FEATURE: Japan Experience For Vili

Studying in a new environment like Japan could be a real challenge, but Viliame Savou, to acclimatised. He is in his first year pursuing a Masters Degree in Environmental Studies
05 Mar 2015 07:53
FEATURE: Japan Experience For Vili
Moe Takahashi and Viliame Savou at the Daiichi Inn Park in Sendai, Japan. Photo: Rainier Ronda

Studying in a new environment like Japan could be a real challenge, but Viliame Savou, to acclimatised.

He is in his first year pursuing a Masters Degree in Environmental Studies at the Tohoku University, in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, under the scholarship by the Japanese government (MEXT).

The scholarship covers travel expenses, tuition fees, research grants and living expenses.

He said: “I am under the Recycling Chemistry laboratory and my research deals with chemical recycling of biomass, in particular recycling of sugarcane bagasse into more valuable products namely bio-oils and synthetic gases.”

Bagasse is the fibrous matter that remains after sugarcane or sorghum stalks are crushed to extract their juice (Wikipedia).

“My first challenge was the language barrier. Majority of the people you will meet do not speak English, therefore it is crucial to know a bit of “Nihongo” in order to survive in Japan,” he said.

In his first two months, he did not conduct any research work, but studied the Japanese language four days a week up to Level Two.

“That was basic enough to help me with life in Japan. And I practice my Japanese language with friends in the lab or in church.”

He was homesick during his first few weeks in Japan.

“I had to make calls home every night to speak to my family in Fiji.  When we missed our family, we can simply get on the bus and go home. However, miles away from home it is quite lonely. The first few weeks were quite challenging,” Mr Savou said.

Bumping into other Fijians residing in Japan helps to relieve the homesick feeling.

“When I need money or other things, just pick the phone and call. Most Fijians here are English teachers who are always very helpful to us students.”

Thirdly, riding on the train to travel, is the most convenient mode of transportation.

“In Fiji, we use buses, private vehicles, taxis, or walk. Using the train here for the first time, it was hard to find the right platform, and make sure you jump into the right train or you end up somewhere totally different. While standing in line for the train I had to continuously look at my ticket and make sure I was boarding the right train.”

Finally, the main hurdle was the different seasons, especially winter which was his first since Fiji has one season throughout the year.

“At first when winter began, I was overjoyed to see snow fall for first time, but when this continued for weeks, it became a nuisance. It was too cold to sleep without the heaters on, increasing my monthly electricity bill. Getting used to the weather to keep myself warm by wearing the right type of clothes, cheat the electric bills by doubling up on clothes when at home, or spending as much time in the lab as possible to enjoy the free heater.”

The former Natabua High School student said the Japanese people were polite, patient and honest.

“One can never be too tired to bow to one another as is one of the most passive forms of courtesy among their people. For instance, when queuing in traffic, you hardly hear a vehicle toot their horns; they just wait patiently for their turns.

“Even if the driver in front of you is sleeping on the wheel for a second, the one behind still waits. If you forget a valuable item, like a camera or laptop in a public place, there is no need to worry, because it will be returned hours later, it will be there still, or someone will pass it on to lost and found.

“Privacy is crucial. I miss the bus rides in Fiji where we can hear other passengers on the phone, or chatting on top of their voices with each other. Here, in public transports, people do not disturb others.

“I have had numerous occasions when the bus driver reminded me on the mike to refrain from talking on mobile,” he said with a grin.

Interestingly ATM machines in Japan close at 6pm, and if cash is needed then you better withdraw before dark.

Mr Savou said studying in Japan was a great opportunity, with state of the art machines that are only read in journals back home.

“There are a lot of choices in classes to choose from, even though most of them are in Japanese. There is a very slim chance of any student failing the exams.

“Fruits like mango cost 8000 Yen ($FJ136) and vegetables are quite expensive, however, apples are cheap with Coke is amazingly cheaper than bottled water.”

He craves for dalo and cassava from his farm. He has no choice, but to eat rice.

He has made a lot of friends with international students from countries like Botswana, India, Philippines, China, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Pakistan, United States of America, Algeria, and Kazakhstan.

“Almost one year gone, we are practically a family, and we support each other in times of need. On the same note, knowing these people is a great opportunity to know their cultures and way of life,” he said.



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