My journey to Tokyo – Experience as a MEXT Scholar
Masters Student, Tokyo Institute of Technology, Japan
I am an international student at Tokyo Institute of Technology, doing master’s degree under MEXT (Monbukagakusho) Scholarship. I come from Thiruvananthapuram, a beautiful city in The God’s own country, Kerala, India. I completed my Bachelor’s Degree in Chemistry from University College, Thiruvananthapuram.
One of the many questions that I get asked frequently after coming to Japan was about my Scholarship. So finally, after 6 months of experience in Japan, here is my journey from Kerala to Tokyo. I am an international student at Tokyo Institute of Technology, doing master’s degree under MEXT (Monbukagakusho) Scholarship. I come from Thiruvananthapuram, a beautiful city in The God’s own country, Kerala, India. I completed my Bachelor’s Degree in Chemistry from University College, Thiruvananthapuram.
It was during my final year of bachelors that I came to know about the scholarship called MEXT, which is a prestigious scholarship offered by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), Japan. It is a fully funded scholarship, that not only covers the airfare and tuition fee, but also provides the scholars with a monthly stipend which covers all the living expenses in Japan.
It then came to my senses that this would be my best chance to make my dreams of studying abroad come to reality. Besides, who would not want to experience life in the land of rising sun? So, I decided to apply for the Embassy Recommended MEXT Scholarship, 2020 under the category of research student as I wanted to do my Master’s degree in Japan. (There are 6 other categories for which the scholarship is provided. Also, there are two routes to get the scholarship- the Embassy recommendation & the University Recommendation, which has different procedures.)
MEXT (Embassy-recommended) Scholarship Procedure
The process of securing the Scholarship has mainly 4 stages.
The call for application came around first week of April, 2019. There is an application form to be filled, which is available in the website of Embassy of Japan in India (link included below). I applied under the field of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering. The application form includes your personal and academic information, Field of Study (we have to prepare a research proposal clearly indicating our field of interest and a plan about our research in Japan. This plan may not be the final research plan for your degree. You can modify it according to your lab in later stages after securing the scholarship). Since I did not have any previous research experience during my bachelors, making a good research proposal was personally a very difficult task for me. I started my preparations from Feb, 2019 and I had to spend days on figuring out how to write a proper research plan. With kind assistance from some of my teachers, I was finally able to draft a plan and this, in fact was the hardest part for me in the entire process.
The deadline of the application form was around the last week of May 2019 and the names of shortlisted candidates were released in the first week of June, 2019.
Successful applicants were invited to sit for a written examination and an interview during the last week of June. By that time, I completed my bachelor’s degree and acquired the provisional certificates. I also joined for masters in Kerala University and started taking classes as there was a fair chance of getting eliminated at every stage. Both the test and the interview took place in the same day at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. The written test was a language proficiency test (Japanese and English). However, it is not mandatory that we have to attend the Japanese language test or know the language. But, students must be willing to learn Japanese after selection. Since I didn’t know Japanese before, I skipped the Japanese test and instead, I had to attend mandatory Japanese classes for the initial 6 months after going to Japan. The past question papers of the English test are available in the website which helped me a lot to practice and analyze the difficulty level of the exam. Personally, I didn’t find the exam much difficult as it mostly consists of basic grammar and vocabulary questions. However, proper preparation is necessary to understand the trend of the questions.
Out of the students shortlisted for the written exam, successful candidates were called to attend the interview for the selection process. The frequently asked questions in the interview goes like “Why do you want to study in Japan?” “Why did you choose (your preferred Universities) as your top three choices?”, “Explain your research proposal in simple words?”, “Why did you choose the particular topic for your research and how will it help Japan/India or society as a whole” etc. Basically, the questions will mostly be about your background, research interests, your plans and motives. I think preparation and presentation are the most important factors when in comes to tackling the interview. Luckily, in spite of all the tensions in attending the first interview of my life, I was very happy with my performance.
I received the much-anticipated result of the screening in Aug 2, 2019 and I was then instructed to apply to universities of my interest by the embassy. With the help of some friends from Kerala studying at Japan, and by surfing different University websites, I came to know about some professors related to my field of interest. In Japan, each professor has a lab dedicated to his research area and we have to seek upto 3 professors of our interest from different Universities and acquire LOA(Letter of Acceptance) from them. I wanted to work with Prof. Takeo Yamaguchi from Tokyo Institute of Technology, Graduate School of Material Science and Technology. I emailed him showing my interest to join his lab . He enquired about my research interests and set up a skype interview for me. In the interview, I had to give a presentation of my previous studies, background and future research plans. He was kind enough to accept me to his lab and wrote me the Letter of Acceptance (LOA) which he sent to me via post. I acquired LOAs from three universities of my interest. The final requirement for the applicant is to forward these LOAs and our preference order of Universities to the Embassy of Japan in India for the final Screening in September,2019.
At this stage, I had to spend 5 months awaiting the result. Though the job is almost done when you get the LOA, there is still a final screening of the documents and hence we have to wait patiently.
Finally, putting an end to the long waiting, I received my final official letter on Febreuary,2020 confirming the Scholarship.
Eventhough my travel was planned in April 2020 , it was delayed due to the COVID-19. Nevertheless, my course started without delay and I took Japanese classes online from May,2020. I was a research student at Tokyo Tech for the initial 5 months. During that period, my academic supervisor discussed my research plans with me and finalized it. (It was different from what I previously submitted). In August 2020, I cleared the entrance to become a Masters student at Tokyo Tech. I had to take a skype interview and present my past and future works for my entrance examination. (The type of entrance examinations varies with different Universities and labs) In September 2020, I enrolled in Tokyo Tech as a Masters student. For initial few days, I took my classes online and all my classes were in English. In October 2020, I finally got the call to fly to Japan. University allots us with dormitories and hence we don’t have to worry about accommodation. MEXT arranged the air ticket and also our accommodation for the quarantine period. In October 9,2020 I finally landed on Japan after 17 months of waiting.
This is my journey as a MEXT Scholar. Timelines and procedures might slightly vary now, especially due to COVID-19. The process was not easy at all as we had to go through many levels of screening and a whole lot of paper works. Though the Embassy guided us through the process there was still a whole lot of confusion, risk of getting eliminated and most importantly, a great deal of patience.
Looking back, I believe that going through the entire process was a huge experience for me, which helped me grow as a strong individual. The effort I put in making this happen, was totally worth it as it gave me this wonderful opportunity to study in a top-notch university under a fully funded scholarship scheme. Not only did I get the opportunity to open my mind up to a new culture, I also worked my way up in my confidence and independence. From my experience, Japan is a very welcoming country with very helpful people and the best place to begin your journey living abroad. I experienced so much in such a short period of time and there is plenty of room to travel and seek out new experiences. MEXT also provides scholarship extension to PhD after successful completion of Master’s degree and I am very much looking forward to that. I feel this is a golden opportunity that is highly underexplored especially in Kerala and I encourage more students to consider Japan for their higher studies.
I am forever thankful to my Uncle and aunt for being there for me always and making my life much easier in Tokyo. I would also like to express my gratitude to Prof. Sakthi Kumar, Toyo University for introducing MEXT to me and guiding me throughout the process.
I wish all the MEXT aspirants good luck in your new adventure. I would be happy to answer any of your questions regarding MEXT or life in Japan in general.
Click here to Contact me