Exclusive Interview: Pursuing Master's and Doctoral Degree in Japan
(Artikel ini juga tersedia dalam bahasa Indonesia)
Exclusive Interview is a series where we interview expats about their experiences. This time, we contacted Jati, a Ph.D. student in Japan. He returned to Tokyo after completing his master's degree four years ago.
Country of Origin: Indonesia
In Japan from: 2016 – 2018; 2022 – present
Japanese Level: N3
Working Industry: IT
Major and University: Computer Science and Communication Engineering, Waseda University
What do you do in Japan?
I was doing my masters in engineering from 2016 to 2018. I'm currently continuing my Ph.D. at the same university.
Why did you choose Japan to continue your study?
I always wanted to live abroad because I spent my life before just within my hometown. When planning to get a master's, I chose Japan because I'm interested in otaku culture and, of course, Japan's education quality. I was also interested in a professor's research at Waseda University and asked him to be my research supervisor.
I returned to Japan for my Ph.D. because I had already experienced living there. It won't be too hard to adapt. Japan is also a lot closer than the USA and UK to Indonesia. So it is very convenient for me.
What are the requirements to enroll in a master's and doctoral program in Japan?
You have to find a professor to be your research supervisor first. After the professor agrees to be your supervisor, you can proceed with the admission process. You can apply without a professor's acceptance, but you are at a considerable disadvantage.
In my case, I was interested in a professor's research and sent him an e-mail because I wasn't in Japan. The process was similar to job hunting, where I sent my CV and publications and got interviewed. Then, he accepted me. Because I already have funds for my study, he said to go ahead and proceed with the admissions.
What was your JLPT level before coming to Japan?
I already got N3 before coming to Japan, but I believe it's not enough. I can speak Japanese and read some of the characters, but I’m not good at writing.
Is it possible to study in your major without knowing Japanese?
Actually, yes, because I enrolled in an international program. All of my classes are supposedly in English. However, some of the lecturers taught in English and Japanese. I'm not complaining, though, because it helped my Japanese skill to improve.
How do you fund your study?
I received Indonesian government scholarships (LPDP) for my master's study. It covered everything from flight tickets to living allowance. However, the awardees are required to go back to Indonesia. They have to wait a couple of years before going abroad again.
For my Ph.D., I received funds from my professor. The system is that I work with my professor on his projects and get paid monthly or annually. Then, I use that money for tuition, living allowance, etc.
However, there is a lot of scholarship for Ph.D. students once they get to Japan. I applied for and received the Waseda University Open Innovation Ecosystem Program for Pioneering Research (W-SPRING) Scholarship in my second year. It is funded by the Japanese government but managed by Waseda University.
Are there a lot of international students in your major/university?
Waseda University has the largest community of international students. It's approximately 60% Japanese students and 40% international students. Even Indonesian students alone are about 100 people. Students in my lab are also very global.
Does the Japanese environment match your expectation?
No, but not in a bad way. I was pleasantly surprised by how global the environment is. I thought that there were only one or two international students in a class full of Japanese students. But, in my case, there are a lot of international students in Waseda. It's not what I expected, but I enjoy making friends with people from various countries and cultures.
What are the differences between studying in Japan and your home country?
One thing that is quite different is how the university interacts with the industries. As a student in Indonesia, I barely interacted with the industry. Even if I did, it was my own initiative. In Japan, everyone seems to think about how they can get into the industry through university. Students usually do shukatsu a year before graduation. The professors are also very supportive career-wise.
Do you do part-time jobs?
I don't both during my master's and doctorate studies. Thankfully, I got enough from my scholarship, and right now, as a Ph.D. student, I already have a job in my professor's lab.
What is your plan after graduation?
I haven't decided yet. I might stay in Japan or go somewhere else to continue my post-doc. Either way, I will eventually return to Indonesia because I'm still contracted as a lecturer there.
How do you make friends in Japan?
A lot of my friends are from different countries. I find it a little bit difficult to make friends with Japanese students my age because most of them are going to shukatsu. There are also language barriers, so I don't interact with them much.
Do you join any Indonesian community in Japan?
I joined the Indonesian Students Union in Japan (Persatuan Pelajar Indonesia di Jepang) during my master's program. I'm currently not active in any community because I've been here for a couple of weeks. There are a lot of Indonesian communities in Japan, such as student unions, the Muslim community, and even soccer supporter communities.
Where can you find these communities?
Mostly on Instagram and Facebook, you can also know it from mouth to mouth. If you are an Indonesian in Japan, it is easy to find another Indonesian. Naturally, you will make small talk and share this information.
Did you have a mentor when you came to Japan?
I don't have one, but other Indonesian students, especially those from big universities, usually have seniors from their universities already in Japan. The good side about this is I pushed myself to learn Japanese so I could do things on my own. Some people are slower to learn Japanese because they have people to help them. But, I think it is easier if you have a mentor. It doesn't have to be people from the same country.
Do you have tips for Indonesians who want to study in Japan?
First, you can focus on English before learning Japanese. Many Japanese universities now offer international programs so that you can apply with good English skills. If it's only for academic purposes, you won't need that much Japanese. Of course, you will have to learn Japanese to register your address, get health insurance, and other living necessities. No need to master keigo if you just want to study in Japan.
Second, expect something different from Indonesia. Every country is different from the other. Common ordinary things in Indonesia might be rare in Japan. You will have to give up some of the comfortable habits you used to do before. These changes are an excellent opportunity to grow yourself into a better version.
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