Today, I am excited to bring you a guest post from an Embassy-Recommended MEXT Scholarship applicant who passed the Primary Screening in 2021 in Ukraine, Dmytro Izotov. I had the pleasure of working with Dmytro through my coaching services and he was one of the best-prepared applicants I have worked with, so I am confident that following his example below will be a strong contributor to your future success, as well!
Hello, fellow MEXT applicants! My name is Dmytro Izotov, I am a law graduate in Ukraine and a MEXT 2022 candidate. I am honored to share with you my experience in passing the Primary Screening in the 2021/2022 cycle.
Almost one year ago, I read a similar article from another successful applicant Johnny Navarro, who provided useful tips and practical information on the application process. Now, it is still hard for me to realize that I made this thorny (yet exciting) journey myself and can share some insights for future applicants as well.
I cannot but thank Travis for giving me such an opportunity, as well as for helping me all along the way. His constant support and useful materials are the major reasons of my successful application. I hope that this article can also help you in designing your future application strategy.
As you are probably aware, this year the application process returned to the usual pre-pandemic schedule. Accordingly, when you are reading the preparatory materials for last year’s application cycle, please keep in mind that the timeline applicable to my situation was different.
Similar to a majority of MEXT applications, at the beginning of my preparations, I did not possess detailed information on the application process. Therefore, as a first step, I would recommend you learning about MEXT Scholarship as much as possible, so you could have a clear understanding of the scholarship’s purposes, as well as the expectations of the reviewers. In my eyes, it is one of the most important pillars on which your application strategy is based. When you clearly identified what is expected from you, it will be way easier to present the “meat” of your research proposal.
Among the most useful materials I used for these purposes are:
- Travis’ books (especially, the one called How to Apply for the MEXT Scholarship);
- Travis’ blog materials (in my opinion, the most comprehensive free web resource on MEXT Scholarship);
- MEXT Scholarship’s groups on social networks (such groups are usually created by the applicants from a specific country); and
- MEXT official guidelines (while they are issued for each specific year close to the application deadline, reading the guidelines for the previous year can help you better understand the major milestones in the application process.
Another recommendation from me is to start your preparations in advance. I started preparing my applications in October 2020, i.e., about 8 months before the deadline set by the embassy. A feeling that you have enough time to prepare is always a deceptive one, so the sooner you start the better. I was able to use all that time to (1) identify professors I want to work with in Japan in advance, (2) consult with my previous academic supervisor on research I want to conduct, (3) have my applications forms proofread by my colleagues (4) and submit my Field of Study and Research Program Plan for a Travis’ review.
Time is one of the most valuable resources you possess to submit a well-prepared application. Please keep this in mind while drafting your scholarship-winning research plans and other necessary documents.
Filing the Documents with the Embassy
As a subscriber to Travis’ mailing list, I was notified about the release of MEXT official guidelines and application forms on 16 April 2021. If you are not subscribed, I would recommend you to check the official websites of MEXT and JASSO by yourself (you can use the functions of your browser to translate the information reflected on the said websites, since English versions usually are not updated regularly and/or do not contain all the necessary information). Accessing the guidelines and up-to-date application forms in advance will allow you to prepare the bundle of all documents with particular attention and without any haste.
I had to wait three more weeks before the information on the application deadline was published on the embassy’s website. The deadline for submitting the documents was on 17 June 2021. The COVID situation in Ukraine at that time was quite favorable, so the documents had to be submitted in person. The submission process was just as described in the official guidelines without any additional requirements. Both the deadline date and requirements to the documents can differ depending on the embassy in each specific country. Please be sure to check this before applying.
It is interesting to note that an embassy representative checked all the documents on the spot, so there was no separate stage of documents’ review. Basically, all the applicants, whose documents were accepted by the embassy, were invited to the exams. Overall, about 40 people showed up for the exams (including both graduate and undergraduate students).
This year, exams and interview were done on separate days – on 29 and 30 June respectively. Once again, due to the favorable epidemiological situation in my country, both the exams and interview took place in person (I heard that in some countries the exams were even canceled as in the previous year).
As I have submitted application documents few weeks before the deadline, I had almost a month to practice sample tests and prepare for the interview. In any way, usually, you will have 1-2 weeks between the submission deadline and the exams/interview.
As you are aware, in case you are applying for the research student scholarship, you have to take English and Japanese exams. You should not be afraid if you don’t have enough knowledge of the Japanese language, since your main task is to do well on the English exam. In most cases, if you are applying to the English-taught program, Japanese language proficiency is not required. In my case, the applicants were even told not to spend a lot of time on the Japanese exam if the language of their university program is English. However, I would still recommend trying your best and not returning the test paper 10 minutes after you received it. Firstly, it will show your diligence and interest to learn the Japanese language (one of the requirements reflected in the official guidelines). Secondly, as Travis pointed out in his previous articles, several applicants who left blank the Japanese exam were rejected during the Secondary Screening.
Another issue I would like to note is the style of your clothes. I followed advice from Travis and was wearing an official suit even during the exams. However, the majority of the applicants came in casual clothing. Because of this, I had a chance to show the Embassy officials my serious intentions and approach to the application process. Knowing the results of my application, I can say that such a small detail indeed can add you a certain advantage over other applicants. Just treat it as a part of your application strategy.
As the majority of Japanese universities require that your level of English should be at least B2 (in case your chosen program is taught in English) I can presume that the majority of readers of this article possess the necessary proficiency in this language. In this case, you should not have any problems with the exam. It is way easier than TOEFL or IELTS exam. But I would still recommend you practicing sample tests, so you can understand the structure and type of tasks.
The test is a written one – you will not have speaking and listening parts. You will have one hour to complete the test and write down all the answers in the designated form.
My current level of Japanese is N4. Following my recommendation above, despite poor proficiency in Japanese, I decided to give it a try and show all the knowledge I had at that time.
If you look through samples, you will see that the Japanese test is divided into three sections reflecting three difficulty levels. The test contains a variety of tasks including grammar, reading, and Kanji sections. You have two hours to complete it.
My level of Japanese allowed me to complete the first section with ease. But the following sections were out of my league, so I did them using only my intuition. The results showed that this exam was not critical in the overall success of the application. But in my eyes, knowing even the basic Japanese language can give you an additional advantage. At the very least, this demonstrates that it will be easier for you to adapt to life in Japan, comparing to the applicants with no proficiency at all.
After the exams, all the applicants had a 2-hour break, following which the results were released. The embassy officials printed out the list of successful applicants, mentioning the designated time for the interview. Nobody was allowed to see the tests’ scores and appeal the final results. If memory serves, 10 people (including both graduate and undergraduate students) were invited for the interview.
As I mentioned above, the interview took place the next day. I was the first one to be interviewed. I don’t know why, but this fact put added pressure on me. As the interview was scheduled for 3 PM, I spent the rest of the day after the exam relaxing. It is critical to give yourself some break. Otherwise, burnout is inevitable. I would also recommend taking a day off, in case you are working. Taking all this into account, I resumed my final preparations for the interview only the next morning.
You should keep in mind, that the interview, along with your Field of Study and Research Program Plan, are probably the most important parts of the whole application process. In this regard, I strongly recommend you examine the article about the interview process which Travis wrote on his blog. The information contained there is relevant and was really helpful for me. I also found useful comment section below the said article, where applicants shared their experience on taking the embassy interview. As it turned out, (1) reading this article, as well as feedback from other applicants, and (2) practicing answers at home, helped me to predict and answer every question from the interview panel. So preparing for the interview beforehand is a key to your success.
While being prepared for the interview, I was still very nervous. But, as an embassy official said to me right before I entered the interview room: “given the stakes, everybody is nervous, and the interviewers are well aware of it”. So don’t be frightened and just be yourself.
In my case, the interview committee consisted of 3 people. While committee members did not introduce themselves, I assume they were embassy representatives. This assumption was reinforced by the nature of questions from the committee – all of them were general and did not touch the details of my research.
First of all, I was asked in Japanese to introduce myself (committee member noted that I can answer either in Japanese or in English). I made a basic introduction in Japanese mentioning my specialization but then switched to English describing my research background in more detail.
As I noted above, all other questions were of general nature. For example:
- Why did you choose this topic for the research?
- Why do you want to study this topic in Japan?
- What universities do you want to apply to and why?
Answering these questions, I tried to follow my application strategy and demonstrate why my research idea matters, rather than showing that I am a suitable candidate for studying in Japan. I described both my professional and personal motivation behind the research and explained why it is critical to conduct it particularly in Japan. This is what the committee was really interested in. At some point, I was asked why I want to study in Japan if other countries also achieved substantial progress in this field. So you want to be ready to substantiate your answers with detailed examples indicating that Japan is a perfect match for your study.
Finally, the committee asked a number of questions regarding my ability to cope with cultural issues and homesickness:
- Have you ever studied the Japanese language? For how long? (these questions were asked in Japanese, so I seized the moment to demonstrate some of my language ability and answered them in Japanese as well)
- Have you traveled to Japan before? Would it be difficult for you to adapt to a Japanese lifestyle?
- Whether your parents are in peace with your decision to move to Japan for so long?
- Have you ever been to another country for at least several months?
This is where you want to mention all your relevant intercultural experience and knowledge of Japanese culture and traditions. I have mentioned the following factors:
- Participation in international student competitions outside my country, where I had a chance to communicate with foreign students having different cultural backgrounds (including Japanese ones);
- My travel (yet short) to Japan;
- The fact that I have been studying Japanese with a native Japanese speaker who regularly shares various information about Japanese traditions and daily life;
- Japanese friends who expressed their readiness to help me with different household issues, if necessary, etc.
That’s, basically, all. After the interview, I had a talk with an embassy representative who congratulated me for going that far and informed me that the results of the interview will be revealed within one week. In this regard, I also want to mention the constant support from the embassy representatives who were really friendly and accessible to clarify different organizational issues. Such an attitude served as an additional booster for me throughout the whole application process. So do not hesitate to seek support from embassy representatives in case you need it.
Primary Screening Results
Despite the initial expectations, it took almost three weeks for the embassy to inform me about the results. This period of waiting was definitely intense. But I instantly forgot about all this when picked up the phone and heard that I have passed the Primary Screening. I still have a hard time believing this, but now I am on the way to become a MEXT scholar, and so can you!
The whole process can seem intimidating, but do not let the fear trump the excitement of victory. It can sound corny but in case you have a commitment and work hard towards your goal, there is nothing that can stop you from achieving it. The MEXT Scholarship is not an exception.
After learning the results of the Primary Screening, I had to come to the embassy to receive all the application documents stamped by the embassy’s seal. With this step, the next part of my application process began. Having received the stamped documents, I almost immediately contacted universities to apply for a Letter of Provisional Acceptance.
We agreed with Travis that I can cover this stage later in a separate article, so we could share some firsthand information on communication with universities and professors. So stay tuned!
In case you have additional questions to the author of this article, please do not hesitate to contact me using LinkedIn account.
As always, a huge thanks to Travis! I doubt I could have passed all these steps without your help.
With best regards,