One NJ exchange student’s rotten experience as a J MOE-MEXT ryuugakusei

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Hi Blog.  What follows is a guest essay from a 3-year exchange student on the GOJ dime who has come to Japan to study and found it highly undesirable.  Others who have had similar experiences, please comment.  All names etc have been changed to protect the guilty.  If interested in getting in touch with the author, please contact me at debito@debito.org and I’ll forward your enquiry.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

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GUEST ESSAY FOLLOWS

My name is Laura Petrescu, and I am a Monbukagakusho-MEXT scholarship grantee that has been living in Japan for almost three years. When I came here, I was expecting a high-quality academic environment and an overall positive experience. I was disappointed time and again by irregularities, double standards, absurd situations and blatant displays of racism.

Therefore, I thought I’d share my ryuugaku experience so far. I think that by getting the word out I’m giving prospective foreign students a chance to learn ‘other’ truth about living and studying in Japan. On the surface, things might look good – after all, who would say no to going to college for free? Still, there are many things that can turn an average ryuugaku experience into a complete disappointment and a waste of time.

A little background information:

I came to Japan in spring 2007. I spent my first year in Japan at the former Osaka University of Foreign Studies (currently, the Foreign Languages division of Osaka University). Here, myself and other foreign students studied Japanese and other tangent subjects.

At the beginning of our second year here, each of us was sent to a university (supposedly) of his or her choosing. Things went downhill for a lot of us afterward, and plenty of people have already given up their scholarships and returned home. Those of us who stayed are still dealing with the ups and downs of an inherenty flawed system that seems to care more about pretty numbers on a sheet of paper, and less about the overall well-being of each of us, as a person.

What follows are the ten major reasons that essentially ruined the whole “Study in Japan! Free forever!” thing for me.

#1. Double standards for Asian and non-Asian foreign students at OUFS
At the OUFS foreign students’ dorm, Asian student groups were allowed to get away with pretty much anything, from shooting fireworks indoors and setting a curtain on fire (subsequently leading to foreign students’ parties being banned on campus grounds) to using shower stalls as public restrooms and even cheating on tests. Several students displayed an increasingly reckless behavior and walked away with a mild warning and nothing more.

On a side note, the regular Monbukagakusho newsletter that gets sent to all foreign students mostly features Asians and information for Asians looking for jobs, etc. I think I’ve only seen a non-Asian interviewed once.

Back to OUFS, non-Asian students were harassed and ridiculed by teachers and dorm staff on several occasions. One particular incident comes to mind, where a white girl’s Japanese language abilities were ridiculed in class by none other than her teacher, to the point where she broke down crying. The Asian students in said class (two Koreans and two Singaporeans) watched and laughed. For the record, the girl had passed the JLPT-1 examination and was one of the best Japanese speakers I know.

Half a year later, Asian students had a barbecue. When non-Asians did the same thing one day later, the dorm supervisor called the campus guards and we were forced to “cease and desist” immediately. We asked why there was no problem if Asians did it, but if we did it, we were somehow in the wrong. Mid-conversation, he turned, said something unintelligible in English (even though we’d all been talking to him in Japanese the whole time) and stormed off.

Another time, due to a faulty English translation of a notice, almost all foreign students ended up locked out of their rooms. All rooms were scheduled for a fire alarm maintenance, and al of us were notified. The Japanese notice (which most of us couldn’t read at the time) added, “出かけるときは鍵を持って行ってください”. The English translation was, “Please keep your key.” Guess who got yelled at when gingerly trying to point out the mistake: a native English speaker, who was told by the dorm supervisor something along the lines of, “I studied in the US for 10 years, I know English!” and promptly dismissed. I got yelled at too, when I politely asked the supervisor to please let me in my own room.

#2. Pressure and “mind games” at OUFS
As far as “mind games” go, myself and another student were in dire straits for having missed some classes (although it was never made clear that attendance mattered, and in both our countries attendance does NOT count towards a grade). On a side note, I missed most of those classes due to medical reasons. The program supervisor set up a “trial” with the two of us, himself and another teacher, and spent an hour and a half making us believe that we’d screwed up irrevocably and we’d face grave consequences, possibly even failing the year and being deported straight away.

At the end of the meeting, he gave each of us a paper that said we renounced our scholarship benefits then and there. And all we had to do was to sign on the dotted line and that would be “better for us, right?”. Naturally, we both refused, much to the supervisor’s bafflement. Ironically enough, an Asian student had an even worse attendance record, but they never attempted to pressure him into giving up.

#3. Poor-quality teaching and evaluation at OUFS
Some teachers at OUFS were, in my humble opinion, hardly qualified to teach. One spent most of the class time talking about anything but what he was supposed to teach, and even going so far as to ask inappropriate questions, such as, “So, do you have a boyfriend yet?”. He’d skip from topic to topic, ramble for a bit, then move on to another topic before just as suddenly going back to supposed “teaching”.

Towards the end of the year, the same teacher called me and another student to his office and proceeded to tell us that, due to poor attendance, he would be “forced” to fail us both. He then asked us why we missed so many classes. I answered first. “You weren’t teaching anything”, I said. “And also, your class has nothing to do with my major. It’s boring. And I don’t care.” The other student said nothing… and in the end, we both passed. The bottom line is, nobody failed their first year at OUFS. The program was simply made that way.

Exams were a major pain for hard-working students. Students who couldn’t speak a lick Japanese scored top grades, while people who actually studied everything there was to study scored 80% or less. The reason? Exams always consisted of the simplest possible Japanese language questions, so that everyone would supposedy pass with flying colors. It was easy enough to lose sight of simple Kanji characters when you spent weeks drilling complicated ones into your head. To make things worse, classes moved at a pace too quick for anyone to actually understand everything, and revision time was basically limited to one or two pop quizzes a week, with new stuff to learn following straight after. The bottom line is, students who couldn’t speak a lick of Japanese got into top-level Japanese universities, while fluent speakers / writers had to settle for the “average” ones.
Besides the language itself, we were taught Economy, Culture, History and Politics in Japanese from day one, even though more than half of us had zero Japanese knowledge (our orientation guide specifically stated that no previous knowledge of the language is required – apparently, that changed from 2008). Our textbooks were in intermediate or advanced Japanese with plenty of technical terms. Some of the teachers didn’t even speak English, so they couldn’t help us understand things better, either.

#4. Disregard of personal university choices
Myself and another student with poorer grades than mine both opted for Osaka University as our first university of choice. Inexplicably, he got in, while I was sent to Tokyo ○○ University (third on my list). I had solid reasons to stay in Osaka (Osaka University had the exact course I wanted to major in, while the other one did not; and also my fiance of that time lived in Osaka with his family).

I went through every possible avenue to try and overturn the decision, but what chances would I have against a system that just doesn’t care? I wonder what was the point in making us write our “choice list” (入学希望大学リスト) in the first place, when it was clear that: a- “advanced” students were among the only ones who got into their university of choice, and b- the selection criteria were shady to say the least.

#5. Misinformation by Tokyo ○○ staff at orientation meeting
At a university orientation meeting (大学説明会) at OUFS, I asked the Tokyo ○○ representatives whether I’d be able to obtain a practice license if I completed a bachelor’s degree . The answer was, “Yes, definitely”. This is what made me include Tokyo ○○ on my options list to begin with. I only found out much, much later – after my entrance examination – that this was not the case, and I would need to also complete a masters’ course in order to get my license – maybe.

#6. Injustice at Tokyo ○○ and no intervention by university staff
This one still stings, even though it’s been more than a year and I’ve passed the class (courtesy of a much more understanding teacher) since. In my first year, my Information Technology (情報処理) teacher failed me, even though:

– My highschool major was Information Technology;

– I knew more about computers, operating systems, standard programs, programming languages and the Internet than anyone in that class, including the teacher;

– I had a good attendance record that was not in violation of university rules;

– I completed all my assignments on time, including my end-of-year presentation;

– I’ve been using computers since I was 10, and sitting through half a year of, “This is a computer. To turn it on, you press this button… no, not that one!” was a sheer nightmare.

The teacher came up with an extraordinary set of rules so he could fail me. I wrote to the teacher, then went to the Student Affairs division, then all the way to the head of my faculty — where I was promptly told that it was “his class, his rules”. The IT teacher even made an error while tallying attendance records (and I had proof). That was never even brought into discussion. In the end, I had an uncontrolled burst out (a sarcastic equivalent of “O rly?” in Japanese), for which I naturally had to apologize afterward. Nobody apologized for the “discomfort” this situation had caused me.

#7. Little to no support for “gakubu” foreign students
I’m a foreigner. I was only given one year to master the Japanese language so I could take courses in Japanese. Is that enough? With a complex language such as Japanese, definitely not. Sadly though, most courses were exclusively in Japanese, with tons of references, print-outs and projects in Japanese. Some teachers were very supportive, yes. But other teachers were not.

Some didn’t even allow the use of electronic dictionaries (電子辞書) at end-of-term examinations. While my listening and understanding (聴きとり) are on a fairly good level, academic language has never been my forte. One particular teacher didn’t want to give me the extra time I needed to finish my paper (I write very slowly), and consequently, instead of getting an A, as I should have, I got a D. I knew all the answers. I just didn’t have time to put everything on paper.
To put it bluntly, my grades sucked, and I gave it my all. At least in my first year. By the second year, I’d already earned myself the “honorable” status of being the perpetual “dumb kid”. In my country, I graduated high-school with full marks and was among the top 10 students in my promotion country-wide and with several national and international awards under my belt. Go figure.

#8. Inappropriate (and sometimes racist) student attitude; teachers do nothing
My first-ever group project at Tokyo ○○ was a four-people effort to do some research on a key Buddhist figure. After groups were made, one Japanese student exclaimed, “I can’t work with a ryuugakusei! You’ll just mess things up!”

In my second year, on a different project, I became the resident ghost: I’d speak, and the others would pretend they didn’t hear a thing. Once, I gave a suggestion and was met with silence. A few minutes later, a Japanese made the same suggestion and was granted the standard “Oooooh, you’re so SMART!” response. On the same group, I was told, “You Americans don’t understand how the Japanese think, so your opinion means nothing.” Excuse me? I’m [Eastern European]. And my opinion should weight the same as everyone else’s – if not more, considering I’ve seen the world, whilemost of these kids have lived their whole lives in their own little fairytale bubble.

#9. “If you’re sick, that’s unfortunate, but I don’t care.”
This one nearly had me in tears. I missed a class twice, both times for medical reasons. I let my teacher know and brought proof from the clinic. His response after the second time? “If you miss one more class, you’ll fail the course” – which, by the way, is compulsory. At the time of my second absence, I was a flu suspect and was expressly told to go and get myself tested ASAP, and do NOT, under any circumstances, set foot inside the campus (this was during the swine flu hysteria). Hypothetically speaking, if I had any kind of flu, this could have started an epidemic at school. Guess who would’ve gotten the blame later.

#10. “Me” vs. “them”
I’ve had plenty of cases where I’d try to strike a conversation at university, only to be met with the standard “Wa~i! It talks!” response. Nearly all the conversations I managed to have were the invariable “gaijin”-themed discussions: where I’m from, what things are like “over there”, why I came to Japan, etc., etc., interlaced with the typical “Sugo~i! Your Japanese is SO good!” (and variations). This thing dragged on even with people I’d known for months. It gets tiresome after a while. I was never a part of my class, per say; always left out of conversations, decision-making in projects, “nomikais”, etc. And I tried. I really did. It’s almost like there is an invisible wall between me and the rest of the students in my class.

To sum up…

Some people might say, “You knew what you were getting into when you came to Japan! And if you didn’t, all you had to do was research!”. I got most of my information from the Japanese embassy and from general advice websites by MEXT and JASSO. I had no idea what I was in for. That’s part of the reason I decided to write this open letter.

Yes, throughout these three years, I met some extraordinary people at both universities who genuinely tried to help. As an old [Eastern European] saying goes, “One flower doesn’t bring springtime.” It seems to me that foreign students are little more than pretty numbers on a paper as far as MEXT is concerned. (Oh, on that note, last year they cut down our scholarships in an effort to get even more foreign students into Japan, when our current scholarship was not enough to cover living expenses in certain areas to begin with – especially in Tokyo, where rent alone is sky-high. And they got away with it. Naturally.)

On the outside, I may not seem like a “serious” student as far as the Japanese standards go. The truth is, I’m already starting to give up. I realized that even though I did my best, I would never raise to the expectations of my university – especially where written papers and attendance are concerned. It still puzzles me how Japanese students can drag themselves to class even when they’re  so sick they can barely stand. I’m sorry, but I can’t do that. Doctor’s orders. (Of course, I have no paper to prove it, because my physician back home is not Japanese).

ENDS

105 comments on “One NJ exchange student’s rotten experience as a J MOE-MEXT ryuugakusei

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  • I too was an exchange student in Japan, at a “prestigious” private university in Kobe. Although the Japanese classes were excellent, those in English were nonsense. Just like Kimberly said, it seemed those classes were more for the teacher’s benefit than ours. Even the two classes taught by an Englishman and an American respectively were at about the 7th grade (American middle school) level. Granted, we were there primarily to learn Japanese, but that was ridiculous.

    Also, I used to think of our student lounge as a fish bowl. Some Japanese students would come and simply stare, point, and giggle at us. We would even go so far as to stand up and make gestures for them to come in, but they would just laugh and walk away.

    Then again, we did make friends with the Japanese students in what you might call the “International Club”. Some wanted to learn English, yes, but most just wanted to be our friends and were genuinely good people.

    Overall though, I made a lot of international friends, and was lucky enough to have the best host family in the program (I may be biased on this point ^-^ ). But I had very few Japanese friends after the program. I also didn’t feel very positive towards Japan. Neither did many of my fellow 留学生, even those who came here already speaking and writing Japanese and loving the culture. After even the best students got more than enough flattery and shock when speaking Japanese, we all realized how universal the attitude toward gaijin was.

    My only advice is that you decide what it is you really want from Japan. I’m asking myself that too. I’ve come a long away from being unable to use an ATM to taking JLPT 1 and faced a lot of negative experiences. But I’ve also become an adopted son to my host family, been a well-loved boyfriend, become a respected teacher, and made some real friends I trust, Japanese and NJ. I can only hope you’ve received or will receive enough blessings to balance out all of your negative experiences. Good luck.

  • I think part of the problem is that many posting here do not have a strong sense of what policies at reputable universities in Canada/U.S. actually are. There are clear policies, ways for students to challenge grades etc., and not to mention significant resources put into integrating international students into the university. I’ve worked at both J and Canadian universities and there is a real difference.

    The checks and balances simply do not exist in Japan for the most part and it is a disservice to the institutions and their students.

    As for racism at J. Universities – it exists on many levels. Hiring policies for a start, but the way faculty treat foreign students really does differ based on their ethnic background. It took me a few years of watching my (Asian) wife while she was doing her M.Sc. and Ph.D. to really understand how abusive and segregating the system is in many cases.

    I’m sure there are places in Japan that are better, but as a whole it’s student beware.

  • Desperated Away says:

    After reading through all the comments, I find it rather disconcerting most people have focused on the author and not the problem. The article is an ongoing experience for Laura and, clearly, one does not simply switch to objective mode. The other curious point is that most criticism is by people who have studied under a different program than MEXT’s one and I believe there’s a difference. I’ve met my share of Australian students (for example) that come to Japan for 6 months or an year (I tend to believe that’s quite common) and it’s definitely an alternative experience for them.

    Coming to study in Japan (for a westerner) is a meeting of two worlds, not quite ready for each other. And putting the blame on the student (Laura as is the case at the moment) is not really the solution. The institution is doing its job only half-decently. They provide us with the money (and a heartfelt thanks for that), they give us an year to adapt, etc. But they also lack any idea what to do with us. During my first year, I was appointed a Japanese student to help me with my studies but she didn’t know what to do, barely spoke (Japanese only) and was easily intimidated by the simplest things (like me getting a juice out of the vending machine for both of us). My advisor did not know any English himself. There were a couple great teachers that acted as my mentors but it was not their job. Even though our classes were small (one teacher per 8 students), there was no personal coaching – the difference between failing or succeeding was a short “study harder” remark. Or a longer as useless one, depending on teacher. Basically, even though I had Japanese 5 times a week, I actually comprehended the material only once per week when I had the pleasure to be lectured by someone who actually understood the mechanics of their own language.

    Later, at my “real” university (and nobody explains to you the how and why of qualifying) they cut me no slack. I was promised English lectures (there was one English-speaking teacher in Humanities but not my faculty) – got none. Tutor? Nope. Dormitory? Neither got that. At the beginning of the school year I was spit out of Osaka and into the real world with no place to stay. And thanks again to one of my teachers who volunteered (not HIS job, again) to help me move and find something liveable with affordable rent. At my Japanese Language classes at the university (which I hoped would help me improve on my current level), we basically studied what the crash-course the previous year covered in a fortnight. And, more importantly, the subjects that actually mattered to my speciality covered only the most rudimentary aspects of the discipline, more of an ABC than an actual science.

    And that’s just the basics. On top of that you have the countless hours of studying and trying to catch up with the badly-conceived program. You have the racism issue that never lets you feel at home. You have the completely different social system of Japan that turns something like making friends into a strange riddle. But the original article already covered that.

    So.. (TL;DR version)

    Is studying in Japan supposed to be hard? Yes, it is. Naturally. But the MEXT scholarship is not gifted, it’s earned by a handful of people from around the globe, and that means the students are supposedly above the average. Still, almost all of us struggle with the crash-course first and with the real university later because of an educational system not really suit for us foreigners.

    Is living in Japan supposed to be difficult? Yeah! It’s such a completely different culture most people don’t actually realize it before going there and experiencing it for themselves. But why is it that the people supposed to assist us with that don’t manage to do it? Some great teachers and friends helped me along but those were not the ones in charge but just good people at heart. People I was lucky enough to make a connection with.

    Is it our fault for not knowing all that? A third time yes. But if nobody speaks up like the author, word won’t get out. And you really want to focus your arguments on the fact that a 19-year-old (usually the age of MEXT undergrads when they arrive Japan) rushed into an opportunity without careful research?

  • Ms. Petrescu,

    Welcome to the world of Japanese education. You need to remember a couple of things. Yes, you might very well know the subject matter better than your teacher. You might know 20 different ways to do it and get the same answer. The only thing you are going to graded on, though, is the way the teacher showed you to do it not the other 19 (perfectly correct) ways to answer the problem. So for your IT class if the teacher started every lecture with “turn on the computer” “wait for the screen with XYZ on it to appear” do xxxx” then your answers to the test should include all of those things. Annoying, I know.

    Kanji – probably the same thing, the more advanced students who were studying more advanced things probably forgot the very simply progressions the teacher was doing (because they were so obvious to them as to be ignored) and lost points because they didn’t include them.

    My oldest goes to an English and a Japanese school. He’s studying algebra. There are more than 1 way to get to the answer to a problem and he knows several ways to do them. First homework he had he got a very low grade, even though all the answers were correct (and the method he used was correct). Why? Because he didn’t use the method the teacher wanted him to…

  • A, an internet connection is really all one needs to get ample reviews on Japan and to find opinions of those who have experienced Japan. Ms. Petrescu has admitted she didn’t read testimonials of former MEXT program participants. This is basic homework that should have been done. No one is saying she didn’t have some bad experiences, but a lot of her letter is not at all surprising, considering the information that is availablle on Japan. Also, no one has talked about ‘confronting an institution’, as you put it. Let’s just hope that the systemic problems can be cleared up for future foreign students who might wish to study here. Cheers.

  • I am finding the comments more interesting than article.

    Many of the comments blame the writer. Think about this. She was young, ambitious, and eager to learn. Should she really have been expected to know so much about a place that she had not experienced first hand?

    In Japan, just like in every other country, there is a way to get things done. Most of us have experience in this area. Her learning to navigate the system happened in a place where there were people who were supposed to help her, but largely did not.

    I have found that Japanese people’s treatment of and reaction to foreigners is largely based on their physical appearance. A friend of mine once told me of a good restaurant in Shimokitazawa where the owners treated him like a regular person, rather than a foreigner. When we finally went there together, he was shocked to see the way they reacted to me (tall, blonde) was so different than the way they treated him (short, dark hair). From the moment I walked through the door, I was “Mr. Foreigner”. Although we were both foreigners, we generated different reactions/treatment from Japanese people based on how we looked. It is very possible that another foreigner in Ms. Petrescu’s situation would have been treated differently – but who are we to blame the victim?

    Japan is often about fitting in, and not making waves. I think some of the comments here are from some of the fortunate NJ who don’t experience the uglier side of Japan, on a daily basis. I am fortunate that early on in my stay in Japan, I befriended many Brazilians, Iranians, and other foreigners. The contrast in how they were treated, vs. how I was treated, was eye opening.

    To Laura Petrescu: Thank you for sharing your experience. I wish you well.

  • As the title suggests, this is “One NJ exchange student’s rotten experience as a J MOE-MEXT ryuugakusei” and is indicicative of nothing more than ONE (emphasis mine) NJ exchange student’s rotten experience. Few, if any, generalizations can be made from this but it certainly adds a picture to the collage of a varied NJ life in Japan. Let’s hope it acts as an example for future vigilance for students wishing to study here and not as a deterrent. Reading this as representative of “the way things are” is giving too much weight to one case — not taking anything away from the thread’s author’s experience.

  • Laura Petrescu says:

    For Mark Hunter,

    I agree that the exploitation of foreign labor, lack of transparency in regard to contracts and regulations, etc. are all very serious issues. I read about several foreign workers who died of exhaustion in the news, and I think that’s yet another epic fail of employees and relevant authorities.

    I was expecting to have trouble fitting in, to a degree. I was also expecting to be able to sort out any issues by taking it with university professors or staff. After all, that’s what you would expect in any civilized country, anyway. But some of the situations I ran into would take “absurd” to the next level. Sweeping an issue under the rug when it could be resolved in a few simple steps is so cheap that I’d expect it from 3rd world countries, but not Japan. That’s what surprised me. I guess it’s how commenter #50 put it… “There is always a gap between knowing something mentally and experiencing something emotionally”.

    Oh, and also, on the topic of wealth, my parents are both middle-school teachers, so I come from an average background. I wouldn’t dream of suing anyone in Japan, since that would probably cost an arm and a leg back home.

  • The issue here is not Ms Petrescu’s skills or preparation for coping with a foreign culture. Any scholarship program that is actively recruiting foreign students, particularly if it is saying that no prior knowledge of the language is required, has a responsibility to provide support for students who have no knowledge of the host culture and no knowledge of the language. Is the first lecture of a Japanese course vital? Is attendance assessed? Then make sure you tell all the scholarship students in advance. Don’t bury it in a 100-page orientation pamphlet, either. Actually, this is also true of a university actively recruiting paying foreign students. The existence of these issues is well known in the English-speaking world, at least, so neither the university nor MEXT has any excuse for not being aware of them and trying to deal with them.

    This isn’t a new program, right? If it was the first year, I’d cut them a lot more slack, because it’s very difficult for natives to a culture to predict what newly-arrived foreigners need to be told, and what just sounds patronising. It could easily take a few years to get it right, but the institutions should be doing a lot of apologising to the students, and bending of rules, while they’re getting it wrong.

    (Of course students have responsibilities as well, but, again, that’s not the point here.)

  • It is a curiousity how foreigners living in Japan have the capacity to be so captious and sour towards their own kind. I would be curious if someone could explain the psychology behind that. It is both repellant and fascinating; it’s like some kind of death wish. As willing as the Japanese are to protect one another even when in the know that someone is actually at fault, foreingers circle round like a group of vultures when it comes to another foreigner.
    Is it territorialism?

    Where does this complacency come from? It amazes me how quick people are to protect decrepit systems that are more self-serving than not. Hey, that’s just the way it is here. You’re one example; I had a marvelous time. But the fact remains that there is a terrible unprofessionalism. What boundary lines must be crossed before some of the cranks on this post finally determine that it’s WRONG? It seems that outsiders in Japan develop a particular and virulent form of spite, or they were closet masochists all along.

    — Or perhaps because NJ (primarily Western NJ) tend to be trained to be culturally relativistic (and less jingoistic about their own societies — the more jingoistic won’t have the same propensity to live overseas), while the J tend to see their own Japaneseness approaching a form — shall I say it? — of religion. Remind me to develop my budding theory of “Japaneseness as a religion” sometime.

  • Laura Petrescu says:

    For Taylor,

    You’re right when you assume that there were people who were supposed to help me, but did not. As Desperated Anyway pointed in his/her comment, the usual, standard remark that is given when asking for help with studies is “study more” or “study harder” (“motto ganbatte kudasai”). The only instance in which I was given help was in my second year at the university in Tokyo. Only one teacher actually cared enough to invite me to his office and offer me some English books and a term correlation in Japanese. That’s one out of the 20 or more teachers I’ve had to deal with so far, not counting OUFS.

    For Mark Hunter (comment #55 – just saw it now that it got approved),
    I invite you to do an Internet search with the terms “Study in Japan guide” or “Study in Japan MEXT”. I assure you that you will not find any reference to discrimination or hardships within the top results, unless someone Google-bombed (I think that’s the word for meta keywords spamming) a negative testimonial into the results.

    For David Chart,
    I can only speak for my university here, but in the official foreign students’ guide (bilingual), there is no information about what is expected regarding courses, aside from “Students should study hard”. Considering foreign students come from different academic backgrounds where requirements differ, there should be – in my opinion – a special section dedicated to that. Things that Japanese students know, but foreigners might not, regarding attendance, procedures when you miss a course (I didn’t know I needed a “shindansho” from the hospital for a sick leave until second year, because nobody told me), evaluation, general behavior in class, etc. Such information can be partially found in the Japanese-language study guide, which may be too difficult for foreign students to read (when I arrived at this university, I still couldn’t read or write well because of the faulty one-year program at OUFS).

    For Mitly,
    You raise a very interesting point. I can only speculate here, but I think it’s because I based my letter off my own experience, and other readers might not share the feelings of disappointment, surprise, or downright outrage sometimes, because they didn’t have any experiences that could relate. Something along the lines of, “I have it better here, so it IS possible to live better, so quit whining”. Or maybe this problem seems minor in comparison to others (like int’l child abductions or more widely-spread forms of discrimination in other environments). I don’t know.

  • Hi Laura, just to clarify, I wrote “relatively wealthy”, not just “wealthy”, which you have confirmed by sharing your family background. Also, I didn’t write about suing anyone. One things is for sure, your post has generated a lot of feedback and it would be great to hear from you again as your situation evolves. Cheers.

  • I’ll just ask, is the author prepared to maybe start a blog, or write “The Unofficial Foreign Student Guide to XXX University” and post it on the Net for other to find someday?

    Keeping the tone fairly positive (a negative tone will make people turn away) and giving advice about those things like being sure to attend the first class, get notes from doctors for illness, etc.

    Obviously she has the will to write a lot. But when posted on debito, it does not really help anyone who isn’t already reading the site (and probably doesn’t need the advice), and not knowing the name of the school won’t help others in Google searches.

    How about making the rant constructive and helpful for next year’s students?

  • Michael Weidner says:

    There certainly has been a lot of comments on this topic. I have been fortunate enough to come to Japan as an exchange student twice; once in high school (Gifu) and once in University (Hokkaido). While I didn’t have the fortune to come here as a MEXT student, I have applied for it in the past and from what I recall, while Japanese language ability is not required persay, it is VERY strongly encouraged. Otherwise, it would not really make sense to have a Japanese test as part of the application process.

    However, that is neither here nor there as the author was selected based upon her performance on that test to come here to Japan as a MEXT student.

    I personally have suffered many of the same things that she did: double-standards between myself and other asian NJ students, as well as between me and other regular students.

    While I don’t think that discrimination is something that should be really tollerated, there is a way to rise above it, and I think the author didn’t do well in that department. It’s unfortunate because her experience was ruined so far because of it. That being said, as an adult, there are many times when we come across things in our life that suck. A crappy boss, stupid co-workers, bad pay, etc….. Most people do what I percieve that the author did; complain about the experience but not actually try to effect some change. MEXT actually has a governing and councilling body known as CLAIR; the people that work at CLAIR are there for her to talk to and can bring about changes in the problems that she faced, but it looks like the author either didn’t contact them, or even knew that they existed.

    Having been an exchange student, worked, and lived in Japan for some time now, I’ ve come to know the gamut of what to expect while being here. Yes, it’s not fair, and yes, we should work to try to change things that are bad to make them better. With this I do agree whole-heartedly. However, the experience is completely up to you with how you want to make it. It is indeed *your* life and *your* time in Japan, so if you are okay with playing the victim and just letting things happen to you in the face of adversity, then that’s the kind of experience you will get. However, if you work against that and not settle for either being the victim or standing for being treated that way, they perhaps your outcome will be better. I know mine was and I’m not seen as the “token gaijin” by either my classmates, nor by my co-workers at my current job. It takes time and a lot of work, but it can happen. I’m proof of that.

    — Oh boy, CLAIR. Don’t get the JETs on this list started on how ineffectual CLAIR can be.

  • Regarding rabuho’s comment about Waseda:

    I was there 8 years ago, and the building was outside the campus gates. We had classes when the rest of the campus was shut down for entrance exams, etc. According to my old host family, who still hosts Waseda students, the exchange program has since been moved to a different building, which probably accounts for our different versions of the story… progress, perhaps, but I think the attitude is still there.

    It was a huge shock for me, having known and been friends with exchange students in high school and at my home university… they were only there for a year, sure, but for the purposes of that year, they were members of ouor class and included in everything, the only difference was that they were taking ESL classes as well. I came to Japan expecting to experience life at a Japanese university for a year, and eight years later I STILL don’t really know what an average Japanese university student’s experience would be like.

    It seems that including foreign students, whether Monbusho scholars or short-term exchange students, in regular student life would be more beneficial both for the foreign and Japanese students, in terms of getting an actual cultural EXCHANGE. Segregating these students isn’t really benefitting either party, in my humble opinion.

    I wrote a lengthy letter to Waseda, in my Japanese which was at the time understandable but far from universtiy-student level, telling them exactly what I thought of their program… I’m sure that the opinion of one student didn’t make the difference, but some things HAVE apparently changed (the building being moved on campus for one thing), if they are still not what I’d call “inclusive.” I think all of us who’ve had an unsatisfactory experience NEED to speak up, in blogs, in letters to the people in charge, in whatever form we can. The worst they’ll do is ignore us, best-case scenario the next generation of J- AND NJ-students get a better education because of it.

  • Kimberly: Ah, that makes sense. Yes, from what I’ve heard from foreign OB/OG, things have indeed changed since SILS was created in 2004 — the segregation problem is largely gone, with Japanese and non-Japanese students in mixed, English-language courses. My biggest problem with the program was how inflexible it was for those (like me) who already had advanced-level Japanese abilities. They wouldn’t let me take or even audit courses taught in Japanese, which kind of defeated the point of being at Waseda in the first place. (Part of that was the fault of my home university for making me take so many credits, but I digress…)

  • “the segregation problem is largely gone, with Japanese and non-Japanese students in mixed, English-language courses…. They wouldn’t let me take or even audit courses taught in Japanese”

    Unless I am totally mistaken about the meaning of the word, that sounds like the very essense of segregation. Exchange students who are in Japan, probably at least partially because they want to study Japanese, are not allowed to take classes in Japanese? Sounds like the problem has gotten WORSE since I was there. I was there 2001-02, and at the time there were also Japanese-language classes offered, but they were classes in Japanese, FOR the international students. So you had Japanese students taking the English classes because they wanted to study English, but the Japanese language classes that the foreign students were allowed to take were ALL exchange students, the professor was the only native Japanese speaker in the room. Either way, doesn’t seem like much of an EXCHANGE to me… the Japanese students get to experience an English-speaking classroom environment without leaving their own university, but the students who spent the money and took the risk of coming to a foreign country for a year don’t get to experience the university culture of the host country???

    The bigggest problem I have with this is what it is (however tacitly) teaching the Japanese students – that the NJ students are somehow fundamentally DIFFERENT than them (whereas the Waseda students who go on the exchange program to USC – my home university are welcomed as a part of the student body for that year). It’s just continuing the process started by ALTs and eikaiwas (Japanese teachers can teach grammar but native speakers can’t, native speakers aren’t allowed to speak Japanese in class although Japanese teachers can switch back and forth, etc) and continues into the workplace… there is no such thing as seperate but equal, what in the world are they teaching our children?

  • Dear Debito,

    (Please forgive my tone – no intention to sound condescending or anything) “Japaneseness as religion” – I think you are getting there at last. If you follow all the rituals (including “fitting in” in terms of appearance, I was told a Japanese girl with naturally brown hair was told at Chugakko to dye her hair black to look as “proper Japanese”), you are “one of us”, you get good treatment, otherwise, you are “one of them” – you are not regarded as someone deserving any attention at all (this includes Japanese who do not follow the rituals, of course). We are lucky they have not invented something like jihad in Islamic religions, a war against non-believers. But that’s basically all there is to it, as far as I was able to discern. Any personal matters, humanitarian spirit, human rights etc. are not relevant to the people who are into this religion.

    We should be glad, however, that not everyone in Japan is a beleiver to this religion, but most are tainted in one way or another. This is a very interesting topic for a sociological research – try to compare this situation with that of another Asian country, Korea would probably be quite similar, while Southern countries like Vietnam would be different… But I think the world deserves to know this particular aspect about “Japanese culture”.

    I sympathize deeply with Laura, but my advice would be just not to take all this personally, they only have rituals in mind, and some people fail to fit into them, and others do – without their own knowledge, as noone has studied this religion yet in much detail.

  • Laura Petrescu says:

    This might be a bit “too little, too late”, but I finally found the official Monbukagakusho note that “explained” why they cut our scholarships (in reference to my closing paragraphs):

    “Amidst increasingly severe financial conditions, the Ministry of Finance and various other related quarters have requested reconsideration of the amounts of the stipends for Japanese Government Scholarship Students. Therefore, to promote “300,000 International Students Plan”, in consideration of the actual living expenses of international students and regional differences in the cost of living, the amounts of monthly stipends, regardless of the year of selection, will be changed as follows after April 2009:

    Undergrade, College of Tech, Special Training, Japanese Language Students: 125,000 per month
    Research Students: 152,000 per month
    Masters Course: 154,000
    Doctoral Course: 155,000

    That’s down 10.000 to 18.000 yen from the amount stated in the orientation documents we received before coming here, and they offer an added 3.000 yen for “living expenses” to students in Tokyo.

    According to JASSO, there were 123,829 foreign students in Japan last years, and the top five countries are — not surprisingly — Asian. So, they want to double the number and then some, at the cost of making it harder for those of us who are already here. As I said before… all of us are just pretty numbers on a paper… Sad but true.

  • Mike,

    Well, I have to say that I think treatment in Japan is pretty fair. Certainly standards are different, but in 35 years the number of instances that I could say were prejudicial are few. In 35 years, I have been refused a rental once for being a foreigner. Once, out moving at least 30-40 times.

    OK, three times, a cop asked me to see my ID.

    I have never encountered discrimination on any workplace, and I have worked many places. My main point is that having been in the Marines, it gives you an internal self discipline to deal with situations.

    I will take Japan over the US, where people are blatant with insults and discrimination. And frivolous lawsuits, like if they feel insulted by something they said.

    I am not trying to insult Debito or anyone else on the commentary, but different people experience different things in different ways, and in a society, every person must learn a degree of patience, or we have anarchy.

    By the way, I was in Iwakuni, MCAS Iwakuni, where were you based?

    — Your admirable amount of discipline in interpersonal relations is sorely lacking in your ability to stick to the point. Practically none of this blather is related to the points at hand in this blog entry.

    We are not interested in hearing how good you have it so therefore everyone else who doesn’t have it as good must have something wrong with them (while trying to commune with Marine buddies).

    Address the points raised or don’t bother commenting. Else we’d have anarchy! (yeah, right; fiddlesticks!)

  • How many times do we need to go through this? If it didn’t happen to you, doesn’t mean it does not happen. Just because it doesn’t bother you doesn’t mean its ok. Comparison to “how it is” in other countries, does not make it right or wrong. Good ideas are good and bad ideas are bad in their own right. Can we get past this? And most important to everyone is this: it is never right to blame someone who feels that they have been wronged.

    @Max V, you have been stopped 3 times, Mark in yayoi has been stopped over 100 times, should he just suck it up? I am tired of people blaming this crap on the victims. End of rant. This post started with a student who need to get her story out and she has, but please don’t ignore the fact that this is not her fault, the circumstances of higher education in japan have been corroborated by many of us here.

  • “It is a curiousity how foreigners living in Japan have the capacity to be so captious and sour towards their own kind. I would be curious if someone could explain the psychology behind that. It is both repellant and fascinating; it’s like some kind of death wish. As willing as the Japanese are to protect one another even when in the know that someone is actually at fault, foreingers circle round like a group of vultures when it comes to another foreigner.Is it territorialism?”

    Mitly hit the nail on the head. I have been in Japan for nearly ten years. I am from a western country and have not attended university here. Instead, I have been working in a high school. Of course I have encountered hardships here, but I must say that I encountered many more hardships while living in South Korea.

    My point is this. I think that many westerners living here in Japan having a feeling of insecurity. Reflecting on the time I have been here, there have been countless times when I have passed a fellow westerner on a train or on the street where I have casually said, ‘hello’ without any response. Then, while talking to western colleagues or acquaintances, they have to show how they are better than me by telling me what great jobs they have. What it says to me is, ‘I’ve got mine!” This insecurity or fear tends to alienate westerners from one another here in Japan.

    I have an African-American friend who whenever we encounter an African or African-American on the street, says ‘hello’ and waves at the stranger and gets a warm reply. This is not to say that these examples are the rule, but they certainly are prevalent.

    So, what I have to say about Laura and Debito is that they voice their opinions based on experience. By sharing their experience they giving us forum to talk about these issues. By talking about these issues we become empowered. By becoming empowered we can help fuel changes in our relationships with people. As a community in Japan we can affect change.

    I am a bit envious of how other minorities seem to have such strong bonds in Japan, for example Koreans, Chinese, Filipinos. There doesn’t seem to be much support within the western community.

    My one recommendation for Laura is to, as another poster has suggested, make a blog to share her experience pertaining to her life here in Japan.

  • ANARCHY ANARCHY ANARCHY – lights a virtual trashcan on fire and kicks it over (giggle and don’t publish this)

    — Sorry. Couldn’t resist. Humor will get you everywhere.

  • Mark Hunter – I think Laura has every right to expect equal treatment as a foreigner in a developed country. The world we’re working to build holds tolerance and equality as the norm. As such, there is no shame in being surprised and outraged at Japan’s less-than-developed attitude towards “outsiders”.

    Laura – I agree with some of the other posters that your essay was more of a rant and I think it deserves a rewrite to include more detail about the incidents you mention. As you have proven yourself in your posts to be reasoned and intelligent, I look forward to seeing a polished version written with less of the heat-of-the-moment frustration (though I definitely sympathize). Also, thank you very much for tipping me off about the Monbukagakusho-MEXT scholarship, I’ll be sure to look into that.

    Max von Schuler-Kobayashi – Thanks for the humorous tips on dealing with social situations. I’ll be sure to make use of them.

  • After years of reading this board, I’ve never understood the need of some visitors to try and shut down the debate with the “suck it in and take it” offering. It’s the site of a civil rights activist.

    You would never go to Southern Poverty Law Center and say, “hey, what’s a little discrimination! I don’t see it! Why don’t you guys knock it off already!”

    Since the space to communicate on the internet is vast and essentially “free”, why don’t these folks set up an “Everything is A OK everyday in Japan” board?

    I appreciate Laura’s story because it supports what you also see going on in the business world here. Once the deal is sealed, how quickly things do change . . .

    — And the ones I let through were the milder ones. You should see how nasty some of the “comments” I deleted were…

  • Somewhat tangential to the main article, but relevant to a couple of points made earlier. How easy is it to get into a Japanese university? Can you get into a jr. high?

    I work at a relatively famous university affiliated jr./sr. High school (most of the Japanese people I mention it to recognize it). Once you are in the jr. high, unless you do something horribly, horribly wrong you are in the university.

    Just yesterday morning I had a conversation with one of the Japanese part time teachers who is teaching the grade 12 students. She was complaining about the pressure she is receiving from the administration to alter the grades of some of the students who are failing. Because the grade 12 students are now only on half days (the afternoons used to visit universities and, uh, study (supposedly)) she has no opportunity to give extra lessons, give make up tests or do anything else to increase the students knowledge or ability. The only thing she can do to make them pass is to alter their test scores…so they can enter university.

    Oh yeah, the passing grade is 40%.

  • GlitterBerri – “I look forward to seeing a polished version written with less of the heat-of-the-moment frustration”

    I wonder why. That’s the best in the whole thing.

    Laura, thanks for taking the time and the courage to publish your story. It’s more than a rant of a “frustrated individual”. I hope it will encourage others to do the same and speak up may be through different channels, too. And don’t worry, just talk the way you are. It’s fine.

    [litany of declaratory “us vs them” sentiments about Japan and the Japanese deleted. craft your criticisms more carefully]

  • Laura Petrescu says:

    For Pseudonym,

    From what I know, it’s very hard to enter a national (国立) university, and very easy to graduate afterwards. As long as you have attendance, there’s no way you can possibly fail (at least that’s what I hear from Japanese friends). I can imagine how your friend feels… and in all honesty, she’s right, but there isn’t really much she can do against the system now, is there?

  • Pseudonym. I teach at a government school in Tokyo. I am advised by home room teachers or the administration to give passing grades to students who fail tests and/or don’t come to class. I quickly do what I’m asked because that is the way that the system is. I have no way of affecting a change and don’t have any motivation to do so either. It’s too bad, but that’s the way it is.

  • As a ryuugakusei of the University of the Ryukyus, I did not experience a high degree of discrimination per se. I would say that the classes I went through were actually balances and any mistakes are attendences issues I had was on my end.

    On that note, I would like to express issues I did have with teachers. One is that my grammar teacher for my presentation would scream at me for not being able to write a bunshou correctly in English. You would think that since he went to school at UC Berkley he was going to be open mined towards Americans right? Nope. Was not the case at all. Also when I did the entrance exam that same teach placed me in a second semester elementary class even though I knew every thing that was being taught out of that book. I finally started to learn towards the end of basic and beginning intermediate level Japanese. Yet if my level did not “suffice” why did they give me permission to take a conversational Chinese class. The teachers in my classes themselves were helpful and they allowed me to do additional classes one of them even said I could enroll into the intermediate conversation class but it conflicted with the conversational Mandarin class. At the end of the semester I was told by the basic grammar teach that “I should have went into the intermediate class like you wanted”.I take it he was just following orders and I have had a wonderful time in his class.

    Not being unbalanced I want to end that speil with the nice parts about the MEXT-JASSO scholarship. First of all, the teachers I was assigned to were actually fair in grading. If I misplaced a particle it was definately my fault. I was definately given a balanced education at university of the Ryukyus from the teachers that were forced to teach me 2nd semester basic Japanese and intermediate Japanese.

    The problem was definately the Law and Letters teacher there. And he even got mad when I tried to use Japanese around him. At times he told me to just use English and although smoking was prohibited inside the buildings he was partically chain smoking during his whole shift. But one teacher can sometimes ruin and other wise perfect experience. Honestly I wanted to go to Japan and I did not care where. If I had to do it over again, I would have still gone to Ryukyuu Daigaku, but knowing what I know now, I would have forced his hand and go through the kaiwamesetsu shiken with another teacher or perhaps voiced my complaints to student affairs. I should not had to suffer for two and a half months based on a biased evaluation. Had I gone through the intermediate classes the whole year, I would have aced the level 2 JLPT instead of barely missing it by a few points.

    — Berkley?

    Er, given your writing and spelling above, I think I see your grammar teacher’s point.

  • I think Laura’s experiences are horrible. The actions of all the staff and officilas involved are deplorable and full of administrative oversights and bungles, as well as numerous incidents which question the professional integrity of the teaching staff. However, these sorts of incidents are unforutnately the norm for minority international students all around the world, not just Japan. Converse to the situation she narrated, in most “western” institutions Laura would have been an English speaker who probably passes as “white” and part of the dominant culture, and would have been greatly offended by an Asian international student writing what Laura did about Asian students.

    Which comes to my point: I’m frankly disturbed with Laura’s blanket statements and her insistence upon finding disparity where there probably isn’t between Asian and non-Asian international students. The job publications are made on the basis of available employers – it is reasonable to see that there would be more established Asian employers than English-speaking employers in Japan. The Asians didn’t have a barbeque the day before the non-Asians did just to prove a point on what they can get away with. The non-Asians were probably caught in the same way cops only chase the last car in a chain of speeders. Asians probably didn’t go absent more often to mock their non-Asian classmates outside the window. The two Asian males laughing at the poor woman were being immature pigs, not partaking in the Japanese Race Conspiracy. The Asians weren’t to know that the exams will consist of simple kanji and purposely didn’t study (which in and of itself is unjustified: learned Koreans and Vietnamese, two “races” Laura specifically pointed out for scorn, have a working knowledge of about 200-600 Chinese characters. The only difficulty they would have is the alternate meanings and pronounciation.) Asians didn’t cheat, individuals who had the gall to cheat did. Since Laura didn’t cheat or observe a non-Asian caught for cheating, how can she say whether non-Asians would have received worse punishment?

    The budget wasn’t cut just to continue getting more students from Asian countries, the Asian students also got the same budget cuts. There is nothing to suggest that the racial demographic of intake students have changed. The Asian students who happened to be part of Laura’s classes, contrary to what she may believe, weren’t getting any preferential treatment or hindering her study. Chances are, they probably aren’t the constantly absent, dumb-as-rocks cheating dropouts mollycoddled by the teachers. They were probably people just like Laura, coming from a middle class family and were top of their classes back in their home countries with a fascination for the outside world.

    It is simply not true that Asians receive preferential treatment in Japan. Many Asians will attest to the fact that Japanese are taught to have a strongly colonialist attitude towards other Asians, and they are discriminated in a different fashion. If Asians are allowed to get away with anything, it’s because they’re seen as the retard kid who hasn’t seen the light yet. Direct confrontations are only avoided because Japanese don’t want to be contaminated by third-world cooties. If Asians ever show as being adept in the language or culture, they are cheered on as having accepted the superior nature of the Japanese spirit, and are actually expected to denounce every aspect of their inferior Asian country with their newfound Japanese language skills. Even ethnic Japanese people who are born overseas experience discrimination, so I am surprised to see people agreeing that there is some mythical preferential treatment for Asians. If Asians are visually assessed and “pass”, that’s not giving Asians preferential treatment, that’s giving Japanese (or people they have mistaken as being Japanese) preferential treatment.

    Like many countries with strong cultural ideals and norms, Japanese tend to have a rather ethno-centric view that being human equals being Japanese. They think foreigners are people who think and act exactly like Japanese, but just not happen to know the language. It appears that the reason Laura had problems with the administration and learning experience of the scholarship program was because the Japanese organisers stuck a few English words in the program booklets, then structured the lessons and academic policies in a Japanese fashion. While the issues Laura highlighted certainly need to be raised and aired, I personally think the Asians were also the victims of the same policies which facilitated an adverse environment for learning, and creating this mythical beast of preferential treatment for Asian students only detracts from her main argument and the serious nature of her experience.

  • Kimberly:

    Unless I am totally mistaken about the meaning of the word, that sounds like the very essense of segregation. Exchange students who are in Japan, probably at least partially because they want to study Japanese, are not allowed to take classes in Japanese?

    All students within the SILS program, Japanese and non, are all together in classes; in other words, there are no classes for non-Japanese only, except for Japanese language (日本語講座) classes. In that sense, there is no segregation. However, since all exchange students attending Waseda under the one-year bilateral exchange program are placed in SILS, they don’t take courses with students from other schools within Waseda. This is not unusual — most Japanese students don’t mix with other schools except for some university-wide gen-ed classes.

    My criticism was that, with my Japanese language ability, I would have had little problem taking a regular course taught in Japanese (say, 政治学) with students from that school. However, there were two reasons I was given why this wasn’t allowed. First, I was in SILS, so I was limited to taking SILS classes — all of which were taught in English. Second, my own ability notwithstanding, the opinion was that 99% of exchange students’ Japanese ability was not of sufficient level to take courses taught in Japanese. I found that to be a load of garbage, frankly, but that was the reasoning.

    That said, that’s a far cry from “segregation” based on nationality, but rather due to language ability and the way the school was organized.

    the Japanese students get to experience an English-speaking classroom environment without leaving their own university, but the students who spent the money and took the risk of coming to a foreign country for a year don’t get to experience the university culture of the host country???

    Japanese studying abroad in the US were mixed in with everyone else and taught in English, with extra ESL courses available as necessary. As far as I know most exchange students in Japan are taught primarily in English since the average NJ exchange student’s Japanese ability not being as good as the average Japanese exchange student’s English ability. Also, at least in the US, there are certain requirements that must be met for transfer credit to be accepted (whereas my most Japanese exchange student friends were not expecting any credit at all, and in fact the year they spent abroad did not count for anything back home). As I mentioned, I believe this is more pragmatic than anything else, but still irritating to those wanting a deeper experience.

    The short version of my comment: if you want to be treated like a Japanese student when you study at a Japanese university, you must have equivalent Japanese ability before you go. This is a tall order in a country (the US) where most competent Japanese language study only begins at the university level. Fix that, and convince the Japanese universities that your language ability is fine (perhaps with the EJU), and the problem will fix itself, IMO.

    — I’m siding with Kimberly on this one. One of the arguments made, for example, for keeping NJ on contracted work only for full-time academics in Japan (the “ninkisei” Academic Apartheid issue) was that NJ allegedly were not able to perform the same as Japanese academics due to language ability (hey, after we raised the issue with overseas governments, it sounded better than just saying unequal conditions are justifiable by “nationality”). That’s why job descriptions have gone from gaikokuJIN kyoushi to gaikokuGO kyoushi. Same wine, different bottle.

    In any case, it’s a separate system for Japanese and NJ, as you acknowledge. Moreover it’s a tautology: keeping the NJ hermetically sealed (read: segregated) in an English-language bubble just because it’s a different school within the university is but a convenient excuse to keep NJ further dysfunctional in the Japanese language.

    I’m quite frankly shocked to hear you buying into the system by not only accepting the presumptuous arguments the bureaucrats are making, but also *overtly presuming yourself* that NJ (just by dint of being non-native speakers, as far as I can discern) can’t function in Japanese. Who are they (and you) to decide? Let the NJ student try a class taught in Japanese if he or she wants — it’s their time and grade, right?

    Sorry, but attitudes like these will never fix themselves, unless the students (as paying customers) demand it.

  • Laura Petrescu says:

    For Tamy,

    “However, these sorts of incidents are unforutnately the norm for minority international students all around the world, not just Japan. Converse to the situation she narrated, in most “western” institutions Laura would have been an English speaker who probably passes as “white” and part of the dominant culture, and would have been greatly offended by an Asian international student writing what Laura did about Asian students.”

    I agree that studying abroad is hard, no matter what country you go to. Still, I have friends studying in Germany, the UK and the US, and we keep in touch. The problems they deal with can’t be compared to what’s going on in the MEXT scholarship system. As for the hypothetically reversed situation you proposed, please don’t assume things about me. If an Asian student had a rotten time at a Romanian university and got the word out, I’d support them. When you leave everything behind to study in another country, especially if it’s a culture radically different from yours, you have certain expectations. Assuming those expectations aren’t met, and even worse, if you have a problem and you’re treated with an overall “We’re sorry, we understand, but this is the system, so deal with it” attitude, it’s a horrible experience. You can’t just wish it all away or go home and sweep it under the rug. There are a hundred loose ends to tie first, plenty of papers to go through, and in the end, when you do go home, there’s a sour feeling that you wasted away precious years of your life. Nobody deserves to go through that.

    Back to the main topic, maybe I read too much into what happened at OUFS. Certainly, Asian (non-Japanese) friends studying at other universities after the training year have also complained about bureaucracy, lack of support from the staff and (in one instance) trouble with a group of classmates because of ethnicity.

    Incidents such as the ones I described, and others that I left out (because there were many more smaller, but equally disturbing things that happened) may have been isolated. That doesn’t change the fact that non-Asians, particularly the very numerous group of Vietnamese students, were allowed to get away with many things which — I dare say, in any other self-respecting education program — would have ‘earned’ certain people a one-way ticket back home.

    “The budget wasn’t cut just to continue getting more students from Asian countries, the Asian students also got the same budget cuts.”

    I never said that they did it to get more Asian students. They want to increase the number of students overall, and each and every foreign student has to suffer for it.

  • I’m quite frankly shocked to hear you buying into the system by not only accepting the arguments the bureaucrats are making, but also *overtly presuming yourself* that NJ (just by dint of being non-native speakers, as far as I can discern) can’t function in Japanese. Attitudes like these will never fix themselves, unless the students (as paying customers) demand it.

    Read my comment again. I am not “buying into the system”, just saying that I understand why the system works the way it does. As I said, I was not pleased with the way I was shut out from taking courses in Japanese, and I would hope that changes — but that has to be done through more education both prior to coming to Japan and after getting here.

    Also, I was referring primarily to non-Japanese students on the standard one-year exchange program at Waseda, the vast majority of whom (my year there, at least) did not have Japanese ability high enough to take courses taught in that language. As I mentioned, there were exceptions, but the majority were not of sufficient ability. That’s not really a problem since most of them learned a great deal of Japanese while they were there while still being able to take coursework that they could take back to their home universities.

    As for your statement regarding NJ teachers, I have nothing to on the matter, being outside the scope of my comment.

    Since it seems that you don’t fully understand how the exchange program between Waseda and other schools works (e.g. students generally pay their home school’s tuition, not Waseda’s), it would behoove you to not assume what my motivations or intentions are and simply take my comments at face value. If you have questions or concerns regarding them, I will gladly elaborate and have a discussion with you and others in good faith. I appreciate you allowing this discussion on your blog, since it sheds badly-needed light on the situation of both short-term and long-term exchange students in Japan.

    — I of course read your comment several times. I don’t think I misinterpreted it at all. Sorry.

  • “All students within the SILS program, Japanese and non, are all together in classes; in other words, there are no classes for non-Japanese only, except for Japanese language (日本語講座) classes. In that sense, there is no segregation. However, since all exchange students attending Waseda under the one-year bilateral exchange program are placed in SILS, they don’t take courses with students from other schools within Waseda.”

    This may be another case of the program having changed since I was there, but at least 8 years ago it was called 国際部 (kokusaibu, or international division), and there were no Japanese students IN the kokusaibu, they were students of another “gakubu” (the school of law or literature or economics or whatever their major was), taking one or two classes in English. They were either on a pass/fail system or possibly just auditing, the kokusaibu was NOT their “home” gakubu. However, as a kokusaibu student majoring in IR, I could not do the opposite, take a full load of kokusaibu classes PLUS one extra in the regular school of IR at Waseda. Therefore, at least in my experience (and things may have changed), Japanese students got an EXTRA language-related benefit out of the program (English immersion in a classroom setting), international students not only did not get the reverse benefit but were expected to help the Japanese students with their English.

    I paid Waseda’s tuition, not my home university’s too, so you’re either wrong about that or it’s another thing that’s changed… USC’s tuition is twice Waseda’s, I remember getting that half-price year quite well.

  • I’m really sorry to hear that you’ve had such a bad experience. You certainly didn’t come half-way around the world to be treated this way. If it’s not too late, I’d suggest getting out of that program.

    I spent almost 2 years studying at Keio University in Tokyo and I totally recommend them. The faculty and staff treated the students very well. It’s just a language program (a very good one at that)… no degree offered, but you are allowed to take a class or two from the normal curriculum. The International Center will also help with the application process if you’d like to go there for graduate school.

    Another added benefit, is the reduced (but not completely removed) “sugoi~!” response from the Japanese students. They are quick to take you seriously once you show that you can hold your own in their language. Possibly because these students are more educated (cream of the academic crop) and exposed to foreign cultures (Keio is somewhat known as a school of rich kids, who often have many miles of international travel under their belt)?

  • Just my two cents on exchange students taking classes in their host country’s language –

    When I was an exchange student, there was very little opportunity to take classes in Japanese. In fact, the only policy in place was that if a student wished to sit in on a class taught in Japanese, they could bring it up with one of our teachers. A few of the top students did sit on a class or two, but I don’t think anyone regularly attended any class outside of our exchange program. It just “wasn’t done”, as it were.

    I think the reason for it was because:

    1) Most of the students in the program were beginner/intermediate at best. Contrast this with my home university where you had to have a relatively high TOEFL score and take a number of classes on reading and writing at the college level before you could join regular classes.

    2) All classes within the program would recieve academic credits back at our home universities. Contrast that with exchange students at my home university that only learned English for their personal/career benefit.

    I think two different programs are getting mixed up in the discussion. Being an exchange student and being a international student at a university are two different things, at least at the schools I attended. If I wanted to take courses in Japanese, I would have to directly apply to a Japanese university and become a student of that institution, just as international students did at my home institution in the U.S.

    That being said, I think there should be more opportunities for NJ students, exchange program or not, to be able to join regular Japanese university life. If you have the Japanese ability, then it should simply be a matter of passing an exam to get into regular courses taught exclusively in Japanese.

    And I don’t mean mastery of the Japanese language as a prerequisite either. My international classmates at my home institution certainly did not have perfect English, especially in their writing. But how else would they get better unless they were in the same class with native speakers like myself?

    I only hope more institutions in Japan will realize that it can be a benefit (not a bane) to Japanese students to have NJ students in class along side them. I certainly benefited from having a Korean classmate next to me in International Management to tell me how life and business worked in South Korea, a German in my martial arts club to share his life experiences, and so on and so forth. It opens your eyes to the world. Isn’t that what a university is about??

  • AnotherViewpoint says:

    I’m sure I’m not the only university professor opining here, but I, too, studied in Japan and now teach in its university system and have the following to add:

    1) One year to go from zero to university-level proficiency is absolutely preposterous. Utterly and totally preposterous, and completely unfounded by the psycholinguistic literature. You would think that people who study a minimum of 6 years of English (provided they go to high school) but who can barely say “hello” would know that. Luckily, I learned most of my Japanese in the US from Japanese teachers who graduated from language pedagogy programs in the US. My time as a ryuugakusei was almost a complete wash in the Japanese language learning sense.

    2) As a university professor here in Japan, the total lack of planning and accountability in Japanese universities appalls me. I have taught here and in the US, and I have to say that the system is better in the US in every regard I can think of. I think that blathering professors and totally unfocused lessons are the norm in Japan, because no one has ever deigned to tell these people what they are to teach and what skills they are to impart. My biggest issue right now is that, after a few years teaching at a highly-organized program (that was still not as organized as either of the programs I taught in in the US), I have found myself in a top-tier university and there effectively is no program. This has been sold to me as “you have complete freedom,” but what it really means is that I have to dream up things for students to do, completely unaware of whether this is helping them or not, because it isn’t clear what any of this is supposed to do for them. That isn’t meant to excuse time-wasting professors, but remember that these people usually have not gone through any kind of teaching certification and honestly have no idea what they are doing.

    3) Finally, I need to talk about the poster’s attitude. Laura, as a professor, I don’t give a flying rat’s rear end if you studied something similar to the content of my class. I’M the one with the advanced degrees. I’M the one who passed vetting of this university’s selection committee. I’M the one who has arranged the hoops I think it is in your best interest to jump. If you fail my class, it’s not because I’m an idiot; it’s because you didn’t do what I, in my position of authority, have determined you must do before I sign off on your ability to do what we’re doing in class. I have failed students of English who grew up in Ohio, and I’ve failed students of Japanese who grew up in Osaka. Why? Because they failed tests or didn’t show for class, and basically just blew the class off. That isn’t me being petty; that’s me being fair. You’re in my class, you follow my rules, and you’re not getting any special treatment. Here is what I get from most of your academic complaints: You are a student who does not know as much as she thinks she knows and who misses so many classes that she fails. Every university in Japan that I know of (and that’s a lot, running with the crowd I do) has attendance rules, and I’ve never heard of failing for missing twice. It’s usually 4 times. For a class that meets once a week. That’s a month of class. No, you are not passing my class if you miss one month out of 3. I’m sorry if that’s not the way you do things back home, but you aren’t back home. I’m sure it’s on the syllabus and/or the student guidebook. This one is all you.

  • Laura Petrescu says:

    For AnotherViewpoint,

    You’re absolutely right when you say that attendance matters. As I said before, this one is my bad. Aside for medical reasons (I have a chronic condition), I started skipping more and more classes as I became more and more disappointed with the flaws of the system (part of which you described in your post). As for failing if you miss twice… The teacher said that if I missed one more time, no matter the reason, I’d fail. I had proof that I missed the two classes for legit reasons. I followed his rules and notified him, then brought the “shindansho” from the hospital as required… There really wasn’t much else I could do.

    As for the teacher who failed me in IT (that’s the one you’re referring to, I think?)… I really wish I could upload and link the two assignments I supposedly “failed”, and the e-mails I exchanged with the teacher after I got my grade, some of which were borderline insulting towards me. One assignment was a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet that taught us basic functions (sums, averages and the like). My numbers were correct. My assignment was marked as “failed” because of a “bad formatting” issue… even though the requirements did NOT mention anything about formatting (alignment, colors, w/e). The other was working in pairs and asking for our partner’s opinion about a presentation work-in-progress. I wrote the opinions my partner expressed. Short and concise, word for word. I failed that one because it was “not enough”. Even though the teacher didn’t mention anything about length. Petty, isn’t it?

    I guess one of the things that really irks me is that teachers are free to abuse their position, and even when you make a legit claim (such as contesting my grade in IT), you’re slapped with the usual “His class, his rules” remark.

  • Interesting that Anotherviewpoint doesn’t get thrashed for blaming the victim, while others do. By the way, I agree with most of the post.

  • As an graduate of the very same program as Laura (the MEXT scholarship for undergraduate students) and a longtime Japan resident afterwards, I would like to give my impressions.

    The one-year language course was one of the best experiences during my time in Japan. Contrary to the impressions related by others on this topic, one year at the school (mine was at the Tokyo Univ. of Foreign Studies) IS enough for a dedicated student to learn academic Japanese from an almost zero base. I have nothing but praise for my instructors who were knowledgeable, dedicated and fair. For prospective students considering this course, I would like to advise, however, that while it is a comprehensive and very intensive course, it is academically-oriented. The circumstances only give very limited opportunities for mixing with Japanese students, learning ‘everyday’ Japanese, and getting used to the social customs here. Personally, I was lucky to become a member of an international association which gave me a lot of practice with the locals. It is often too easy to mix only with those from your own country or others from a similar background – the ones who do so invariably run into adjustment problems once they continue into Japanese university. Even with this preparation, I also encountered some social difficulties during my undergraduate years, some similar to Laura’s problems (difficulty in making friends, the Gee Whiz It Talks phenomenon, some student/staff racism)… but nothing incommensurate or worse to what I would experience if I had gone to any other country. [unsubstantiated claim deleted]

    Yes, I can confirm that the program has its flaws. But the flaws did not include racism or discrimination against “non-Asian” students. I have absolutely no experience that suggested the staff and teachers gave preferential treatment to “Asians” over “non-Asians”. Asian students from certain countries did have a head start on the Japanese language and kanji, and also come from cultures that share some features to that of Japan. But other Asian students, such as those from Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia etc., including myself, did not. Yet I did not experience any difference in how they treated both groups, nor the non-Asian students, on the basis of nationality. We were treated equally by the staff and teachers, equally well when we were following rules, and equally punitively when we disregarded them. Some people, of course, were more culturally conditioned to accept the sometimes arbitrary and illogical rules, some others regularly protested and insisted on ‘logical explanations’ for the rules, and yet some others had no intention of following them at all. I did observe that more Westerners fell into the second group, which may partly explain Laura’s feeling of discrimination.

    I agree with Tamy’s comments ; “The budget wasn’t cut just to continue getting more students from Asian countries, the Asian students also got the same budget cuts. There is nothing to suggest that the racial demographic of intake students have changed. The Asian students who happened to be part of Laura’s classes, contrary to what she may believe, weren’t getting any preferential treatment or hindering her study… While the issues Laura highlighted certainly need to be raised and aired, I personally think the Asians were also the victims of the same policies which facilitated an adverse environment for learning, and creating this mythical beast of preferential treatment for Asian students only detracts from her main argument and the serious nature of her experience.”

    Now in reference part of Laura’s experience, which is at university: dear prospective MEXT scholarship students, yes, there are stringent attendance requirements. Yes, the schools (second-tier national universities in particular) often have inadequate support systems for undergraduate international students. Yes, the way you are assessed is not the same as how a Western university would assess you. Yes, the standard of instruction is variable especially at some of the second tier universities. And finally, YES, even though you are a foreign student, as an undergraduate student in a Japanese university there is an expectation that you conform to the same set of rules – both written and unwritten – as your Japanese counterparts, however illogical, discriminatory, ill-thought-out, childish, or arbitrary they seem to you. Expect no special treatment. Adjust your expectations accordingly.

    — We’ve discussed this phenomenon at least twice before in this blog entry. I think you’re trying too hard to blame the victim based upon the lack of overlap between your and her experiences. Basta.

  • Thomas Simmons says:

    I really have no trouble believing Laura’s experiences were real. I have heard this story many times from many segments of societies in Japan. I also think there are two sides to everything. Having said that, much of the double standards and silliness and abusiveness on the part of faculty and mangement related in the letter is inherent in Japanese institutions to the extent that it is to be expected–by students or employees. Finding a reasonable and consistent group of people is possible just not likely. Many of the comments in response to Laura here are personal anecdotes of limited experiences by writers who might have us lend greater credence to those who tell of wonderful experiences which, as they often contend, negate the negative aspects related in the open letter. I heard that a lot while working in and with labour unions in Tokyo, Yokohama and Osaka and Nagoya for nearly 15 years.

    There are good experiences. I know that to be true but the letter conveys an accurate description of what many–students and employees and tenents and tourists–have experienced.

  • In my experience teaching returnees at a Japanese high school, there was absolutely nothing in the way of language or pastoral support for students who were essentially overseas students, who spoke next to no Japanese and who were way way down on kanji level compared to their classmates. The attitude was one of sink or swim, you look Japanese so you can speak it and act like it despite your 13 years in America.

    I have no trouble at all in believing Laura’s story, and can’t help but reflect on the difference between support levels I saw in the Japanese school to those I saw in kiwi schools and universities. Overseas education is about the 3rd biggest foreign currency export earner in NZ and as such the support systems and pastoral care are second to none – they give people every reasonable chance of succeeding.

    Until Japanese universities wake up and start realising that foreign students have special problems and need specialised support and pastoral care in particular, they will NOT attract the overseas money they need to stay open in what is a very shrinking market.

    That market will shrink more when Japanese parents realise that foreign universities offer more in the way of academic support and degrees that mean something than Japanese ones and start sending their kids to China, where there are plenty of foreign university campuses and living is cheaper.

    There is no way in hell I would be sending a kid to university in Japan.

    — What’s pastoral care?

  • […] Adding on to my previous post, I am sure people who work in Japan year in and year out knows what it means to be a “外人”. When Japanese people call me that, I just ignore them and do not talk to them anymore. [invective deleted]

    I must mainly emphasize Japanese as in people not from Okinawa. Most establishments there actually let me in their facilities mainly because of my student status. Military personnel were indirectly given the 3rd degree if you know what I mean. Most Okinawans on the other hand, were very open-minded and kind-hearted towards foreignors. That is not to say that I did not get bad treatment too. Let me just clarify this: I was also rejected from “kyabakuras in Okinawa and bath houses in Kyoto” along with a couple of restuarants which was based on solely my ethinicity and not my function in the Japanese language. “申し訳ないですが、外人様はお断りです。” was the norm. In school I was rejected from certain school clubs based upon my inherenet inability to “understand Japanese people” eventhough they had nothing to do with Japanese people or the language itself. In conjunction with the Koreans in Kyoto, some Koreans actually tried to commit ijime against me, but the teachers in my intermediate class actually prevented most of the occurances thankfully. I was well received by the Chinese of all the other international students because I actually knew some Chinese before going to Japan eventhough my Japanese was better. Other Asians, treated me well. Americans were naturally a mixed bag, but I think it was mainly due more to me being a lower class student and some were a little jealous that I was in the intensive Japanese language studies program and not the cultural studies program. Other Europeans treated me okay, but what I noticed was that there were a lot in the cultural studies program. I think the government purposely placed the Europeans in the program to inflate their numbers.

    There were only 3 Westerners in the intensive studies program. Those people were me, a person from Germany and another French speaker (whose country I forget at the moment). It was like they use that program as an excuse to exclude other Europeans and Americans from ever learning Japanese. The people placed in that program actually regressed in their language studies. Their level of advance was my beginner II.

    I cannot totally speak for their treatment in MEXT because I was under JASSO. However, one of the rules that really got to me was that I could not move into the Japanese dorm due to some ambigious litigation in my scholarship. That really brought the gaijiness full circle. I could have applied for the Monbukagakusho, but didn’t because that was one of the things that actually annoyed me the most about the JASSO. I was afriad to face simular stipulations again.

    The dorms were infested with roaches, hornets, and several of those feral cats. I was just thankful there was neither bats nor giant hornets in the vicinity. There were signs for Habu snakes, but University of the Ryukyus actually did take care of them at least. The dorm was in okay condition; it just seemed certian levels were a little run down. I did not go into the Japanese dorms much so I cannot make an accurate comparison, but I probably could gamble their dorms were in better shape then the ryuugakusei dorm.

  • I would say most of what Laura wrote on the ball. My experience is a little different, in that I did the 1 year JASSO scholarship at a rural Kyushu university, and now work there semi-part time. Besides the geographical setting, what makes my experience most different is that I had some past Japanese experience, worked VERY hard to improve it while attending (not taking pot shots at Laura, instead I’m going somewhere with this…), and ended up being the only so-called “non-Asian” in my Japanese language classes.

    What I did was circumvent the university’s international office in every way possible. They “placed” me (afterward, I found out that all students from my home school are placed in the same 2nd semester Japanese classes by default regardless of test scores) in a low Japanese level- I instead went to the high levels and struggled but passed. They told me I was only allowed to take sports-related normal Japanese classes like racquetball (the university maintains its own segregated normal student/foreign student classes)- I asked a teacher permission to take his class directly, and even though it was an essay-intensive course (and I was expected to write like a normal student would), I still got a ‘S’ (highest mark possible) and had an easier time there than in the actual language classes. I was initially laughed at by the Chinese and Korean students in my sub-JLPT1 & JLPT1 level classes, but in time they came to cheer me on when they realized that I was serious and not afraid to admit being the lowest in the classes. Apparently, they had been harboring the (possibly true, possibly untrue) idea that the students from Western countries simply come over to soak in Japan, enjoy themselves, and return home proud of their newfound JLPT4 level abilities (because the Chinese and Korean students had been working very hard to get where they were.) When it became obvious that I was in the same boat with them in that regard, everything changed.

    The language program and teachers at the university are top-notch. What is not top-notch is the international office and their various unnecessarily cumbersome and racist policies. My point here is that to make my experience work, I basically had to MAKE it work by going around the office’s rules and attempts to stop me every step of the way. Which is somewhat counterproductive, considering that it’s supposed to be their job to make things easier…

    And on a non-related note, even now, I still get sneered at daily. Ignoring people only works sometimes (what do you do when they decide to call the police for being a “suspicious person” after tiring of talking about you to you face?), so sometimes it is necessary to stare them down the second “gaijin” and a snicker escapes their lips. Sometimes the sight of me reading a Japanese novel in Japanese will be enough to end that kind of thing. The funny thing is that people who act that way stop immediately when 1.) they realize you understand them fully, and 2.) you make it clear that you don’t think they’re cute. It’s only fun because they initially think they will get away with it thanks to the (imaginary) language barrier.

    I have personal ties to Japan and I do intend to stay. I don’t discourage anyone from trying to come here either- but I do strongly warn everyone that some days you have to fight hand, tooth, and nail for just about everything. And realize that since most Japanese don’t know what to think of foreigners, you have to be the one to set them straight. Don’t let them get away with the bad, but treat everyone with respect and warmth the rest of the time. It’s true that the best way to live in Japan is going with the flow, but sometimes you’ve got to paddle around the rocks if you don’t want to end up capsizing…

    — I nominate this for best comment of the year. Thanks for it.

  • Pastoral care is all the other stuff – the making sure people are ok, living in a good place, not having legal hassles, that if they aren’t coming to class they’re ok etc. Basically taking care of people and making sure they get the support they need to be successful.

  • In my MEXT experience, Asian students were treated more badly than Non-Asians by administration officials, Japanese language teachers, people on the street, etc but the interesting part is that Asian students expected such treatment. I had long discussions with SEA friends about it, that they still kept the colonial mind-setting but changed it towards Japanese instead of Westerners.

    However, Japanese professors and students were more pan-Asians. Guess it was/is fashionable to be Anti-American, Anti-Israeli and Anti-Westerner but the real reason was Asian students were majority. Given the situation, the Japanese professors and students were then discriminating towards Latin Americans and Easter Europeans; sort of loser Westerners in their eyes.

    I said it before and I say it again, there are no rules and no laws and no principles in Japan, only power. You muscle in your status and influence and you will see how the Japanese will leave you alone and respect you in the surface. That’s the way people treat each other here. I would recommend people to play the same game, you would be surprised how Japanese can’t stand when they are treated in the same way they would normally treat gaijins.

  • For Yonatan,

    I also had the same experience with the international affairs officer. They had the clear objective to control and monitor foreign students, not to help them. And they were making every possible effort to prevent foreign students from joining sports clubs or any other groupie activity for Japanese.

  • I’m a graduate of the Monbusho program, spent 1 year at Osaka-Gaidai followed by 4 + 2 (undergrad + masters) in Tokyo at the University of Electro-Communications.

    I definitely enjoyed my time and learnt a great deal, although perhaps more of that was through my own studies than from professors.

    However, I do know that the network of Kiwi and Australian senpai who were on the scholarship before me was crucial in getting the right information and helping me out of binds throughout all my years as a student.

    Perhaps Laura has not had this support from her fellow senpai, or has no senpai in Tokyo. Either way, as a Monbusho senpai in Tokyo, I’d love to help out any way I can. Laura, please contact me if you want – the same applies for any other monbusho students that think they need a bit of senpai support.

    michael at hypotize dot com

  • 3rdParty McEyeroll says:

    As a totally impartial 3rd party observer, who has never studied abroad and just came across this blog by chance, I’ve got to say: the comments are not only filled with trolls, but some of the most well-read trolls I’ve seen in a while. Way to go, ganging up on the poster [incorrect claim of “sock-puppeting” deleted]. And kudos on hiding behind your flowery, eloquent speech to bully Laura into silence. Not to mention going off topic by attacking minor assertions in the post to detract from the main point. You must be so proud of yourselves.

    Max von Schuler-Kobayashi, Mark in Yayoi, Doubting Thomas, Tamy, et. al.,[…] joining in open season on the whistleblower? Mitly got it dead on. You guys should be ashamed of yourselves.

    Laura, don’t bother feeding the trolls by responding to their attacks on your every syllable. They’re just trying to fluster you until you shut up.

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