Adèle is a MAT4 student and did her fourth-year internship in a French-Japanese laboratory situated in the University of Tsukuba, city located fifty kilometers north of Tokyo which is around 45 minutes by train.
She found her internship via the partnership maintained between the Tsukuba University and Polytech Grenoble. Everyone in the material departments is aware of the possibility to go abroad for either a three month internship or a double degree, thanks to M. Vallée who is very involved in the partnership.
She stayed there 3 months in a laboratory doing mainly research work on plasma etching. Two Polytech’s teachers work there including M. Vallée. She was supervised in her work by a Polytech teacher. There was also in the lab a student in MAT5 doing his double degree, and a Japanese student.
The trip in itself consists of a 12 hour flight to Tokyo and a 45 minutes train to Tsukuba. There you meet with a Japanese student named Masato here specially to help you with the paperwork. You have to make a resident card to work there and everything is written in Japanese. Thanks to Masato who spoke a very good English, this was not a problem. Masato is a kind of a rarity there because very few Japanese spoke good English.
There were also a lot of former Polytech students still there doing their double degree to help you acclimate and understand how everything works. They have a year of experience in Japan which is very helpful for the newcomers. There were also seven MAT4 doing the exchange at the same time and even more on the campus. A kind of association was also on the campus for foreign students to meet up, organize parties and cultural outings.
The first few days were quite hard due to jet-lag. During summer in Japan, the sun rises at 4 am and sets at 6 pm which she found to be very pleasing. The general feeling as a tourist is very reassuring. Whereas you may be kind of overwhelmed in cities such as Paris where you can find tourist traps and you have to be kind of suspicious, in Japan everyone is very polite and friendly. Even if they don’t speak English at all, they will always be keen to help you. Some even may want to take a photo with you because they rarely meet Europeans.
One thing that you may not adapt to is the food. Even if it’s really good you may find yourself dreaming about cheese or saucisson. Fruits and vegetables are quite expensive but the restaurants are mostly very cheap, you can have a very nice meal for around six euros.
You also have to adapt to their culture to not seem rude or impolite. Many little unwritten rules are to be followed which can be a little confusing sometimes. Rules such as to only whisper in the subway, or to take off your shoes in restaurants.
All in all, the adaptation is very easy since you are not alone and everyone understands that you come from a very different background. Your English skills are also a major plus for the lab work. With the locals, you will often find yourself mimicking the message you want to pass.
On the subject of accommodation, you will be given a list of rooms on the campus or more spacious studios. In her case, Adèle had a thirteen square meters room with a tiny bathroom, a fridge and a heating plate which she found to be perfect for three months. When you do a double degree, you will be roommates with your French mates and fellow Japanese students in a much larger space.
One of the many differences with our universities is that the buildings are separated between male or female students.
The rent was around 280 euros for thirteen square meters which is not very expensive given the location.
Considering the lab work, the tutors where very helpful and taught her how to use the various devices that she had to use. Her tutor gave her his expectations for the week to come and she had to make herself her schedule to accomplish her various tasks. She was on average in the lab from 10 am to 6 pm. There was no pressure on you as long as you had the job done.
The integration with the other colleagues was very easy, some of them were already her classmates in France and the Japanese student didn’t hesitate to go on lunch with them. They went to restaurants and karaoke’s with colleagues to have fun and to socialize.
Outside of work the activities in Tsukuba consisted mainly of karaoke’s or batting centers (a place where you have a baseball bat and balls are thrown at you) but you can also visit the rice fields or hike on mount Tsukuba.
In the streets of Tsukuba
The most interesting thing to do was to travel out of Tsukuba, which they could do for about 2 weekends out of 3. They visited mainly Tokyo but also the cities of Nikko, Yokohama, Osaka and Kyoto, where they hang out in the streets, visited a lot of tiny temples, restaurants, castles, museums and did shopping.
One of the many temples they had the chance to visit
One of her favorite memories is from the Team Lab museum which you can see in the following picture.
Team Lab museum in Tokyo
The Chinese district in Yokohama is also fantastic and the food is delicious. In her top 2 of places to visit.
They also saw some fireworks, traditional festivals such as the Sanja Matsuri or Sanja Festival which is one of the three great Shinto festivals in Tokyo. Prominent parades revolve around three mikoshi (portable shrines referenced in the festival’s name), as well as traditional music and dancing.
Traditional parade during Sanja Matsuri
Another highlight of one of their trips was their stay in a traditional Japanese house with a garden in the center, an onsen (a traditional hot bath) and a host who spoke English and was a really pleasant encounter.
In summary, everything about her internship was perfect. She got to discover an entirely new culture with her friends, had a very interesting work subject with a fantastic team and would gladly recommend this choice of destination for an internship if you have the chance to do it.
She may return to Japan to visit again, but after having been to other new countries!