Being in an internship program can be tough, especially when the program is conducted in a country that is not your home country and does not have English as its official language. However, internship programs are valuable for your future career, thus it is essential to make the most of it. In this article, Savanna Segara tells the story of her experience interning in Japan Foundation and how it impacted herself as an individual.
“You will never grow inside your comfort zone”, someone once said. That is the exact reason why I decided to leave my busy hometown of Jakarta, and pursue my studies in Japan. After spending three years immersing myself in the culture of this country, I managed to grasp the language, get used to the working culture, and overall enjoy my time here. However, I was lost between going back to Indonesia, or continuing my life in Japan for my future career path. I decided it was time for an internship program so I can understand what working in Japan is like.
In general, there are two ways to search for internships in Japan. The first one is to look for internships through external websites such as www.rikunabi.com and www.mynabi.com (which are both completely in Japanese), while the second option is to engage in a ‘contract internship’ with companies and organizations affiliated with your university. My university has an excellent Career Office, a place that provides students support for internships, seminars and other activities that will support their job-hunting activities in the future, and they constantly post information about companies currently recruiting. In my eyes, not only were contract internships a ‘safer’ option because of the official connection between the companies and my university, if we worked a certain amount of hours we were also able to obtain credits from our internship.
Upon visiting the Career Office, I stumbled upon an opportunity to intern with Japan Foundation. Now an independent organization, The Japan Foundation was a government institution established to cultivate friendship and ties between Japan and the world. It organizes seminars, events, and funds programs to foster friendship, trust, and mutual understanding through culture, language, and dialogue. I have always envisioned myself working for the government or in a government-affiliated organization, and helping Indonesia’s development by strengthening its relationships with other countries, especially Japan. After going through a document screening and interview process, I was lucky enough to be selected as one of the interns in Japan Foundation in Tokyo for two weeks. I was ecstatic to see what working life in Japan felt like!
Internship in Japan: Not what you think
First and foremost, it might be best to explain how the concept of an internship in Japan is slightly different from typical internships that people imagine to be the case everywhere else around the world. If interns are treated like doormats and told to fetch coffee and run errands in America, interns in Japan are given relatively light jobs or only one certain project to focus on throughout the whole internship, though this is not the case in all internships.
My internship with Japan Foundation was two weeks long. I was assigned to the Asian Center’s Cultural Team, a division within Japan Foundation that focuses on building the relationship between Japan and Southeast Asian countries. During the internship, I was able to handle a variety of jobs, but I was mainly involved in two big projects. The first project was “The Power of Tradition, the Form of Artistry” (http://dento.jfac.jp/en/). This project focused on the attempt to revive traditional art forms in a contemporary context by collaborating with Japanese artists and providing them a chance to experience those said art forms starting with Japan’s traditional Kabuki, and exploring Indonesia’s traditional art form Wayang Kulit. I was in charge of managing the website, translating it from Japanese into Indonesian and English. I was also involved in a project called HANDS! (http://handsproject.asia/en.html), a human resource development program to solve problems for disaster prevention and support for disaster-affected areas, primarily in Asian countries. I was sent on a business trip to Kobe, and I acted as a translator between the participants of the program and the organizers of the event.
Besides these two projects, I was also granted special permission to attend various events that the Foundation organised. I was able to attend various seminars and meet so many cool people, such as women leaders from West Asia, researchers, and many other people. I was able to listen to their stories of success, exchange thoughts, and gain so many experiences from these events.
Throughout the two weeks, the toughest part of my internship was probably the language barrier. In Japan, not many internships are conducted in English. My internship was conducted completely in Japanese, and I was required to do paperwork, complete tasks, and read documents for meetings in Japanese. Even though I have confidence in the language, compared to average Japanese, it took me more time to finish certain tasks due to the language barrier. It was tough, but my co-workers were very supportive and were always available to lend a hand or repeat an explanation for something I didn’t quite understand.
The best part of my internship was my colleagues! Everybody came from such a diverse background, speaking multiple languages and having lived in so many different countries, it was so interesting to talk to them and listen to their experiences. Moreover, they treated me so nicely it hurt sometimes! My supervisor, Inada-san, always checked in on me once every few hours, making sure I wasn’t too tired and I was getting my jobs done. I also constantly received small snacks and treats from my co-workers around me. I felt immediately at home after only a few days interning.
Through this internship, I was able to deepen my self analysis and understand better about the path that I should take in the future. I was able to meet amazing people from diverse backgrounds, and exchange opinions and experiences with people around the world to deepen mutual understanding. Though becoming an intern in Japan is a bit different from interning elsewhere around the world, it was a truly unique and fulfilling experience.
Photos are provided by author.