If you’re a college student, the first thing that comes to mind when you think about spending time in another country is probably studying abroad. But international exchange doesn’t have to be all about classes and homework! There are lots of opportunities to learn through working as part of a foreign company, and JCMU can help you get there.
Although JCMU does not run a dedicated internship program anymore, students often get the chance to work with local businesses while they take other courses at the center. Some of these are single-day internships where students spend a few hours seeing how a Japanese business operates on a day-to-day basis. Some previous participants have been local tea shops and the Hikone castle souvenir store. This is a great choice if you expect to be pretty busy during the school year, since it lets you get a sense of what a Japanese internship would be like without a time-consuming commitment.
Other students take advantage of the short-term part-time internships JCMU coordinates during the semester. The process is a little more complex as you have to interview with the internship coordinator, but don’t worry, it’s not scary! There are usually a host of options to choose from, like schools, bookstores, and electronics companies. Students only work for a few hours one day a week, so it’s not a huge burden on top of the already heavy JCMU course load. These internships generally run in October and November, leaving plenty of time to study before final exams.
One advantage of this slightly longer experience is that it allows interns to build relationships with their supervisors, and lets them see parts of Japan they otherwise wouldn’t have noticed. If you work at an elementary school, you’ll get to know the students and the teachers, and gain an understanding of how education in Japan is different from the rest of the world. If you work with a tourism agency, you’ll learn how Japan is marketed to other countries, and get the chance to see lesser-known tourist attractions. Other positions come with their own perks—and challenges.
Even with such limited hours, it can be hard to make time around homework and elective classes. In fact, the electives you signed up for long ago may interfere with the internship you wanted most. But that’s okay, since you might find that your second choice takes you out of your comfort zone and teaches you something new. Travel time can also be a concern since the businesses are located in towns all along the eastern coast of Lake Biwa, and you may be on the train for a while. But JCMU’s internship coordinator will work out all your travel and provide you with tickets, so you won’t be on your own.
Internships are sorted by experience level, so no matter what your Japanese proficiency is, you can find a place where you’ll be able to communicate. It’s still a great opportunity to practice your Japanese, including formal keigo style speech. For some students, their internship is directly related to what they want to do after college, like journalism or sustainability. And if you’re unable to work on your primary area of study while in Japan, you may find that an internship can draw on those skills and keep them fresh.
Beyond enriching your time abroad, international internships can be a great benefit to you in your professional future. It sends the message to future employers that you didn’t study abroad just to goof off and proves that your understanding of the world is deep and multi-faceted. If you’re hoping to work for a Japanese company some day, they’ll certainly be impressed that you’ve already had the experience of doing so no matter what kind of work you did. And American companies will see it as proof that you can adapt to any situation, national or international.
Of course there are other ways to get work experience while in Japan, although these types of internships are the only thing allowed on the student visa most people have when going to JCMU. Some schools, like Kalamazoo College, have their own systems for working abroad that align with JCMU’s schedule. Students will often take JCMU classes during Fall semester, then do a Kalamazoo-coordinated internship for a few months of Spring semester before going back home. They still live at the JCMU dorms, however. Although that’s a separately run program, JCMU is happy to be able to support students in their international experiences.
There are so many options at JCMU besides classes—clubs, homestays, conversation partners, and internships. With so many choices, it’s really up to you to figure out the best way to spend your time. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, try something out, and step outside of your comfort zone.
The only thing you can’t be is bored!