For my first post in this new blog, I’ll be sharing my experiences while I was applying for this scholarship. Mainly, I made this to share information to others who are also interested to apply. Since a lot of other blogs out there were really helpful to me during my application, I want to pass that on to others; also since I feel like there’s not much info out there about this category.
So, to start things off, the Monbukagakusho (or MEXT) Scholarship is awarded by the Japanese Government to students from all over the world who want to pursue their studies in Japan. There are different categories you can apply for, and it depends on you which one you think will suit you best. I applied for the Specialized Training College category, so that’s what I’ll talk about here.
The first thing you should do is to check your country’s Japanese embassy website. They’re the ones who handle all the applications per country, and you can download the forms required & get news about the scholarship there. For fellow Filipinos, the Japanese embassy page for the scholarship is here. For people from other countries, the website of the Embassy of Japan for your country should have the info you need.
Now I should say that each country’s guidelines and processes are different from each other. Though they generally require the same stuff, there are still little differences here and there, and it’s best to consult the website of your country. In the Philippines, applications usually start around April/May of each year. In other countries, it might start earlier or later.
There are four parts to this scholarship, and here I’ll be sharing my own experiences with each one. I’ll also add in a few tips which, hopefully, you’ll find useful in your application. 🙂
1) Document Gathering & Screening
If you’ve checked the Japanese embassy website, you’d see the documents & info that can tell you more about the scholarship. I think it’s very important that you read the document thoroughly (the Application Guidelines one), because every bit of info you need is explained there, like what you need to submit, guidelines, info on what you’re getting from the scholarship, etc.
As I’ve mentioned, there are documents they require you to submit for your application. There’s an application form that’s several pages long that you need to fill up and you need to get a bunch of stuff from your school (transcripts, certificates, etc). There’s also a recommendation letter required. In addition, you need to do medical tests and have a doctor fill up the medical form for the scholarship. Some countries may require this later, after the exams & interview, but in my country you need to submit it with your school documents & application form. So, like I said, it’s best to consult the embassy in your country just to be sure.
The amount of stuff you need to do might seem overwhelming at first, but this is just basically you doing lots of legwork to get all the right documents. Filling out the application form was a bit harder for me, since it’s quite long and you need to do a bit of soul-searching to answer some of the questions on there. I had to do lots of thinking & editing to check that everything was okay.
Overall, I’d say this shouldn’t be very hard. Even though I encountered some setbacks along the way, I was lucky to have friendly school staff (Thank you UST CFAD Office!) & people around me who helped me get the many documents I needed.
So, once you have all of the things required, double-check everything first to make sure you didn’t miss anything. After that, proceed to the Japanese embassy to hand them in. You can also mail it if you live far from the embassy, but since it was just a train ride away from where I lived, I decided to hand it in myself.
A few tips: Keep the documents you submit neat & clean, because you want to look professional to the people at the embassy who will screen your documents. It might be better to type your answers to the application form instead of writing by hand, so it will be easier for the people at the embassy to go through. Answer the application form truthfully and to the best you can, to show your effort right from the start.
2) Examinations at the Japanese Embassy
Once you’ve submitted them to the embassy, they will check your documents, and if it’s all okay to them and you passed their screening, they will inform you of when your schedule for the examinations is. The exam subjects for Specialized Training are Mathematics, English & Japanese.
I highly suggest to study & prepare for the exams ahead of time. To be honest, I had months to study and prepare for the exams, but I was busy with school and only got to study Maths & Japanese for maybe a couple of weeks. Although I’ve been self-studying Japanese for more than a year then, I had stopped for some time so I needed to restudy all the Japanese grammar that I forgot badly, and at the same time restudy high school & college-level maths that I haven’t studied for two years!
So, the long and short of it is: don’t procrastinate like me, and study when you can.
If you need resources, for me personally, I used the みんなの日本語 (Minna no Nihongo) books in self-studying Japanese. I tried cramming in as much kanji & grammar rules as I can before the exams. For maths, I used Khan Academy. They had various levels of maths videos with easy explanations, so it was perfect for me as a refresher! Of course you can always use other resources, but those were the ones that I liked.
So for the English test, I think I did well. For the maths test, well, I’m not very good at maths to start with, but that test was just at a way different level of difficulty. I remember that test gave me a serious headache. For the Japanese test, I was only able to answer the first part & half of the second part, but when there were too many kanjis and words I didn’t understand anymore, I had to stop because that was giving me another headache too. 😛
A few tips: It’s really best to study ahead of time. Usually, there are previous tests at the embassy website so you can use those to narrow down the topics that you’ll have to study. The exams can have a wide range of topics, so use the previous exams to focus on the ones that usually come up, instead of studying Maths or English or Japanese in general. Try to answer the previous tests, focus on the questions you find difficult, and aim for a good score.
3) Interview with people from the Japanese Embassy
About a week after the exams, I got a phone call from the Embassy of Japan saying I passed the test & was invited for an interview.
I remember that I got the phone call on a Friday, and was told that my interview was on the Monday right after! I was kind of panicking because it was so sudden and I was still planning a practice interview with a friend (which can be really helpful, especially if you’re like me: really bad at speaking) but we haven’t had a chance to do that yet! I don’t have clothes prepared for the interview either! I haven’t thought of what I’ll say! And I only had two days to do all of that!
(Okay, so I was really panicking, not just kind of panicking.)
I tried to prepare the best I could in those two days. I looked up possible interview questions and prepared what I could answer for those. My friend suggested we do a Skype practice interview instead. I’ll be honest, I think that practice was really helpful to me. I asked her to come up with a few interview questions of her own, and ask them to me without telling me what they were beforehand. That way, if they asked me a question I didn’t expect, I’ll be ready to answer them. (Thanks, Bea! ❤ )
There were 3 people from the embassy who interviewed me, and the first thing they asked me was to introduce myself in Japanese. (Remember that if you stated in your application form that you have some Japanese skills, it’s likely they’ll ask you some questions in Japanese too). The other questions were about my choice in my field of study (photography), why I wanted to study in Japan, about what I’ll do when I move there and how I’ll adapt. So just prepare to explain yourself a lot.
I did the best I could at that interview. I think I was able to answer some of the questions alright, but I think my nervousness showed because my voice was all shaky. So in the middle of my interview, I felt I had to apologise to the interviewers, so then I blurted out awkwardly, “SORRY, I’M JUST SO NERVOUS!” The interviewers chuckled at that when I said it, but I think it helped calm my nerves somehow, and the rest of the interview went smoothly(ish) 😛
A few tips: Practise speaking, especially if you’re bad at it like me. Prepare possible questions & answers beforehand. For me, it helped that I DIDN’T memorise those answers, but instead just remembered my main point and improvised to explain it further. Because chances are they won’t ask you all the questions you’ve memorised. I think it’s better to practise improvising instead of memorising so that if they ask you a question you didn’t expect, you’ll know how to come up with an answer on the spot. Also, read up about your field of study in Japan, how your field of study is being taught there, life as a foreign student in Japan, etc.
4) Lots of waiting & the final decision from Japan
About a month after my interview, I received an e-mail from the Embassy of Japan saying they selected me as one of the applicants whom they will be recommending to MEXT in Japan. Then MEXT will do their own screening process for the many, many applicants from all over the world (so at this stage, the competition would level up, because you’re not just competing with other people from your own country anymore, but with people worldwide!). Then MEXT will make the final decision on who will be awarded with the scholarship.
They also mentioned in the e-mail that the final decision from MEXT will probably be by the end of December, and take note that I received this e-mail during the first week of August, so that’s at least four months of waiting and thoughts about it always at the back of my mind. So after you pass all of the embassy’s screenings, prepare to wait. And wait. And wait some more.
This, for me, was the toughest part of the entire application process. Although the exams & the interview were also tough, at least they were both over and done with in just one day each, and you’ll find out the results not too long after. But with this, it was four months of always being nervous about the results. Add to that the fact that this happened after my graduation, and I didn’t go for a job yet (yes I’m quite the lazy bones), so I didn’t have school or work to keep my mind preoccupied. Remember to bring lots of patience with you for this stage.
Luckily for me, the results came pretty early this year, on December 7th to be exact. When I got an e-mail notification on my phone and I saw that it was from the Embassy of Japan, I was supersuper nervous. Months of anticipation have been building up to this moment. When I opened the e-mail, there was a letter there, and it said that I passed MEXT’s screening! 😀
In the email, it also said that my placement for what school I’ll go to will be announced after. It took another two months of waiting to know, but on February 22, I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email from Bunka Institute of Language, so that meant I was going to TOKYO! Definitely the best news ever for me!
After a few more days, on March 4th, I got the official letter from the Embassy of Japan confirming that indeed, I’ve gotten the scholarship! The letter also included other info and mentioned which school I’ll go to after my Japanese language training. I’ll be going to Tokyo Visual Arts College, which is even more good news to me! 😀 Below is a portion of the letter that I received:
After you get the official letter from the Embassy, things are gonna get busy. There will be some stuff you have to work on before you head to Japan, such as the pledge to MEXT, the student visa and airplane tickets. Not to mention, the crazy amount of packing you’ll have to do for the big move there. As I write this, I’m still in the middle of all of that, and although it can get pretty busy, to me it’s a good kind of busy, because I know everything will be in preparation for when I finally head to Japan. 🙂
A few tips: I don’t really have much tips for this step, because this is the step that is out of your hands and you can’t do anything about. Do find something to preoccupy you during the waiting period and try not to think of it too much (unlike me) so it won’t be a source of stress in your life. The waiting period can be really difficult and can make you anxious, but hopefully, it’ll all be worth it in the end!
I don’t want to sound too sappy, but I’d like to thank everyone who helped me and supported me this entire time. Family, friends & the people I met (and those I didn’t meet, but who shared their stories to others like me)–even though it was a lot of determination for me, I really appreciate that all of you helped keep me going.
This has been a crazy rollercoaster of a year, full of ups & downs & things in between. At the time of this writing, I’ve still got a few days left before I leave for Japan, but I feel like this journey of my application for the scholarship is finally wrapping up nicely. As much as I enjoyed it, I have to admit it was really stressful at times, but it’s all good, since soon I get to start a new exciting life to study in Japan. I finally have the fruit of all my efforts in my hands and I really couldn’t be happier. ❤
If you have questions about the application for Specialized Training College or about my experiences, feel free to ask away in the comments below.
If you have any questions about the other categories (Research/Undergraduate/etc), I’ll try to answer them based on what I know, but I really encourage you to join the Monbukagakusho (MEXT) Scholarship Facebook group, because I never went through the process for those other categories, so my knowledge on that is limited. I’m also a member of the group, and they have a lot of people willing to help. They’ve been my treasure trove of help & information about the scholarship. I’m sure there will be people around who can help you out too.
Thanks for reading! Good luck and hope to see you in Japan soon! 😀