(Artikel ini juga tersedia dalam bahasa Indonesia)
Exclusive Interview is a series where we interview expats about their experiences. This time, we talked to Widi (YouTube Widi Sasnita, Instagram @wiidy_st). In the last five years, she has been working as a caregiver in Japan through the Indonesian-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (IJ-EPA) program.
Country of Origin: Indonesia
In Japan since: 2018
Japanese Level: N2
Working Industry: Caregiver
Where and how did you first learn about this job?
I learned about this job from the BP2MI (Indonesian Migrant Worker Protection Agency) job seminar on campus when I was a nursing student. I was determined to apply after graduation, and thank God, I was immediately accepted.
Why did you work in Japan as a kaigo?
I mainly wanted to work as a kaigo due to economic reasons. I also wanted to gain experience working abroad. There are two options for nurses who wish to work in Japan: nurses in hospitals and caregivers (kaigo). I became a kaigo because I was a fresh graduate without experience working in a hospital. Meanwhile, to become a nurse in a hospital, one must have at least two years of work experience.
What are the requirements to become a kaigo?
The requirements to become a kaigo can differ, depending on the program or visa requirement. The requirements for the IJ EPA G2G program that I joined are a minimum of D3 or S1, a maximum age of 35, and Japanese language proficiency of at least N5. Other requirements must be completed are documents, such as an ID card, job application letter, certificate of good behavior, and health certificate.
For your information, other programs, such as the Technical Intern Training Program or tokutei ginou (Specified Skilled Worker), also accept high school graduates.
Are there any physical requirements to become a kaigo?
Physical requirements include being healthy, having no piercings, and not being pregnant. There is also a medical test. In terms of appearance, there are no requirements. The important thing is that the applicant has no serious illness or disability that could hinder their work.
What is the selection process like? How long does it take to apply and come to Japan?
The selection process also depends on the program. The selection for the program I joined (IJ-EPA) took one year, from document screening to acceptance. After passing the document screening, there is a written test of nursing knowledge, a medical test, an interview, and a matching.
Matching is the pairing-up process between companies and job applicants. The kaigo candidates can choose where to work. On the other hand, companies or nursing homes from all over Japan also select the candidates they deem suitable. If we are matched, we get a job contract. After this stage, we did a final graduation test. When I was applying, out of about 600 applicants, only about 300 were accepted.
What are the differences between the government program (IJ EPA) and other private dispatch companies?
In my opinion, it is not too different in terms of work and salary. The only difference is the organization that oversees it. I chose the IJ-EPA program because the government institution socialized it on campus, and I met the requirements as a nursing graduate.
Any tips on choosing a dispatch company?
Look for seniors who have departed from a dispatch company and ask them. I wanted to join a dispatch company in the past, so I looked for people on social media and asked about the process and experience there. Usually, seniors are willing to help, so don't hesitate to contact them.
Is there any training provided before or during working as a kaigo?
Yes. After passing the IJ EPA program test, I attended another training on kaigo skills and Japanese language skills in Jakarta for six months. If you pass the training test, there is another six-month training in Japan. In total, the application process until I actually started working was about two years.
After that, I could work while preparing for the kaigo exam in Japan. I was enrolled in a school to study the language and kaigo skills. I went there twice a week on weekdays, which counts as working hours.
Is there a time limit for staying in Japan and working as a kaigo?
In the IJ EPA program, the period of stay in Japan depends on whether you have passed the kaigo exam. Basically, we can work in Japan for five years. We have three years to work while preparing for the kaigo exam in the third year. If we don't pass, we are given two chances to retake the exam. The exam itself happens every year. So, if you don't pass the exam, you can only stay here for five years.
However, there is an alternative to staying longer in Japan. If you don't pass the exam twice, you can join the tokutei ginou (SSW) program and continue working in Japan.
If you pass the kaigo exam, there is no time limit for working in Japan. I, thankfully, have passed so that I can work here indefinitely. I can apply for a permanent visa as well.
Besides the kaigo exam, are there any other certifications you can take to improve your skills?
For Japanese, you can take the JLPT exam for language certification. Other than that, medical skills can be used as an additional certification, such as tube feeding certification.
How much fluent Japanese do you think is required as a kaigo in Japan?
Communication is important in taking care of the elderly. Since kaigo deals directly with patients, we must be fluent in Japanese. In my opinion, the N5 requirement is not enough, so it needs to be up to the N3 level.
What is the work system like as a kaigo in Japan?
It's a shift system. We have ten days off in a month, and it's not always on weekends. Seven days off are scheduled, but you can choose the remaining three. There are night shifts, too, and you can get overtime pay. You can swap shifts with your coworkers but you must consult your superior first.
Was it easy to socialize with other caregivers/your coworkers?
I found it difficult at first because of the language barrier. Even though I've studied it before, it’s different when I use it daily. Thankfully, people here understood that I was a foreigner.
What are the ups and downs of being a kaigo in Japan?
The upside is that I can work in Japan and travel around the country. There are plenty of paid leave days, so the work is not too tiring. Also, the weather or seasons don't really affect me because I work indoors. I also enjoy being a kaigo because I work directly with people and can keep learning. My language skills have also become more fluent.
The downsides are related to caring for the elderly. For example, when dealing with the elderly with dementia or elderly who are at risk of injuring themselves but are still doing it. I have to be more patient and mentally strong when dealing with them. Another downside was when I first started working, I had to write reports in Japanese. My Japanese wasn't very good at that time, so writing reports was very difficult.
What are your future career plans?
Kaigo also has a career path up to the manager level. But I haven't wanted to go to the top level myself. In the future, I still want to be a kaigo here, so I'm focusing on improving my language and skills. Maybe someday, I will have a plan to step up.
Life in Japan
When you first arrived in Japan, did you experience culture shock?
Yes. I felt quite shocked by the season and halal food scarcity. However, many shops provide halal food now, so it is not difficult to find food. There was also difficulty finding a place to pray. Thankfully, my workplace provided a praying space.
I was also surprised by the lack of trash bins in Japan. Moreover, what is very different from Indonesia is that neighbors don't know each other and don't greet each other.
How did you adapt to life in Japan?
When I first arrived in Japan, I found it difficult to adapt. I think the first step to adapting is to improve your Japanese language skills first. Then, dare to explore the places in Japan. Traveling can help us familiarize ourselves with the environment.
I also tried everything in Japan, as long as it was harmless. I also often chat and ask questions with my coworkers. The point is you have to be brave and try many things.
Do you join a community? What are the benefits of the community for you?
I join a community but rarely join the activities because of my work schedule. The community is very helpful because it can connect me with seniors.
Do you have any tips for people who want to become kaigo?
Learn a lot and improve your language skills. Also, prepare your mind well because we will come to a very different place from Indonesia. You must always remember your intention and determination when you come here. Because, in my opinion, there are many temptations here. So, always remember your intention.
Also, look for as much information as possible so you won't be surprised when you arrive here. When looking at social media, don't look at too many good stories. Don't just focus on the bad stories, either. Balance the information of upsides and downsides to understand the reality of working in Japan.