Friendly Circles

Rodney McGary | Machida, Japan | Spring 2015

A vitally important part of studying abroad in Japan (or anywhere really) is making friends, particularly with locals.  Since Obirin has been operating its Reconnaissance Japan Program for over 20 years now, they definitely know how to make international students feel welcome and integrated with the local student population. On the first day of orientation at Obirin, you’re placed in a cluster with other international students and you all get acquainted over a welcome lunch. Within your assigned cluster are a few “Global Supporters” who there to answer any questions you have about Obirin, Japan, or anything you want to know.

Students having an animated discussion while standing around a meeting table. Students learning another language from a fellow international student.

Based off my experience, most of them speak English reasonably well and are quite friendly. During the initial orientation phase of the semester, it’s possible that you’ll come in contact with persons representing one of the many school clubs (“circles” as they’re called at universities in Japan). In my opinion, there’s no better way to make friends at Obirin than by joining a circle because you’ll be surrounded by people who share the same interest and passions as you, whether you’re into dancing, martial arts, sports, anime and manga or other things, you’re certain to make some Japanese friends with whom you share common interests. In being apart of such circles you can become connected to on-campus social events, cultural events/activities, and even more friends (both on campus and off).

A white board welcoming students to a cultural exchange.
There are few circles at school that specialize in promoting intercultural friendships and learning. Early on, I was nabbed by such a group called 世界の友達 (Sekai no Tomodachi). I really like this circle because there’s a diverse crowd of people who can share their respective cultural practices and languages. Best of all, the primary language used within the group is Japanese! Another benefit of joining circles is the opportunities to hear natural Japanese amongst young people and using the Japanese you learn in class as well as picking up some more. If you’re serious about improving your Japanese, then joining a circle is definitely the way to go. At Obirin, there are similar circles to the one I’m in, such as Ichi-go Ichi-e and Global Supporters. Groups like these help to create friendships amongst members by: throwing various parties, hosting fun trips, doing  cultural events, and eating together during the week.

International and Japanese students posting for a photo at a restaurant dinner table.
All in all, I’d say it’s pretty easy making friends at Obirin, as there many active circles on campus and many Japanese students here are eager to have foreign friends. You’ll be embraced all the more if you can speak Japanese or at least make a decent effort to try.