Written by : Selatni Khadidja

Assalamu `Alaikum

My name is Khadidja, I’m 28 years old originally from Algeria, the largest country in Africa. My country sits in northern Africa surrounded by Morocco, Tunisia, Niger, and the Mediterranian Sea. It is pretty close to France and Spain.

What Makes Me Coming To Japan

I always dreamed of coming to Japan. In my childhood, I was addicted to Japanese anime that attracts me to know more about its culture which makes me amazed. Later my love for Japan was the cue for me to living in the country.

Algeria is 6,727 miles away from Japan (equivalent to 10,825 kilometers!) and takes about 14 hours of travel by plane. In my case, it is not that easy to go to Japan economically at that time, so my hope was to find a scholarship, get benefit from studying in Japan, and experiencing the life I always dreamed of.

Journey in Finding Scholarship

My search for a scholarship started in 2012. The competition to receive a scholarship to Japan in my country is very high. Mostly, only one student accepted annually, or sometimes a maximum of three students.

I applied and rejected many times but the failures didn’t stop me to keep searching and applying. That’s the time I found a JICA scholarship for Africa in 2018 which I applied and Alhamdulillah, I got the scholarship after six years of trying!

*JICA has various scholarships for each region. Please check JICA’s Homepage for more information.

I was accepted to Kyushu University, Waseda University, and Hokkaido University. I ended up choosing Hokkaido University because I was always interested in the north of Japan, the Tohoku region, and Hokkaido,  as well as the Ainu culture, its snow and cold weather. I also read a lot that Hokkaido’s food is the best in Japan.

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A Fulfilling Campus Life

During staying in Japan, all students have a coordinator to have periodic monitoring with us to check if we need anything and assess our progress in the study and daily life. They even organize trips and events for us to not feel lonely.

All subjects in my scholarship program are conducted in English. We have a prayer room in the faculty, we enjoy some events where we introduce our countries or cultures which we enjoy a lot. In the faculty, most students are foreigners so actually, it is a bit tough to make friends with Japanese. Nonetheless, I can interact with obachan (Japanese aunties) from the homestay, Japanese students I met when volunteering, or even from the local gym I commute to.

We are not allowed to do a part-time job in my scholarship but I enjoyed volunteering in a number of educational events, camping with kids, and teaching them English.

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Living in Japan; Convenient Yet Challenging

I can say I am a big fan of Japanese culture. I watched many documentaries and always put effort to talk to those who are living in Japan which made me had a pretty good idea about life there, so I didn’t have a big cultural shock despite a simple cultural misunderstanding, such as how Japanese elders tend to not accept sitting when we leave space for them while it is considered as an important sign of respect in my country, or the common to use a tray to put money while paying in the cashier in Japan while it is considered disrespectful in my country.

On top of that, contrarily, I was surprised to find things that are much better than my expectations.

While staying in the JICA center during our first days, JICA makes sure to provide halal food, a prayer room, and allow us to go for prayers. If I was going to buy something by mistake, the Japanese people tell me if it does have alcohol/pork or not. That was so nice experience, especially in Sapporo, when many Japanese people see me with my scarf, they would like to take pictures with me.

JICA helped us with every detail. They welcomed and picked us at the airport, hosted us in the JICA center, helped us from arranging dormitories or finding a room to rent to proceeding with our residence card and insurance. They also help me to get opportunities to have an internship in the Japanese companies.

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Japan is a cool country and Japanese people are so nice. However, in your first coming and especially if you don’t speak the language, you may face some loneliness. Therefore, finding friends from the same background is important. I still clearly remember my very first day in Sapporo. That day, I went to Sapporo Masjid and met many Muslims. We made a small family and this helps a lot to pass some hard moments. They were really helpful in introducing me to halal shops and places where we can have our home country food or something similar.

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Living in Japan in actual gives me the impression that Japan is making efforts to attract more Muslims and personally, I don’t face any difficulties to find food I can consume in Sapporo. Gyomu super, for example, is a great place to get halal groceries and the availability of some Muslim-friendly restaurants in Sapporo. I also don’t get into any trouble because of the way I look with a scarf. I think the Japanese are kind and respectful. In the faculty or in the company I do an internship, my supervisor and my boss allowed me to pray and understand my beliefs which is just wonderful and makes life more comfortable.

However, nothing is perfect. I experienced struggling in a human relationship but Alhamdulillah, I managed to solve it in a manner way. I was going it through by communication, a will to not keep the problem by myself, and rely on people surrounding us for help.

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After two years and a half in Japan, I visited many places. From famous sightseeing areas such as Asahikawa, Furano, Biei, Wakkanai, Obihiro to areas in the Honshu island such as Tokyo, Gunma, Fukui, Nagoya, Hiroshima, Osaka, Kyoto, and many other places.

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I am so satisfied with my experience, whether studying, living, or traveling. I find myself overwhelmed by how beautiful, clean, and safe the country is every time I travel. As a girl, I feel totally safe and comfortable traveling alone or being outside at any time because sometimes I need to back home late when I have a lot of things to do at the university. Also, I believe that Japan is working on making it a good place for many people.