Monday, February 20, 2012

Language barrier

Before coming to Japan one of the question that frequently being asked by a lot of people is how are we going to manage to come to Japan without knowing any Japanese?

To tell the truth, both of us tried to learn Japanese once in Malaysia. We did not succeed since the focus was not really 100%. I am not blaming anything since we were still working back then so it was kind of difficult for us to learn new language. But before coming here we kind of have a little idea on what is the difference between kanji, hiragana and katakana eventhough we were yet to memorize the lettering. The few words that we know before coming to Japan was only konnichiwa, ohayo gozaimasu, arigato gozaimasu.. Haha serious..

After both of us finish our entrance exam, then only we started to join japanese language class. I managed to finished 2 semester of Japanese and kanji class - and so far I can say I managed myself well to understand basic conversation. Especially going to market and sending our children to local daycare.

My husband on the other hand can understand a little bit but yet to be able to converse in japanese proficiently. But it's still fine considering in the university our medium of communication is still english and communicating with supervisors and labmates are usually in english.

What I can say is that knowing japanese will be extra point for you to study here but it is not compulsory. We have friends who cannot speak Japanese at all and still can survive living here.

I personaly think that having a good circle of friends really helped in order to survive daily living in Japan.

Next entry will be preparing to come to Japan - for Malaysians especially

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Preparing for entrance exam

Most universities in Japan have an entrance exams for post-graduate students. Exemptions are given to some fortunate student for example those who got MEXT Scholarship or Monbukagusho to continue their studies here. For others, you have to go through an entrance exam.

Since both of us were given home country scholarships, so we had to sit for the exam. For Kyoto University entrance exam, it was held for 2 days. The first day was basically an interview session with Q&A sessions related to basic engineering questions and related to our previous background as well as the laboratory subjects related questions. I had about 10 questions including a little bit on engineering theory and mathematics.

The second day was my proposal presentation follow by a little bit of Q&A to give idea why I want to do my research. Both exams take about 30 minutes each.

For preparation, my husband and I got only 2 months prior examination date. During that 2 months, rigorous practice on probable question was done between me and my supervisor (this actually depends on the supervisor willingness to help) and a lot of discussion on the topic for research. Although I already have some idea before coming to Japan, of course supervisor will give his input and ideas to make the proposal significant for the research.

For Kyoto University post-graduate student, we also need to provide sufficient result for English proficiency test. The test might either be TOEFL, TOEIC or IELTS depending on the department requirement.

I think it is best to prepare early and to have a lot of discussion with our supervisor to understand the research better and to give some idea to our supervisor on our work.

Before I forgot, all examinations were conducted in English. So do not worry of not knowing any Japanese at all.

next entry - Language barrier

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

choosing the place - part 2

Both of us (me and my husband) work at the same place, in same department and we usually taught same subjects. We graduated together and have the same major for master degree. The difference was only our bachelor where I am pure civil engineer graduate where else my husband graduated with major in civil-environmental engineering.

The problem with same major is how do distinguish each other specialization. Of course he is way better than me in terms of experiences because he was working in the industry for several years before joining the lecturing wagon. So how did we ended up decided Japan as our study place?

Most university in the world, especially in civil engineering area, researchers are well inter-connected with each other. Meaning, for a single department, most research are relatively similar and projects are done together with a group of lecturers. Therefore the research theme is limited in certain area and less variance in choices.

In Japan, research are based on single Professor with specific theme and small research team. Usually the research are very specific and it is very hard to find 2 laboratory with the same research team. Of course labs can do join research by combining specialties but usually each lab move on their own. This is the biggest advantage for both of us to diversify our specialization. Here we managed to bring the gap for our research. He is currently researching into land contamination while I am into earthquake-induced landslides. There you have it. A very large gap of specialization.

top mine, bottom his - picture google

Even though we are now in different laboratories, but we still managed to speak the same language because of our background. Thus I can say that whatever kind of research you wanted to do, you have to have a strong background of understanding your basic knowledge. In our example civil engineering. The good thing about civil engineering is that we can diversify our research from the sky to earth. It can be good but sometimes you just have to work plain hard to achieve the success.

next entry will be how did we prepare to enter Kyoto University and why we choose this university.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Choosing the study place

Choosing the place of study will be the first question that I want to answer.

My husband and I were always asked why we chose Japan. In order to answer that, we listed out several items that were our concern before choosing our study place. The list is divided related to our life and career. In the first part I will answer based on life

  1. Monetary – of course this is the main thing. Who can deny this? Both of us were very fortunate to be able to hold 2 scholarships at one time. Alhamdulillah. It really means a lot to both of us. For us to get the scholarships was part of the hardships that we went through before coming to Japan. But I will tell about that later. On another hand, there were few restrictions before we managed to sign the agreement. We were given limit to places that we can go. Since the scholarship had to cover 2 person expenses, our employer make it clear to us that we can only choose between going to a. Japan b. United States. Before applying for the scholarships, I actually was given admissions to a university in UK and New Zealand (I don’t have to mention it here). But since our employer told us that if we both wanted the scholarship at the same time, we have to let go the UK and NZ choices. The reason? Too many graduates from the mentioned countries and higher cost of living (don’t comment on this – simply out of my jurisdiction).
  2. Living cost – since we can only choose to either go to Japan or US, we discussed about the expenses that will be used during our study. Of course Japan is higher in living cost compared to US, but bear in mind indirect cost that should be taken into account for example Health Insurance/ Health Care. Since we are going to bring our children with us, we have to consider the children expenses. I may not know how much does it cost in the US, but in Japan, children are given top priority in health care. In Japan, we are classified as non-income group (based on the Japan government policy) since we only carried scholarships as our expenses and we don’t work here. So, under this non-income group, we can get very good quality of health care with minimum payment. For a family of four like us, it costs about 4,800yen (around RM200) per month for insurance. This insurance cover 80% of our children health care cost for every visit to doctor (eg – 1 visit cost us around 200-400yen for children, around 1000yen for adult). This is considered really cheap and we can still get good services.
  3.  Housing and households – this is quite interesting. For those who consider coming to Japan, please take note where will you be living. Of course living in big cities such as Tokyo, Osaka or Kyoto will cost more than living in Kyushu or Hokkaido or Okinawa. The difference is so wide that you can even save the money to buy a car (hahaha) or get a very big house. Our current house rent is about 80,000yen (RM2400) per month where else some friends in Kyushu can get a good house for less than 10,000yen per month. Even groceries cost are different between big cities and less crowded cities. It’s like living in Kuala Lumpur or Terengganu (I bet most of the readers come from Malaysia :P)
To be continued…

Hi all

I know some of you might be following me initially due to the Shaklee business. But I think I want to change this blog theme so it can suit my current status as mother and student.

This blog is meant to be journal and my share of experience in doing PhD.

Hope it will give benefit to you

lots of love,