Thank you all for waiting for this “How to study in Japan” post. Before anything else, I would like to thank Jessica and Sig for contributing their knowledge and time. This wouldn’t be possible without them! I’m sure you guys will learn a lot from these girls’ experiences as exchange students from Manila. I also applied for scholarships before but those weren’t meant for me.. but I still found a way to make my Japanese study dreams to come true (with the help and support of my family, especially my brother).
Kaila’s Japanese Language Student Experience at Bunka
After finishing my university thesis at De La Salle University-Manila and completing all my requirements, I took a risk and chased after my cherry blossom dreams in Japan. A year before that, I had a lot of “Japan-related” heartbreaks because firstly, I was denied when I applied for a visiting relative visa (to visit my older brother Kuya Eric in Japan). It was the time when I also stopped school for a while (financial problems in the family). I also applied and researched a lot about Japanese school scholarships. However, I failed the written test. But those delays did not stop me nor discourage me to fight for my childhood dream to live and work in Japan. During my 6-month being out of school (1 term + summer vacation), I helped my brother with our online business by providing graphic design and webdesign help. At 18/19 (cannot remember omg), I was already working and setting up e-commerce websites even if the internet was so slow that time. I did get depressed for a few weeks because I really wanted to go to Japan and visit my brother and help him but I thought to myself… maybe The Guy Up There had different plans for me. I incubated myself inside my room for a half a year and that was the time I started to plan and think of ways on how to pursue my dreams. I was decided that I would make the most out of my university life so that I would be prepared in the “real-world” setting once I have graduated.
After my brother and I helped out each other (he financed my education while he was setting up his company + working everyday + finalizing his university thesis too), I was able to graduate from DLSU. He also saved up for our last option to bring me to Japan.. which is to enroll me in a language school. Our plan was: Study Japanese for a year -> Apply for a working visa. With my diploma, I was able to convert my student visa to a 3-yr. working visa. My brother’s company sponsored my working visa.
Going back to the topic, I studied an intensive Japanese / Nihongo program in Bunka Institute of Language (BIL) in Shinjuku, Tokyo. I originally wanted to work and save up for a fashion-related course and study at Bunka Fashion College (hashtag ambisyosa haha) but I realized along the way that I wanted to pursue another dream. You can read my “Bunka” posts here from before.
My “Studying in Japan” experience is categorized under “self-sponsored” (though I badly wanted to become an exchange student huhu). If you want to try living in Japan for a year (or half a year), I suggest that you save up by working in your own country (or ask for financial aid from your family) and find a school that will best suit you. For me, if you want to study fashion in Bunka Fashion College, the BIL program is good! My class would start at 9AM and end at around 3PM. I live in Saitama so I had to wake up at around 4:30-5:00 am, walk to the train station and avoid the packed trains / train delays. I would arrive at school at around 7:30-8:00AM. I usually have my breakfast in the canteen and I study better in the morning too. : )
My classmates stayed in a dormitory that was recommeded by Bunka. Click here for more information about that.
Snippets from BIL days. My language school friends Lily, Dawa, Shouro and Sabrina!
I used to take OOTD photos using the school’s mirror haha. Rainbow mode on!
I really treasure every memory I had when I was in Bunka.
I still don’t know what kind of magic we did that my brother was able to enroll me in such an expensive language school (for a girl who used to count all her coins when commuting to school, the BIL opportunity was surely a big dream come true).
That time, the exchange rate was almost 50 PHP = 100 JPY. Now, the exchange rate is in favor of Philippine peso. I think that the tuition fee is more affordable now compared than before. Still expensive, but the rate is better, hehe! : )
And just a random realization, it’s weird how sometimes life rewards you 100x more after you rise up every failed attempt.
Clothes everywhere! I used to buy clothes from Bunka too. Their yearly school festival is also the best, btw!
I learned how to silkscreen during Bunka Sai! What a fun activity it was!
I really liked making posters / print ads before. We had a Karaoke contest at BIL and I volunteered to make the poster.
It was supposed to be an interactive poster haha.
Everyday morning routine: OOTD :))
Do you have a lot of questions about Bunka Institute of Language? Please do read their FAQs page.
Before I end my part and share the inspirational exchange student program stories by Sig and Jessica, let me share this photo of my Japanese fashion magazines + some thoughts.
These were my inspirations while I struggled everyday to find a way on how to visit / live in Japan.
“Someday, I will see these kawaii dolls in real life.”
“Someday, I will also get to wear kawaii clothes like these models.”
“Someday, I will go to Japan and make my dreams come true.”
Say this to yourself everyday.
Remember that whatever kind of circumstance or situation you are in right now, YOU are the only person who can CHANGE that.
Denied visiting relative visa? OK, I accept.
Failed scholarship exam after going through all the applications? OK, I accept.
Stop school for a while and help out in the family in whatever way I can? OK, no problem. If this is the only way I could contribute, I accept it.
But forgetting about my childhood dream and wishing everyday I pursued it? That’s a big problem.
Reject me, let me experience failure.. but I will never give up on my goals.
My dreams are my own problems and I know that I am the only person who can solve those.
Wrote this when I stopped school for a while. (Years before I moved to Japan.)
Related blog entries:
If you need some pep talk from me, you may read these blog entries I have compiled.
Sig’s Exchange Student Program in Japan Story
Sig used to be an intern at JapanLover.me. She was able to convince me to get her as our intern here in Japan! She’s currently a university student in Manila and she finished her 3-month exchange student program months ago. Remember our Daikanyama date before? Heehee ~
Hi, Sig! Kindly introduce yourself.
Hello! My name is Sig! I really love Japan and Japanese culture. I am a university student studying Information Design! My hobbies include looking for kawaii things, watching anime (but not a lot), drawing, and cosplaying!
Why did you decide to study in Japan? Was it one of your dreams since childhood? What inspired you to chase this dream?
I’ve always been into Japan, the love started with anime but progressed into a full love for everything about Japan! I’ve always wanted to go to Japan. I decided to study in Japan because the opportunity presented itself to me when a school club/organization mentioned that there was a program, but even before that, I had been inquiring about exchange programs to Japan in my university.
Kindly narrate how you applied for an exchange student program in Japan (Sophia University).
To explain it simply, I had to fill up a lot of papers. I had to get the go signal from my department head and consult with a lot of people. They reviewed things such as my grades and an essay I submitted. When I got the go ahead, I had to settle things like visas, passport, insurance, and medical clearance (to show i was fit for travel). I also had to send in the appropriate application forms to the school I was applying to in Japan. I had to make sure I didn’t miss anything! Then you wait, and then pay for stuff that needs to be payed for.
The program that I found was from the Sophia University in Tokyo, the Sophia AIMS program which is stands for ASEAN International Mobility for Students. It’s dedicated to bringing students from ASEAN countries to Japan. It’s not a scholarship, but the airfare and lodging is covered by the program which is great! However you have to handle your own expenses. For the program proper you’re required to take at least 10 hours worth of class a week, one of them being a course called Transdisciplinary Human Development. More information can be found here.
What were your initial expectations before coming?
I researched a lot about Japan. I watched video blogs such as RachelandJun and TexaninTokyo on Youtube. It was something I did in my free time in order to learn more about living in Japan (I just was really into knowing how to be polite and not bother people once I got there, if I got there :)) ). Because of this, I was sort of prepared for what the culture would be like here in Japan.
Please share some of your memorable experiences in a span of 3 months. What were your struggles / hurdles?
I think my biggest hurdle is self-control. I had to make sure I didn’t spend too much money. I had to become independent really fast. I had to cook and clean for myself.
Another was that I wasn’t prepared for how non-contact Japanese people are. I knew this already but as a naturally clingy person, it still bothered me that I couldn’t hug people as often. I also missed many people dearly, so I skyped a lot and kept in close contact with everyone!!
My most unique experience was when I was walking out of Shibuya station, I was scouted to join a talent agency and that made me ecstatic! It made me feel slightly validated about my fashion sense and make up skills. (I was wearing make up that day.)
Did you study Japanese / Nihongo before coming? Did you take JLPT beforehand?
I was taking a Japanese language classes prior coming to Japan in order to acquire my Japanese studies minor. I had also taken the JLPT, even if it was only JLPT 5!
Please share important learnings / realizations while living here.
Living in Japan helped me recenter myself. I was able to do a lot of things in Japan that I wouldn’t normally get to do in my home country (like go out partying and staying out late, venturing off to places by myself.) This helped me realize what I wanted to do, what I was okay with and what I didn’t want to do. Being away from family also helped me value them more. I learned I could live without them, but I couldn’t do it just yet.
- Set a goal for yourself. What you want to accomplish when studying abroad. For me, it was to test if i could live alone and to be able to be independent.
- Research. Do a lot of research as to things to do in Japan so that you get to see as much as possible! I didn’t start going out and exploring really till I researched places and figured out what I wanted to do. Don’t be afraid to go alone. Japan is relatively safe. That being said, continue to keep your guard up though, you don’t know what will happen
- Make friends! Friends will help you get around if you don’t want to do something alone. Trips become fun with company!
Well, that’s it so far on my end! I’m happy I got to do lots of things in Japan and I hope you have fun too! Don’t let laziness get in your way. Most of the time, you’ll find that the only thing that is stopping you from achieving your dreams and goals, is you. So work hard and have fun!
Jessica’s Exchange Student Program in Japan Story
I first met Jessica when she performed with her group (Seishun Kakumei) last Kawaii in Manila 2. Kawaii PH Book Launch wouldn’t be successful without her too! She was our chosen Kawaii Emcee that time. At present, she is now living and working in Japan. She answered this survey around 1.5 / 2 months ago. : )
Hello Jessica! Please introduce yourself.
Hi! I’m Jessica Galvez, 21 years old, graduate of De La Salle University where I majored in Japanese studies. Currently, I’m working for a Japanese company, and simultaneously a member of an idol cover group, Seishun Kakumei. October this year I will be moving to Nagoya, Japan for work! (Yay!)
Why did you decide to study in Japan? Was it one of your dreams since childhood? What inspired you?
I grew up watching anime (I remember looking forward to the local airing of Cardcaptor Sakura), which I think is a common starting point for everyone. I’m the kind of person who gets intensely passionate over the things I love, so eventually my love for anime evolved into love for J-Dramas and J-Movies. A lot of the J-Dramas I watched are staged in a school setting, where my admiration for the Japanese school uniform started.
The admiration turned into a dream where I will go to a Japanese High School and wear those uniforms myself! Unfortunately, at that time, there aren’t much opportunities that would allow me then to go for an exchange program in High Schools. My high school back then didn’t offer such, and I didn’t have the financial capacity to go to Japan myself. At that time, my mom wasn’t exactly supportive of my interest as she thought it was just a phase.
But I kept on researching for possible programs to join, and found out that exchange programs are possible when you’re a college student! So my research has led me to a shortlist of universities here in the Philippines that have partnerships with Japanese universities.
Of course, I still watched every Japanese drama or movie that interests me, picking up a few Nihongo words and phrases along. My self-studying started there. The more I watch, the more I fell in love with Japan. “I want to experience it firsthand. I have to.” The fact that I kept watching Japanese dramas fueled me to keep looking for opportunities, to the point that my decision on which university to go to is also heavily influenced by my dream of going to Japan. “Which school will help me get there?” Thus, I chose De La Salle University.
Please give a short narration about how you applied for an exchange student program in Japan (Sophia university) for a year. Was it under a scholarship? Did you also cover some expenses?
De La Salle University has an International Center that offers various exchange programs all over the world. Their partnership with Japanese Universities is one of the strongest in foundation. There are qualifications to be eligible, and I had first and second year to prepare for that. I had to do my best in my classes to meet the minimum GPA, especially since I’m after the scholarship. (At this time, mom was still reluctant about allowing me.) I knew that living in Japan would be very expensive, so my mom was worried about how I will survive. Nevertheless, I made a deal with my mom; she will have to let me go to Japan if I get the scholarship, and even if it’s just partial coverage, I’ll find a way to deal with the rest of the expenses myself. Finally, she agreed!
Originally, I applied for Osaka University because it was offered a term earlier than the other schools. Series of interviews were held, where the panel would ask questions like “Why Japan?” “What do you have to prepare for?” “Why do you think we should choose you?” “Why do you think you deserve this chance?” It was a variety of both basic and difficult questions.
I was chosen for the slot, but I didn’t get the scholarship. The officer said I can apply for Sophia University on the next term. And I did! After a month of anxious waiting (no kidding here, I would get nightmares about it!) I got the scholarship from JASSO, which entitles the grantees 80,000 yen per month for 10 months. On the other hand, 80,000 yen is not enough to cover all living expenses (rent, food, commute, ~*miscellaneous*~) in Tokyo. I had to work a part time job (Students can only work maximum of 28 hours a week) to make sure I survive.
What were your initial expectations before coming?
I was expecting a real picture of what I’ve been seeing in the anime; shojo manga heroines running to school while eating bread, striking outfits and others. But I was kind of surprised because Japan has another face the animes and dramas didn’t show: a simple and homogeneous society. Nevertheless, I am happy to know that despite the simple nature of Japanese society, there is still a place for the ones who want to stand out. Only in Japan can you get the best of both worlds!
Please share some of your memorable experiences in a span of 1 year. What were your struggles / hurdles?
Being a fan of J-Pop, I made sure to go to concerts and events of artists I love. I joined fanclubs, subscribed to updates, joined every single ticket lottery I can. I got lucky and was able to attend concerts, fashion shows with good seats, attend filmings of variety shows I would only watch online before. That feeling where you realize your idols are more than just good looking idiots onscreen, and they’re ACTUAL people right in front of you. It’s a fangirl’s dream come true, really.
I also wanted to improve my Japanese until I can handle daily conversations and basic Keigo so I took a part-time job at a food stall. On one hand, it was a struggle because we all know how good Japanese service is. I had to live up to the expectation to give the same standards of service, but with the minimal Japanese I have and zero experience, I had to work thrice harder than a Japanese worker. But like I said, what can’t kill you will make you stronger. As the months pass, with me slowly gaining experience, I could feel myself naturally adjusting both to the environment and language.
Although Japan has always been a dreamland for me, even roses have their thorns. When you’re brought up to be outspoken and a fighter, it’s difficult to fit in Japan because it’s a reverse culture. It came to a point where I couldn’t talk to anyone but the stress of being a working student started building up. Thankfully I was able to cope up with friends who extended their help and of course, pop culture. I particularly started loving Japanese comedy because of this experience.
Did you study Japanese / Nihongo before coming? Did you take JLPT beforehand?
Being a Japanese major in university (with a little bit of self-study done before that), I took up Elementary Nihongo. Before my trip to Japan, I was a JLPT N4 passer. After my exchange program, I took up (and luckily, passed) N3. July this year I took up N2 and still waiting for results.
Please share important learnings / realizations after the 1-year study program
First, the world is never too big for you to explore. In my case, Sophia University is known for being a diverse community, so not only did I meet Japanese students, but exchange students from all over the world as well. It’s amazing how you can experience so much culture from all over the world in just a classroom. Although it may be just one room, but when you are in it with people from different countries as passionate as you are, you get a chance to experience a small portion of the world. And I can’t stress this enough, it is one of the best learning experiences you can get out of life.
Second, I also spent the year alone, away from my family, with no one to depend on but myself. Cliché as it may sound, I believe in the saying “What won’t kill you will make you stronger”. Although Japan is a dream land for me, I won’t deny that there have been shortcomings and difficulties. I don’t remember exactly how I got past them, but I remember being a different person after. I felt stronger. I learned how to do a lot of things by myself, I learned how to be more open-minded about other cultures, and most of all, I realized all the more how proud I am to be a Filipino.
Lastly, never ever give up on your dreams. If I could just turn back time and tell my 12 year-old self who starting this dream about everything that has happened 7-8 years later, I would. If you are passionate enough to make efforts in achieving your dreams, even little steps (I could say it took me 6 years before my dream came true) can turn into a big action combined. As they say in Japanense, “塵も積もれば、山となる” (Even dust, when piled up, will become a mountain). Even if at times you feel like you’re moving too slow, don’t quit halfway; you never know that the goal may be just right before you. It’s better to move 1 centimeter at a time towards a goal, than stopping altogether.
Tips for those who have the same dream and those who want to follow your footsteps.
There are a lot of exchange programs offered by various universities and the Embassy of Japan. In this case, the students are at an advantage because most programs are for students. If you are a student and you want to go to Japan, don’t be scared! Just keep applying!
If you want to apply for exchange programs through the embassy (be it short term or long term), most will require you to fill out essay forms that asks you to give reasons why you want to be a part of it. I strongly suggest that you don’t take this for granted and give your best answer. In my case, I became extremely personal, rather than professional with my essay. I became open enough to explain that my mother could not afford to send me to Japan, and how this program would help me, my future, and of course my family. Dear Charo lang ang peg, haha.
I can’t give a correct answer, but it’s definitely important to answer from the heart, and not from the mind. Remember, do not lose track of your goals and dreams!
For non-students, you can go to Japan through short term language courses where you can study Japanese in through a cultural immersion. There are schools like the Kudan Institute of Language Philippines where you can take Japanese courses IN Japan. It’s a good investment because you get to learn both the language and the culture.
I also have friends who studied Nihongo in the Nihongo Center (accredited by the Japan Information and Culture Center). If you achieve good grades throughout the course, you can be a candidate to be a scholar to take a full degree at their partner universities. Two of my friends are full scholar at Nanzan University, granted by the Nihongo Center.
Hope you guys learned a lot from our sharings!
REMEMBER: Don’t give up, fellow Cherry Blossom dream chaser!
Kaila, Sig & Jessica