Studying abroad for a year in Tokyo was all I imagined it to be. The history, the culture, the food, and the sights were certainly memorable. Studying at Waseda, an esteemed Japanese university, was also fantastic. But what remains most memorable for me was getting to join the Waseda University Ballroom Dance Team and in doing so, got to experience a world that most exchange/international students never get to see.
I do ballroom dance at GW and was looking forward to doing the same at Waseda. To my surprise, I found that the Ballroom Dance Club at Waseda was not usually open to foreign students and moreover, basically no one speaks any English. A fellow international student told me that I'd be better off joining some other club. Ignoring that, I managed to join and it was the best thing I ever did while studying abroad. As a student of Japanese at GW and a ballroom dancer, joining, making friends, practicing, taking lessons, and then eventually competing with the Waseda team was an extraordinarily difficult, but incredibly fulfilling experience as I forced myself into situations where I would have to discuss and understand highly technical dance concepts in Japanese 100% of the time. That, and the drastically different way Japanese students talk to each other proved challenging; language spoken in real life is completely different in a lot of ways to what we learn in the classroom. I learned Japanese culture as it is truly lived by college students while learning all about the Japanese ballroom dance world, alien in so many ways to the dance world I inhabit in America. And in so doing, I made some real friends outside the "international student bubble" I'll never forget because I spent almost all my free time doing things with my club - training camps, competitions (managed to win a few!), parties, shrine visits, nights out, etc. Through all this, my dancing and my Japanese have improved immeasurably.
With the onset of COVID-19, live partner dance became impossible to continue, but despite that, the team still thrives! We do online practice sessions and online recruiting events, and having these things to work on and participate in (I had become a senpai so I have to help!) was a real balm for the extended periods of time alone indoors. I don't know where I'd be if it wasn't for my clubmates so I'll always be glad I made myself uncomfortable and butted my neck into a world that looked so intimidating from the outside.