In my third year, my friends and I were discussing our plan for a Master’s. We had initially talked about preparing for exams such as IELTS, GRE, or TOEFL and going to USA or Canada. But when we thought deeply about it, we realized that the reason we were considering the USA was that many people we already know are going to the USA as well, and we did not have much idea about options other than the USA for Master’. We were interested in Robotics and questioned each other about the best country which comes to mind for Robotics. And that was Japan.
We searched around and asked people around us about Japan. Everyone knew Japan and its advanced technology not many people knew about the universities. I went to agents who help in education for certain countries. They were quick to give out information for other countries but as soon as I mentioned Japan, they did not know anything. Even on the internet, there was no perfect information about the resources for universities. From there on, we searched about the universities, admission, what specializations are available for Masters’, financial support, the chance to get a job, etc. We also realized that it was more cost-efficient to go to Japan than USA or Canada. I was already keen on going to Asian countries because of the similarity in culture, daily routine, family structure, food, etc.
My family, especially my grandfather already used Japanese products such as watches, and radios. Since childhood, I had heard that Japanese products have the best quality. Not many people outside of Japan realize the quality of products. They know that Japan has high standards but once you see and feel the standard, you understand the difference in method and quality of living.
When I first told my family about Japan, they were very much against it (laughs). Initially, there were puzzled because no one they knew lived in Japan. They had heard about the earthquakes and tsunamis in Japan and were worried. For them, they preferred USA or Canada where we had relatives and contacts. I had to convince them by showing them the difference between Japan’s and other countries-the technology, advancements, robotics, etc. But they finally agreed while saying that they want the things which are best for my education and me.
Before coming to Japan, I imagined it as a developed, powerful country with a kind of openness or freedom. I was worried before stepping into Japan about the clothes, traditions, and fitting in. But after living, I understood that it is not too different from India, especially in day-to-day life.
Studying Japanese, the hard way
I did know a bit of Japanese because of anime- a few words but not perfectly. I had kept in mind that I need to learn Japanese when I go, so it was no problem. We only had one lecture in the university for learning Japanese. It was a basic syllabus with easy study and few Kanji. It was also an optional course. Because it was just for grades, it was not really pushing the boundaries. So, I kept on taking the optional lectures and trying to speak with my lab members and Japanese friends. I also took part in many Japanese events at random where I had a chance at interaction. I had to take it step-by-step by learning the application. There may be 50 words that I speak in daily life, so I started with those.
I also worked as a teacher’s assistant and did internships during my university period. Even if you speak a little Japanese, you can apply for the assistant position and have a chance to interact with other students. During the internship, I used to listen silently. At first, when they asked me about something, I did not quite understand them but after continuing with lectures and preparing for JLPT, and asking for feedback continuously, I got better. My manager also studied with me bit by bit every day, teaching me how to speak, draft emails, greet guests from another company, guide them to seating, etc.
Big learning curve through interviews
When I started job hunting, my Japanese was not that good. So, I already knew that getting a job may be difficult at that stage. I kept on applying to several different places to understand what questions were asked, how they were asked, and understanding the type of Japanese I needed. After trying several interviews, I got experience in understanding the flow. One thing I realized about questions was that interviewers needed 100% sure answers. I could not just copy-paste my answer for several companies or give a generic response. When they ask you “Why did you choose our company and not any other company? Why us?”, you really need time to process these questions. I used to study the answers to these questions for 2-3 days.
I got introduced to FAST OFFER International through one of my friends. We used to discuss applying for jobs when we met, and he had gotten a job offer through the program. I liked the fact that it was systematic: application, getting selected by the company, preparing for an interview, etc. It was also very interactive. You ask and you will be helped, given a solution. And everybody helps. It is not that if I am connected to one staff, nobody else will reply or help.
When I started the mentor sessions through ASIA to JAPAN, that is when my quality of Japanese jumped up. My mentor pushed me to speak and within that month, I was speaking 50% more Japanese. I really admired him for that.
Advice for juniors
For the students studying Japanese, I always tell them to speak. It could be your lab member or professor; it doesn’t matter but to speak. Because when you speak, you start understanding the tone and accent. My method is to jump from section to section- when your speaking skills get better, then reading, then grammar, kanji, etc. In my personal experience, it is good to prepare basic Japanese, greetings, and culture before coming to Japan.
If anyone wants to think about education or work in Japan, I think they can do it. In case of difficulties, they can ask a staff member for help. There is an opportunity to come to Japan for interviews and that’s nice. If you get the job in one go, that’s good. Even if you don’t, that’s okay too. You can join again so it’s good. I will just summarize it in one line- give ASIA to JAPAN a chance.