The SchooLynk team had a chance to interview Boat (Voraphan Vorakitphan), a 1st year Phd. student from Thailand. He is currently studying Library, Media and Information Studies in University of Tsukuba’s Doctoral Program. We asked Boat to talk about his adjustment to Japan, as a foreign graduate student who had little Japanese language ability to begin with. Here is his story:
Interviewer: Did you know any Japanese when you first came to Japan?
Boat: The first time I came for job training in Japan was three years ago, as an exchange student from King Mongkut University of Technology in my undergraduate studies. Back then, I didn’t know Japanese at all. I had to start from zero. I was studying a little bit of Japanese for two months, and then I went back to Thailand for graduation in my fourth year. Things got slightly more difficult when I came back to Japan for my Masters two years ago at the Kyushu Institute of Technology. It was rough at the time, because the university wasn’t a “global” one, so there were no classes held in English. I was studying Electrical Engineering. There might have been classes held in English for other degrees but for my course there was none so it was quite a struggle – but I had to survive.
There was no choice but to endure and learn in that environment, where everything was in Japanese. There was actually an option for non-Japanese speakers where we could submit reports in English, as well as taking tests in English. I graduated and got my Masters degree.
Recently, I started writing reports in Japanese as we had to continue to adapt. I couldn’t really just stop with just having everything in English. But yes, back in Kyushu I was mainly writing in English, because I was honestly not that into studying Japanese as a language. But I knew I had to adapt. Adapting was the most important thing, in my opinion.
SchooLynk: Did you study Japanese when you were in Kyushu?
Boat: Yes, but I was only studying conversational Japanese. I didn’t study how to write.
SchooLynk: So it was a class offered in university?
Boat: Yes, I studied how to read and speak in university.
SchooLynk: How about in University of Tsukuba? Are you currently taking any Japanese language classes here?
Boat: Not yet, since its has only been my first semester here. I am planning to take some in the future though. The different thing about University of Tsukuba and Kyushu is that the university is much more global, so in that sense I don’t have to use that much Japanese. But Japanese is still very important in my everyday life.
SchooLynk: Speaking of everyday life, did you find any difficulties in adjusting to your life here, especially with the language?
Boat: Right now, if it’s about daily chores and things like asking for official papers, going to the city hall, I have no problems. Although I do still find the Japanese used in my classes quite challenging, especially in presentations. So I have to study more, for specific details.
SchooLynk: For students who are interested in coming to Japan, but have no knowledge in Japanese language, do you have any advice for them before they come?
Boat: I would say to start now. It doesn’t matter how smart you are, if you are dedicated and committed, then you can do anything. You have to keep in mind, however, that there might be some struggles and difficulties along the way. That is when you get homesick. Getting support from your friends and family is also very important. There were many times when I felt discouraged, that I felt like I couldn’t do it. But the important thing is that you should not look too far into the future. Think about it on a day-to-day basis, and things will appear much more bearable.
SchooLynk: You mentioned about getting support from your friends and family. How is your social circle here?
Boat: I have both Japanese and international friends. In the beginning, when I couldn’t speak Japanese well, I got close to Japanese kids who can speak English. Then I started learning Japanese from them. My friendship circle then slowly grew to those who cannot speak English, and I slowly blended in. As for friends from other countries, I got to know them through the international club and chat rooms. When there are events, I would go. Even if I don’t get notified, I would actively go to the International Office and ask them for any opportunities to meet more people.
SchooLynk: What kind of events did you go to?
Boat: It depends, but there are many chatting groups for different departments and also campuses. In those groups you can get notified for the different opportunities to exchange and make friends. They have many themes, such as Halloween parties and New Years parties.
SchooLynk: I can see that there’s quite a lot of international students here. How about Thai students?
Boat: We also have our own group for Thai students in University of Tsukuba. About 30? About half is in undergraduate, and the other half is masters. We don’t have as many Phd. students, and most of them are a lot older than I am, in their thirties. So I tend to hang out more with the undergraduates.
SchooLynk: That’s great! How about your Japanese friends? Are you close to them?
Boat: Yes! I am still in contact with many of them who are in Kyushu. In fact, one of them will be visiting me and we’ll be going around Tokyo together. At this moment, I think I passed the point where language was the most important skill for communicating.
SchooLynk: I think we understand what you mean. The longer one stays here, regardless of the language, sometimes we can just read the atmosphere and understand. Language might in fact not be the only thing when it comes to adjusting to life here in Japan.
Boat: Yes exactly. It’s all about adapting and getting used to the life here, like anywhere else.
SchooLynk: Thank you very much Boat for your experiences on adjusting to life here in Japan, I think we touched on many topics that many prospective students would like to know about.
Boat: No problem. Thank you.
Studying abroad in Japan may seem intimidating, especially when you have not studied Japanese or if you’re not confident in your language ability. But taking that initial step and staying positive is the key to making the full use of your opportunity here, just like how Boat had grown to enjoy his time here in Japan.
Learn more about Boat’s field of study and life in Japan in the full video interview below :
Don’t forget to check out Boat’s youtube channel where he also posts about his experiences as a student studying abroad.