Home country: Fiji
World Bank Scholarship Program
Master's Degree Program in Taxation Policy and Management
World Bank scholar Arieta Raitamata believes in grasping new experiences. Physically and culturally a world away from her home in Fiji, Arieta makes it a point to venture out of her "comfort zone" as she seizes every new opportunity, taking each new challenge in her stride. She appreciates what the World Bank Program has to offer: policy expertise and a multicultural experience unavailable elsewhere, small class sizes which provide opportunities for class discussion, practical training with the National Tax Agency, and business networking events with high-profile professionals in the field. Arieta has already fulfilled a childhood dream of riding the bullet train, which she took to explore Kyoto, has worn an authentic kimono, and watched the sunrise on Mt. Fuji, and is hoping to visit Hiroshima. From her experiences, she reflects that her image of Japan is constantly evolving: "It is a completely different thing altogether... totally different from what I expected."
Could you tell us a little bit about a typical day in your life at Keio?
Well, I live at Hiyoshi International House and do most of my studying on Mita Campus. Hiyoshi International House is a very comfortable place. I live with one other student in a flat with two rooms and shared common areas such as the kitchen and bathroom. Last year I shared with an exchange student from Japan, and this year I share with another World Bank student from Malaysia. So I have lots of other people from different programs and campuses who I interact with at the dormitory during dinner time or free time in the evenings.
When I go to campus, it takes me about 40 minutes to get from Hiyoshi to Mita. Then I go to class and have discussions with the other students—mostly with people on the same program. We are all from the same background of joining the World Bank scholarship from developing countries, but we are from all different countries. We have very good interaction with our professors—very lively discussions.
When I'm not in class, I enjoy using the library, which has a variety of resources, and also the Information Technology Center (ITC). ITC has a section where they leave English laptops out for students to use.
What are your classes like?
We have small group classes—basically just the World Bank program students plus one or two Japanese students or other international students. The World Bank students are all from different developing countries, so that in itself creates variety in the class. Every week somebody presents a paper, perhaps on their country's experiences, and then there is a discussion. Whenever we have class discussions, they get very lively!
We also had a business communication class and one on academic writing as an addition to the main classes for our course. The professor organized groups of Japanese students and World Bank students and sent us out on field trips. On one such trip, we went to meet artisans with specialized skills, including people who craft wood or metal by hand. We also went with Japanese students to central areas of the city such as Shibuya, and visited department stores, picking up things that were related to a certain theme. After the field trips we did presentations, saying what we thought and what the Japanese thought related to the particular theme. It was an interesting experience to see these things from a Japanese person's point of view and a foreigner's point of view.
Touching on the point of cultural differences, back in the master's programs in my country, there are exams, but we don't have exams in our course here at Keio. The course is focused on research and preparing papers.
The other thing is that we are able to listen to and learn from the experiences of those from the other developing countries, learning lessons that we may be able to copy and tailor to suit our different countries. I feel there is plenty that we can learn.
What are some social events or experiences you have enjoyed during your program?
We get together on the usual occasions such as students' birthdays, and the professors also sometimes host dinners or small gatherings. We also have a practicum with the National Tax Agency that is held at GRIPS (National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies), where we can interact with tax students from other universities. This makes this program even more interesting, too.
Personally, a friend I met at Keio, who is from Taiwan, took me to climb Mount Fuji. It was just after I first came to Japan and I was very unfit, but I started climbing up that big mountain! I made it to the seventh station and watched the sunrise from there. That was one good experience.
I also went to the Mita festival. I liked the dances and the food; all of the students were very creative and imaginative. Then after the festival, we went down to Kyoto, which was beautiful. I also want to go to Hiroshima—I have been telling everyone I want to go to Hiroshima, and in a way I am indirectly hinting to them so that someone will volunteer to go with me!
I also went to a "yukata-wearing experience." The organizing group arranged yukata for all of the ten girls that took part and the material and the colors were all very beautiful. There was also a Garden Party at an alumnus' residence. We had a tea ceremony there and there was a band playing traditional instruments. I think that was a very unique experience, because I heard that Japanese people don't often invite strangers to their homes. We also went to the Tokyo Mita Club and were able to meet bankers and economists—that was a good networking time. That is how I got to meet other people from other places, and also Japanese in higher places.
Are there any things that you have found particularly challenging since coming to Japan or at Keio?
Last year I took an elective for learning Japanese; it is not compulsory but they say it is good to learn it for basic everyday life. So I know some Japanese, but it is difficult to arrange the words in a sentence fluently, and if someone is talking very fast, I really can't understand, so I still find the language a little bit difficult here. I don't know who speaks English, so I don't know who to approach when I am in trouble—that is probably the biggest problem. When I sense a language barrier, I try explaining things through sign language; I try to show what I want to say through my hands or facial expression.
I think the students are a little bit shy, or just hesitant to approach us. The only Japanese that we socialize with are the Japanese that we had in our class, but we would love to know more Japanese students.
How has your perspective of Japan changed since actually coming here?
My perception of Japan was that it was a very conservative society but since coming here I have found it is actually quite open-minded. It is a completely different thing altogether...totally different from what I expected.
I have also found the people to be very kind. On my second morning in Japan, when I had to get a train to Hiyoshi, I didn't understand anything, and a lady just walked up to me, took me right up to the ticket machines, and showed me how to get a ticket and which train to take.
Is there anything about yourself or your way of thinking that has changed since you came to Japan?
I've really opened up here. I've come to especially appreciate the other members of my class—we have all kinds of diverse backgrounds, middle, lower-middle, or lower income countries, and I've begun to understand how they see things. I have also come to appreciate how we should focus on the small things; for example, like the Japanese tend to care about the environment and obeying rules. We have to go back and start with the small things—family, for example, and move on from there towards a bigger society.
Coming to Japan has really changed me a lot. When I was a small child growing up, I said, "One day I should go to Japan because of the bullet train." That was my impression of Japan when I was growing up, but as an adult I think we have to leave our home countries to see and experience a variety of new ideas and new things.
Right now Fiji is undergoing tax reform, so I want to take back the new things that I have learnt and the experience of going to the National Tax Agency and seeing how things actually work here. Tax is basically the same principle throughout the world; it just depends on how we apply it, so I am sure that I can use my experiences here back home.
Finally, do you have any advice that you would like to give to other international students or perspective international students?
Yes, I would say: "If you are given an opportunity to study in Japan—why not? Grab it!"
It is good to leave our comfort zones, to experience something totally different culturally and education-wise, and to meet people of a completely different cultural background from yours. It's an opportunity to learn a set of totally different things altogether.
(This interview is from September 2012.)