I will share with you how I came to Japan and enjoyed three wonderful months there as an exchange student from Finland, or more specific, from Turku University of Applied Sciences (TUAS) in Finland.
When to apply?
Different from going on an exchange for other countries, the application period for Japan exchange study is open earlier at the beginning of September.
Keep a close look at your email inbox because at the beginning of September there will be emails about how to apply for Japan exchange study/ practical training.
The deadline is normally at the end of September, so remember to submit your application in time.
TUAS has partners from Tohoku region in Japan. There will be a lot of helpful guidance coming from school and other students who joined the program previously. Here is one of the guides: https://issuu.com/sannik/docs/your_guide_for_practical_training_i
The application process is quite straightforward, just submit the documents that are required.
If you have any questions, you should contact International office. The teachers there are always friendly and helpful, they will help you to get what you need or at least direct you to the right people whom you can get help from.
Getting a visa
After you are accepted for the practical training period, you will be thinking about booking your flight tickets and getting all excited for Japan.
However, if you are not an EU citizen like me, there may be a high chance that you have to ask for a visa before entering Japan.
About the documents needed for your visa, you can read more at https://www.mofa.go.jp/j_info/visit/visa/index.html. For Vietnamese students, there is a separate page for visa procedure: https://www.mofa.go.jp/ca/fna/page23e_000538.html
For my case, I submitted these papers:
- Visa application form: https://www.mofa.go.jp/files/000124525.pdf
- Letter of guarantee
- Invitation letter
- Details of organization
- Itinerary in Japan
- Copy of flight tickets/ Flight tickets reservations.
- Passport copy
- A confirmation letter from TUAS
You can ask for Letter of guarantee, Invitation letter, Itinerary in Japan from your partner school in Japan. They will fill in these papers (in Japanese), stamp them and send them to you by post.
Remember to ask for these documents early enough so they can reach you in time. I think 2 months before your departure would be reasonable.
By the way, if you have a specific wish for a certain school in Japan, remember to put the name of that school in your motivation letter. They will consider your wish when assigning you to a school.
In case you are wondering if this can be done online, from my experience, the answer is No. I sent an email to ask the Embassy if I could submit an electronic application, and I got their reply:
After you have collected all the necessary papers, send them to the Embassy address (Unioninkatu 20-22, 00130 Helsinki).
The application processing time is normally 2-3 weeks. I got my visa decision after 2 weeks. There was an email from the Embassy that asked me to go to the Embassy in person with my passport.
The visa you will receive will be stick to your passport and look like this
Congratulations, now let’s get ready for your Japan visit 🙂
What to pack?
My personal advice is to keep your luggage light. Why?
You will most likely stay in a dormitory with a kitchen that you can cook in, and all the cooking utensils are provided by the school. Therefore, you only need to take the essentials with you for a 3-month stay.
On top of that, Japan is a super interesting country. There will be tons of things you want to try, buy, take home as gifts, and they will fill up your luggage pretty quickly. If you are willing to buy another luggage to fit them and buy extra luggage from the airlines, then all good.
My packing list recommendation:
- Clothes: summer clothes as you will arrive in April and leave in July. The weather would be a bit chilly at night but other than that summer-ish. Bring light and easy-to-pack clothes. But remember to get one set of formal clothes for your final presentation day. There will be photos taken. I took my red áo dài with me :))
- Shoes: sneakers that are comfortable for walking because you will walk a hell lot in Japan trust me; slippers for walking inside the dorm; heels if you want to be beautiful sometimes in dresses :p
- Skincare products. If your skin is not too sensitive, try Japanese products. It’s a heaven for cosmetics and skincare. Cheap price with top quality. No wonder why Japanese girls have baby-like skin.
- Electronics: laptop, charger, phone, tablet, adaptors etc…Japanese sockets are different from the European or Vietnamese ones, so take adaptors with you. Also notice that Japan electricity supply is at 100V.
- Important documents: passport, residence permit, flight tickets, confirmation paper for the end of practical training period…
- Essential goods: toothbrush, comb, nail clipper, … (of course, you can buy all this in Japan, but just in case you want to be well prepared)
- Gifts: bring small gifts to show your appreciation. I brought chocolates from Finland and paper fans from Vietnam to give the Japanese professors, the dorm lady and the teacher who helped me with all the papers listed above for my visa application. Also, you may meet people from a different culture and in the end, you may want to give them something from your culture so small gifts will be helpful.
I cannot stress this enough: Learn as much Japanese as possible before your departure! Why?
Speaking from my own experience, Japanese people are not very fluent in English. Of course not all of them, but most of the Japanese I’ve met have difficulties listening and speaking in English. If your destination city is a big/ touristic city such as Tokyo, Osaka or Kyoto then you don’t have to worry much because in these cities people can communicate in decent or very good English. But if you are a student from TUAS, it’s certain that all of the partner schools, at the time of writing this blog post, do not belong to the category of “popular” cities.
Before you go to Japan, TUAS will organize a Japanese course worth 3 credits to prepare you for the basic Japanese language. Try to learn as much as you can from this course. Ideally, try to hold a simple conversation with your Japanese teacher. Besides, try to note down important phrases and memorize them because you never know when you may need to speak Japanese in Japan. I had an incident at the beginning of my time in Japan which is somewhat related to this Japanese language thing.
Most importantly, being able to communicate in Japanese will open a whole lot of opportunities for you to explore Japanese culture and have Japanese friends. Japanese people are famous for being shy, but if you make an effort, they’ll slowly open up to you. Speaking with them in their native language would certainly speed up this process.
It is a good idea to check in advance with your insurance provider if the insurance covers your stay in Japan.
I used Swisscare insurance for students. Last year I emailed them to ask and get the answer that my plan didn’t cover Japan, I would have to buy a separate one.
Insurance was of great help for me because during my stay in Japan I had several problems with my wisdom teeth. I had to see the dentist 3 times. Because I didn’t have any Japanese domestic insurance, I have to pay the full price. For your reference, the cost of taking out one wisdom tooth and the medicines that went with it, in my case was around 110 euros. Thanks to the other insurance that I bought, I was reimbursed the full amount of money.
In a nutshell, make sure you have a valid travel/ health insurance before going to Japan.
Little things to notice
- Your partner school in Japan will most likely pick you up at the local train station or bus station. Mind you, Japanese people are SUPER punctual. So when you calculate the time that you will arrive, add some extra time for transferring from one stop to another. Don’t make the Japanese partners wait. If somehow you cannot make it on time, always inform them as soon as possible.
- Most schools have student clubs such as kendo (sword fighting), music, Ikebana (flower arrangement), badminton, table tennis, drawing etc… Be active, look for a club that interests you and ask your teacher how to join.
That’s it for now. The post will be updated whenever I remember something that I should share. I wish you good luck with your Japan journey 🙂