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A Guide to APU's Clubs and Organizations
So besides studying, what is there to do at APU?
With around 140 student circles in APU, and I’m pretty sure a couple more unofficial ones lying around somewhere, there is definitely no shortage of available activities. But hold up—what is a circle?
Alright, let’s take this slowly. First of all, there are a few cultural differences I should mention before I get in to the whole circle introduction.
What’s a Circle?
Most of us use the word 'club' instead—as in 'basketball club' or 'art club', and I am sure that we all have attended some kind of club activity before, in middle school or high school.
Why do they call clubs 'circles' in Japanese?
Even my Japanese friends tilted their heads in confusion when I asked them this question. The common answer is probably because a club brings up the image of people gathering in a circle, but also includes the cultural significance of group harmony. Coincidentally, the world for circle and harmony are pronounced the same in Japanese, 'wa'.
Interesting etymological tidbits aside, where I come from, clubs are relaxed. While there are some members who are quite serious about its activities, others are less committed and join for the sake of training, or for fun, or purely for social purposes.
In Japan on the other hand, clubs—sorry, circles—are a lot more… serious. Once you sign up for a circle, with a few exceptions, you are expected to commit to its activities. But as a result, you can do some pretty amazing things with the circle—for example, performing around Japan, traveling to other countries to help people, or even representing APU in various competitions. Believe it or not, when you look for a job in Japan, you may actually be asked quite a few questions about your circle activities in addition to what you're studying in university (I heard this from a few fourth year students).
The cost of being in a circle includes some participation money (usually chipping in for trips, parties, etc.) and most times, a lot of your free time. Here’s an interview I conducted with a core member of the yosshakoi dance circle, and I hope it will give you an idea of the amount of time you must be willing to commit.
Q: How many times do you usually practice a week?
A: Normally, we only practice for two hours, twice a week. But when we’re nearing an event, like right now, we practice every single day...for three or more hours, haha.
Q: Don’t you get tired?
A: Please send help. And coffee.
Q: Are there any members that don’t come?
A: Not really. Even members who don’t come regularly will come to all the practices when we are nearing an event.
Don’t let this discourage you—after all, to achieve great things, you have to sacrifice a little bit. You should be aware that many circles take this kind of commitment, something I was naively unaware of when I was in my first year.
One more thing before I continue—you can find a list of all the registered circles, along with their practice times, via the Student Activities Guide booklet that should be given to you during orientation week. If not, it is also available at the Student Office. However, I’d like to think that my short(ish) blog has a more personal touch to it.
Now, let’s break this down.
First, I’ll divide the circles into four categories—advocacy, performance, academic, and sports—and I’ll handpick a few within those categories, to highlight in this blog. The official booklet has only three categories where advocacy and academic circles are put together. But I think my way is a little easier to understand.
Bear in mind that everything I write here is anecdotal, so for a more balanced view on whether or not you should join a circle, all it really takes is to contact the circle, express interest, and then make the effort to go and observe some of their practices or meetings.
Basically, advocacy circles are the ones that go out in to the real world and do things. Habitat APU, one of the more famous circles at APU, travels to various countries building houses for the impoverished, in addition to educating others on campus about world poverty issues. I heard they went to the Philippines this summer.
There’s quite a few more, like PRENGO (focuses on poverty/educational issues in Thailand), STEP Forward APU (volunteers in Vietnam), Zero (educating themselves and others about issues in Africa)—but the gist of them are all quite similar: they try to raise awareness about certain social issues and travel to countries to do something about them. Should you wish to join these circles, you will of course get the opportunity to help those in need, but also, be prepared to brave the administrative work and logistics needed when organizing the trips.
Musy Tone, APU Wind Orchestra, Japanese Music Club, etc., are all part of the musical world of APU. Actually, if you happen to pass between on-campus convenience store and cafeteria around fourth period on Wednesday, you can hear music drifting out as members practice. If you would like to see them in action, you can catch them participating in some of the cultural weeks or in the on-campus festival, Tenkusai.
On the flipside, if you prefer moving your legs instead, one of APU’s premier organizations (circles that are recognized by APU after meeting certain criteria) might be the right fit for you. Yosshakoi (modern Japanese dance), Shinmyoung (traditional Korean percussion troupe), and Wadaiko Raku (traditional Japanese drumming), among other circles, perform traditional cultural arts and dances from other countries, regularly perform at school events, and even travel outside of APU to perform their craft.
This, of course, comes with a great deal of commitment. The short conversation that I mentioned above is enough to see that these circles have very stringent practice schedules, especially close to performances. If you would like to become a featured performer for a big event, you’ll be expected to go to every practice and rehearsal.
My personal feelings on this—only go for one of these circles if you’re serious about being involved.
These are circles that get together to study their chosen specialization on a deeper level, develop their language skills, or even think about their careers. Oftentimes, members will meet for weekly discussions, as well as prepare for events that the circle will hold.
Global Business Leaders (GBL), for example, is a circle that organizes business study activities. They regularly hold camps, business contests, and cooperate with professors to train and send out APU representatives to international business case competitions.
Another academic-related circle is Nihongo Motto, where you get to practice your Japanese even more than you already do in class. Sound redundant? Maybe not. Many students struggle with perfecting their Japanese because they only get to use it in short bursts throughout the day between classes. Nihongo Motto aims to remedy that by giving you a comfortable environment in which to practice your Japanese among friends.
Finally, there are also hobby-related academic circles, such as APU Paintbrush, that allows members to meet up and draw, and sometimes exhibit their drawings at local events.
I saved this for last because these kinds of circles are so, so popular that people would skip ahead to read only the sports bit and leave. Nah, you’re gonna read the rest of the blog as well, right? >:)
Sport circles, uh, play sports. Among the more well-known circles are—in no particular order—rugby, basketball, baseball, lacrosse, soccer (football for some of you), tennis, and karate, and there are also a host of other circles that I haven’t mentioned.
From personal experience, I know that the tennis circle practices for around five hours, twice a week, and its group chat continually buzzes with people meeting up to practice outside of those times. I can only imagine other sport circles are just as dedicated. One of APU's soccer circles, for example, plays three times a week, three hours per session, and sometimes even longer during the weekend practice.
Now that I’m done going over all the circles, there are a few final things to bear in mind. First, obviously, this is not a list of all the circles in APU. For more information, check out the Student Activities Guide booklet. Secondly, don't worry too much about the practice schedules until you try it out for yourself.
Finally, before deciding which one to join, take your time, visit them all. It is all right to try out a bunch of different circles before settling on the one that is the best fit. And who knows, you might be surprised to find out that you are interested in a circle that you didn't expect.
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