Why Japan?

Recently I was asked how I made the decision to study in Japan, how I could bear to leave my family, friends and loved ones behind and embark on the four year journey alone.

I didn’t exactly plan to go to Japan, it was always just a dream, an idea I toyed with but knew could never happen because of finances. There’s always the debate about if you should study overseas or stay in a local Singapore university and when the various universities came to my JC to promote themselves the idea of studying in another country was intriguing. My mom had considered sending me to Australia directly after my O levels but in the end we couldn’t afford it (the university scholarships would only cover 50% of tuition maximum).

So I always thought I would stay in Singapore. But dreams are still dreams and there was no harm going to listen to the talks that Waseda or Todai made in school, and after visiting the Waseda campus on a club trip to Japan in 2010, I was sold. The campus was beautiful, Japan was beautiful, and putting myself out of my comfort zone and having to be independent appealed to me.

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Of course, I love Japan and her culture (hey, I was the Japanese Cultural Club president for a reason), and if I were to stay in a country for 4 years, I have to love it, or homesickness would plague me. To be honest, I was never quite interested in the other regions of the world asides from Southeast and East Asia. While still a step out of my comfort zone, it wasn’t so radically different that I didn’t know how to deal with everything.

I found out about scholarships to Japan for Singaporeans via JUGAS, who sent an email to my school who then forwarded it to our cohort, and took the plunge and applied. After passing the interviews and settling paperwork with the school as well as my Visa (and taking the A levels), I was bound for Japan!

557350_10150649161314794_1115127300_nMy send off at the airport

At 18 (going 19), I came to Japan, just a month or two after my A level results. My school aimed to cultivate global minded citizens and by joining their School of International Studies I could learn a wide variety of subjects (which I have, from Financial Accounting, Marketing, International Relations Theory and International Politics to Traditional Japanese Culture and Documentary Films Studies). It thrilled me to be in a country and following the news that was taking place in that country itself. There was a lot to take in, and I felt like I wasn’t so sheltered like I always was in Singapore.

I never really experienced any big Culture Shock moments you frequently read about online when coming to Japan for the first time. Taking shoes off when entering the house? We do that back home. Japanese style toilets? Huh, you just squat what do you mean you don’t know how to? Getting stared at or being pointed out as a foreigner? Nope, doesn’t happen to me. They don’t speak English? It’s okay, I’m learning Japanese.

Having to fend for myself helped me become a lot more independent. I had to do things I usually just let my Mom handle like bills, insurance, cleaning, planning meals, schedules etc. Sure the forms may be confusing and Japan strangely backward but I took it as training for adulthood.

It was difficult being away from my loved ones. The first night in Japan I didn’t have the internet connected in my dorm room yet so I couldn’t do anything, and I cried myself to sleep realising the four walls around me were hollow, bare, and I was alone. The next day my dorm manager helped me connect to the net, I took a walk and found Spring all around me, and Skype-d my mom. While she cried, worried sick about me, I reassured her, and somehow I knew things would be ok. Technology now allows us to stay connected, and with Japan a mere one hour time difference from Singapore, it wasn’t too difficult to stay in touch with everyone.

Sure, there were some days I still felt lonely. I missed my best friends, I missed my Mom, and sometimes I missed Singapore, Singlish, the food, all the Singaporean-isms that people just don’t quite seem to understand or appreciate. But what I’ve gained from this opportunity is so much more than I could have hoped for.

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Dressed up for Halloween for the first time!

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Took part in intercultural discussions, made new friends from all over the world

???????????????????????????????????? (Briefly) joined a Japanese music club

IMAG3111 Dressed up in Yukata and went to summer festivals

10330363_640539712693519_2295662906668502536_nEnjoyed Universal Studios Japan with friends

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Attended concerts, found new music, met wonderful people

Went on roadtrips, marveling at just how beautiful nature is

536318_10150846629669794_1822100871_nAnd (of course) ate really, really, good food

Personally, another thing I’m also thankful about is how I learnt how life isn’t all about grades. Growing up the elitism and the “good grades define your life” mentality was rather suffocating at times. In Japan I feel free, I could enjoy life to the fullest in all aspects. I love every moment I’m there, all the experiences I have which can’t be summed up (those are just a few of the many, many, photos I have of my fond memories) and as much as I love Singapore I cannot say I would be where I am now, that I would be this happy, had it not been for my stint in Japan.

It’s not just Japan. I strongly recommend studying overseas if you can, even if only for a short exchange. The world is so big and we are so small. There is so much more out there! I have learned so much, experienced so much, lived so much.

Would I do it all over again? Yes.

7 comments

  1. Nhi Nguyen says:

    I read your post on GaijinPot.com about being an asian foreigner in Japan. I am an Asian American, and I speak English fluently. My fiance just got a job in Tokyo,and we’re moving to Japan at the end of this month. I was planning to tutor English on the side, but will it be hard for people to take me seriously because I look like them even though my English is superb, and better than most of my fellow Americans?

    • Bernie Low (beanmylife) says:

      I think it’s more of just the misconception of what native-level English speakers look like. But once you prove your English ability in person appearance doesn’t matter at all. I teach English conversation part time and my students don’t complain about my English/appearance so that’s worked out fine 🙂

      It just might be a bit difficult at first to get students perhaps?

  2. Chaice says:

    Hi Bernie!
    I’m a Chinese-Singaporean as well :> It was really great reading your blog and finding out more about how Singaporeans cope in Japan, so thank you for writing about your experiences!
    I’ve been thinking about going to uni in Japan as well, but I’ve heard a lot of negative things about how Japanese universities are run… Stuff like how schools are largely only concerned with getting their students hired, and how some Japanese students don’t take university seriously at all after they’ve been placed in a relatively good school. My friend, who’s studying in the Engineering dept. (not under SILS/G30) at Waseda, didn’t have many good things to say about his experience there either – he said that most of his classmates are going to grad school because it’s near impossible to get hired with just a degree.
    I’m really conflicted about all of this, as you can imagine, so I was wondering what you think? Are the issues mentioned above visible even in the international G30 programmes, and is the job market for fresh grads really that bad?
    Thank you so much in advance!

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