I was fresh from my year abroad in Tokyo, so fresh in fact that I was still waking before the sun, when I scheduled a meeting with my Professor. It was finally time to start thinking about what I was going to do after finishing my Bachelor’s degree. I knew I wanted to do a Master’s degree, continue in my field of language and cultural studies, I wanted to focus on Japanese, but was at a loss as to how I could have it all. That was when I was introduced to the MEXT programme.
MONBU… MONBUKAGAKU.. MONBUKAGAKUSHO.. I’ll never remember how to say it. It was perfect, it was exactly what I was looking for, but was I exactly what the programme was looking for? My imposter syndrome takes over, and I can’t help but ask my Professor for his input. “It’s hard for me to say definitively, of course, but I would say you have a pretty good chance”. Pretty good chance. That’s all I needed.
The next 10 months of my life were like a training montage, piles of books resembling the famous steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. After pushing through the lengthy application process, the two language exams, and a final nerve wrenching interview, I had done all I could do, and all that was left was to wait. Little did I know at the time how long I would wait. The acceptance email came sometime in February, and at that time we all still thought of Covid as a virus that was affecting China. Nothing more than a bad flu, right? As the weeks rolled on, so too did the emails about cancelled flights, lockdowns, and finally visa suspensions. In total, the “big move to Japan” was delayed by 8 months.
Sometimes it seems that there is a cruel irony in the fact that I have come here during the coronavirus pandemic. Yes, I was able to come to Tokyo, and start the graduate student life experience.. from the comfort of my own home. But when it came time to reflect on these last few months to write this article, I realised that the pandemic has shaped my experiences in positive ways. If not for corona anxiety, I never would have been compelled to talk to the other MEXT recipient, we never would have become friends, nor would I have met all the people he has introduced me to since. I wouldn’t have been able to attend so many events, talks, workshops, and seminars around the world, expanding my contacts and horizons far beyond what was possible before, if not for the miracle of Zoom. And sure, it may not be the same, but I have met my classmates virtually, and I have had some online parties that were more enjoyable than ones I have attended in person.
But above all else, I have come to realise what the true reward of the MEXT programme is. It’s not the money, nor the flights, it is the scaffolding from which I have built a new sense of confidence and self worth. I have proven to myself that I can accomplish anything, and that I am worthy of being recognised for those achievements. And every time I take my laptop out from its sleeve, and a sheet of paper, scribbled all over with my professors signature handwriting, falls gracefully to the floor, I am reminded that this opportunity I once thought was so unattainable has come true.