As of late March 2018 I will be studying another semester abroad in Japan (Tokyo) at Keio University through the (K.I.P) Keio International Program! In this post I will explain first of all why i’ve decided to do this, how I managed to arrange it for anyone interested in going to Japan themselves and I will explain a bit about the visa application process and how you should prepare before you go.
1. Why? As you might have read on my about me page, I have been studying Japanese language and culture at the University of Leiden in The Netherlands full-time for about 2.5 years now and I have lived in Japan before for three months as mandatory part of my bachelor degree. Personally however, I felt like three months was too short to be able to improve my proficiency in Japanese to an advanced level before I finish my bachelor and move on to my masters degree. So I started looking towards options to study abroad some more.
2. How? I would recommend everyone interested in studying in Japan for an extended period of time (anywhere from 6 months to a full 3 years) to visit the website of the Japanese embassy in your country as they usually have multiple scholarships available, for both graduate and undergraduate students. While I have applied for a scholarship (文部科学書 scholarship) in my second year, I unfortunately did not get the spot and for me, this is not how I ended up arranging my second stay in Japan. I chose to go to the study abroad center that my university has and I would recommend everyone to visit theirs if your university has something similar to this. Sometimes there are great opportunities out there that can pass you by because of insufficient advertising on part of your university or because you didn’t know where to look for the right information. As it turns out, my university has a significant amount of connections in Japan and occasionally has spots to fill for humanities students to study at selected sister universities. After an intake conversation I had at the study abroad center I got an email a couple of weeks later from a staff member detailing how she thought the K.I.P program at Keio University would be perfect for me to apply to, which I consequently did. I went through an extremely long selection process which meant proving I had the required grade average, getting recommendation letters from my professors, sending in a CV, proof of health, language proficiency and a motivation letter. Be mentally prepared to put a lot of effort in your application! In the end, I was accepted as an exchange student. Apart from university exchanges and embassy scholarships you could look into going to a language school which is a good option especially for those wanting to follow an intensive course and make a jump in ability quite aggressively. Language schools can be a great option for students who like the variety of the courses these schools offer and the fact that unlike scholarships and university programs you can opt for a long or quite a short stay if you have a lot of responsibilities back home or don’t have the capacity to pay for such a long stay. If you’re interested in this I would recommend taking a look at GaijinPot’s collection of language schools over here as it has some great options to choose from.
3. Visa procedures After the application procedure the number one thing you need to take care of is your visa application. Most often, the university you are studying at will guide you through this procedure, but just so you know what to expect I will give some details to give you a sense of the process. Your university of choice is going to ask you to send in a certificate of eligibility application in which you have to fill in your personal details and information such as how your stay is being funded which they will then process and if okay, based on this information send you a certificate of eligibility which you need to apply for your visa at the embassy. Why do you need this? Because it proves the university wants you in Japan and will be your inviter to Japan. All that’s left then, at least in the Netherlands is to fill in the visa application form that can be found on the site of the embassy, bring a passport approved picture of yourself, your passport and COE hardcopy in order to apply for your visa. This doesn’t take long, in my case it was four days between the submission of the application and the date I could pick up my documents again. The only thing you need to be aware of is that once your visa is issued, you need to enter Japan within three months or your visa will not be valid anymore and you will have to apply again.
4. What to arrange before you go Next to your visa, some things you should take care of or look into before you leave are the following. If you live in a country where the government offers free commuting or a discount on commuting for students, you should look up if you can get a compensation for this when you study abroad. In my case, the government gives me 90 euros a month to pay for my commuting in Japan because I am a student. While this might not cover all your travel expenses, something is better than nothing right? You should of-course also take care of housing, make sure you do this well in advance because.. you don’t want to come to Japan having nowhere to stay right? Most universities offer their international students places in their dormitories (make sure you apply in time!) but you could also look for an apartment yourself. Be aware that finding an apartment yourself can be quite a bit more expensive and difficult to arrange than using dormitories, as you will have to get the university to be your guarantor. In addition, getting your own apartment might be difficult to do when you’re not already in Japan as you will have to rely on the internet and pictures only and will have to pay a significant amount in key money, security deposits, furniture etc. in short I would recommend to stick with using dormitories unless you have a serious objection against it. Next to this, if you don’t already speak Japanese I would recommend you at least learn hiragana and katakana before you come and if possible basic words and sentences to help you in your first couple of days. This will allow you to at least read the most basic things and will help you make that trip from the airport to your dormitory without having to point at everything and being frustrated and anxious because no-one knows what you mean. While Japanese people are generally extremely nice when you ask them for directions etc if you don’t speak Japanese this might be quite the task as Japanese people are not renowned for their English abilities and even in Tokyo it might be difficult to find someone who can comprehensively tell you where to go in English.
Lastly I’d like to say that even if you don’t manage to get a scholarship position, that doesn’t mean you should give up. Embassies only have a limited amount of positions to give away which makes it extremely competitive especially in countries with universities that have extended Asian Studies programs. Embassies have different preferences and requirements they would like scholarship applicants to have. Some embassies give absolute beginners in Japanese preference over those already at a higher level or the other way around or might be more critical about your study plan or motivation for going to Japan and pay less attention to your level of Japanese. Don’t get discouraged! There’s no limit on applying for these types of scholarships so if you don’t get it now, you can always try again next year and look for ways to get to Japan through different means and take things into your own hands. Just know that not getting these types of scholarship positions doesn’t really say anything about you or your level of Japanese.
Feel free to send in any questions you might have about studying in Japan or abroad generally ~ Lots of love