“When I arrived at graduate school in Japan, the first thing that greeted me were two cards on my desk saying, ‘Don’t kill yourself’ and ‘Don’t sexually harass people.’ Then I found out I didn’t actually have a scholarship. So that was a very stressful period. Good thing I was able to manage another scholarship eventually. Still, my situation was good compared to graduate students from other countries with different financial or cultural background. Their ability to get jobs and their language situation were also different. Even before I entered the PhD program, I noticed it was not structured very well, and this led to a lot of students running into some serious difficulties from basic help around campus, to financial and mental health support, because of the massive amount of stress they were facing. It can be very isolating. Some students were very supportive of each other, but others can be competitive and even engage in backstabbing, depending on the lab you’re in.
“So I switched my focus on the difficulties graduate students go through in Japan, especially international students. There is diversity on campus, but the amount that those individuals are included in the process, in the institution, the decision-making and opportunities, is pretty low. One time, I saw Japanese students recruiting members to their extracurricular club activities by handing out pamphlets. I walked for hours around the entire campus and only got two pamphlets while they were giving them en masse to students who appear Japanese. The international students usually didn’t get them. Maybe they just didn’t know how to interact with them or maybe thought non-Japanese students couldn’t speak the language. But in fact, most of them speak Japanese because they have to for their daily life.
“Sometimes I worry institutions are placing too much emphasis on prioritizing metrics to promote their program in global rankings and get more funding from the government. They should also make sure students get the support they need and assure them that if they’re joining an ‘international’ undergraduate or graduate program in Japan, their degree is going to be worth something outside Japan as well. Because not all students are looking to join a Japanese company. Otherwise, students will become disillusioned.”
They are going to feel very isolated and start to question what they are here for, which can result into a brain drain situation for Japan.