Long story short, I landed in Kansai International Airport, Osaka, Japan on late September last year. After three and a half hours of bus ride, I finally arrived in my final destination. I found myself in this beautiful, ancient, and touristy city three thousand miles away from home, Kyoto it is.
In between April to May last year, I found this opportunity from ASEAN Foundation through my university’s website to become one of ten ASEAN Nationals scholars to spend a semester away in Kyoto University under the framework of ASEAN Credit Transfer System Scheme. Amid the chaotic routine as a fourth semester student, I made time to prepare all required documents and sent it through my university’s international office on the very last day of the application period.
Being stuck on the same old routine for two years of my study, all I wanted at that time was to get out there and experience the unpredictable. I have always believed that in order to be able to see your true self, you need to get out of your comfort zone and experience things you will not experience back at home. It seems so easy to do in my head but actually some things will need some further consideration and I will let you know what I learned from getting through my own confusion and pretty much consideration in this part of my Kyoto story.
Fast forward to the middle of May, I got this notification email from AUN – ACTS just a day before my birthday stating that my application was accepted. More like a birthday present from universe, wasn’t it? As I was really excited to go, this news did come with some consequences which I will have to face in the future such as giving up on graduating on time or having myself captured wearing toga along with my college friends. At first, it was really sad to imagine and those consequences surely got into my head until I gave myself some time to think. I finally came into the conclusion that life is not a race and i will get to that point of my life one day on my own pace.
ASEAN Foundation – Kyoto University Exchange Program
Before getting to how I could get such an opportunity to go to Japan for an exchange program and getting to my experience, firstly let me explain a little bit about the program itself. I am doing an exchange under the program called the ASEAN Foundation – Kyoto University Scholarship Programme under the Framework of the ASEAN Credit Transfer System Scheme. In this program, up to ten slots of scholarship are given to ASEAN Nationals who are enrolled in AUN member universities and wish to undertake one semester at undergraduate level in one of the highest ranked universities in Asia, Kyoto University.
The scholarship will cover your round-trip airfare, insurance, accommodation, living cost, student visa, and tuition fee for 12 credits. Actually, you can take more than 12 credits but you will have to cover the additional credit’s tuition fee on your own, you can also take Japanese language course for free but there will be no credits granted for this course. As for other selection of courses, you can see the courses on your university’s ACTS website.
In order to be eligible to apply for this program, you must meet all the requirements and criteria shown on the ACTS website as listed below:
1. ASEAN nationals from AUN Member Universities.
You must be enrolled in an undergraduate program at one of AUN Member Universities. In Indonesia, there are four AUN Member Universities which are University of Indonesia, Gadjah Mada University, Bandung Institute of Technology, and Airlangga University. The application process itself are done online through your university’s ACTS website.
2. Have proven your English proficiency as mandated by Kyoto University.
As all subjects will be taught in English, you will need to include your English proficiency supporting documents such as TOEFL or IELTS. From my experience, there is no specific statement regarding to the minimum of TOEFLS or IELTS score but you might as well ask your international office for further information. Usually, you must at least score 550 or above on your TOEFL and 6.0 or above on your IELTS but it still depends on your university.
3. Maintain a grade point average (GPA) of 3.0 or above.
One of the requirements you must posses is that your GPA must be at least 3.0 or higher. You will need to include your academic transcript when you upload all the required documents throught your university’s ACTS website. All required documents you will need to prepare in order to apply for this scholarship program are your statement of purpose or motivation letter, certificate of enrollment from your home university, language proficiency supporting documents (TOEFL or IELTS), academic transcript, copy of your passport, two recommendation letters, heath certificate, and that is it. It looks like a lot of paper works, doesn’t it? I suggest you to make a check list so that you will not forget anything.
4. Contribute to the promotion of Japan and ASEAN relations.
As this scholarship will be funded by ASEAN Foundation, you will be expected to bring the pride of being a part of ASEAN nationals in this once in a lifetime opportunity. You will also be expected to nurture sustainable relations between ASEAN Foundation and Kyoto University by promoting both parties in your home countries.
Most of the selection process will take place online on the ACTS website. The selection process itself starts with the internal selection within your home university. Basically, if you meet all the requirements and criterias to be eligible to join this program, you just have to upload all the required documents to ACTS website from your account and choose your host university. From what I have experienced, the result of your application will be announced in less than a month long period. The students who make it into the shortlist candidates will be notified through email whether your application is accepted by the host university you have chosen or not.
The application process itself did not take much of my time as the process was faster than I thought it would be. The staffs from both parties, Kyoto University and ASEAN Foundation, were very helpful too. As you are going through your application process, you do not have to worry as there will be staffs from the ASEAN Foundation and the Kyoto University who are very friendly and willing to help you out throughout the process. The staff from ASEAN Foundation even invited me to come to the ASEAN Foundation office before my departure to Japan. Beside, I even got a wonderful opportinity to meet the ASEAN Foundation Executive Director, Ms. Elaine Tan herself.
What I Learn From Stepping Outside My Comfort Zone: Taking a break from your old routine for good.
Before leaving for Japan, I was feeling way too comfortable with my old routine and too afraid to put up with the risk I might have to face if I got myself derailed from my routine. Living in the city where i do not even speak the language? It was not even in my to do list. Getting lost in my own thoughts, I started to recall that it was not the first time I was lost in my own confusion. Even though my family and friends were very supportive, it is my life afterall, I will be the one living through those obstacles until the end of this exchange program.
Been living in the middle of big city light, Kyoto used to feel so foreign to me. I once thought Kyoto would not fit me but it turned out that I was totally wrong. Here I am, in the city where everything feels so calm yet amusing. In this five degree celsius cold Kyoto with its late afternoon vanilla sky, I can proudly say that never for once did I regret my decision for coming here. In this first part of my Kyoto story, I would like to share with you some of the things I have learned as I was preparing myself for this exchange program and here are some of it.
1. Your life, your choice.
One of many considerations before going to Japan was my fear to be let down by my own decision. I was afraid to trust my own self which is not good at all. As long as you keep the fear in you, there will just be yourself running in circle, never going further than where you are right now just like pouring water into a bottle which already has a hole on it, such a waste. This life is the only life you will be living so why would you waste your time letting your fear be the one telling you what to do or let the comfort of following your old routine destroy every opportunity which might have taken you to a better place. As my plane took off, I realized that the only one allowed to make choices is my own self. It was the time for me to leave my fear in those clouds seen from my window seat for good.
2. Life is not a race, take a break.
In case you are still contemplating with your own self whether to apply for an exchange program or not, my only suggestion for you is to just do it. I was once caught up in this desire to live my life just like almost all my friends do, to finish your study in university in three and a half years, to keep on taking 24 credits every semester, and to get high GPA. It is not like those things are not good, it is just me feeling like I was running a race instead of living my life as the best as I can. It was me until I decided to take a break from my old routine and go to Japan for good.
As I prepared to leave for Japan, I was starting to realize some things that I have never thought of before. It is okay to take a slightly different path from everyone else, it is okay to not finish your study at the same time as everyone else does, it is all fine because you will get there someday on your own pace as the life you are living right now is not a race. Do not compare your achievement with other’s as the only one worth the comparison is the yesterday version of you. As long as you are doing something better than what you did yesterday, you are still taking steps into the better version of you. So, enjoy every decision you make and take a break if you need to as it will clear up the mess you may have in your head.
However, stepping out of your comfort zone might still sound so challenging and a little bit scary for some of us. But, life is a journey after all and in this journey we might have to go through a phase where everything seems to be wrapped in our hands like one wrong decision could destroy it all, unless it is not. It is all about whether you trust your own decision or not. As long as you have the faith in every decision you make, I believe that your journey in life will be more interesting and enrich yourselves in so many ways possible.