My name is Doina Zavulan and I'm a 4th year student at the Business and Commerce Faculty of Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo, Japan, majoring in Finances. I've been in Japan since 2017, through the MEXT scholarship offered by the Japanese Government (5 years of studies, one preparatory year and 4 of for the Bachelor's studies). In Romania, I've graduated "Gherghe Lazăr" National College, with a specialization in Mathematics and Computer Science, after which I was admitted as top of the class at the Romanian-American University, where I was a student for one semester of the Managerial Computer Science Faculty, before I went to Japan.
During middle school, I've discovered Japanese anime and that was the starting point of my passion for Japan. Of course, the story, animation, music and the look of anime are impressive, but, at that moment, what attracted me the most was the Japanese language. For me, it was something that sounded so unique, that wasn't like any other european languages that I was learning at school. Slowly, I started to look for books and online courses, to study by myself a couple of Japanese words. When I started attending High School and saw that there is an extracurricular Japanese course, I knew that I had to sign up and stick with it. Unfortunately (or maybe even thankfully), the courses at my High School didn't last for long, and that's how I've ended up at CSRJ!
My experience at CSRJ has helped me discover Japan in its entirety, at first through the study of Japanese language, and then through cultural activities and especially participating in the Cultural Program in Japan. Furthermore, the CSRJ team is an exceptional one and I am still friends with many of those that I've met there. Personally, I believe that I was at the right place in the right moment, because with the help of the activities held at the Centre, I've managed to try unique experiences that gave me the courage to apply for the scholarship that I am attending right now in Japan. I have a lot of beautiful memories, such as putting on a kimono for the first time or playing the guitar in the train on our way to Budapest during the Summer School that I attended.
Student life in Japan is not easy, but it is an unforgettable experience for sure. Because the scholarship that I've received lasts 5 years, including a prep year, I've had the opportunity to live in Osaka for one year before going to Hitotsubashi in Tokyo. In Osaka, I've met a lot of students from all across the world, that came to Japan with the same scholarship as I did, and even though it has been a stressful and full of adventures year, I've managed to make lifelong friends and wonderful memories. Even now, when I hear someone speaking in the Kansai/ Osaka dialect, I get very nostalgic. In some way or another, Osaka was my first home in Japan.
Regarding the student life in Tokyo, being for the first time surrounded by more Japanese students than foreign students, I've had difficulties in integrating in a group or keeping up with the courses taught in Japanese. If in Romania it was enough to pay attention and study for a little bit before the exams, everything moved to the next level here. The teachers expect you to read, to study by yourself and come up with advanced questions, not to only remember what they said in class. On top of this, everything was taught in Japanese, English courses being limited. Along the way, I've gotten used to this education system, I've understood that I need to work three times harder than my Japanese colleagues for every exam, and I've built a new way to study in order to cope with it.
It is not easy, but being passionate about Japan, I quickly recharge my batteries with a simple sunset in Shibuya or with a city break in the weekend. When I hit roadblocks and wanted to complain to someone, I could only blame myself, because I chose to come here, so I decided to be grateful for the simple fact that I was there and that I managed to fulfil a dream of mine.
What I like most about Japan?
The toilets. I like the toilets the most and I think that I spoil myself with them, because any other country will never live up to the level of Japan. Other than that, I like the public transportation, that is very punctual and trustworthy, and nothing compares to the onsen during winter, the cherry blossoms in my campus or a night of karaoke with my friends.
I can't say even now that I completely understand the Japanese people or that I act like them, but if you respect their culture and make yourself part of an organization, it is somewhat easy to fit in. The key is to come here with an open mind, to not expect for everything to be like in anime and to see the Japanese society as it is, with the good and bad parts. You just have to look for a place that you can belong to, be it the university, a sports club or a workplace, because this is how you will be able to feel like you're part of a community.
And last but not least, for the moments you are homesick. it is good to have a circle of other foreigners, maybe even Romanians, with whom you can vent to without being judged. That is why I founded the LSRS Japan branch with my colleague Oana - so we can unite the Romanian students in Japan and to support them.
Job hunting in Tokyo while being freshly graduated is an experience that requires a lot of effort, especially mentally. In Japan, bachelor's studies usually last 4 years, and the job hunting process starts from the middle of the third year, through many short-term internships (less than a month) that can lead to a job offer in the future. At the same time, job applications slowly start to open. The process for each company is pretty long. First you need to fill out an application, then have multiple math/ Japanese/ IQ/ English tests, then have group or individual interviews. Each company has a different process, but for every job you apply for, you must be very prepared because the competition is big. I've heard from my Japanese colleagues that they apply to companies that they don't even want to work at, just so they could have the training needed for online tests and interviews.
To foreigners, it is much more difficult because usually they are not familiarized with this process in Japan and therefore they don't begin their training in time and they can't keep up with the Japanese candidates that have more experience. Also, the online tests are mostly in Japanese and are very quick, putting foreigners at a disadvantage. Even so, if you realize the necessary training you need, work hard and know how to highlight all of your qualities, it is possible to receive job offers here.
It is a long and pretty stressful process, but the good part is that you have a lot of freedom because it is not necessary to apply for a job that has to do with what you studied at the university. (I know some colleagues that even though they studied economy, they became engineers and programmers!)
I don't have a certain memory when I think about CSRJ that I can say is my favorite, because there are so many wonderful experiences that I had together with the team at the Centre, but I could say that my favorite period was the preparation for big events, such as Haru Urara Grand Festa. Everybody bustling back and forth, rehearsing, getting ready, but also had time to chit-chat and make jokes with one another. Moments like these, the constant hum that you could feel in the air, bring us closer, make us a team and creates an unforgettable feeling.
For me, my experiences at the Centre molded me, helped me take that leap of faith towards the Land of the Raising Sun. I wish that from now on it will keep being this kind of place, where you can not only find studies of asian languages, but also a mentor and a community of passionate and dedicated people. May it have lots of cool projects and good luck in accomplishing them. Happy Anniversary!