The pandemic has brought massive effects on international students. Flight and border restrictions have limited their activities and forced them to take online courses instead. However, as the world gets better, many countries open up their borders to international students, including Japan. The Japanese government has resumed the visa issuance for new student entry from March 2022. If you're planning to come to Japan, now is your chance!
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Does Japan accept foreign exchange students?
Yes! International students in Japan are not only accepted in degree programs. Many of them come as exchange students for short programs from 3 months to 1 year. They allow foreign exchange students to attend high schools and universities across Japan.
If your country has a diplomatic relationship with Japan, you have the opportunity to study there. However, some of the programs have age restrictions. Therefore, if you are too young or old, you will have limited options.
If you are 18-30 years old that want to live in Japan, not as a student, you can get a working holiday visa instead. Japan currently accepts youngsters from 26 countries, but this number keeps increasing from time to time.
How to apply for an exchange student program in Japan?
If you are a high school student, there are several programs you can apply for.
AFS Intercultural Program
AFS is a long-established foundation that promotes youth exchange activity post-world war. Japan has been sending and accepting students through the AFS since the 1950s. Because of its popularity, the selection process for this program is quite competitive. The program is usually self-funded, but you can search for scholarships or sponsors after being accepted.
AFS Intercultural Program offers an opportunity to live with a host family and enroll in a local high school. The duration of the program is usually one year. Through this program, Japan welcomes teenagers from 33 countries. Here are the countries:
China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand
Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, The United States
Belgium, Czech, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland
To apply to this program, you have to check the AFS website for your country.
Asia Kakehashi Project
Established in 2017, the Asia Kakehashi Project intends to connect Japan and other countries in Asia. The program is sponsored by the Japanese government and managed under AFS.
Besides attending Japanese high school, participants in this program will also live in the school dormitory or host family, providing more exposure to Japanese culture. The program is 10 months long or two academic semesters. This program offers fully-funded scholarships, including round-trip flights and health insurance.
Age 15 to 18
Have academic and/or non-academic achievement
Learned basic Japanese
Able to travel abroad unaccompanied
Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Republic of Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Maldives, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Turkey, and Vietnam.
To apply, you can contact the AFS administrator.
CIEE High School Semester Abroad
If you are from the United States, CIEE is ready to help your dreams come true. They have multiple programs to offer, so you can pick what suits you better. For high school abroad programs, the length of the program varies from three months (a trimester), one semester, or one academic year. You will live with a host family around Tokyo or Kyoto during the program.
The program is self-funded, although you can apply for scholarships. There are need-based for students who need financial aid and merit-based for students who have outstanding academic performance. The scholarship information is available on the CIEE website.
Students in the 9th, 10th, 11th, or 12th year
Learned formal Japanese minimum 1 year through high school or college course
Have a minimum GPA of 3.0
Have excellent physical health
Passed the selection process
To apply, go make an account on their official website.
If you are a university student, the very first thing you should do is check the international office at your university. The international office is the one who is responsible for overseas relationships, including student exchange agreements between universities.
Some of the student exchange programs are university-wide, meaning your major is not relevant to their requirements. Such programs usually give you the freedom to pick classes that are not linear with your major. For example, law students can take business classes at the host university.
There are also programs dedicated to students in specific majors. Even though your home university and the host university have a student exchange partnership, you cannot enroll if the major does not match. You are obligated to transfer credits from the host university after the program ends.
Some universities offer scholarships for students accepted in student exchange programs. However, if your university doesn't, you can apply for a Japanese government scholarship. The Japan Student Services Organization (JASSO) under the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology of Japan gives a monthly living allowance for exchange students. After being accepted to a program, you have to ask your host university in Japan to recommend you to receive JASSO scholarship. You cannot apply on your own.
Good news for Japanese majors students all over the world. There is a special program for students in Japanese language or culture majors. The Japanese government offers a Japanese Study Students scholarship for 1 year. The purpose is to give the students firsthand experience of Japanese cultures and improve their Japanese skills.
The participants of this program have to take classes in Japanese. Therefore, Japanese skill is requisite to be able to keep up. They can choose what universities they want out of 71 Japanese universities partnered in this program. All of the expenses, including round-trip flights, are covered by the scholarship.
Read more about scholarship for international students in Japan.
What to prepare before applying?
After figuring out what program is the most suitable, you can move on to the next steps. Here are some tips.
Brush Up Your Language Skill
English will only take you so far in Japan. Yes, all Japanese students learn English at school, but it is not widely spoken. There are exchange programs that accept students who have no Japanese skills, but then it will be difficult for them to communicate and socialize in Japan.
Our advice is to learn hiragana, katakana, and basic Japanese skills prior to arrival. Since you are most likely to travel alone, you can only depend on yourself. When you arrive in Japan, you have to pass the immigration and Covid inspection before meeting whoever will pick you up.
Also, some programs have language requirements. They usually ask for either Japanese or English skills. For non-native English speakers, the programs may require you to attach an English proficiency certificate. You can take the TOEFL, IELTS, or TOEIC tests depending on what the program accepts. For Japanese, there is JLPT. If it's possible, take the test way before the application deadline, so you can focus on another thing.
Prepare for The Selection
Going to Japan is a dream for many people. The competition may get tough due to high interest. Practicing is a good way to make yourself better than other candidates.
The selection process usually includes essay submission and/or interview. Even though it will be different for each program, there are common questions. For example, why do you want to join an exchange program? Why do you choose Japan? What do you know about Japan? What will you do during your stay in Japan and after completing the program?
Here's a tip for essays and interviews: find the purpose of the program and apply it to yourself. If the program wants to promote a better relationship between two countries, try to point out how you can do that. If the program wants to create future leaders, show the leadership activities you have done before and why you suit to be future leaders.
Making Financial Plan
Going abroad and staying there for a couple of months certainly needs a considerable sum of money. Even to apply, you have to spend money on application fees, language proficiency tests, postage fees to send documents, etc.
You will also need money when issuing a visa. To apply for a Certificate of Eligibility and student visa to enter Japan, you have to show financial proof that you can afford your stay in Japan. The requirement is a bank statement with a minimum of JPY 2,000,000 (approximately USD 15,000). If you have a scholarship or sponsor, you also have to send proof.
To make a financial plan, you can start by listing the fixed amount you need. You can calculate the application fee, the language certification test, and the postage fee by googling it. Then, you can look for the cost of living in the city you want to. It’s crucial because bigger cities are more expensive than suburban. If you are planning to get a scholarship, find out how much it will give you and will you need to cover other things.
If you want to have additional pocket money, you can find part-time jobs in Japan. Students visa holder are allowed to work up to 28 hours per week.
Strengthen your profile
If you have a long time to prepare, our advice is to build your resume. Stand out among other candidates with a high GPA, strong connection to Japanese culture, intercultural experiences, or other achievements.
The student exchange institutions definitely want to allow the right students. What is the best way to show that you deserve it other than giving them proof? You can easily claim you are a dedicated student, but they will not believe it if your GPA is not good.
Good luck on preparing your journey and see you in Japan!
Read our exclusive interview with Indonesian student to know what is it like to be international student in japan.