By Mayumi Koyama
The government has implemented a plan to have 300,000 foreign students studying in Japan by 2020, with the idea of providing foreign students with an attractive education option in a supportive learning environment, while at the same time, giving Japanese students the chance to develop abilities to actively work in the global society through friendly competition with their international peers.
(Clockwise from top left) Giulia Carminati, Kelly Cargos, Arias Sira Francisco Jose, Marta Salgueiro Fuentes, Diaz Ordonez Albert and Gerritt Lighthart participate in a round-table discussion at The Japan Times' office on Feb. 13. The students talked about their experiences studying in Japan and the support their language schools have given them in working toward their goals. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO
In keeping with this trend of globalization, many Japanese companies have recently begun targeting international talent in their recruiting efforts.
This means opportunities for international students to use their talents in Japan are gradually increasing and they are now strong rivals to Japanese students on the job hunting scene.
According to Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT,) as of May 1 of fiscal 2012, 137,758 international students were studying in Japan.
As the first step toward making lives in Japan, many international students study at Japanese language institutes to obtain sufficient language skills to study or work in Japan.
The Japan Times invited motivated international students, who are studying at Japanese language schools in Tokyo, for a round-table discussion and asked about their studying experiences in Japan.
Perhaps one of the charms of studying in Japan is the environment, in which people can learn about the country's dramatic growth of the post-World War II years. In Japanese universities and other higher education institutions, they can learn and study any subject, such as Japanese literature, medicine, international business administration or electronics at high-quality institutions.
Arias Sira Francisco Jose from Venezuela, an 18-year-old student at the Shinjuku Japanese Language Institute in Shinjuku, came to Japan September in 2013 with an interest in cutting-edge Japanese technology.
"For a career as a computer programmer, I believe studying Japan's world-leading technology is the perfect way to improve my skills," Arias said. "I want to study at a Japanese university to create software and computer applications in the future."
Marta Salgueiro Fuentes, a 30-year-old working in Spain's hotel industry, came to Japan last January for an international business administration program at Waseda University. Before she returns to Spain in August, she is studying at the EverGreen Language School.
"I want to make special tours and packages to bring more Japanese tourists to Spain. And I hope to be able to welcome and help Japanese tourists to hotels," Fuentes said.
Besides career improvement, a strong interest in Japanese culture, such as music, fashion, literature, anime or food, may be one of the major factors enticing people to travel to Japan for study.
Since she was in junior high school in Connecticut, Kelly Cargos, who is studying at the Nichibei Kaiwa Gakuin, JLI, has always been interested in Asian culture and her interest in Japan specifically, coaxed her to make the flight to Japan, after graduating from university last May.
"One day a friend lent me a manga and, for no real reason, I fell in love with it. But, I didn't know why I loved it so much," the 22-year-old Cargos said with a smile. "After studying Japanese culture and history, I decided to study in Japan."
Even though there are many ways to study foreign languages and culture in their own countries, the students are also eager to learn expressions that are used in daily life, but are not taught in typical Japanese school classes.
Giulia Carminati, a 23-year-old from Italy, and a student at Kai Japanese Language School, loves Japanese music. She studied Japanese in university in Italy, but it was not enough for her.
"Even though I studied Japanese in my country, I didn't have chance to use it there. Live experience is the best and fastest way to learn other languages," Carminati said, and she has studied since 2013 at the language school in preparation for getting a job in Japan.
Gerritt Lighthart from Oregon, a 27-year-old student at Arc Academy Japanese Language School, also has the same desire to learn everyday Japanese.
"For example, when ordering from food naturally at a restaurant, you may encounter many different situations or problems," said Lighthart who majored in Asian Studies at university in Canada, "that I didn't learn in my university classes."
Another Venezuelan, a 32-year-old student at Tokyo Central Japanese Language School (TCJ), Gessyca Tovar is also interested in Japanese technology and realized she needed stronger language abilities.
"Initially, I came to Japan to study electronic information science, as Japan is advanced in the field. I learned to love life in Japan and after graduation I decided to stay in Japan, start a business and learn more about Japanese society. However, I found it very difficult to make a business in Japan without a high level of Japanese. So that is why I decided to improve my Japanese after coming back to Japan in October 2012," she said.
As more people decide to come to Japan to study the language, it may be difficult to find a suitable language school as there are so many Japanese language institutes to choose from.
Each institute has its own selling points, so researching and comparing them is an important step. For example, one may offer small-sized group classes, allowing students to have many opportunities to speak and interact with the instructor, while others might offer a range of after-school activities, including field trips to Mount Fuji, watching sumo, going for drink at a traditional bar or participating in a Japanese speech contest. These types of experiences allow students to brush up their language abilities outside the classroom.
Also, it is easier to find a suitable school if they have clear ideas for what they want to achieve.
Diaz Ordonez Albert from Spain chose the Academy of Language Arts for its class focusing on business Japanese. After working in London for a while, the 30-year-old Diaz came to Japan last year to look for a job.
"Even though I studied Japan and Japanese in university in London, I knew I didn't have strong enough language skills for business. So I researched many schools around Japan in places like Fukuoka, Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo. Eventually, I found one where I can study Japanese for business use, with a focus on conversation," Diaz said.
Additionally, it isn't easy for students start a new life in a foreign country without some support in their daily lives. To help their students in Japan, some schools offer a variety of assistance in addition to language lessons.
Most schools will help students obtain a visa, find an apartment, open a bank account or assist with mobile phone contracts. Also, according to the discussion participants, there are other forms of assistance.
Students can also take advantage of help in applying to universities and assistance in preparing for interviews. For students looking for part-time work, many schools will offer suggestions based on the student's language level. Schools also help students secure full-time employment by preparing them for career fairs, many of which are geared specifically for international students.
Studying abroad can provide advantages across many areas, including employment, academics and personal growth. By taking advantage of school support, people have a chance to have meaningful, enriching experiences.