mentioned earlier, many clubs are leery about recruiting foreigners, and the primary reason for that is the language barrier. Honestly, if I wanted to and had more time I could’ve joined some of the clubs that interested me had I taken the initiative to talk with them. Many of the new exchange students aren’t able to overcome that barrier though, so it’s been good for me to lead them to the internationally focused clubs with more bilingual members. It’s really helped me to feel like a senpai, or upperclassman. Transitioning into a new and foreign environment is much easier when you have someone who can help you along the way and show you the ropes.
Pictures from Okuma park (on Waseda University main campus) and a friends balcony near Tokyo Tower.