Hello everyone! Hisashiburi desu ne! I recently returned from the most amazing and unforgettable two weeks of my life in Japan which I shall blog about very soon. But first, today we feature quite a unique interview. We often hear about the MEXT scholarship, but there are in fact other scholarships that one can apply for to study in Japan. One of them is the ABE Initiative Masters and Internship Program, which we shall learn about from Abednego B. Osindi, a recipient of the scholarship who is currently in Japan. (By the way…. applications are now open for this program! if you are interested, please apply here!)
On the Scholarship and Application Process
How did you learn about the ABE initiative scholarship?
Let me first explain about the ABE Initiative program. ABE is an abbreviation for African Business Education. A quote from their website explains all; “This program offers opportunities for young and eligible African men and women to study at Master’s courses in Japanese universities as international students and to experience internships at Japanese enterprises in order to develop effective skills and knowledge in various fields for contributing the development of industries in Africa.” The initiative aims at giving higher education to about 1000 African students by the time it concludes in the year 2018. This decision was arrived at during 5th Tokyo International Conference on African Development (famously known as TICAD V). For your information, Kenya will hold the TICAD IV conference next year (2016); the first one ever in African soil. But do we say! 日本ケニアへようこそ(welcome to Kenya, Japan). Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and Japan International Cooperation Centre (JICE) jointly implement the ABE Initiative Scholarship for the Youth.
I learnt about the scholarship through my friend, and my university (of Nairobi) professor. That is the value of friends; make more and keep them! I am among the first batch of the young Africans who came to pursue masters in Japan last year (2014), and the second batch have already arrived in Japan to preparing to get to class by October, 2015. Most importantly, the application for the third batch (2016 entrants) just opened! Please download the forms from this link. Kila la heri (all the best).
Why did you decide to apply?
My motivation was based on two major factors. One, I had wanted to proceed with studies after my undergraduate. As such, I would not have let that opportunity pass by. Secondly, I heard that there is a chance of doing an internship in a Japanese company. Japan is currently investing in various projects in Kenya, and therefore, the internship will enhance my understanding of the Japanese business manner for a possible bridging in Kenya.
As I have mentioned above Japan is expanding its trading boundaries to Africa, and Kenya is one of the major targets. I took this opportune time to be part of this AFRO-EAST commercial dawn. Notably, Japan is one of world leaders when it comes to technological advancements and innovations. I cannot miss to mention of the amazing Japanese culture, language, and environment. I have given a deeper explanation of these factors in my blog posts; please visit it and be on the know.
What was the application process like?
The process is quite engaging, with a series of tests and interviews that constitute the elimination process. The initial activity is filling the scholarship form that can be downloaded from the ABE initiative website. A crucial part of the form is one’s research plan (more of a research proposal) that needs to be carefully thought in relation to one’s field of interest. Specifically, one needs to have chosen their university of interest in Japan and consulted their supervisor. A supervisor is the professor one will be working under ones they get to their universities.
However, in this program, JICA may help in choosing the university and supervisor but I personally advise one to do this on their own. Submission of forms is followed by Mathematics and English tests, where successful applicants will proceed to an oral interview with a panel. Generally, the oral interview tests your capability in the field of research and credibility of all that was filled in the application form. On passing the oral interview, one’s forms are forwarded to the Japanese university, after which they university may accept or decline the application. Candidates whose applications are successful go for a TV interview (more of Skype) for more probing, and then finally one can prepare for actualizing their dreams of studying in Japan; off course that is after formal processes like medical checkups among others. How do you find this?
How long did it take? How many applicants were there?
It takes over half a year (slightly above 6 months) to complete the whole process. Such a long process, but you need to give it a try! We were over three hundred (300) applicants and only 55 of us were successful.
Any advice for future applicants? What can guarantee them a competitive edge?
The most important point to note is seriousness (for lack of a better word). Some of us are driven by the motive that scholarships are for the chosen few, and therefore end up not applying or do it with reluctance and less attention. Please take this as important as that job application process that keeps you on toes to ensure you clinch on that position. Fill the forms with utmost faith, research thoroughly about your thesis topic, get credible recommendations, and most importantly, do not fear to consult for clarification. Just to emphasize on the latter, communication is paramount; including but not limited to scholarship offices, future university supervisor, and mentors (or advisees). A keen consideration of all these factors, will absolutely give one a competitive edge!
On Social Life in Japan
How is it being African/ Kenyan in Japan?
It has mixed feelings! For those living in big cities such as Tokyo and Osaka may have less to tell, but for “locals” like me, have books for you to read. I live in a small city, kind of rural area. This is the place there are very few Africans (black people in that matter). One is like a “mini-celeb” here. Specifically, your presence in some area or event, attracts the attention of all kids (and sometimes adults). Some could love to greet and talk to you (including media people), while some (kids) will just run away. Despite all this, I am living a comfortable life, without worrying about any kind of discrimination, though a few cases will never miss.
Was it difficult to adjust to life in Japan?
That is a definite YES! Talk of real culture shock. The biggest challenge that I encountered (and still trying to overcome is communication); that is “language barrier” in literature. Japanese is the main language that is used to carry out daily activities here; offices, school, business, formal/informal meetings. Only few of them speak English, but even for this number, it is sometimes difficult to understand each other. You had better learn Japanese!
The second challenge is food- talk of taste, cooking style, and food type. The food taste was (is) damn strange for me; most are rather sugary (I rarely feel the saltiness in them). Spicy foods are also rare here; those (like me) who love fresh coriander, royco, etc are prone to suffer. Talking of food types, the sea is Japan’s garden because a large percentage of their meals are sea foods- seaweeds, fish, and mollusks, among others. This is where they get their major delicacies from, such as shashimi (raw fish), and sushi ingredients like fish and seaweeds. You can agree with me that these are strange foods, especially for someone like me was used to ugali, githeri, matoke, tilapia, nyama choma and varieties of vegetables back in Kenya. However, I am adjusting to this food lifestyle and I like it!
The Japanese culture is another challenge that I cannot ignore. It is amazing to note that despite the high levels of development, the Japanese society has retained its CONSERVATIVE culture in all fields of life. Specifically, social life is sometimes a hell because Japanese are ever reserved and always calm. For people who come from overly aggressive countries (Kenya being one of them), it is time to reduce the magnitude. This notwithstanding, I have to admit that the kindness and spirit of the Japanese person is overwhelming, and this is what has helped me overcome the mentioned challenges, among others.
What do you do for fun?
When I came to Japan, one counselor told us to try to do things that keep us HAPPY; even if it means those that we used to do back in our countries. Nice piece of advice. I love sightseeing; on most weekends, I get to bike with my friends to visit the numerous sightseeing places around my area. I love attending and participating in various Japanese events. We have a group of international students, with whom we sometimes meet and share the WORD OF GOD, exchange ideas and learn more about our countries. I love music; in my mother tongue we say omosiki neriogo (music is medicine). Playing some rhumba, zilizopendwa, gospel, local music, and some Afro creates the real mood; just dance by myself! Please keep the volume low, lest you will annoy neighbors; this is Japan! However, I know we have different ways of making ourselves happy. Be Happy!
Have you made any Japanese friends?
YES, I have! The Japanese person has an amazing character; you can really feel their presence when you are together, ready to make sure you are comfortable and out of any worry. I like it. However, one needs to re-ignite the friendship each day, because every encounter seems like you met each other for the first time. This may not be the case for others, but I have personally experienced it- it is still happening! However, it not all of them (Japanese) that fall in this category.
What do you miss most about Kenya?
I miss a lot! Notably, food; I miss ugali/sukuma, the real Kenyan nyama choma, githeri, matoke, managu, among other Kenyan delicacies. If there is anything that should make me returns anytime soon, this is definitely one of them; not funny! I live in a place where no African (leave alone a Kenyan) restaurant is within the vicinity. Si hyo ni mateso; ai batonyarire! Anyway, I am getting used to the Japanese cuisines like sushi, shashimi, udon, ramen, takoyaki, okonomiaki, sukiyaki, among others.
I miss making noise! Funny, yeah? One may find it ridiculous, but let me explain what I mean. You see, most Japanese like keeping it calm and cool, and that is how they like it. For instance, you get to a party; no music, less chatting (but it may get “better” once people gallop some glasses of beer); aggressiveness really lacks. You cannot compare this to a Kenyan/African situation, and I think this quote from my blog post says all:
Daily life in Japan is quite busy- every time of the day is just rush hour to an extent of missing time for oneself. All the time is preoccupied with work assignments, business objectives, and other activities revolving around work. This is the same case to my country too, but the people have time to shake it off- forget about any problem or stress that you have and give in to what your heart needs! Somewhere in Africa, one will go for the party, sing, drink and shout the hell out of them, while freely dancing; my friend in Ghana will go Azonto, my broda in Nigeria dey go Skelewu or Sekem, and South Africans will get on their knees vigorously shaking to Zulu tunes. As for my fellow countrymen from East Africa (Kenya, to be specific), they will find their way to the Carnivore Restaurant for the Tribal Nights-Ramogi, Mulembe, Kamba, Kalenjin, Esagasaga, Coast- and rejuvenate the youthfulness in them. As for Japanese, they like keeping it calm and that is how they like it!
I hope you get what I mean here? For now, I have no choice but keep it cool and calm the Japanese way. I will explode once I return to my motherland, Kenya!
Where have you traveled to in Japan?
I have traveled to over 10 prefectures, out of the possible 47 that there are in Japan (just like Kenya’s 47 counties). I have been to the two Japanese large cities of Tokyo (capital), and Osaka. I will be traveling to Kyoto (former capital of Japan) soon. Other places already visited include Nara (the first capital of Japan), and the Kii Peninsula area covering four prefectures. Japan has very many interesting places to visit, and one cannot accomplish all these with limited time and resources. However, I want beat these odds and visit places like Hokkaido, Disney Land, Universal Studios of Japan (USJ), and conclude my mission by climbing Mount Fuji! がんばります (I will try my best).
Look out for Part Two where we discuss learning Japanese and academic life in Japan! In the meantime, check out Abednego’s blog here for more about Japan!
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Mbithe’s ideal life would consist of an infinite loop of travelling to beautiful, idyllic locations with breathtaking views, amazing food, and nothing on her to-do list but relaxation and rejuvenation. Mbithe’s actual life involves a lot of proposals, research papers, and code, with just enough travel to make up for the rest of it.