Lian Sabella Castillo

MEXT Research Student class 2020

This isn’t an excessively inspirational story. In fact, I’d want it to be as close to reality as possible. To put it simply: I applied three times to the same program before getting in. Before Angela Duckworth popularized the idea of GRIT, I’d like to believe I went around living some semblance of it.

I first came around my master’s program, ITASIA, through my alma mater’s newsletter. I don’t quite recall why it was particularly enticing, but I seem to have latched on this one specific program for the next 3 application cycles. 

https://orangemagazine.ph/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Ajinomoto-Scholarship_Header2014-500x173.jpg
Throwback Promotional Banner of 2014 Grant (First Seen: 2013)

It initially came as a featured program of the private scholarship, Ajinomoto Postgraduate Scholarship. This was attempt #1. I had no clue how to apply to graduate school and I think my research proposal ultimately fell short with being asked if I had a professor/lab group in mind — I didn’t.

My second attempt was a more popular one — the famous Monbukagakusho (MEXT). Fairly vague memory and well, not surprisingly, I didn’t make the cut. It wasn’t a particularly notable rejection because the embassy doesn’t contact you if you failed to make it for the next phase of the screening.

For the third and grittiest thing I’ve done, I just straight up applied! Difficult because I had to go through all the bureaucracy while reviewing for the GRE and TOEFL. Not to mention, this method became increasingly burdensome throughout the span of the program, because I had to make sure I could support myself on top of paying tuition. Every exemption, every post-admission scholarship, every part-time job… I kept my eyes on.

Autumn Commencement in Front of Yasuda Hall, September 2017

Those years were thus far the best years of my life! Yet, in hindsight, they were also a struggle of sorts. I really took to heart all the small things that helped me get through my 2-year journey; they still overwhelm me to tears to this day. I was able to experience so many things despite my own shortcomings. It was both humbling and extremely fulfilling.

Nowadays, with the MEXT scholarship to my name, I feel so spoiled! In sheer contrast to my earlier experiences: everything is oriented, residences have been set, even monthly budgets are outlined. Vanilla, I would say, albeit being incredibly convenient. That is not to say I particularly enjoy masochistic anxiety for my future. Independence is its own reward.

Looking back is always a treat as I would remember how unrealistically persistent and energetic I was in my youth. I fondly recall looking up seniors from that same program, asking for advice and comparing if I could ever be on par. I dug through the Internet crevices to strengthen my case by example. 

These days, it doesn’t have to be so hard. The GradMAP Network is a medium to gather and match mentors and mentees from respective communities for real impact on prospective students. It’s a great way to match up senpai-kouhai with grad school aspirants to personally assist them in their applications. 

GradMAP Philippines (Graduate Mentorship and Assistance Program) exists to encourage and support young Filipino scientists to explore graduate opportunities abroad.

This is a great initiative which would have definitely helped me 10 years ago, hence why I’m giving back as a mentor through GradMAP Philippines. I implore fellow scholars to reach out and do the same. I assure you, your wisdom can change at least one person’s life.

About the Author:

Lian Sabella Castillo comes from Philippines and is currently a Research student at the University of Tokyo, expecting graduation at 2025.
You can find her on LinkedIn

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