What are your reasons for coming to study in Japan?

Li: All three of us have experience studying in Japan. I want us to talk about the reasons behind each of our decisions to come to Japan, our experiences during our studies in Japan, and what we have learned, so we can provide insight to others who are considering coming to Japan to study. Thank you for your time today.

Pete and Meng: It’s our pleasure.

Li: I came to study at a university in Japan after graduating from high school in China. My decision to go to a university overseas was based on my family’s policy. I chose Japan because I was interested in the differences between Japan and China despite the closeness of the two countries in terms of distance and culture. Another reason was that I lived in Japan as a child because of my father’s work so I was able to speak a little Japanese. Meng-san, you’re from China too, right? What brought you here to study?

Meng: Actually, after graduating from university in China I began working at the front desk of a hotel. But from the start I had a strong interest in media-related work, and as I continued to work at the hotel I began to feel a strong desire to pursue my studies even further. That’s when I decided to go to graduate school.

Pete: That was a real life-changing decision you made to go back to school after you started working.

Meng: Yes, it was. The reason I decided to study in Japan rather than China was because of my aunt. When I was little, my aunt was studying in Japan and every time she returned to China she brought back gifts with cute little characters and showed me her high-tech cameras that were made in Japan. Gradually, I developed a love and interest in Japan. Pete-san, what made you decide to study in Japan?

Pete: Thailand and Japan have a long history of friendship. Especially in economic terms, Thailand ranks second in Asia for direct investment from Japan, which makes Japan a very important economic partner for Thailand. Also, to Thailand, Japan represents the gateway to East Asia. I feel that studying in Japan is the shortest route toward becoming a professional capable of working anywhere in Asia in the future, and that’s why I chose to study in Japan. Like Meng-san, I enrolled at a graduate school in Japan after graduating from university in my own country.

Meng: Yes. In my case, I studied at a Japanese language school for a year and a half after coming to Japan. I then entered graduate school at Saitama University after passing the entrance exam. I chose Saitama University mainly because it was a national university and also because the tuition was not too high. I wanted to do as much as I could to reduce the burden on my parents. Luckily, my score on my entrance exam and my grades after entering graduate school were high enough to exempt me from paying tuition fees. I was able to study without any financial worries and I’m so grateful to Japan for this. Li-san, which university did you enroll at?

Li: I went to Waseda University. Since I was getting a chance to study in Japan, I wanted to go to a top-class university. I researched the curricula of several universities and I also visited the campuses to see what the atmosphere was like. I found out that the School of Education at Waseda University had a program in the field I was interested in so I enrolled. My major was Lifelong Education and my research focused on the theoretical study of Adult and Community Education, and Lifelong Learning. I gained so much knowledge about the process of lifelong learning.

Pete: I was doing research on public management at a graduate school at Waseda University. There are several graduate schools with programs in Public Policy but combining the public field with management was still new, and at the time I was thinking of studying abroad, graduate schools offering public management programs were few and far between. I believed I would be able to gain some valuable experience at this graduate school so I decided to apply. When I got in, I was able to take advantage of the government-sponsored foreign student scholarship program. I found out about this scholarship through the Japanese Embassy in Thailand. After applying, applicants have to take an exam and undergo an interview then the students who are selected are sent to Japan. Tuition fees and living expenses are major hurdles for foreign students and I’m very thankful to the Japanese government for the scholarship.

What are your thoughts after coming to study in Japan?

Li: Before coming to Japan, my biggest concern was the difference in language. I mentioned that I lived in Japan but at the time I was still a child and I lived in China for over ten years since then, so I was worried about whether or not I would be able to communicate. When I first started studying in Japan, I remember panicking when I couldn’t understand what the cashier at the convenience store was saying to me. That’s when I got a strong sense that I was in a foreign country.

Meng: I know exactly how you feel! I started studying Japanese after arriving in Japan. For the first week or so I was only able to go to fast food restaurants that had menus at the cashier counter.

Li: Well, I wanted to be more self-sufficient, so I decided to get a part-time job one month after arriving in Japan. I collected all the part-time job magazines I found around the city and called so many places saying, “Please let me work for you.” Because of my poor language skills I was turned down. One of my Chinese seniors offered to introduce me to a job, but it was at a place with a lot of Chinese workers. I knew that a workplace with only Japanese people would help me learn the language more quickly and help me get used to living in Japan, so I continued my search.

Pete: You’re so ambitious. Did you find a job?

Li: Yes. I was hired to work as a server at a Japanese-style pub where my coworkers were all Japanese. The manager was understanding and told me not to worry about my limited language skills. From that day on, I practiced the grammar and expressions I learned at school with my coworkers and customers. They would correct my mistakes and teach me the proper occasions to use certain expressions, and I learned as I practiced. I felt that my Japanese really improved because of this.

Pete: Aside from the difference in language, I also struggled with signing contracts and other applications that I needed for living life in Japan.

Meng: You’re right. Like when finding a place to live. Real estate rental contracts in Japan are rooted in a unique culture and can be hard to understand. And there are so many forms and documents that need to be submitted.

Pete: I consulted with an NPO whose members include people from Thailand living in Japan. Making use of these networks for foreigners can also make your life in Japan a lot easier.

What are your goals for the future and what kind of advice can you give to those considering studying in Japan?

Li: What are the two of you planning to do after you graduate?

Meng: After finishing graduate school, I’ll be working at a Japanese financial institution, so I’m currently studying to get finance-related certification. This job requires many different types of certifications so I’m planning to work hard at obtaining them.

Pete: I got an unofficial offer from an advertising firm in Japan. I’m currently learning all I can about the advertising business in order to be able to quickly prove myself as a productive employee.

Li: Like Meng-san, my goal is to obtain certification. I’ve passed most of the levels for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, so I want to try my hand at the Kanken test and the Japanese Language Teaching Competency Test required for teaching Japanese. I think The Official Business Skill Test in Book Keeping may also come in handy someday so I’m thinking of taking that as well.

Meng: Japan has strict rules and regulations pertaining to finance. I think China could learn a lot in this area from the Japanese system and I hope to gain as much knowledge as I can when I start working for the company. At the same time, I’d like to introduce China’s good points and work to contribute to the growth of both countries.

Pete: Like Meng-san, I want an international career. I’m interested in work related to stimulating local communities and society in general, and I hope to accumulate experience in public relations and ad campaigns while working at the advertising firm. My dream is to develop my skills in Japan and work in the public relations department of an international organization in the future.

Li: After going through the job-hunting process, my views about working has changed from the time I first came to study in Japan. I thought the ideal life would be to get into a prestigious university then go on to work for a prestigious company after I graduate. But now, after experiencing so many different things in Japan, I’ve come to realize that what’s important is not magnitude or power, but to take steady steps to put what you’re capable of doing into action. There are people in this world who need my experience and knowledge and these are the people I want to work for.

Li: Finally, what advice do you have for people who are thinking about coming to Japan to study? How should they prepare before coming?

Pete: If you’re planning to go to graduate school, I think you should decide on your research theme before coming and also find out about the way of thinking and methodology of the professor involved in your field of research. The research theme is an important element in determining which graduate school to choose, and knowing the research methodology in advance will provide you with motivation when you start your studies.

Meng: I also suggest that you decide on the graduate school of your choice early on. Japanese graduate schools have entrance exams which you’ll need to study for, so it would be best to decide in the early stages which university you want to take the exam for.

Li: I want to talk about what you’ll need in order to prepare for studying abroad. Foreign students come to Japan to study, but it’s important for you to be fully aware that you’ll be living in a foreign country. Some of you may not know anybody here. But even if you have nobody to rely on, you should be prepared to solve problems on your own. With this in mind, if you choose to study in Japan, you should learn about the Japanese culture before you arrive. Find out about the differences between your own country and Japan to see if these differences are things you could live with. I believe this will be the key to ensuring a meaningful experience as a foreign student. Living in an environment that’s unfamiliar to you is not always fun. But by overcoming these challenges, I believe that you’d have developed a level of sophistication that would be far greater compared to entering the workforce after graduating from a university or graduate school in your own country.

Thank you Li, Meng and Pete!