Alumni Voices: KHANH NGOC – Venturing, to return

Ngoc came to Japan as an undergraduate MEXT scholar in 1999. Back then, she was a Computer Science student at Can Tho university, a big university in the South of Vietnam. Currently, she is working in an IT company based in Tokyo. She shared with us the path that led her back to Tokyo after years of moving, how she viewed Tokyo as a student and also shared her experiences as a successful woman with 2 children.

How did you become a MEXT scholar and how was your academic life?

I was a freshman Computer Science student at Can Tho University when I applied to MEXT through the Embassy recommendation in 1998. During  that time, the Embassy recommendation was the only option for university  students in Vietnam to apply to the MEXT scholarship. To apply, it was obligatory to get recommended by a local university as well as the local Japan embassy. 

As other MEXTers, I spent the first year studying Japanese at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, then took the entrance exam at Tokyo University. My first year at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies was a lot of fun, but the first year at Tokyo University was less fun. My japanese was not that good to understand all the lectures and discussions. Luckily, the first 3 semesters for Undergraduates in Tokyo University were all introductions, which I already took back in Vietnam. That helped me go through the first year. 

Following my Vietnamese senpais, I was planning to go until PhD, but when I was in the second year of my MA course, my professor advised that I shouldn’t go further. It was a shock!

How was Shukatsu back then when the economy was in a depression? 

I started my shukatsu late, in the summer of my second year in the MA course. If you look at the statistics back then, you can see that the year that I graduated from college – 2006 – the job market was the worst in Japan. Now we are in a similar situation in 2020. 

With all those disadvantages, my shukatsu was not going smooth at all. I applied to some companies, but eventually failed, so I decided to stay with the company that I was working at as a part time developer. Honestly, my classmates were not eager and enthusiastic about shukatsu at all, and so was I. I just looked for jobs because my professor advised me to do so. 

You were back in Vietnam for a while before coming back to Tokyo again. Did you plan this in advance?

Not at all. I was the type that didn’t think so much. 

During my first job, there was a boom in Japanese enterprises to invest in Vietnam, and the director of my company was following this trend. He opened a company in Vietnam, then I followed that team, going to Hanoi as a dispatch. It was a business trip, but the  trip turned out to last for 2 years. After 2 years, the company in Vietnam didn’t do well, so the director decided to close the business in Vietnam and to go back to japan. I chose to stay in Hanoi for private reasons, so I quit my first job and moved to the second one – I became a JICA project officer in Hanoi. 

Working at JICA for 2 years, well, I realized that it’s not the right job for me, so I quit and moved to a Vietnamese IT company. The director that I contacted wanted me to join the team in Ho Chi Minh city, so I left Hanoi. I speak Japanese and majored in Computer Science and my jobs were always somehow connected to Japan, so I decided to transfer from Vietnam to the Japanese branch. That’s why I’m here now. 

How has Tokyo changed after you came back?

I didn’t realize that I was far away from Tokyo for 10 years. Honestly, it didn’t change. 

I was away from home for 5 years, then when I came back, I felt like I didn’t know where my home was anymore. Everything in Vietnam changes rapidly. 

But not Tokyo. The places where I used to hangout with friends during college time are still the same after 10 years. It feels safe. 

I came back to Tokyo for reasons other than my  job. It’s my kids. When I was working in Ho Chi Minh city, my older kid was 8. Thinking about elementary education for my kid, I thought Japan would be a better choice. It turned out that it was a good decision. My kid got enough Vietnamese proficiency during the first 8 years in his hometown and is getting along well and is studying happily at a Japanese school. 

Message to my kouhais

Now, the world is more flat, so everyone has more choices about life paths than our generation. There are more and more universities in Japan providing an English curriculum for foreign students. But, I think, to fully live and enjoy Japan, you should understand it enough, to be able to get deeply involved, to be able to fall in love with it 🙂 I won’t say “do as the Romans do” but “first get to understand the Romans”. That’s the reason why we should learn Japanese. Language leads to culture. Believe me, your life will be much more exciting and enjoyable when you master the language 😉


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