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Interview with an Exchange Student in Japan: Melissa
Age: 24 years old
Home University: National University of Singapore
University in Japan: Waseda University
1. Why did you choose to continue your studies in Japan?
I fell in love with Japanese and Japanese culture when I was 15 years old, and that pretty much decided that my overseas study experience would be in Japan. My school also happened to offer a special program with Waseda, so it was a perfect opportunity.
2. How did your family react when you said you wanted to study in Japan?
My family doesn't usually say much about my life choices, but this time they were concerned about what I would gain from a degree in Liberal Arts from Waseda University in addition to my Social Sciences degree from my home university. They became even more concerned after the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster of March 11th, 2011. But the school gave the go-ahead so they let me go. They've never expressed any approval or disapproval outright but I know they still worry for me and I try to do my best to reassure them and keep in touch.
3. What are the merits of coming to Japan? Do you feel your life has changed after coming here?
Because I am a huge fan of anime and manga, the most significant merit of coming to Japan is that I am now in financially-precarious proximity to all the books and goods and special events that my heart could ever desire. More generally, as a foreign student, I guess the most obvious merit is that I know how to take care of myself now, mostly. Living in a foreign country away from my family and friends forced me to become independent, to learn little things like how much detergent to put into the washing machine, how long rice takes to cook, how to keep the sink from clogging. Being in a foreign language environment also meant that my Japanese and Mandarin improved tremendously. I have also become skilled at interacting with people from different cultures and backgrounds, thanks to my participation in circles at Waseda.
4. What are your plans for the future and how do you think your experience in Japan will affect them?
Well, for one, I plan on working in Japan for at least three years, because I fell in love with Tokyo and I'm not quite ready to leave yet. I think my time in Japan has greatly influenced this decision; little did I know when I first applied for this program four years ago that I would be so reluctant to go home. After that, I really don't know what's going to happen. I do want to spend time with my parents especially as they’re aging, and I also have the most adorable dog at home and I don't want her to go without seeing her one last time. I guess that being away made me very sentimental.
5. What is your advice for students coming to Japan?
Be proactive. It doesn’t matter if you're introverted or whatever, because if you don't take the first step, I can guarantee that very few Japanese people will, and your time in Japan would have been wasted because you won't have made any Japanese friends and you'd have been confined to the "tourist" experience of Japan that any bumbling foreigner with enough money can gain. Make the most of your time here; take the train to a station that no one cares about and just walk around, observe your surroundings, find things for yourself that others would think mundane. Get an international driver's license before coming because then you can make drive trips out of Tokyo on the weekends and holidays. Try everything at least once, but watch your wallet and make sure you've got a friend on hand to take lots of pictures and keep you safe from harm. Lastly, don't forget who you are. Don't let weird Japanese preconceptions of your country or your language trap you in a box. While the urge to go with the flow may be strong, stand up and speak out! Help to foster mutual and cross-cultural understanding, and contribute to a brighter tomorrow.