Japan as a destination to do a short exchange or to gain some work experience is on many of our lists. Studying in Japan is definitely something I could wholeheartedly recommend to my readers and I think it’s good to have a stable plan for your preparations prior to going to the country. Most of the exchange students I met in Japan already had some kind of interest in the culture and they spoke some basic Japanese before they decided to go on an exchange program. In this article I am going to show you some important aspects of this plan building.
How to apply for a Japanese exchange program?
Manga, anime, judo and karate to name a few of those elements that are usually associated with Japanese culture.
Most of those who end up in Japan gain some insight into the most interesting part of the country’s culture via these elements and it is common to start learning Japanese in very early years while becoming an expert of one of these.
Such an approach is not bad at all because you can learn basic grammar structures and some Japanese characters, but if you really want to live and study in Japan you will need much more devotion than just watching anime occasionally.
If you are in your early 20s and you have just started your university years you are in a very good position.
You might be somewhat busy with your studies, but if you don’t have to work full time you still have some time to start learning the language and this is the most important step of starting your career in Japan.
Although many exchange programs don’t require you to speak the language knowing Japanese while living in Japan is a tremendous advantage.
The content of an exchange program advertisement can be very misleading, because they usually say that you can apply without Japanese skills, but when you get there you find yourself in an environment where nobody can really speak English so the first few months will be full of troubles and nuisances.
In one of the first years of your studies I would advise you to engage in some kind of research activity.
When you apply for an exchange program in Japan it is of utmost importance to have some kind of scientific achievement so that you can promote yourself to the Japanese party.
This shouldn’t be some kind of very high level stuff, because they are not interested in whether you can write academic papers on nuclear physics when you are 20, but you will have to show some kind of devotion and enthusiasm. They will certainly ask you about your achievements during university years and as there many applicants applying for the same program you will have to show your strength. By the way, this doesn’t necessarily have to be science related research. You can also show devotion to Japanese culture, so if science is not your piece of cake you can still focus on cultural stuff and include your activities in your CV so that it looks more appealing.
Try to cultivate the idea of being in Japan and doing some kind of research or engaging in some kind of activities that are mutually beneficial to Japan and your home country.
The purpose of your visit should be crystal clear in your mind!
So, why are you going to Japan?
What kind of fields do you want to work at?
What are your expectations?
These should be the principal questions for you to answer prior to submitting your application for an exchange program.
If you can answer these questions it will be pretty easy to do the rest.
The sooner you start the better.
You can master a large number of Japanese characters before even going to the country so that you don’t have to waste your precious time in Japan on learning Kanji.
For example if you are 20 years old and you are planning to go to Japan when you are 23 you have three years to study.
If you study 2 kanji every day, you will cover the whole JLPT list and let’s be honest writing down 2 kanji per day is not a huge effort.
The same is true for grammatical structures, pronunciation and listening.
Just try to do a little bit of everything every single day and you will be surprised by your progress.
While you are studying, try not to rely on machine translation. Avoid Google Translate at all costs!
I have already written a detailed article on why machine translation between Japanese and English is full of mistakes. If you’re interested in this please click on the following link.
I think if you follow these steps and apply for a few places to do an exchange program in Japan, you cannot fail. If the program includes a scholarship then it’s even better, because you don’t have to worry too much about financial problems.
Whether they are going to give you a scholarship or not should not be the most important aspect to focus on.
Once you are in Japan and you are allowed to do at least some part-time job, you will find hundreds of opportunities to work, so even for those without scholarships it is possible to earn enough money to pay for the rent, utilities and spare some pocket money.
Let’s suppose you made your way to Japan and you are already on an exchange program.
At this point, you will be faced with many questions.
If you like the country and the culture, but you are still not sure whether you want to stay and work there, most likely you will go home and you won’t have to plan much further ahead in the future.
Whereas if you like the country so much that you would stay and find a job there, the case is altered.
The job market in Japan is in big trouble.
Huge Japanese corporations are desperately looking for new workforce and the decreasing population of the country is definitely something that’s not mitigating the issue.
If you have expertise in a specific field, especially IT, cryptocurrency, big data, artificial intelligence, IoT or parallel computing Japanese corporations will welcome you with outstretched hands.
The recruitment procedure is a little bit bumpy. You will have to go through several rounds of interviews, but these days for a foreigner who speaks good English in Japanese and he or she received a degree from a Japanese university, finding the job is not too difficult in the country.
If you are willing to work in the country and pay taxes, you are the VIP person for the immigration office.
They want you badly, because there are less and less people in Japan with similar ambitions to you, and for these foreigners the Japanese Immigration Bureau introduced a new visa program a few years ago.
These highly skilled experts are evaluated in a very strict point system.
This part can take us back to the beginning of the article, because you can start your preparations in your early 20s.
If you are not familiar with the new visa program for highly skilled individuals in Japan, be sure to read my previous article.
So there are three types of highly skilled individual visas available for foreigners and the points you get are calculated according to your former achievements in life.
Specifically speaking, they consider your Japanese skills, your yearly revenue, your academic achievements and your age.
This means that you can start academic research even while you are an undergraduate student and this will give you a huge advantage when you want to apply for a highly skilled individual visa for foreigners in 10 or 15 years from now.
If you have several academic papers published, you will get a significant amount of points from the immigration bureau and it will be much easier for you to apply for the visa.
Japanese skills are also important. If you can pass the most difficult one, you can get 15 points and if you have a JLPT N2 certificate you will get 10 points, but for this you will have to start learning Japanese now! Check out the tests, the flashcards and the rest of the articles you find on this site and get on track right now!
Time does count, because the Japanese Immigration Bureau prefers younger highly skilled individuals to older migrants and they will even give you more points if you are younger.
You can get the most number of points if you are younger than 30 and you get less and less points from the immigration bureau as you grow older.
So now you can see that even if it feels like you are very young and you don’t have to worry too much about these preparations there are already some small things you can start doing and these small steps will result in realising your dreams in Japan with the help of the butterfly effect.
If you start when you are 20 it is much easier to learn 2 kanji per day and master the whole JLPT list in three years than to start when you are 22 and learn three times the daily amount because you are running out of time.
The number of Japanese characters can seem overwhelming at first sight, but whether you can memorise them depends on your devotion and diligence.
The most difficult part in this kind of preparation is that nobody, besides this article will help you so you will have to rely on yourself and don’t expect too much help from other sources. Good luck for now!