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My first days in Japan as a graduate student

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My first days in Japan as a graduate student

I will share with you about how I spent my first few days in Kyoto, Japan as a MEXT scholar, and how I adjusted to my new life.

Maria Carmela Garcia

Maria Carmela Garcia

Published on 05 Jul, 12:00

Moving to Japan had always been a childhood dream, and even though I've been here for four years now, I remember my first few days very vividly. It was the beginning of an incredible new chapter in my life, and whenever I think back on those days, I get this really warm, fuzzy feeling inside me.

I came to Japan in 2018 as a graduate student

I was fortunate enough to have been awarded a MEXT scholarship which made the whole thing possible. I was terrified about having to move to a new country by myself, but fortunately, the scholarship arranged for all the scholars bound for Kansai to leave together.

I was still anxious about leaving my old life behind (I actually had a mild panic attack on the plane), but having people I knew with me made me feel a lot better.

Hopeful MEXT scholars on the way to Japan
Hopeful MEXT scholars on the way to Japan

When we arrived in Japan, one of the first things we did was try to connect to the internet

None of us had a Japanese sim card yet but some of us planned ahead and ordered a 1-week tourist sim card before we left the Philippines, which we had to claim at the airport upon our arrival. This was extremely useful because I wasn't able to buy my real Japanese sim card until about a week later.

Upon receiving my tourist sim at the airport, I contacted my laboratory secretary to tell her that I was on my way to Kyoto station, where we agreed to meet. We had been emailing each other for several weeks before I left the Philippines and she suggested that the best way for me to get to Kyoto was via the Haruka Airport Express train.

I was clueless about how to buy the train tickets and where to go but fortunately one of the MEXT scholars with me had a Japanese friend who picked her up at the airport and he very kindly helped me figure everything out. I wasn't able to buy reserved seats so I had to stand the entire train ride to Kyoto.

I was given the option of waiting for the next train and try my luck at getting a seat there, but I figured that since the ride was only 1.5 hours long and I had just spent several hours sitting on a plane, I would rather stand. Besides, I was so fascinated with the views outside the train window that I didn't even notice when we arrived in Kyoto.

View from the train. It was sakura season when we arrived
View from the train. It was sakura season when we arrived

As promised, my lab secretary was waiting for me at the station, along with my assigned tutor. Together the three of us transferred to another train that would take me to my dorm. My tutor helped me check-in and fill out some forms that I would need to bring to City Hall the following day to register my residence card. Afterward I went with her to our lab to meet my professors and lab-mates for the first time.

That evening I was supposed to meet my parents (who arrived in Japan on a different flight later that day), however, by the time I left my lab, I was exhausted and starving. I decided to just buy food at the nearby 7-11 and return to my dorm.

My first dinner upon arriving
My first dinner upon arriving

Once I got to my dorm I realized I had a bit of a problem

I wanted to take a nice hot bath, but I didn't have any toiletries with me! When my scholarship booked our flight we were only allowed to have one 23kg luggage. In order to avoid paying extra fees at the airport, I moved some of my things out of my bag and placed them in my parents' luggage.

I prioritized the gifts I would be handing out to my professors and lab-mates since I knew that I would meet them as soon as I arrived. I kept most of my personal items in my parents' bags. I didn't think it would be a problem since we planned to have dinner together that night, but as I mentioned I didn't have the energy to meet them anymore.

After contemplating whether I should head out again to buy some toiletries from the convenience store, I decided to check the bathroom cabinets first. Lo and behold! I found this!

Random find in the dorm cabinets
Random find in the dorm cabinets

It looked clean and smelled good so I figured it was safe. I was worried that it might have been laundry or dish detergent, but honestly I didn't really have much of a choice because I didn't want to go back out again (my dorm was located on top of a small hill, and I wasn't ready to climb it once more).

I told myself I probably wouldn't do much damage to my skin if I did somehow end up using laundry detergent for one bath. Of course now that I can read a bit of Japanese, I realize it says "Cleansing Shampoo". But bathing with shampoo is better than not having showered at all.

For dinner, I headed up the food I bought from 7-11. Fortunately, my dorm has a microwave on each floor. However, it took me quite a bit of time to figure out how to use it since all the buttons were in Japanese.

Struggled with the microwave buttons for a while
Struggled with the microwave buttons for a while

The following morning I was finally able to meet my parents and get my luggage

Together we went to Uji City Hall for my moving-in procedures. The succeeding days mostly consisted of me going to my lab in the morning and running errands with my parents in the evenings.

I bought a lot things I needed for my dorm from 100 yen stores – cleaning supplies, rags, things for the kitchen, etc. I also bought a new pillow (because the one they provided at the dorm contained large plastic beads and it wasn't comfortable at all). My dad also bought me a TV from Yodabashi Camera as a moving in present, so I could set up my PS4 for when I get lonely after they leave.

Some cleaning supplies and necessities
Some cleaning supplies and necessities

My first week in Kyoto ended with my parents heading back to the Philippines after they made sure that I was settled in. I was sad to see them go but later that day I attended a welcome picnic from other Filipino students in Kyoto, which made me feel a lot better. It felt good to connect with other Filipino scholars in the area, some of them were even from my hometown!

Kyoto Association of Pinoy Scholars
Kyoto Association of Pinoy Scholars

It's only been 4 years since all these events took place, but so much has changed already. The things that amazed me in the beginning has become part of my everyday life now.

I used to take pictures of everything because they were all so new, and now I barely notice them anymore. Writing this entry has reignited that excitement in me, and it reminded me that I shouldn't take these things for granted.

After dreaming about it for years I was given the opportunity to study in this amazing country, and I should never stop being thankful for that.

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Maria Carmela Garcia

Maria Carmela Garcia

I'm a PhD student at the Graduate School of Engineering in Kyoto University. I arrived in Japan in 2018 and since then I've been falling in love with all the sights and culture this beautiful country has to offer.

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