Japanese Government (MEXT) Undergraduate Scholarships in Japanese Studies

MEXT Alumni Personal Experiences

Holly Parsons
Japanese Government (MEXT) Undergraduate Scholarship in Japanese Studies
Sophia University,September 2018 – July 2019

I consider myself extremely lucky to have been granted the MEXT scholarship for the 2018-19 academic year. The first two years of University in England knocked my self-esteem and I was convinced that even if I applied I wouldn’t be chosen, so at first, I didn’t consider it at all. However, I’m so glad that I put myself forward.

The first time I went to the embassy in London I remember being worried about whether I would be a suitable enough candidate, yet my anxieties were relieved by the welcoming embassy staff and those who interviewed me. (In fact, I didn’t want the interview to end because it had been so much fun to speak Japanese in a new environment!) When I found out that I had gained the scholarship I hurried back to my hometown and surprised my family with the news. It was a great joy and relief for all of us to know that my efforts to self-study Japanese and progress to degree level had finally blessed me with such an opportunity.

My life in Tokyo was a whirlwind of emotions and experiences but retrospectively speaking I wouldn’t change a thing. I grew emotionally, faced my biggest fears and found a new sense of independence. The staff realised upon my arrival that I could understand Japanese and so I arranged things like my new bank account and documents at the ward office with minimal assistance. At the time I was terrified of making mistakes, and doing it all completely alone in Japanese within the first couple of days made me feel out of depth. Yet, when I reflect on that initial period of self-doubt I’m grateful that the numerous events unfolded in this way.

A year later and I no longer feel phased when speaking my second language in various social settings and contexts and I can understand the more technical vocabulary that comes with the responsibilities of living alone abroad. Such challenges taught me that making mistakes (and learning how to recover and improve) is often the best way to become confident both in language learning and living in a new country.

Going to a Japanese University was also a way for me to establish a new perspective on my research and education. I had greater freedom to choose my classes, so for the first semester I focused on improving my language abilities and for the second I attended lectures relating to my research. (This includes Japanese literature, Japanese anthropology and Japanese cultural history.) At my home university, the class sizes are incredibly small so it was the first time in my life to experience a more “stereotypical” lecture with over one-hundred students enrolled. It was such a useful means for me to immerse myself in Japanese student life and I met people from all walks of life – Something that would be impossible had I stayed in England.

Tokyo is the only place that I can think of where even the most eloquent of words do not do it justice. Each day I was in awe of how the society I had grown to love since I was in my early teens became easier to navigate, and slowly I found a small yet happy place for myself within that. I believe that studying under the MEXT scholarship developed my character so that I was able to return to England as a version of myself that I can be proud of. I’m incredibly thankful for MEXT and the fulfilling year I had in Japan that leaves me only the more eager to return long-term in the future.