This post is also available in: Indonesia
Written by: Tuti Alawiyah
Experiencing living in three big cities in Japan; Tokyo, Sapporo, and Osaka is a grateful journey for me.
Just like other Indonesian kids who are grown up watching Japanese animes and reading mangas, living in Japan has been my dream since I was in junior high school. I made it come true in 2013 by joining an internship program in Tokyo.
The internship was held by a partnership between my university and Pasona company from Japan with the program “Pasona International Exchange Program. With the program, I had an opportunity to do an internship in a Japanese company for 2 months.
At the same time, I was applying for a MEXT scholarship which then gave me the opportunity to learn Japanese and its culture for one year in the Japanese Studies Program in Osaka. After finishing my study at Osaka Kyoiku University, then I came back to my country, Indonesia.
One More Challenge to Japan
I still can’t get my mind from a desire to be in Japan longer even after I came back to Indonesia. Then I rechallenged myself for another MEXT scholarship which then sends me to the land of snow, Hokkaido.
I was really eager to see the white scenery around since Indonesia only has dry and rainy seasons all year-round. I believe that most Indonesian are longing to experience snow just like me. So that I felt blessed to get myself another opportunity to continue study at Hokkaido University in 2017.
Touchdown Hokkaido, The Land of Snow
Hokkaido in the northern part of Japan has heavy snow and longer winter compared to other areas in Japan, which means that I will have definite chances to experience snow. Hokkaido University sits in the capital of the prefecture, Sapporo. I can say that my experience living in Sapporo is the most memorable time I spent in Japan so far.
I still remember the very first day I arrived in Sapporo, it was in early April 2017. It should be spring in the other city, but I could see the land of Hokkaido were all covered by snow from the plane’s window. That scenery was beautiful which gets me overwhelmed! It was 7°C that gave me the chill when I stepped out from New Chitose Airport.
It was like a dream that the night before I was still in Jakarta, the city with an average temperature of about 30°C all the year, and then here I am in the land of snow with snowy winter for almost half of the year! I greeted myself joyfully.
My first day in Sapporo was quite challenging, especially in adjusting my body to the new temperature. Sapporo still has snowfall even in the middle of April. There were still piles of snow by the side of the road, as well as puddles of melting snow making the road slippery.
I still remember the happiness I felt in my heart that I can touchdown Sapporo, even feeling cold and need to mind my steps at the same time. One lesson learned, bring extra outers if you want to visit Hokkaido even during the spring or autumn.
Alhamdulillah, I am very grateful to be able to experience receiving scholarships twice. It wasn’t about my own abilities. My journey as a scholarship hunter was about the process of tawakkal (reliance on God). The only thing I did was do my very best during the application and let everything decided by Allah SWT because I believe in the phrase “do the best and let God do the rest”.
My Campus Life in Hokkaido University
I was pursuing my master’s degree at Hokkaido University, or usually called “Hokudai” for short, and I felt superly blessed to get awarded the MEXT (monbukagakusho) scholarship for the second time. Of course, there were lots of struggle on my journey to get this full scholarship, but in short, I enrolled in the MEXT scholarship by G to G program at the Japanese Embassy in Jakarta, competed with thousands of candidate from all over Indonesia to take the document screening, written test, and interview.
If you’re interested to know further about this scholarship program, please kindly check the Japan Embassy website of your country with the keyword Monbukagakusho Scholarship.
After successfully get the scholarship, I started as a research student for a year before getting into the master’s program for two years. In total, I was living in Sapporo for 3 years from 2017 to 2020, as a student of the Graduate School of International Media Communications and Tourism Studies of Hokkaido University.
Almost all the subjects in my faculty are conducted in Japanese. For your information, there are programs with an English program option. Unfortunately, the major subject I want to pursue only available in the Japanese program.
My campus life was also memorable. I was the one and only Muslim in my faculty. However, all of my friends and teachers were respect and appreciate me. They gave me time for praying and really considered my food every time we had a party together.
My faculty doesn’t have any prayer room available, so I did the pray in empty classes or in the Office of International Affairs (OIA) building, located two buildings away from my faculty. In OIA’s student room, there is a prayer room available complete with prayer goods. I took some Japanese classes there for one semester, so during the class shift, I could pray easily. In addition, Sapporo Masjid is located only 10 minutes away by foot. I felt blessed.
Regarding Halal food, Hokudai has halal meals such as curry and tandoori chicken in its Central Cafeteria. When bored with that menus, I just picked seafood dishes because Hokkaido’s seafood is the tastiest!! The Muslim-friendly restaurants are also mushrooming in Sapporo that allows me to enjoy various Halal Japanese foods.
Like any other foreign student in Japan, I was also doing a part-time job aside from my study time. I worked on the campus as international students support desk staff, the job I liked so much because I could help out many international students from various countries who don’t speak Japanese to solve their daily problems due to the language barrier.
I also worked freelance as a Japanese-Indonesian translator, and before the pandemic when many tourists visited Hokkaido all the year-round, I also did a part-time job as a tour guide for tourists from Indonesia or Malaysia. I was majoring in Tourism Creation in my master’s degree and doing the job as a tour guide actually gave me chances to get involved more in the field I was studying at.
I think doing a part-time job while studying is a great opportunity for us to improve our time management skills. I worked hard to balance my time for studying, working, and playing/get entertained as well.
On top of that, life in Japan was not all easy-peasy. There were some difficulties I faced regarding my study and research. One of them was the language. I thought I will not get a big problem with language since I am able to communicate in Japanese. The Japanese skill went very well for my daily life, but when it comes to academic terms, I had to work twice or three times harder than my other classmates, which are mostly Japanese and foreign students from other Kanji-based countries. ”
“If you decide one, do it to the end“.
When doing homework that needs difficult Japanese, I did my best to finish the task to the maximum as I can, then I asked my best friends who are Japanese to check my work before submitting it. It makes me learn a lot about Japanese in academic terms.
Besides language, I had to overcome what they called ‘winter gloomy’ every time that season came. I do like snow so much, yet sometimes that extremely freezing cold and blizzard weather could suddenly affect our mood down or simply made me feel homesick.
Overcome the Homesick
Gathering with the Muslim community at Sapporo Masjid and Indonesian friends on campus was the best way for me to reducing stress or homesickness. PPI Hokkaido (Indonesian student community in Hokkaido) and the Muslim community in the mosque who are like family were being the support system for me living far away from my country. I spent most of my time with them to study, play, and pray together.
I kindly advise you who also want to study abroad, to be with your community where ever you’re being placed. This community will become our family, make us be able to survive in every up and down of our journey abroad. For me, the presence of the Muslim community, as well as my friends in PPI Hokkaido, had become the essential parts for making Sapporo felt like home.