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A MUST read. Life in Japan as a student, work, love, and life lessons

maushan3

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Hi, all.

I used to be an avid poster here at the forums quite a bit some five years ago. I know it's long, but if you have some 10 minutes, please read, it might be of thought for people who want to come to Japan.

Here's my story. I'm currently 22 years old. Five and a half years ago I signed up for a high school exchange year in Japan. I went in late August 2007. It was something I counted the days for the departure day to come. I got to Japan and fell in love with it. First time in Asia and I was going to live with a host family and attend a local high school. It had its ups and downs but hands down the most wide-opening and reflective experience I could ever have. Came back home to finish high school and wanted to go back for perfecting the language and get the experience of now experience living by myself and trying some other things. I really wanted to go back to Japan. Me and my parents didn't know ALL the options that were available to keep studying in Japan (which now I see that are quite a lot. MEXT, Global 30, JASSO, JES, lang. schools to enter university, etc...). So at the time I don't know why, I think it was the immaturity of a teenager, but didn't really research. So, I looked at my local Mexican universities and chose one because they gave me a pretty decent merit scholarship and had the ISEP exchange program to a lot of universities, and was dead set on going to Japan. So I applied, kept studying the language on an advanced level for two years here in Mexico, and I did indeed go on my second adventure on September 2010.

It was great, I had the best time, really had the knack for experiencing university life and had a lot of fun, made a lot of Japanese friends, was involved in a lot of activities, picking up a lot more Japanese quickly, and even felt the cold shoulder from most of the other exchange students as they were having a hard time making Japanese friends and, to be honest, think am good at adapting quickly and always joked around, and sometimes acting the stupid gaijin part, I didn't mind, it was really fun. Also took regular Japanese classes, even though to be honest, still wasn't up to that exact level, just yet. I worked and was the only foreigner in a traditional ryokan in Hakuba sky resort for two months on my winter break. And due to me paying very little tuition and pretty much next to zilch in room and board my whole year, life was pretty sweet. I made friends with this English teacher from America. He himself told me he had this great idea for me to transfer. He saw me really adapted, learning a lot, and he thought that it too was great for the Japanese students to have someone like me around for them to get more internationalized and for me to act as a bridge for other exchange students and creating buddy programs so that the transition (which I experienced years ago) would be easier for them, and so. It sounded great! (btw, it was Nihon University in Mishima, Shizuoka). He and I asked right away the International Students Office and admissions, and they just kept postponing, blah, blah.... Japanese bureaucracy, you know. In the end, I was able to make my stay longer for six months until March 2012. I enrolled in "The Bridge Program," a program designed for advanced Asian students to pass JLPT 1 and do an exchange taking regular Japanese courses. Thought it was also a good choice since it was my "bridge" to transferring to the university as even the admissions office told me it would be and it was my chance to learn more to finally pass N1. However, this time I was pretty much on my own financially, and thought it was a good time to tell my parents that I could do it working part time jobs and the like. Boy, was it hard! A little too optimistic, I must say.

For the summer, a Japanese friend was kind enough to let me stay for over a month in his apartment while I looked for a job. Now I know that I didn't do it the best way, but on the second day of visiting locales on foot I got an interview for this Spanish bar on Shibuya. I told him I was in Tokyo until school strarted again but could work on the weekends afterwards. Due to my visa being on process he told me that I had to wait until it was re-issued for me to work. So I waited, and waited, until some three weeks later I got the thing on the mail and off I went to the immigration office and got my part-time permit right on the spot. As I originally lived on a two-hour train ride from Tokyo, I worked on a regular basis for only like three weeks and then afterwards, got laid off telling me that the main work was on the weekdays, but that I will get contacted again to work in December. Hmm, sure. Move on. However I did have a hard time for them paying me due to some documents "being out of order", complete BS. They kept changing the story every time I got them the document they wanted.

So I definitely did see myself becoming more of a serious and more responsible person going through some hardships (work, study, bureaucracy). I forgot to say that I was doing a project (well, pretty much employed) along with my Japanese friend's acquaintance teaching English for some months in Tokyo, some good money, but it was pretty much gone on the train fare, but I did it for the long term project. To make it short, he got me all the students, I taught particular English at cafés, but he suddenly disappeared with no contact whatsoever. Immediately ruled the project out. So from around the end of October I worked at many small jobs. Worked getting people to come to parties in Roppongi for a couple of weekends, did Haken (one-day contract jobs) handing out tissues, at factories overnight, you name it. All this while studying, focusing on JLPT 1, being up to day as to how my transfer documents were going, and I began to struggle a lot, losing weight, getting pissed a lot, not really what it was supposed to be. I tried looking for a part time job in my town, but it was pretty impossible due to me being a foreigner, so I found it a lot easier in Tokyo. Then took JLPT 1 again (and didn't pass it just for the reading part), and then just kept trying my best studying, and immediately got a job on a Mexican restaurant on Marunouchi, in Tokyo. I immediately fit in and loved it, it was hard work but it was pretty fun making guacamole right table side and talking to customers. I finally found a steady job that I loved and things started to seem like they were going my way again. Until, in January, my uni's admission guy told me that he was sorry but that he had been missing some particular rule and that I could not sit the transfer examination. A kick in the nuts! Just like that, he missed that rule for almost a year and everything just shattered. After talking to the dean, he said he apologized and told me that he wishes his campus had more people like me but that he couldn't break said rule. After a few days of shock, I just accepted the fact that I did my best, gave myself a pat in the back and moved to Tokyo to at least try to earn some money to take back home with me until my visa expired. Which I did. The tiredness and constant flu's just were too much that it was too hard to keep going, but determined to earn a set amount of money for something that I needed that money for when I came back. And I developed a true bond with my Japanese friend who let me stay in his couch on his apartment. We even talked about us doing business when we graduate.

As for the experiences and hard (but pretty sweet as experience) stuff, pretty much all happened on my last six months. I was on a couple TV commercials right before I left after many auditions, was picked up while working on the street, to be on a TV show asking my girl to be my girlfriend (I'm glad I messed it up because I know that by doing it public, she must've definitely said no!). Spent many nights sleeping on McD's due to missing my train and not having a dime, working as a translator and guide for a Mexican TV station on the FIFA club world cup, and many more...

Another thing that truly made myself stronger and a better person. I'm pretty sure I met the love of my life. One late August afternoon before going to work at the Spanish bar I killed time at the Shibuya Tsutaya and got a message from one of my Mishima friends telling me that she saw me, I was surprised to say the least, and when I met her, she was with another girl friend of hers. We talked a bit, exchanged emails and asked her out. We went out, and she definitely had a a huge impact in the way I see the world now, and think, we went out quite a bit, talked for hours about she going next on the Santiago de Compostela trail walking for a month(I'm talking about a 19 y/o univ. student). We weren't officially a couple, yet. Her volunteering in Indonesia and the like, and as time went by, we began to know each other better and I must say she had a pretty good impact on me. When I gave her the news that I was going to go home she said, hey, it's okay, it's not like I live on Mars. We sleep under the same stars. Man, that was deep. We didn't agree to anything but until know we keep sharing our daily lives via email and sometimes Skype and I just hope to be lucky enough to be reunited with her some day.

Well, just wanted to share this as I think this is my humble tale of my experience as a foreigner.

And right now, well, I'm back, and that extreme fatigue turned out to not being me missing home, but apparently it being a Thyroid condition of which tomorrow I'm going to see my doctor, to see exactly what it is.

Now, I'm back home, thinking about what's next. First, I gotta get this thyroid thing over with, it's really stubborn and affecting my daily life. And then, I really want to volunteer using with my local Japanese community giving Japanese classes while keeping my Japanese skill and who knows, maybe get contacts that could help me in my career.

But, deep inside me... I honestly want to go back to Japan, internship, university, God knows, but I know that if Japan is really in my future, Japan part III will happen sooner than later. As for now, I discovered that I don't like my university, it's just too easy and not for me, so I will probably transfer to the other local, in which I can participate on an East Asian business mission completely sponsored by local companies to investigate, and with me knowing Japanese, definitely think am on an advantage!

And finally, just want to know whether it is/isn't wise to apply as Ryuugakusei to Japanese universities starting next April as a first year student. I'm talking about Waseda, Meiji, Keio. I want to and my parents support me financially, but... I don0t now why i think i could learn a lot more here (Japanese ed system not really effective), graduating in less than two years, and then, maybe applying to grad school in there or some other country. What do you guys think?

I'm still unsure but would like to work in international business, NGO, international organization, or my secret dream ob with FIFA.
 

thomas

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Thanks for sharing, and welcome back to JREF! :)
 

Petaris

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It sounds like you had a very interesting, though not easy, time in Japan. Thanks for the story, and its nice to see someone who really, really, put the effort in! :)
 

maushan3

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Thanks guys, it was hard in the end, but that's what made it more valuable.
 

zoomingjapan

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Thanks for sharing.
Well, it's good you're back home in one piece. Get that health issue sorted out first! Good luck with that!
And then think carefully how to go on from there! :)
 

maushan3

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zoomingjapan, thanks for reading.

Yes, first is my health and even though I'm having a hard time with my thyroid problem, I know everything will be alright and I'll be taking a good decision.
 

nickthegamer

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read all this.. I must say besides not having financial backup or much support, I'd want to take your position even if it brought me back to the states or mexico. I'm interested in Japan, but unless theres some abroad program that'll do loans or some weird stuff. There's no way it'll be happnening soon..

I think at this specific time that visiting would be my best bet. If I find a job soon I may be able to do it around my birthday.. should have maybe $1000 or so by then......I think
 

akiyamine

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Damn I read this just when I thought I had gone into some hardships.........
but your story is really different and really inspiring ! Thanks for sharing and good luck for the future my friend !
 

Mike Cash

骨も命も皆此の土地に埋めよう
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I can understand why this may have been a "must write", but I'll be hanged if I can understand what there is about it that makes it a "must read".
 

Glenski

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Was the name of the Nihon University teacher Joe F.? If so, I know him.
 

nice gaijin

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I skimmed, so if I'm missing some important facts, forgive me.

Frankly, I would look into something other than study as a means to get back to Japan. You're 22 now, does that mean that you've already gotten your bachelor's degree? Studying at a university like Waseda or Todai would be a costly way to get back here, and the most valuable returns from your time studying here wouldn't be the education or even the degree, but the connections you build while you're here. Many exchange students fall into the trap of hanging out exclusively with other foreigners, which hobbles their social network in Japan (something that is crucial for someone who intends to come back).

It seems that you've already had some success in this regard. Nurture the connections that you've made in Japan already, as you never know where they will lead you.
 

Emoni

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Not sure why Mike has to be a stick in the mud again in this thread... but anyway, nice post, you did quite a bit. Always good to see people go on exchange programs and really make an effort to get a great deal from it that they can use to expand their lives and options.

Keep pushing forward. If you go the academic route, check into the monbukagakusho scholarship and flesh out a strong research proposal and you can continue your study. There are other ways of course, but it is up to you. Heck, I chose to do a second exchange program I enjoyed and gained so much from the first.
 

ONtheRA

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Good story. If its a faith dont push too hard, it will come in right time. Thank you for sharing and I hope that the time has change and it is much easier to asimilate in Tokyo.
 

Alecksander

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That was an awesome story! Kudos to you for putting in all of that effort. I'm very curious to hear about how they treated you being that you're Mexican? I'm Mexican and I'm going to Japan this December and I've been trying to find some stories about the subject. I'll only be there for 2 weeks but it would be nice to get some insight into how I might be treated since Japanese haven't had much interaction with Hispanic cultures (from what I hear).
 
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Way to hang in there. Japan part III might be made just a bit easier if its less fly-by-seat-of-your pants, normally a bit of research ahead of time could help solve some of these issues. Still way to grind through.
 

Mike Cash

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Way to hang in there. Japan part III might be made just a bit easier if its less fly-by-seat-of-your pants, normally a bit of research ahead of time could help solve some of these issues. Still way to grind through.

The Seven "P"s:

Proper Prior Planning Prevents P!ss-Poor Performance.
 

teddycutie777

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Thanks for sharing your story. I haven't been to Japan before and I'm trying to catch a glimpse of the real Japan (not the anime-portrayed Japan) and your experiences somehow shed some light to me.

I'm just curious though, how is your situation right now? :)
 
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