Clarification: While this blogpost was written during the COVID-19 crisis and mentions the anomalies in the process we experienced, the intent of the blogpost is to cover the base steps that I believe is consistent regardless of economic conditions. Hopefully, my batch is the edge case and future scholars can enjoy this experience more fully in the future.
I’m probably one of the lucky few who received some good news after the COVID-19 crisis hit last March 2020 when I received my acceptance e-mail into the Hitotsubashi ICS MBA program as a fully-funded scholar through MEXT-YLP.
MEXT-YLP is a Japanese government scholarship that aims to strengthen relations between Japan and their partner countries.
In this blog post, I’ll talk more about the process after acceptance rather then the application process (although I will touch on that a bit) as I’ve noticed that many successful applicants, including myself, felt lost after we received that wonderful letter of Congratulations from our local embassies. You also can’t find many online resources about the post-acceptance process and know what to expect, unlike the application process.
Understand that this blogpost is written in the perspective of a Filipino and that some of your experiences may be different depending on your home country and time of application. Considering the COVID-19 crisis, I think tweaks to this process will be implemented (but I think most will be the same) for future batches.
For those who are interested in applying, you can follow this step-by-step guide on the application process to give you an idea on what you have to do. For my case, I was simply following the Embassy of Japan in the Philippines’ Facebook page and saw their call for applications sometime in October 2019. I downloaded the required documents, read everything, and followed their instructions accordingly.
Note: The YLP program is for applicants interested in post-graduate studies under Business, Local Governance, and Law. There are other programs aside from YLP available so choose the one that best fits your needs. Just note that the process in this blogpost will be for the YLP MBA applicants specifically.
When I made to it the exam and interview phase of the screening, I used these two websites to get familiar with the potential questions of the entrance exam (one of the requirements if you don’t have an existing GMAT or GRE score) and brushed up on my basic math by reading everything in this Math for Middle School book.
If you have more questions about the application process, there are many YouTube channels and Facebook groups that can support you in your journey. I recommend starting with:
- 2021 MEXT Japanese Scholarship Group in Facebook
- MEXT Scholarship in Philippines in Facebook
- Applying to Japanese University video in YouTube
- Japan Young Leaders Program blogpost written by a Filipino alumna
Learning more about Hitotsubashi ICS
Embarrassingly, I didn’t know much about the school I would be enrolled in before I started the application process.
I was motivated to do my research because the professor who interviewed me made a really good impression. I encourage you to do this while you are going through the application process just so you have a more holistic perspective on the program you are applying to and the organization that you will be a part of once you’re accepted.
The resources that I used to get started are the following:
- Touch MBA Podcast featuring Hitotsubashi ICS (there is a Part 2)
- Student Voice video on YouTube featuring a Filipino candidate
- One of the school’s professor’s views on international hires
- Hitotsubashi ICS’ official marketing AVP
Fortunately the school’s Linkedin and Blog are really active and I personally follow their posts to be up-to-date on news and perspectives published by the school.
I find it valuable to learn more about any organization that I am a part of so I can better understand why certain decisions are made. Especially considering that the program I am in is an MBA that highly values class participation, knowing what the school’s priorities and views are will help guide the way I approach my studies and any activities I wish to be a part of.
Starting to do networking early
Asking for or finding the e-mail address of the professor who interviewed you or of any representative from the current faculty will really take you a long way.
Fortunately for me, I was able to connect with the aforementioned professor and he really helped guide my way through the process before and after acceptance. He then connected me to one of the current Filipino students of the program who, in turn, added me to a group chat with the other Filipino candidates of the current class.
LINE Messenger is the main line of communication in Japan and through the group chat there, we managed to keep in touch, share updates, and ask for advice.
After acceptance, you will receive information on the pre-matriculation courses that you have to finish (I will discuss this more in succeeding sections) and along with it, access to the class list and the school’s online learning platform.
I found it really helpful to update my profile and share my LINE ID so that my classmates could contact me, if they wanted to. After a few weeks, the class slowly started joining the group chat we created and it helped bring us together, get to know each other, and share information even before class begins.
Preparing my finances before departure
As a MEXT-YLP scholar, you will get a monthly stipend from the Japanese government to help you pay for your accommodation, groceries, transportation, utility bills, and other obligations. It’s a great deal but this stipend only comes in during the second month of your stay in Japan. The first month’s expenses will be covered by you.
The recommendation is to bring approximately PHP157,000.00 to help you cover for your first month’s living expenses. I converted this amount into yen in the Philippines and brought the cash amount with me on departure as this is the most cost-effective option, as I was told by alumni. I ended up spending more than expected because of the COVID-19 requirements. Hopefully for you, you’ll have the luxury of using extra funds to make your dorm room more comfortable.
I also did my best to resolve any outstanding debt so that I didn’t have to worry about paying off anything other than my credit card bills once abroad.
For my government benefits, I prepaid my year’s worth of PhilHealth and Pag-Ibig premiums as I am a voluntary member so I wouldn’t have to worry about keeping my accounts active and worked with my family so my SSS monthly payments could be paid alongside theirs (I couldn’t afford the yearly bulk amount and I didn’t want to risk relying on their online payment portal while I was in a foreign country).
Getting a credit card is also highly advised, as I was told by one of the current students, because the business cases we would be studying have to be purchased online. Inform your banks in advance if you want your cards to accept international payments and, while you’re at it, make sure you can get your OTP or any kind of verification for debit or credit card transactions from your bank while you are abroad.
Some videos that helped me get an idea of what to expect:
- My REAL cost of living on YouTube
- What I wish I knew… on YouTube (Numbers 3, 5, 7, 10 are helpful tips for us)
- Average Daily Living Cost in Tokyo on YouTube
Another thing that might not be very clear on the get-go is that you have to purchase the coursepacks and relevant books for your pre-matriculation courses and for future courses when school starts. These expenses are not included in the PHP157,000.00 recommendation.
My batch had 4 pre-matriculation courses (3 courses + 1 book reading requirement) and the total course of purchasing all the courses was almost PHP9,000.00 so I recommend that you prepare somewhere around PHP10,000.00 because the final price will depend on the USD to PHP exchange rate of the time of purchase.
There will then be another cost for the books you have to purchase for courses in each term. Book requirements are usually announced before the start of each term so you will have to save up for purchasing these in advance. I personally spent about PHP4,000.00 for Term 1 books alone.
There is an option for your to inherit them from your upperclassmen. An auction is organized by the student council of the current batch (so you can purchase used books) or, if you went ahead and started networking early, you can call dibs on the books your upperclassmen are using by simply asking them.
While your courses are ongoing, you will also need to spend on business cases for each class depending on the topic so please also set aside an amount for that especially in the first month when not receiving a stipend. Somewhere around PHP3,000 to 5,000 would be a safe estimate.
The Pre-Matriculation Courses
There were 4 courses to go through (this may vary in future batches), each related to a major subject when school starts. The instructions to these courses, when you receive them, are clear and the links and important need-to-knows are laid out nicely so make sure to read them completely.
I personally started with the required readings and then moved on to the online courses in the Harvard Business Publishing online platform.
Do not underestimate the time you need to finish everything. If you can, start as early as possible and do a little bit of work each day. Each of the courses have a estimated amount of time to complete but this highly depends on your own level of comprehension on the subjects so better not rush as failure to pass Final Exam 2 for any of the courses will result to you getting more assignments when school starts and, from what I heard from my upperclassmen, Term 1 is brutal so best not have any extra work on your plate if it can be avoided.
Starting to learn Hiragana and Katakana
Another surprising thing about this process was the requirement to pass a placement test to join the Basic Japanese classes. The school will send out an email to students asking for a list of those who want to enroll to Basic or Intermediate Japanese language classes when school starts. I have no Japanese language background and thought that learning Basic Japanese while immersed in the environment will be beneficial.
Once you confirm your desire to enroll to the course, you will be informed after a few days about the placement test and that, for Basic Japanese class, you must already have basic hiragana and katakana knowledge to take the placement test. If you fail this test, you will not be permitted to enroll in the course.
The resources they recommended to use for self-study are from the Japanese Foundation: Marugoto Plus and Hiragana Katakana Memory Hint. I personally used Bunpo App to prepare alongside the above two resources.
Timeline for Batch 2020 after acceptance
- May 26 – Receive instructions to set up our school accounts
- June 22 – Receive instructions on pre-matriculation courses
- July 31 – Deadline for sending Pledge (to formally accept scholarship)
- August 7 – Book Auction for Upperclassmen’s used books
- August 31 – Deadline for finishing all pre-matriculation courses
- September 5 – Welcome Back ‘19 and Sayonara ‘20 Virtual Call with YLP MBA Alumni
- September 15 – Start of (Virtual) Classes at Hitotsubashi ICS
- September 17 – Received instructions on post-arrival quarantine rules to follow
- September 19 – Pre-Departure Orientation (national and provincial)
- September 25 – Visa application process starts
- October 1 – Received Japan visa and travel tax exemption certificate
- October 14 – Flight from Cebu (CEB) to Manila (MNL)
- October 15 – Flight from Manila (MNL) to Narita (NRT)
Anomalies in our process due to the COVID-19 crisis
- The timeline above is very different from what past students have experienced. We should have been in Japan by early September, at least 2 weeks before classes are supposed to start.
- The Pledge, Visa Application and Tax Exemption documents should have been submitted at the same time but due to uncertainty of Japanese immigration regulations, Visa Application and Tax Exemption application submissions were delayed.
- Purchased books from the auction are usually hosted/stored by a 2-year student residing in the Tokyo International Exchange Center and will then hand over these books to incoming students when they arrive in Japan. Since our batch wasn’t guaranteed to be in Japan for Term 1, we had to think about getting some books shipped internationally and negotiate with upperclassmen who can hold on to our books for a potentially longer period of time.
- The PHP157,000.00 budget estimate was given assuming that we would be able to enter Japan during the expected timeline and spend the first month in TIEC. Given that dates were very liquid considering travel bans and other restrictions, we were informed that “MEXT has decided to grant to incoming students’ scholarship stipends for the period during which a student has to stay in his/her home country”. So we would receive no stipend while in our home countries but retroactively receive the stipend on arrival to Japan.
- Given that our arrival to Japan was not certain, we had to decide whether to cancel and reapply for our dorm rooms in TIEC or keep our slots and start paying the monthly rent.
- According to Japan’s quarantine rules, individuals who arrive from overseas are not allowed to take public transport on arrival and have to self-quarantine for 14 days. TIEC did not allow us to stay in our dorm rooms for the duration of this period and so we needed to wait for the list of hotels we could stay at after arrival.
- The first day of school was on September 15 but we were still in the Philippines and were joining the classes virtually as visa application and departure dates were still not set.
- On arrival to Japan, we were quarantined in a MOFA-accredited hotel that, thankfully, was also covered by the scholarship. We had to cover for our own food expenses but we were well taken cared of.
Additional resources to help prepare for what’s next
- Surviving Hitotsubashi ICS blogpost written by a Filipino alumna
- Thriving in Hitotsubashi ICS blogpost written by a Filipino alumna
- MBA Onboarding blogpost series written by an alumna
More questions that were answered by kind Filipino alumni
How can family members send funds in case of emergency?
For as long as you have a debit card that has the Cirrus logo or the Mastercard logo, you should be able to withdraw from any Japan Post Bank ATM. If you would like to remit money from JP to PH, the recommended services are Transferwise, JRF Remit and World Remit.
Which electives are the most ideal to take?
Generally, pick the electives that you feel passionate about. The minimum number of elective units a student must take is 13 units but you can take any number of elective subjects that you can handle. The two subjects that the alumni went crazy for were: Japanese Culture class and the Leadership course.
I am thinking of pursuing individual research, what is that like and what is it about?
Alumni suggest that unless you are a company sponsored student and have a topic that you feel would benefit your career in your company or a 2-year student who has time, independent research is usually not recommended for 1-year students as there are other things that you can spend your (limited) time on.
What is expected in the Capstone Project?
The alumni said that the process is that students partner with a business where we study it in teams, identify problems / gaps the company might have, and propose solutions to the CEOs.
How cold can Japan get? What are the recommended items to bring for cold weather?
Buy at least one thick coat and boots in Japan because it’s cheaper — is the consensus from many of the alumni. Bringing from home a few hoodies, jackets, pants, sneakers is good enough. Pack light, they said, and buy any winter needs on arrival. What should be packed are condiments that you need to use to cook meals that remind you of home, and any vitamins you might need as we might not understand which medicines to take when there.
Voltage in Japan is 100 Volts. Did you have to bring travel adapters?
Usage of electronic gadgets like laptops and phone chargers are seamless because the outlets are the same as the ones in the Philippines. Plus, most 220V appliances can handle a lower voltage but note that items like hair dryers may be a bit weaker. The general advice is to buy these items on arrival to Japan. If an Automatic Voltage Regulator (AVR) is necessary, you can buy it in Diver City.
In the visa application process, we are required to submit a “Letter of Acceptance” into the university through the YLP scholarship. Should we expect it in the mail?
You should have received a letter attached to an e-mail from JICC and a “welcome” e-mail from Hitotsubashi ICS. Print the letter from JICC and print screenshots of the e-mail from HICS. When you get a copy of your travel tax exemption certification, don’t forget to bring a copy of it with you when you depart.
What telco services would be good to subscribe to on arrival to Japan?
Recommended telcos are Mobal and JP Smart. Since the COVID-19 crisis, transactions are not allowed on arrival to the international airport so it would be helpful if you had a SIM card delivered to you so that you only need to activate it when you arrive.
Lastly, bring anything that represents your culture.whether it be food items, cultural wear or locally-made souvenirs. It helps in culture-sharing activities and helps you better represent your home country.
Update: A few people have asked me for “tips” on getting accepted into MBA programs and scholarships and although my experiences are limited, here is my attempt at typing out what I think.