Welcome to the fourth and final entry in a series about my successful application for a Monbusho Research Scholarship. If you haven’t already, I recommend reading parts one, two, and three first. This final entry deals with the interview process.
In June 2007 I received word that I had passed the initial application stage and had been selected to for an interview and a series of language proficiency exams.
Proficiency in Japanese is not necessarily a prerequisite for receiving a Monbusho Research Scholarship, (in fact I’ve heard that some people have gotten the scholarship despite knowing no Japanese whatsoever) but nevertheless all applicants who make it to the interview stage are required to take a three-part Japanese test. In the U.S., applicants also have the option to take an English proficiency test if they choose (I believe in countries where English is not spoke as a native language, this additional test is required).
For the Japanese Tests: The Monbusho Japanese tests roughly equates to the JLPT, if the JLPT was reconfigured to only have three levels of difficulty instead of four. (If you don’t know what the JLPT is, here’s the wikipedia article about it.)
So the easiest Monbusho Japanese test is like a combination of JLPT levels 4 and 3, the middle Monbusho test is like a combination of JLPT levels 3 and 2, and the hardest Monbusho test is like a combination of JLPT levels 2 and 1.
Since my Japanese level was between JLPT levels 3 and 2 when I took it, I aced the easiest Monbusho test, did okay on the middle one, and bombed the hardest one (at least I think so; they never actually told me what my scores were). I’m in no position to offer study advice for the hardest one, so if you think your Japanese might be good enough to pass that, you’re on your own. But here are my thoughts for studying for the easier two:
The Monbusho Japanese tests from the past few years can be found here: http://www.studyjapan.go.jp/en/toj/toj0307e.html#2
This goes without saying really, but take the aforementioned tests and get a sense of what they’re like. I recommend taking at least one set of tests the way you’ll take them on the actual day of the test; give yourself 60 minutes per test, and take them all in succession.
Bone up on the nitpicky differences between the particles, verb tenses, etc. You may think you have a good grasp on them, but I found I was often not 100% sure about whether I should use wo or ni or de, or whatever. Review the rules for which particle is used when, because that makes up a lot of easiest test. Also make sure you know your way around the politeness levels, the different ways to say give and receive, and stuff like that.
Here are some of the study aides that I find worked well for me in preparation for the Japanese tests:
For kanji: hands down the best flash cards I’ve ever found are the ones made by Rabbit Press. They’re well organized, durable, and set up specifically for studying for the JLPT, so if you want to study for that too, you’re set. [Amazon link for the cards: JLPT levels 3 and 4, and JLPT level 2]
For grammar, vocab, etc.: I’ve always been partial to the Minna no Nihongo series. Once you’ve outgrown that, I found An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese published by the Japan Times, to be good.
Finally, the English Test. For our group of applicants in the United States, it was optional. Most people in my group chose not to take it, and left for lunch as soon as the Japanese test was done. I took it, because I figured it couldn’t hurt, and since I’m a native English speaker, I figured it’d be pretty easy. It was. It only took me about twenty minutes. Again, past versions of this test can be found here: http://www.studyjapan.go.jp/en/toj/toj0307e.html#2
As a native English speaker, I have no advice for non-native English speakers for that test. If any non-native English speakers have any thoughts about that, please leave a comment to this entry.
After a lunch break, they started with the interviews. To be perfectly honest with you, I don’t think I did so well on the interview. In fact, and maybe I’m wrong about this, I feel that I got the scholarship in spite of the interview, rather than because of it. So while I don’t feel like I’m the best person to give advice about that, here’s basically how it went down.
I interviewed with four people; two Japanese, and two American. One of the Americans, a college professor from a local university, dominated the conversation. I had prepared for a few questions (like “Why do you want to study in Japan?” or “Why do you want to study calligraphy since you’re a cartoonist?”) but she didn’t ask any of those questions. Instead, she asked about a few random things, and then at one point seemed to question if my research proposal even counted as “research” in the first place!
Now, I certainly don’t think that what I was proposing was a significant as the search for a cure for cancer or anything, but I felt it was important in its own small way. And since I had reached the point in the application process where I had been invited in for an interview, I wasn’t expecting a line of questioning that seemed to imply that my research proposal might not even have any value in the first place. But then, I don’t have much experience with interviews of this sort, so maybe it’s par for the course; maybe they just want you to “defend your thesis” or something. In any event, I was totally caught off guard, but sputtered out some sort of response as best I could.
There was also a section of the interview where they asked me questions in Japanese; I read somewhere that this would take up half of the full twenty-minute interview, but in my case it was probably only two minutes (though it you were studying, say, Japanese linguistics or something, it might be a bigger part of your interview). The purpose of that is to determine what your level of listening comprehension and speaking ability in Japanese. The questions were of the conversational variety.
Once that was over, they asked if I had any questions for them. I can’t remember what, but I asked them a couple things. It’d probably be a good idea to have a couple questions for them prepared. And with that, the interview was thankfully over, and I got out of there as quickly as I could without running. The end of a very long day.
Again, since I don’t feel I did so well on the interview, I’m probably not the best person to give advice about it. I will say this: one thing I wished I had done, but never got around to doing, was doing a practice interview. Ask a friend or colleague to look over your application and make up a few questions about it, some friendly, some adversarial, and then try to answer them on the spot, without allowing yourself any time to think about it first. This would have been great practice for me, and I wished I had done it.
The Long Wait
After the interview, the wait to find out if I had passed the interview stage was pretty short; less than a week, if memory serves. Then it was a matter of waiting for the “letter of recommendation” form to arrive from the consulate, turning around and mailing that to the professors in Japan, waiting for them to mail it back to me, and then mailing it back to the consulate. Even though I had done all the legwork for getting a professor to agree to work with me, and all I was doing was mailing sheets of paper back and forth, it still felt like I was strapped for time to meet the deadline. So once again, I would recommend doing at least some (preferably most or all) of the legwork for contacting professors/securing a commitment from them to serve as your advisor ahead of time.
So I got my letters of acceptance to the consulate, there wasn’t anything to do except wait. It was an anxious time of course, but it also felt like there was a big weight off my shoulders, because I had finally reached the point, some ten months after I started, when I didn’t to devote any more time to Monbusho Scholarship-related stuff. I’ve heard that Monbusho Scholars often hear about their acceptance by late January, but the notification can come as late as the end of February. In my case, I finally found out I was in around mid-February. And so that was that.
Since I spent hours writing this long-winded account, I hope you’ll forgive me if I put an unrelated plug in here: if you found this guide helpful, and/or if you’re interested in comics/Japan, please consider supporting this starving artist by purchasing my graphic novel Tonoharu: Part One from your local book store, or at amazon.com, or directly from me. Thanks.
And for more about my new life in Japan now that I’ve gotten the Monbusho scholarship, check back in this site again. I update every Friday, and my experiences as a Monbusho scholar are certain to be the subject of many of those entries.
So I guess with that, I’ll bring this account about the application process to a close. I hope this helped Monbusho applicants in some small way on their applications, and wish them best of luck. Ganbatte kudasai! And if anyone out there with prior Monbusho experience feels I missed the mark on my advice, or just has a different take on things, please leave a comment to this entry. Thanks!
Part 1 of 4–Introduction/Disclaimers
Part 2 of 4–Writing the Research Proposal
Part 3 of 4–Filling out the Application & Contacting Professors
Part 4 of 4–The Tests, the Interview, & the Long Wait