Former Scholars' Experiences
All former MEXT Scholars on this page are part of JSAA Q/A (Japanese Scholarship Alumni Association Quebec/Atlantic), an association bringing together former recipients of Government of Japan scholarships, including MEXT Scholarships, Japan Foundation Fellowships, etc.
JSAA Q/A seeks to foster intercultural education experiences and contribute to the development of stronger ties between Japan and Quebec and the Atlantic Provinces. Concretely, members collaborate with the Consulate in the promotion of exchange opportunities, inform and guide potential applicants, mentor new recipients, and actively participate in activities and events in their local communities.
To contact JSAA Q/A members, visit their Facebook group or email them at email@example.com.
“Research Student” MEXT Scholarship Recipient
- Stay in Japan: April 2015 to March 2018
- Niigata University
- Major: Politics and International Relations
- Research Topic: “Japanese political discourse on the Senkaku Islands Conflict”
Introduction My name is Benoit Champagne and I am in charge of international sales for the Urakasumi Sake Brewery, located in Miyagi Prefecture. My Japanese experience began relatively early, during my Cegep years, as I was already practicing my hiragana out of sheer curiosity. Later on, studying the Japanese language during my year at Nagoya University as an exchange student, while not mandatory, proved very useful as I went on to complete a Master’s degree at the University of Niigata thanks to a MEXT Scholarship. Learning in an environment from which French and English are almost completely absent has allowed me to develop a higher level of Japanese proficiency and delve into more specialized research within my field, to enjoy a deeper cultural immersion, and most importantly, to broaden my horizons and discover something entirely new that became a passion: sake.
What the MEXT Scholarship Program has granted me If there is one thing for which I feel most privileged, it is that I was able to participate in the wonderful initiative that is the MEXT Scholarship Program for research students. Receiving the scholarship proved to be an extremely beneficial experience, as I completed my graduate studies with no financial worries and concurrently acquired a third language of communication. Having graduated from a Japanese university also contributed immensely to my résumé internationally. Furthermore, I was able to find employment in Japan in a matter of days, as opposed to Japanese students for whom the process regularly takes around a full year. This added value to my résumé also allowed me, in less than a year of working for the Urakasumi Sake Brewery, to be put in charge of its exportations to 26 countries. I highly doubt that I would have been able to accomplish this much in so little time had I graduated from a Canadian university.
Niigata University Most university teachers in Japan speak English, thus facilitating initial interactions. The university’s reputation and location can be determining factors in your choice of placement, but the concordance between your research project and your supervisor’s specialization remains the most important point of consideration. One should therefore not hesitate to search professor databases, initiate contact, read their publications, etc. With a clear and precise study plan that presents placement choice explanations and justifications in your application file, your chances will improve dramatically. And so, my best advice: start planning early!!!
While most future scholars choose major universities such as Tokyo or Waseda, only Niigata University appeared on my MEXT Scholarship application. Why Niigata? I have been asked that questions many times. First of all, its location removed from urban centers allowed for a more complete immersion into an environment where using English often proves impossible. As a result, one acquires a higher level of Japanese proficiency, and the experience and understanding of local cultures gain new depth. Also, the cost of living being far lower than that of more urban areas meant that half of my monthly allocation was sufficient to cover rent, food and utilities, and the balance could simply be invested in my research or in my social life. Student jobs, no longer a necessity, became instead learning opportunities. Moreover, Niigata is a major prefecture in terms of rice cultivation, sake brewing, and ski, and being located a mere 1hr45 from Tokyo makes it a strategic place to base one’s studies. In the end, choosing Niigata will have provided me with unequalled freedom in pursuing my research and brought me to discover fields outside of my specialization, thus enriching my research.
Post-MEXT After four years spent studying abroad, I now have a network extending across a variety of fields and more than 20 countries. My multiple cultural exchanges with Japanese and international students had a profound impact on my vision of the world and were at the core of my most fruitful introspections.
The MEXT Scholarship Program has above all been a springboard to launch my professional career. No study loans, a stable and well-remunerated job immediately after graduation, an immersion in one of Japan’s most treasured traditions (sake!), and the opportunity, as the brewery’s international exports representative, to travel across the world and reconnect with those dear friends from my university days. Europe, Australia, Asia, etc.: many would be surprised to learn how far sake has spread. I owe these professional advantages mainly to the opportunity given to me by the Government of Japan.
Conclusion Participating in the MEXT Scholarship Program opens up a world of surprises. I have yet to meet a scholar whose plans for the future have not drastically changed for the better due to their time in Japan. Cultural exchanges, deepening one’s knowledge, obtaining your degree, professional experiences, making friends, or even finding love; each and every one of my peers has seen their lives enriched by the experience. To all potential participants, I highly recommend that you join the MEXT Scholarship family, and who knows, maybe we will meet to raise a glass of delicious sake and shout “Kampai!”
“College of Technology Student” and “Research Student” MEXT Scholarship Recipient
- Stay in Japan: April 2006 to March 2012
- Miyakonojo National College of Technology / Kobe University
- Degrees: Associate of Engineering (Bioengineering) and B. Sc. in Biology
How I went to Japan As pretty much every Brazilian kid, watching anime and tokusatsu on TV was part of my childhood. Over the years, I became more and more interested by Japanese culture and language, but it was not until my undergrad that I learned it would be possible to live and study in this fascinating country. By pure chance, a friend, now my husband, told me he had seen a poster in the Languages Department (we both studied in the Biology Department) about the MEXT Scholarship Program, but the information session had just passed. So, we contacted the Japanese Consulate directly and hastily gathered the documents to apply. Back then, I had no idea that this was about to change my life.
I applied for the College of Technology Student Scholarship, which offers an undergraduate degree in the field of engineering. After taking the excruciatingly difficult mathematics and chemistry exams, I was sure I wouldn’t be selected, but I was wrong. Five months after the exam, I received a call from the Consulate telling me I had been awarded the scholarship! I departed for Japan in April 2006, lived there for 6 years and left the country an entirely changed person.
Arrival in Japan and Japanese School My arrival in Japan was very smooth. Everything was arranged by the MEXT Scholarship Program, including the flight and transportation from Narita Airport to the Komaba Dormitory, where I lived for the next year. Shortly after my arrival, the Japanese course provided by the program began. The course was quite fast-paced, with 6 hours of class per day, every weekday. I found this to be very exciting and motivating, and looked forward to the new things I would learn every day. By the end of the year, I could clearly see the payoff of all this effort: I obtained the Japanese Language Proficiency Test N2 certification and felt able to have normal conversations in my daily life.
Aside from school, life in Tokyo was very exciting. The dormitory, as a whole, had a very active social schedule. There were cultural fairs, short trips to surrounding touristic spots (Mount Fuji and Nikko, among others) and movie nights, to name a few. The people living there were also very strongly united and there was a feeling of family, which provided me with great support in this foreign land.
Here are my 2 cents of wisdom to new MEXT scholars: dedicate your initial time in Japan (usually 6 months for research students or 1 year for undergraduates) to learning the language and absorbing the culture. I am sure you will feel anxious about getting your research or studies moving as soon as possible, but this can wait. Acquiring language skills and developing a social and cultural circle will surely make your work advance much faster in the long run!
The start of my main course: from the metropolis to the inaka After the one-year Japanese language course in Tokyo was finished, I joined the Miyakonojo National College of Technology, in Miyazaki Prefecture. I must admit that moving from the biggest metropolis in the world to a city of just over 160,000 people was a huge shock. My “Tokyo family of friends” was torn apart as each one joined their own colleges, and I had lost my safe bubble of international students.
But this was when the investment to learn Japanese paid off. I proactively joined activity clubs and sought to interact with classmates as much as possible. In no time, I started to feel integrated and to enjoy life in Miyakonojo. My favorite activity was the Tea Ceremony Club, which allowed me to learn about local culture and history while developing ties with the community. I also had a “homestay family”, who took me on touristic excursions and often invited me for dinner, in exchange for me helping them with their computer! All of these soon made me feel right at home in Miyakonojo, and I started to love the slower-paced life style and enjoyed being treated not as a foreigner, but as an integrated member of society.
Back to the big city: from Miyakonojo to Kobe In 2010, I finished my college degree and obtained an extension of my MEXT Scholarship to continue my undergraduate studies. I thus transferred to the Science Department of Kobe University to pursue a B. Sc. in Biology. I invested all my efforts in advancing my scientific career. I joined a laboratory in my field of interest (Neuroscience) as a volunteer shortly after entering the university. I also made many friends there, with whom I still keep in contact. Overall, this was a period when I experienced growth and increased independence as a young adult.
After graduation: where did the MEXT Scholarship take me? In 2012, I received my B. Sc. degree, which marked the end of my MEXT Scholarship. While the possibility of obtaining a post-graduate level scholarship existed, I wanted to have the chance to experience living in a new country to continue my studies. This led me to choose to pursue a Ph. D. degree in Neuroscience at McGill University. I do greatly miss the life I had in Japan, so I try to be as engaged with the local Japanese community as I can. Thanks to the Consulate General of Japan in Montreal, I have been able to interact with many former MEXT scholars. I have also recently become part of the newly formed Japanese Scholarship Alumni Association Quebec/Atlantic (JSAA Q/A) Executive Committee, which allows me to organize fun activities, meet new people, and keep in touch with Japanese culture by participating in events with the local community.
While some time has passed since I left Japan, the wealth of experience I acquired in the 6-year period I lived there is a special gift I will forever carry with me. In Japan, I learned how to be a gentle person and to take the needs of others into consideration. I also learned to act as a member of society and to think about the greater good. I will be forever grateful to the MEXT Scholarship Program for providing me with the opportunity to live abroad and grow as a human being. By sharing my experience here, I hope to inspire young and brilliant people to take that courageous leap into the wonderful adventure of being a MEXT scholar.
“Research Student” MEXT Scholarship Recipient
- Stay in Japan: April 2006 to April 2008
- The University of Tokyo
- Major: Philosophy
- Research Topic: “Japan and the Utopian Impulse”
My personal path to becoming a researcher in Japan began as an undergraduate in Nova Scotia, as I nurtured twin academic interests in philosophy and Japanese history. I was able to convince an administrator in the registrar’s office to permit an introductory course in Japanese to count for my degree’s language requirement (at the time, only European languages satisfied the requirement), and those studies further fueled my interest in Japanese culture. When I graduated, I immediately left to participate in the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme for one year, teaching in Chiba Prefecture, before returning to Canada to pursue graduate studies in philosophy.
Soon after, I found a subject that fused both of my seemingly disparate interests of philosophy and Japanese studies, and I applied to MEXT to conduct research on the intellectual milieu of the Edo era at the University of Tokyo. I had informally visited the campus during my JET tenure, and so had the benefit of having met my future supervisor in person prior to applying. Due to the fact that many of the core texts were not widely known or available in Anglo-American libraries, the best – arguably the only – place to do proper research on my topic was in Japan itself: a fact which surely helped the success of my application.
Once there, a dedicated group of native Japanese graduate philosophy students volunteered to help me translate key texts from classical Japanese and, to ensure I understood their theoretical implications correctly, provided me with the requisite cultural context. Although they had little to gain from their efforts outside of my gratitude and further knowledge of the subject, they devoted themselves wholeheartedly to the task and enthusiastically contributed to my weekly seminars. Their kind assistance allowed me to make significant progress on my research project. This level of generosity from one’s peers was often reported to me by my fellow foreign researchers in their departments, as well.
Looking back, I can say with confidence that my experience as a MEXT scholar was nothing short of life-changing. I am extremely grateful to have been awarded an excellent opportunity to pursue my chosen line of research with the full support of my supervisor, my host institution, and the Government of Japan. During my time at the University of Tokyo, I had the opportunity to publish a monograph and several articles, and had career options opened to me that I had not previously considered. Perhaps most importantly of all, I established warm friendships with many other scholars which persist to this day. I would highly recommend the experience to anyone who has the aptitude and ambition to benefit from it.
In terms of concrete advice for prospective and imminent MEXT Scholarship recipients, I offer the following:
- Know what you want from the program. Do you hope to convert your scholarship into a full-time MA or PhD studentship at your host institution, or are you content with completing a short-term research project and then returning home? You should have a clear vision of your academic goals from the very beginning, and become knowledgeable about the relevant bureaucratic processes required to make them happen, because some of these are lengthy, complex, and challenging.
- Make sure that you and your supervisor are always on the same page. Perhaps the most challenging aspect of the scholarship experience is to ensure that your expectations and those of your host department are continuously aligned. Communicate early, communicate often. Smile. Compromise. Offer suggestions to fix things that aren’t working for either party. Resolve ambiguities. If you don’t take proactive measures, a micro-culture of entropy could easily set in, and your project may flounder as a direct result.
- Don’t lose focus. There are a panoply of diversions which will tug on your sleeves from time to time, in addition to likely culture shock and general readjustment to your new role. Accordingly, you might be tempted to let your research take a back seat to your new life in Japan. Don’t! Remember that you are essentially ‘on the job’ for the duration of your scholarship, and that when your research contract terminates, you will be expected, by your peers or prospective employers, to have something to show for it.
- Finally: Enjoy yourself!
If you’ve read this far, you are probably sufficiently motivated to apply for a MEXT Scholarship. If selected, you will be, almost certainly, in for the time of your life!
“Research Student” MEXT Scholarship Recipient
- Stay in Japan: April 2002 to March 2006 (study), April 2006 to February 2012 (Work)
- The University of Tokyo Graduate School of Engineering Department of Architecture
- Major: Ph.D. in Architecture
- Research Topic: The Growth and Change of Post-War Hospital Architecture in Japan
Introduction My name is Henry Tsang and I am a registered architect in Quebec and a professor of architecture at Herzing College and Keimyung University. In 2000, as a student at McGill University’s School of Architecture, I was fascinated by Japanese architecture and design. I spent countless hours at the Blackader-Lauterman Library reading the “Shinkenchiku” architecture magazines, and took Japanese language classes at the School of Continuing Studies. In 2002, after I completed my M.Arch degree, I was determined to go to Japan and applied for the Monbukagakusho Scholarship as a Research Student. I was admitted at The University of Tokyo Graduate School of Engineering Department of Architecture and researched about “healthcare facilities’ planning” under the supervision of Prof. Yasushi Nagasawa.
The Dormitory In Tokyo, I lived at the Soshigaya International House, a dormitory housing 300 international MEXT scholars attending different universities in the city. It was located in the Setagaya area, a pleasant residential neighbourhood at a reasonable rent ($400/month). Though the room was small, fitting only the essentials and most facilities were shared, it was a great place to meet fascinating people from around the world.
The University As a research student, I spent the first semester studying Japanese language at the International Center at the University of Tokyo. The architecture department was located in the Engineering Building no.1 at the Hongo Campus. There, every student was assigned a work cubicle, and that is where I spent most of my days doing my research. Most activities revolved around the “kenkyushitsu” (laboratory), such as weekly seminars, discussions, field trips, sports activities, “hanami” (cherry blossom picnics), “nomikai” (drinking parties with colleagues), etc. As a newbie, I was assigned a Japanese tutor, Ruka Kosuge, who showed me the ins and outs of the school and also helped me get used to life in Japan. I studied with world-class professors including Chiba Manabu, Hidetoshi Ohno and not to mention Pritzker Award winner Tadao Ando. In 2006, I completed my dissertation and started the long and exhausting process of “shushokukatsudo” (job hunting) to find employment to remain in Japan.
Working in Japan As a student, I worked as an intern to gain experience in Japanese companies, and I was very fortunate to be placed in reputable firms including Nikken Sekkei, AXS Satow, and the Environment Design Institute (EDI). After graduation, I landed a full-time position at Nihon Sekkei Inc., a large and prominent architecture and construction firm located in bustling Shinjuku. Given my proficiency in foreign languages, I was assigned in the international projects division and had the chance to work on projects in China, Honduras, Nicaragua, UAE, Vietnam and Indonesia. Following the Tohoku earthquake in 2011, I also contributed to reconstruction projects in the prefectures of Miyagi and Iwate.
After MEXT I returned to Canada in 2012 to start my own practice as an architect and educator. The MEXT scholarship had bridged me between Canada and Japan, and still shapes my career today. Since 2015, I have been acting as the Vice-President of the Canadian MEXT Scholars’ Alumni Association to build the network of bright Canadian scholars who studied in Japan. In parallel, I established the University of Tokyo Alumni Association of Canada. Further, I was appointed by the Embassy of Japan to represent Canada as the National Leader at the 2017 Next Generation Global Leaders Program - Ship for World Youth Leaders hosted by the Cabinet Office of the Government of Japan and supported by the United Nations.
Conclusion The MEXT scholarship opened up doors to a whole new world to me. The opportunity to study at one of the most prestigious universities in the world in one of the most dynamic cities on the planet provided me an experience like no other. During my ten years spent in Japan, I submerged myself in a new culture, learned a new language, crossed new borders and broke out of my comfort zone, becoming a stronger, wiser and more cosmopolitan global citizen. If you are a bright young scholar looking for a life-changing worldwide adventure, this scholarship will give you that and much more.
“Japanese Studies Student” MEXT Scholarship Recipient
- Stay in Japan: October 2000 to September 2001
- Tokyo Gakugei University
- Japan Study Program
I fell in love with Japan intuitively, without any particular reason. I just knew one day, very strongly and without the slightest hesitation, that Japan was the country I wanted to explore, and that Japanese was the language I wanted to learn. How very strange it sounded to my parents and friends at that time! This is when my long journey of discovering this absolutely amazing and unique country and culture started, and not only has it never disappointed me, it has become my passion, my hobby, and eventually my profession. My interest has only grown stronger and stronger with the years, and I keep getting inspired by the thought that there are still so many things to learn and discover.
When I was a fourth year student at the Faculty of Oriental Languages, majoring in Japan studies and Japanese language, I was fortunate enough to become one of those few students to receive a scholarship from the Ministry of Education of Japan (MEXT) to do my studies under the Japan Study Program at Tokyo Gakugei University in Japan. Of course, to be granted this scholarship, I had to pass a difficult Japanese language exam, which required years of preparation and persistence, but those were fascinating years of studying and eventually all my hard work paid off tremendously, since my study in Japan turned out to be an unforgettable experience that completely changed my life, as well as my perception of people and of cultures.
It was indeed more than just a scholarship. This study program let me become part of Japan and provided me with a rare opportunity to get fully immersed in Japanese culture and in a Japanese language environment by studying, by participating in various activities and by travelling to different parts of the country. The study program was organized in the best possible way, with a great selection of courses that were not limited to the Japanese language, but included a variety of subjects such as economy, education, literature, etc. I attended them with other Japanese students with no allowances made for me as a non-native speaker, which was challenging, but so rewarding in the end. I was blessed with wonderful professors and teachers.
The uniqueness of the MEXT scholarship program is that along with my studies, I had the resources to be able to take part in various afterschool activities at my university, or “bukatsu”. There are so many of them, such as sports, martial arts, languages, reading etc. Becoming a member of any bukatsu is a great way to meet many new people, to practice the language, and to eventually learn more about Japan than what would be possible by just reading textbooks.
During my time spent in Japan, I met many students from literally all over the world. It is such a great experience to discover new cultures, learn about life in other countries, and realize how different and similar we all are at the same time. Japanese was our common language of communication, the language that we used in our everyday life, during classes, while speaking about our own countries and during all kinds of events. I cannot imagine any better immersion to achieve real language proficiency, and I strongly believe that my learning such a difficult language would not have been successful without this precious time spent in Japan as a student.
Presently, I am very glad to be connected to the MEXT program by participating in various activities organized by the Consulate General of Japan in Montreal such as international student fairs, information sessions for students who wish to learn Japanese or do their research in different academic fields in Japan, pre-departure sessions for those lucky scholars who have been selected for participation in the MEXT program etc. Together with other MEXT Alumni, we are very happy to share our experience, to exchange information, and to give advice to students who are interested in MEXT scholarships, and we do hope that the number of friends of the beautiful Land of the Rising Sun will continue to increase in Canada.
“Japanese Studies Student” MEXT Scholarship Recipient
- Stay in Japan: October 2013 to September 2014
- Hiroshima University
In 2009, I left for Japan to complete a one-year immersion program with the support of AFS Interculture Canada. At departure, I knew next to nothing about Japan, and did not speak the language at all. However, I knew that I wanted to discover a new culture, and Japan appeared to be a great destination. Obviously, I quickly fell in love with that country. Upon returning, I therefore continued my studies of Japanese language and culture in university, and it is with great enthusiasm that I returned to Japan to study with the support of the “Japanese Studies Student” Scholarship offered by the Ministry of Education (MEXT).
What struck me the most during my experience, as a MEXT exchange student at Hiroshima University, was the amount of mentoring, support and generosity that I benefitted from throughout my year. In almost all aspects of my stay in Japan, be it finding an apartment, picking classes or simply meeting people, an array of services was offered by the university, which made my adaptation easier, and prevented me from ever feeling lost or alone in my experience.
One of the great things that the MEXT programs offer is a unique and enriching academic experience. Under the supervision of a Hiroshima University professor, I was given the opportunity to write a research paper in Japanese as a project spread over the duration of my stay, and to attend several intensive classes given in Japanese. Not only did my Japanese proficiency level increase drastically, but I also gained research and writing skills that still remain useful to this day, as I complete a master’s degree in East Asian Studies at McGill University.
On the other hand, the MEXT experience does not stop at the level of classes and research. Through numerous opportunities to meet and interact with Japanese students, and thanks to the various extracurricular activities provided by the university, MEXT scholars have the opportunity to discover Japanese culture and society directly, which would obviously be impossible outside of Japan. Furthermore, the generosity of MEXT Scholarships allows scholars to take full advantage of all the opportunities provided by an exchange in Japan, without having to worry about the financial aspect.
Now that I am back in Canada, I cannot help but miss Japan, its people, the life I led there, the food… While I will always feel a bit nostalgic, the various activities arranged by the Consulate General of Japan in Montreal allow me to maintain my connection with Japan, to be in contact with former and new MEXT scholars, and to contribute to the effort to share with others everything that MEXT programs can provide.
“Japanese Studies Student” MEXT Scholarship Recipient
- Stay in Japan: October 2004 to September 2005
- Hiroshima University
- Major: Japanese Language and Culture
- Research Topic: An Overview of Modern Hiroshima Dialect
“Research Student” MEXT Scholarship Recipient
- Stay in Japan: April 2007 to March 2010
- Meiji University
- Major: Digital Contents
- Research Topic: A Structural Approach to Kanji Study in a Digital Environment
During a visit at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre of Montreal, as a teenager, I met exceptional teachers who helped me discover their country and their language, and whose kindness and creative drive left a strong impression on me.
It was not until years later, thanks to professors I met during my studies at Université de Montréal, that I had the opportunity to study in Japan for the first time, to learn about the Scholarships offered by the Ministry of Education in Japan (MEXT), and to eventually get in touch with the professor who would become my research director.
For me, the motivating factor to study in Japan in 2007 was first and foremost the particularities of subtitling in Japan, due to the linguistic and technical constraints that have influenced its development through the history of cinema and television. Needless to say, it would have been impossible to pursue that kind of research in a Canadian university; studying in Japan gave me the opportunity to transfer to a multidisciplinary research programme that had just been created at Meiji University the following year, allowing me to graduate with a Master’s degree in Digital Contents.
I believe the Government of Japan Scholarship programme is among the most generous and exciting in the world. It is possible to study anywhere in the country, the research possibilities are practically limitless, and after a university has been selected, all the necessary tools to succeed are offered: language courses, access to specialized laboratories, and funding to take part in conferences.
Moreover, compared to other initiatives, the study and research programmes are very advantageous for scholars, as they allow them to surround themselves with young (and young at heart) adults who have, for the most part, decided to pursue graduate studies by their own volition and are thus quite eager to learn, and bring a lot to their field of study. With tuition and cost of living expenses covered by the scholarship, MEXT Scholars are able to dedicate themselves to their studies and to experiencing student life in Japan.
Learning Japanese allowed me to peer into the ideas, the cultural references, and the ways of thinking that shape, in one way or another, the Japanese spirit, and I am proud to say that it changed my way of seeing the world. While it is now possible to study in English in Japan through some international programmes, I would strongly recommend taking the time to complete a few levels of Japanese classes before leaving, as your knowledge of the language and your understanding of the local customs will greatly influence the level of accomplishment you will attain and the degree of satisfaction you will draw from your experience.
When you return to Canada, you will most likely experience a second culture shock. Chances are you will miss the level of convenience, the punctuality, the aesthetic, the appreciation for work well done, the feeling of belonging, the kindness of people, etc., to which Japan accustomed you. For many, the transition from a collaborative academic environment to a professional career where you have to find your bearings all over again could feel unsettling. And that is a good thing in the end, as it will motivate you to keep your connections to Japan and to your studies alive, by actively incorporating these links into your personal and your professional life.
The activities organized by the Consulate General of Japan in Montreal and the receptions bringing together former and new MEXT Scholars are a great opportunity to strengthen my links to Japan and grant a second life to my experience studying in Japan. My participation to the “Study and Go Abroad Fair” and to Information Sessions allowed me to reach a new generation of students and to promote my experience in a spirit of camaraderie and mutual assistance between senpai and kōhai.
“Research Student” MEXT Scholarship Recipient
- Stay in Japan: April 2013 to March 2016
- Kyoto Prefectural University
- Major: Japanese Modern History
- Research Topic: Christian Girls’ Schools in Pacific War-Era Japan
So, you’ve been accepted as a MEXT scholarship student and have chosen a university. While e-mailing your professor to research more deeply into your program, university life, and what to expect, you find out your university doesn’t have an international program, let alone an international dorm or exchange program.
I fell in love with Japan in high school and studied for two years at Kumamoto Gakuen University in Kumamoto city during university, but studying in Japan at the graduate level was a different experience altogether. If this is also the case for you, there are a few things you should be aware of regarding how your experience will differ to studying at a university with a support system specifically designed for exchange students.
First, you may be the only foreigner in your university. No (or few) foreigners means likely no Japanese language classes either (unless taken before you enter your official program). However, this also means that you will be completely immersed in the Japanese language, so you will have no choice but to improve! And you most certainly will. Your course work will likely take you longer than your Japanese counterparts, but you will benefit from every assignment, which will likely include reading and summarizing books and articles, seminar discussions, research, and presentations.
Second, being one of the only foreigners in your university, you may find it difficult to integrate yourself within the university community. Like me, your supervising professor and fellow seminar students will be a significant source of support for you during this time, so get to know them well! If your university offers workshops for foreign students to get to know Japanese students (such as Japanese cooking classes, traditional activities like making matcha, or day trips to famous sites), be sure to attend! This is a way to make friends with Japanese students, practice speaking Japanese, and learn about Japan’s culture, history, customs, food, and way of life.
Once you feel comfortable living in Japan and speaking Japanese, make the most of your school holidays! Travel is one of the best things about life in Japan. You can commute easily and reasonably around Japan by bus, train, subway, streetcar, airplane, and bullet train. Mapping apps on your smart phone and buying an IC card (a chargeable commute card that you scan when riding the subway, bus, etc. which eliminates the need to buy tickets) will make traveling even easier. Research the sight-seeing locations in the area you live such as temples, castles, markets, parks, rivers, and shopping streets. Japan is known for its beautiful scenery and history, so take advantage of your time in the country to see as much as you can. Save up to visit famous sights during Japan’s busiest but most beautiful seasons: see the sand dunes in Tottori or the greenery of Kyoto temples such as Sanzen-in in the summer, sakura (cherry blossoms) around temples or castles such as Himeji or Hikone in April, autumn leaves throughout the country in October, and see the beautiful winter scenery in snowy Hokkaido during the winter. After rent and food, the majority of my remaining monthly MEXT stipend went to traveling and I truly feel that it was one of the most rewarding parts of studying in beautiful Japan.
The main reason you will be in Japan is to study, however. If your topic requires research, make the most of your time there to gather information and documents in case you wish you use it for a master’s or PhD program in the future (if you finish your studies in Japan as a research student). Try not to get discouraged by difficult courses, culture shock or homesickness and just know that being accepted by MEXT is an amazing achievement, and a tremendous opportunity! Enjoy Japan, learn as much as you can, and represent the program well. Once you return home, you will be relieved to know that your connection with Japan can be kept strong by participating in MEXT orientation sessions and other cultural activities; share your experience and continue contributing to the MEXT program for future scholars!
“Research Student” MEXT Scholarship Recipient
- Stay in Japan: October 1999 to March 2001
- Tsukuba University / Ibaraki University
- Major: Physical Geography, Remote Sensing, Oceanography
- Research Topic: Coastal Dynamics as seen from Space
I am a late bloomer. I received my MEXT scholarship when I was 35 years old, but my first trip to Japan was in 1991 to attend a Remote Sensing Symposium organized by the Japanese Space Agency, JAXA. After the conference, I was able to find a family through a homestay program that hosted me for a week and we kept in contact ever since. I went back in 1995 on holidays after a 6-month contract in Indonesia.
My MEXT experience started with a small poster in the hallway at Université du Québec à Rimouski, where I was doing graduate studies in Oceanography: “Scholarship to Study in Japan”. It had been posted for a while, and I had a very short time to complete my application by the deadline. I was able to gather all my papers in a hurry, and found a professor specialized in Coastal Engineering at Ibaraki University who was interested in my research.
As a remote sensing specialist, I process satellite imagery to look at coastal behavior/dynamics over time by overlaying imagery from various periods. My area of interest had been the Nile delta in Egypt, where I looked at the behavior of the coast since the construction of the Aswan dam in 1964. I proposed to apply similar techniques on the Japanese Coastline behavior over time. Soon after, I was in a plane and the next day, in a classroom for a Nihongo proficiency test. With the 13-hour time difference, I soon fell asleep on my exam… and failed it. Nonetheless, I did notice a Filipina student also taking the test. We ended up in the same language class, and she would become my wife shortly after.
After my 6-month intensive language training in Tsukuba, I moved to the city of Hitachi to study Coastal Engineering at Ibaraki University. Unfortunately, my new girlfriend had to stay in Tsukuba for her own studies in teaching. That’s when the 3-hour journey between our 2 cities started on a weekly basis. I quickly bought a car, learned how to drive on the left side, and memorized the countryside road going through rice fields. We got married wearing kimono/montsuki in a Catholic chapel, and stayed in Kyoto for 2 weeks for our honeymoon trip. Our first child was born in Japan and was only 3 months old when we returned to Canada at the end of our stay.
My MEXT experience had an unexpected ending. Not only did I think that I would live in Japan forever and not return to Canada, I never expected to come back with a family. Getting married and having a child abroad means a lot of paperwork, and visas and passports requiring a lot of patience, but it was all worth it!
Coming back to Canada, I found a job at the Canadian Space Agency and I still arrange collaboration activities with JAXA. I also keep my Japanese interest alive by making chawan (tea bowls) in my humble pottery shop.
I find it important to keep connected with MEXT through the Consulate General of Japan in Montreal. I volunteered to be active in the Alumni Association and support promotional activities. It’s my way of showing appreciation and paying it forward.
My advice: Be open minded, and try to adapt as much as possible. It’s easy to conform and act as the local people, but trying to fit in a foreign milieu by staying yourself and being respectful is also well-regarded in Japan.