Off the beaten track

Overseas-education | Crystal Wu 4 May 2021

Fourth-year student Jessica Sze took a different path from most students looking to study abroad.

Instead of taking a more than 10-hour flight to the opposite side of the Earth, Sze chose somewhere closer to home: Japan.

"I am not really good at English and I like Japanese. I wanted to try to study in Japanese, so I chose Japan," said Sze. "I've wanted to live in a foreign country and I've liked Japan since I was small."

Unlike the centralized application system in Hong Kong, Japanese students have to apply to the universities of their choice individually.

"Since there isn't anything like our Joint University Programmes Admissions System, I sent my information and exam results to every university separately," she said.

Universities may also require prospective students to take their own entrance examination in order to be considered.

Admissions differ in different faculties and universities, but most require international students to take an extra set of examinations called the Examination for Japanese University Admission for International Students, which tests their academic skills and Japanese language abilities.

Sze's preparation started a year before she finished secondary school. Although she took one-on-one Japanese classes every week before her examinations, she was dissatisfied with her results.

As a result, Sze decided to prepare in Tokyo instead, studying at a Japanese language school where she took Japanese classes in the morning and English classes at night.

"I found that staying in a language school in Japan before entering college is a common choice among foreign students," she said.

She also realized that it was much easier for her to prepare for the examinations and interviews in Japan than in Hong Kong.

"The teachers at the language school are more familiar with the university's exams," explained Sze. "Also, since Japan is not a popular choice for studying abroad, only literary resources about studying in Japan were offered in Hong Kong."

Another advantage was that since the language schools receive a lot of foreigners, they knew how to help students like Sze when they first arrived in Japan. For example, Sze found her first Tokyo apartment with the help of the language school.

Although Sze enjoyed watching anime and Japanese dramas, she realized that there was much to learn upon arrival, so it was helpful for her to meet other foreign students at the language school.

"It is tricky for foreign students to get a phone because a Japanese credit card is needed. However, getting a Japanese credit card requires a Japanese phone number," she further explained.

Luckily, with the help of a friend from the language school, she found a place where she could get a number with cash.

Some advice Sze has for prospective applicants is to attend a good university. While getting into a university in Japan is not difficult, she explains that attending a good university is a big factor in post-graduation prospects.

Though it is possible to study and apply from Hong Kong, she advises students to prepare in Japan as getting help from the language school and working alongside other international students with the same goal will better one's chances of getting into a good school.

Said Sze: "I think that Japan is a place full of dreams - it is not only a place to travel, it also can be a place to study."

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