Studying overseas is never a comfortable and easy journey. Some can adjust easily and thrive. But the majority of students encounter certain situations that discourage them at some point. The idea of studying in the Land of the Rising Sun is no exception. It sounds appealing to many aspiring international students, and most are looking forward to the exciting aspects of university life here. However, coming to Japan to pursue higher education takes grit, guts, and mental and physical preparation.

Curious to know how international students in Japan are dealing with their school life and how they are spending their time outside school? 

I had a chance to speak with Victoria Narmada, a student from Indonesia who is currently an International Relations student at Tokyo International University. Let’s hear what she has to share about her school life in Japan!

Firstly, may I ask you the reasons why you chose TIU to further your education? What are your feelings about life in Japan right now?

I have always dreamt of coming to Japan to further my education. At TIU, there is a wide range of generous scholarship options that can ease my financial burdens. Moreover, as its name suggests, TIU is located, though not exactly in Tokyo, but near Tokyo, where the living expenses will be less expensive. Moreover, I can easily go to Tokyo not only for entertainment but to access numerous job opportunities. I got used to living in Japan much faster than I had expected. This is all thanks to the diverse and large number of international students that I met at TIU, along with the support I receive from the Indonesian circles here.

Apart from your schoolwork, do you participate in any clubs or organizations in your free time? 

My student life here at TIU is very rewarding as I get to actively participate in student club activities and do part-time jobs. I must say I feel really grateful for being selected as an English Plaza staff during my first year at TIU because this valuable experience shapes me into a well-rounded person. Being in the E-plaza allows me to make more friends and cultivate my interpersonal skills. Furthermore, working as an intern at the university gives me the feeling of satisfaction in a field that has high ideals and like-minded students. I am also in PPI TIU which is an Indonesian organization at TIU. Working with other Indonesians has not only made me develop my leadership and teamwork skills, but has also urged me to come up with new ideas to develop culture-exchange activities in an international environment like TIU.

“I become less homesick thanks to my Indonesian gang”

Did you encounter any culture shock and stress in the first few weeks after arriving in Japan? Any challenges with Japanese when you have to study the language from scratch?

The language barrier presents one of the biggest challenges for most overseas students who are studying in Japan. And I am no exception. I have always been struggling with Japanese, especially in the first few weeks when I arrived in Japan. Simple questions like asking about directions or ordering food were so challenging for me. I believe that every international student who comes to Japan without Japanese language abilities has dreamed of a point where we are fluent and are able to use Japanese to communicate effectively. Apart from this, I sometimes miss my country’s cuisines as well. There were times when I really wished I could go back to Indonesia just to eat my favorite food. Moreover, separating the trash is also stressful because there are very many rules that need to be considered. But gradually, I have gotten used to those culture shocks and have started adjusting to my life.

Did you have any difficulties when studying International Relations at TIU?

I must admit that specializing in this field, I had to read and write a lot of papers, which were sometimes really intimidating. However, my teachers were always supportive, and they had helped me a lot with the coursework. In the last semester, I had not taken major courses yet and I am still considering which sub-field I will be most passionate about. At TIU, International Relations (IR) offers four sub-fields, which are Global Governance, International Security, International Political Economy, and Culture and Society. Because of my interest in International Relations, I also plan to apply for TIU’s Model United Nations, which is the biggest and most developed varsity club of TIU, to gain knowledge about the current issues in the world, voice opinions, and propose creative solutions. This would also be an opportunity for me to have relaxing moments with my peers apart from the schoolwork.

How do you normally spend your day at TIU? Is it difficult to balance your schoolwork and personal interests?

At TIU, I only have classes on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, which allows me to spend extra time for myself and on other off-campus activities. I normally spend a day at TIU by going to classes, discussing schoolwork with my friends, eating lunch, going to the English Plaza, and ending up at the library to study. The first semester was not too stressful in terms of schoolwork. Therefore, I tried to spend more time studying Japanese. I also participate in social activities with my international peers and make new friends. I always believe that university life is not just about studying and getting myself absorbed in schoolwork. Therefore, I always tried out new experiences as a way to balance my personal interest, schoolwork, and my part-time job as well. Sometimes during the exam period, I did feel overwhelmed to some extent, but overall, it was completely possible to get through all of this.

Can you share the most memorable experience in your first year in Japan?

Moving out of the dorms was one of the most exciting experiences I have had so far. I wanted to make my room feel familiar and “homey”, so I decorated it to add more personality. Especially for the bedroom, a homey feeling is necessary. The process of choosing furniture and purchasing them becomes a more intimidating task when my roommate and I had to assemble all of the things on our own. However, making our apartment a nicer place to live in and seeing the result was very satisfying!

Do you have any messages for international students who have the intention of studying at a Japanese university?

Firstly, Japan is going to be super fun, but you have to be realistic about the journey of studying overseas, especially in the country where English is not the main language. You must be prepared for the culture shock here, and please do not think the journey will be filled with roses. There will be a lot of workloads given by your professors and teachers. Your challenge here is to balance schoolwork and part-time jobs. You will have to handle issues with your teamwork projects. It’s easy to let things slip when you’re halfway through the academic year and the deadlines are stacking up. But you’ll manage your time far better with forward planning and sincere respect for deadlines.

Internships, club/circles and volunteer experiences look great on an application
Social activities shape your experience and also add an edge to your job CV

Secondly, get work experience wherever you can. It could be on-campus internships or short-term internships that are available on multiple platforms. Social clubs and outdoor activities are also a great way to gain practical experience and develop your interpersonal skills. In this way, you can establish a wide network of professional people in your field and they are able to provide you valuable insights that might be helpful for your future goals. 

Last but not least, when you have not started in-depth major courses, you need to invest your time in the first year to improving your Japanese language ability. For every international student coming to Japan, sooner or later, you will realize that your Japanese language ability is the key to improving your life, social relationships, and academic accomplishments. This is among the most challenging tasks for me, even now.

I hope that my story will somehow provide an overall image of school life in Japan as a freshman. There may be unwanted situations along the way, but believe me, all of our efforts will be paid off in the end!

Thank you for sharing, Victoria!