Fabian Wolf1. First, who are you? What are your dreams and why the interest in Japan?

I am Fabian, a student of chemical engineering for a Master of Science degree in Stuttgart, Germany. Wow, my dreams, straight to the easy questions. My dream is to live happy, see the world, help people and do my best to improve the world for a better future. That’s why I am interested in battery technology. My interest probably originates from my first trip to Japan during high school and my high interest for anime during that time. I am not that big of a hardcore anime fan anymore but my fascination for Japan persists.

2. Tell us about the planning and process.

After the initial 2 week trip during high-school I knew I had to come back to Japan for an extended period. During my bachelor studies I researched about the different possibilities to stay in Japan. I didn’t want to do a semester abroad because I would spend the most time with international students. What I wanted was getting to know the Japanese work culture and everyday life in a real Japanese company. So my quest began to search for an internship. And this quest wasn’t an easy one. E-Mails would mostly never be answered and if they were it seemed like the HR department didn’t really know what I wanted. Moreover, most Japanese companies didn’t seem to have a career page so getting contact information was difficult and often I could just send my “application” via the generic contact form. I switched to job fairs, where I approached all Japanese (engineering related) company or companies that I knew had business with Japan. Most of them told me, they don’t offer internships straight up or that I should contact Mr./Ms. XYZ… which resulted in the same response as ever before. Luckily for me, I finally came across a guy from Sumitomo Chemical who had a little bit more authority in the application process. He forwarded my resumé to the Japanese HR department and 2 months later I got the internship of 6 months. It was really anti-climatic since I didn’t hear anything from them initially and then suddenly got the confirmation.

3. What were the prerequisites for your internships? Any special conditions from your university? Personal?

I had to do an internship in connection with my master studies and therefore had a list of different topics which should be part of my internship. However, since it was such a hassle to find an internship in Japan, the administrator of the university wasn’t as strict about the list of topics. Of course, I had to write a report about the internship. The company on the other hand needed me to be enrolled as a student the whole time of my internship. I had to get a recommendation of my professor for the internship, which was really silly since I already got the internship at that time. Moreover, I had to appoint a contact in case of emergency but only at the university.

4. Tell us about the internship at Sumitomo Chemical. What did you do? How was your daily work? How was your boss?

During my internship I was placed in the Plastics Technical Center of Sumitomo Chemical at the Chiba Plant near Tokyo. I worked in the Product Development team for agricultural business. More specifically, I was designated to improve the coatings of PE-films used for greenhouses on various properties. During my internship I was assigned to a Technical Advisor who guided me in the development process and who I worked with on a daily basis. Additionally, a Personal Advisor was assigned to me whom I could approach with any organizational and personal problems. In general, I expected the work place to have more international employees there. Instead, from the 40 people working in the office only 4-5 were able to speak any English. That meant that I learned Japanese quite fast!… no, not really. In the beginning I just talked English and only after 3-4 months were brave enough to speak infant-Japanese with my colleagues. At some point I just thought, “oh what the hell, I’ll just need them to understand me in Japanese.”, which was the time were my Japanese really started to improve. There were morning meetings every morning where every employee of the 5-6 member group had to give a summary of the previous day and the upcoming tasks of today in Japanese. This was no problem since I had 30 minutes every morning to prepare my speech and could just read it from my PC screen ;) My Technical Supervisor was very helpful and knowledgeable in his field of work. However, there were communication difficulties from time to time and it was difficult to discuss topics from time to time. If he said something had to be done a certain way, it had to be done that way. I stayed in the company dorms near the plant which saved me a lot of money. The dorm and the plant itself however were located far in the countryside which is why I didn’t have too much to do during the weekday evenings.

5. Did you have any chance to study Japanese while in Japan or before coming? Will you come again?

During my stay I didn’t have the chance to participate in a Japanese class. I wrote down a lot of vocabulary in my notebook but never really brought myself to study. However, I studied Japanese for 3 semesters before I came to Japan at my university which sadly didn’t help me at all. Of course, I had some benefits of knowing basic vocabulary, hiragana, katakana and a few Kanji but normal conversations were over pretty fast. Only when I started to not care about what others would think and just started talking, my Japanese improved a lot (at least that’s how I felt because I could spend the evening talking Japanese while everybody understood me). I will definitely return to Japan (see 6. For the explanation), and the next time will be longer.

6. How was Japan? Any message for young people thinking about coming to Japan?

The internship in Japan was the best time of my life. There wasn’t much to do during the week at the dorm but the weekends in Tokyo made more than up to it. I still get goosebumps whenever I think about my awesome time in Tokyo, the things I saw and experienced, the people I met, the vibrant city, the craziness, the peaceful parks, the food, the Izakayas, the festivals,… this is the time were I miss Japan and especially Tokyo the most and where I can’t wait to return to this city. I can honestly say that everybody who thinks about staying in Japan for some time, should do so. You will be glad you have done it and will remember it for the rest of your life. Even if you realize that Japan doesn’t seem to be the right country for you, you still got so much experience in all aspects of life. Of course, such a plan must be carried out wisely. You shouldn’t just leave everything behind and “try your luck in Japan”, but with the help of Internship Japan the whole process is made a lot smoother and easier.

7. How can we as Internship Japan do better?

I can’t say much about this, since I didn’t get involved with your organization too much, yet. In general, I am very grateful for the job you are doing and for the mission you are set to accomplish.

8. How would you describe or evaluate the difference between internships, kenshuu or part-time jobs?

In my understanding internships are great for students to get work experience, learn new things, use the theoretical knowledge from the university on real life problems and build a network. For companies, interns are great to bring new life and a new perspective to the company. Recent graduates learnt about the newest teachings and research and are motivated to create and improve something. Moreover for internships abroad, it’s a great way to teach their employees about intercultural work. To be honest, I don’t know about kenshuu. It seems like it is the normal training a Japanese graduate receives after starting work in a company? On the other hand, part-time jobs are most often only used to earn money. Often it’s not related to your subject of study and the tasks are repetitive, not learning many new things in the process.

9. What changes would you think are in need or helpful to those who are seeking internships in Japan?

In general, companies in Japan need to be made aware of the concept of internships. Japan’s flagging market is a sign that it needs to open itself more to the global market. Taking interns is a big step to becoming a more international company. A big hurdle in this process is the lack of many Japanese speaking English. An intern therefore would also improve this situation, giving the Japanese employees the chance to enhance their English skills with the interns.

 


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