Meet Zainab, a first-year undergraduate student from the UK studying in Japan! Zainab is part of the TAISI (Transnational and Interdisciplinary Studies in Social Innovations) Program, an English-based degree program under the School of Social Sciences at the Waseda University. Enrolled in September of 2019, Zainab has currently finished one semester in Tokyo and is preparing to start the second half of her freshman year in the spring.

In this brief article, Zainab provides us with an insight on student life from the perspective of a student from the UK! Stay tuned to learn the challenges, benefits, and delights of choosing to study in Japan!

Why did you choose to study in Japan?

Zainab, pictured on the right, with her friend from TAISI

“I chose to study in Japan spontaneously, as I have always admired the culture and food. I was interested in international and rural development, as well as non-governmental organizations.”

“Additionally, I can enrich myself by studying Japanese. This is not only a great skill for international careers but a fun and interesting experience. I can then graduate with the ability to communicate in English, Arabic, and Japanese, allowing me to have greater language and communication skills. Being from a diverse background, I would also love to bring new ideas to the table and exchange views with others in an international environment, where we don’t all share the same nationality and also hear from them. It also gives me the opportunity to learn about other countries and languages and have a global network of friends.

By spending my university life in Japan, I can feel safe, explore its rich culture, have life-long friends, learn a new language, equip myself with unique career prospects and learn within the land of ‘The Japan model’, one of the world’s most developed non-western nations!

So why Waseda’s TAISI Program?

The TAISI Program was established in 2018 under the Waseda University’s School of Social Sciences as an English-based degree program for international undergraduate students. Let’s hear what Zainab has to say about the program!

“I have been very passionate and eager to pursue my studies since the program’s launch. The SSS Youtube channel’s interviews of students with shared goals in working under an international platform inspired me to do so. The program has various courses under four fields: Peace Building and International Cooperation, Community and Social Development, Social Organization and Working, and Economic and Environmental Sustainability. After visiting study abroad workshops in the UAE and the UK, as well as after browsing the internet, I believed that this program would not only allow me to immerse myself in my passion for the Japanese culture, but it would expose me to the various unique features and experiences that it had to offer.”

The emphasis on practical approaches also means I can put my learning into practice beyond the classroom and explore my ideas, which is a privilege that is not available in many countries with courses of this kind. This approach and its opportunities are not available in top UK universities I have applied to. Being able to present to government administrative officers and specialists rewards future change-makers and leaders with great confidence, presentation skills, and teamwork, all the while enabling feedback from insightful professionals within the field of study. Work experience is vital and the fieldwork undertaken by students equips and prepares well-rounded candidates, even before pursuing a career or graduate school. I have also contacted NGOs such as UNICEF to get an idea for the best experience and degree that one can attain to prepare for a career there. After coming across the TAISI program, I was able to conclude that it fit the criteria.

Are you part of an international student aid program?

“No, but I have received generous scholarships from the university which I am very grateful for and feel as though my hard work truly paid off. Japanese universities are very understanding and supportive in that regard as long as you do your best academically.”

Zainab’s scholarship is called the Honors Scholarship for Privately-Financed International Students. This scholarship is exclusive to the Waseda University and provides 500,000 JPY per year for two years.

What was the most difficult part of starting a life in Japan?

The language barrier. I wish I studied a lot of Japanese beforehand, but my A-level/university entrance examinations were very demanding, and I decided to study in Japan for about a year before traveling. However, language lessons are taught several times a week within various levels, and you are sure to improve rapidly by living first hand as well.”

“Another difficulty would be setting up the utilities, bank account, health insurance, wifi and learning how to pay the bills. I feel as though they have taught me a lot about ‘adult-ing’ as they say, which I otherwise would not have understood in the future. Key life skills were gained!”

How did you overcome these difficulties?

Try to get to know people living there beforehand,” Zainab advises, “In my case, my father knew friends who lived in Tokyo as well as real estate agents. This was very helpful in finding a place and understanding the utilities.”

What happens, then, if you have no prior connections in Japan? To this, Zainab has a solution. “I feel grateful to have met many wonderful people who also helped me settle in and even accompanied me to various places if they spoke fluent Japanese. One such Japanese friend was Tamaki, the interviewer for this very article!” And it was my pleasure 😉

It is useful to know Japanese friends but it is also a great learning experience to get out of your comfort zone, as most students are in the same boat. It will eventually become easier as you learn or overcome little things together!”

Favorite part of student life in Japan?

Tokyo has a lot to offer and is an amazing place if you are a young student within your university years. The rich culture, festivals, events, delicious food, numerous unique places, and adventures are endless, and there are other prefectures and regions I have still yet to explore. All this while feeling safer than you would in most parts of the world!

I also enjoy the environment a body of international students has to offer. When surrounded by people of several different nationalities and backgrounds all deciding to come to one place of which they all admire, you are naturally enriched with cultural exchange!”

Interests in any club or circles?

I am yet to choose from the hundreds of circles Waseda has to offer within quite a thick book! However, now that my first semester is over, and I feel more settled, I may choose one related to my TAISI program within the volunteering field. There are many art-related circles as well!”

How are the professors?

Class trip with Waseda’s professor for Hatsumode (New Years visit to the temple)

The professors have provided very interesting classes so far in which I have learned a lot, especially from their own experiences, background knowledge, and self-published books. The freshman seminar especially was very helpful in bridging the gap between secondary school and university i.e citing essays, referencing, and presenting.”

The professors have also made settling in a lot easier due to their understanding of the challenges international students may face and offers of help if needed.”

Any Japanese foods or places that you recommend?

Takoyaki food stand in Takahata Fudo Temple

“I have still yet to try all Japanese dishes, but I recommend fully experiencing Japanese cuisine in addition to simply eating it. Try sitting down and cooking Shabu Shabu with friends, grilling Yaki-niku, ordering conveyor belt sushi, or making your own Okonomiyaki in a DIY restaurant! I feel that when eating in Japan, food is more than just a meal. It is a vehicle to promote socialization and true appreciation for your company and the Japanese culture!

Japanese confectionery desserts are also very unique and very delicious! They include unique ingredients such as matcha, red and white bean pastes, mochi, etc. Each prefecture and region offers special meals or desserts as well.”

The food in Japan, as well as its internal value, is an adventure in and of itself!

Advice for students in the UK who are contemplating whether or not to study in Japan?

For this question, Zainab had a lot to share about her newly obtained wisdom on studying in Japan!

Tips on the Application

I feel it is wisest to apply to both UK and Japanese universities. Apply through UCAS to UK universities within the application periods at school with everyone else and keep the Japanese university application dates in mind. That way, you have the option if you feel uncertain or worried but are still interested.”

“Please remember to write down the Japanese application dates and read the process clearly so that you can follow the guidelines before the due dates. Be sure to also have at least 4 small passport-like photos for embassy trips and applications, attached to university documents and ID cards. Just take your time to read the process and understand it, noting the due dates and necessary application documents.”

“Additionally, remember to ask teachers to provide you with what you need to send early, as they may not be familiar with the process. It is much easier to understand the process yourself and provide the list of documents to the career advisers or directly to your A-level teachers, since it is something they may not be able to help you with. And be timely, for they won’t be able to sign anything during the final exams!”

Preparing for the Application

“Do your best throughout your studies! Although they have a holistic approach to applications, they do consider your achievements and not just your university entrance exam grades. At least for Waseda, I was asked to provide certifications and signed spreadsheets of all mini tests and unit quizzes taken throughout my last year of A-levels. Therefore, it is important to keep consistency in mind. This may seem intimidating, but do not be disheartened, as they do take your passionate essay into account. I found that this aspect of the application process actually gave me the personal motivation to study!”

Dealing with Doubts

It may seem quite frightening at first, and people around you may make you feel more afraid. They remind you how far it is and that applying via UCAS to UK universities is a much safer option.”

But you have to decide for yourself. Sometimes the scariest decisions are the best ones. I feel that was the case for me. I had never been to Japan prior but had a desire to and still managed to settle in. With an ever globalizing world, I would say it is a great way to immerse yourself in a new culture, learn a new language, and gain life experiences you otherwise would not have obtained. I feel as though I am happier than many friends back home in London!”

“If you are able to afford it, I think it is a once in a lifetime experience, and if not, I recommend coming under a funded exchange program.”

In the end, many people work hard to achieve their dream job in order to travel in the future, but it is also possible to experience such pleasures and adventure while you are young and learning!

Final thoughts?

“Japan is worth the distance and applications, and I am glad that I came here!”

Thank you for sharing, Zainab! For any students in the UK interested in studying in Japan, I hope this article provided a realistic and engaging source of inspiration. Best of luck in your application journeys!