Embracing Cultural Diversity: Anchalee’s Journey from Thailand to Japan

Japanese Dream

Many people from Asian countries are now working and studying in Japan. What made them decide to come to Japan? In “Japanese Dream,” we interview them and introduce their dreams and ambitions that they hope to realize in Japan.

In the second interview, we spoke with Anchalee Vongto from Thailand, a master’s student at the University of Tsukuba Graduate School. When she arrived in Japan, she didn’t know much about Japan, but gradually became interested in the Japanese people and culture.

Could you introduce yourself?

My name is Anchalee Vongto, and my nickname is Dear. I’m from Thailand and I’ve lived in Ibaraki prefecture for around two years. I arrived here after the first hit of Covid-19 in around September 2020. I’m a master’s student at the University of Tsukuba in a program of international public policy. My supervisor is Prof. Toyama Ayako. Before coming here, I was a kenkyusei, a research student at Meiji University in Tokyo.

Could you tell me about your view on Japan before you came to Japan and how you came to study in Japan?

To be honest, I was just a local girl in northern Thailand and learned about Japan from animations like Detective Conan and Doraemon. They showed up on the TV series in the morning and got around since I was young. But at first, I wasn’t interested in Japan. When I finished school, one thing I didn’t achieve yet was studying abroad. I was a shy person and didn’t have the confidence to make the dream come true. In fact, I got a chance to be an exchange student when I was in high school, but I didn’t take it. After graduation, I worked in Thailand for three years and thought I needed to do something for my ambitions. So, I chased after my dreams and came to Japan to study English.

Did your view on Japan change after you started studying in Japan?

A lot. As I said, I wasn’t a person who was interested in Japan at first. When I was young, all I knew about Japan was animations and culture. So, I never thought I would be studying here.  I came here accidentally because I got a scholarship. However, after that, my every view and picture of Japan changed.

For a while, after I came here, I didn’t realize that I loved Japan and I was spoiled by Japan. In March 2022, I visited New York with my friend, and when culture shock attacked me, that was the first time that I realized that I was spoiled by Japan. My picture of Japan changed at that time. Now I know I love everything here, for example, people, culture, the terming, responsibility, and cleanliness.

Do you have any difficulties living in Japan?

First, the language barrier, of course. It’s hard for me to communicate with people who don’t speak English because I have no Japanese skills. This is the top of the list of difficulties living in Japan.

Secondly, about food. I’m a food lover and addicted to the spiciness of Thai food. Here in Japan, everything is so healthy, and everyone loves vegetables and salads. I was surprised at the difference in taste. The food here is sweeter than in Thai.

Friendliness for users, punctuality, and working environment

In which circumstances do you notice such differences between Japan and Thailand?

I have a small culture shock, and it’s a packaging. This is one thing I love the most in Japan. When I came here for the first time and was in quarantine at a hotel, I bought a tall milk carton with a short straw and wondered why it was so short because I didn’t know that it was possible to stretch. It’s so different from Thailand. When I talked about it with my Brazilian friend, she also said that they don’t have that culture of user-friendly packaging.

Another one may be about time. When I was in Thailand, I never experienced the importance of time as I did in Japan. I used the train station for the first time here because, in my home country, I didn’t have a chance to use the train. To commute or travel, we use our motorcycle or car. Trains are not that popular in Thailand. But when I used the train station here, I realized Japanese people give importance to time, and actually, as for time, there are so many differences between Thai people and Japanese people.

In Thailand, when we meet friends, it’s okay to be late for 1 or 2 hours. But here in Japan, I think people would feel very sorry for only being 10 minutes late. When I talked with my friend who worked as a nurse in Thailand, and she had patients who are Thai and Japanese as well, she said when Thai patients were late for 1 or 2 hours, they didn’t apologize or show any guilty. On the other hand, Japanese patients were late for just only 2 or 3 minutes, they apologized, said sorry “gomennasai” so many times, and felt very guilty about it. My friend was just shocked and thought about how the difference was made even despite being the same Asian.

The other difference is wages. The cost of everything here is very high, around 10 times compared to Thailand. However, it is better to work here than in Thailand. When I had a part-time job in Tokyo, I learned that transport expenses were added to my salary. We don’t have this one in Thailand. Moreover, overtime work. In Japan, when you overwork, you need to calculate the exact time you work. In addition, when you work in a restaurant in Japan, you also have food for free apart from your salary. The salary you earn working all day in Thailand is the same as the salary you earn working an hour in Japan. These are big differences.

Build a new world in the diversity

What are the advantages of studying in Japan for you?

First, the opportunity. I’m still confused about my life and don’t have any life plans at all, but I want to appreciate every opportunity given to me to be here. The advantage for me is the way I can see the world differently. When I was in Thailand, I thought I knew about everything and didn’t want to know more. I was like a glass full of water. Now, I live in another country and realize I know nothing about the world. That is the advantage because I can be a half-full glass, not a glass full of water, and learn many new things, like knowledge, information, and culture. Having another perspective can build a view of the new world and know more about myself and what I want to do. That is everything to me.

About studying in Japan, it is my first time taking a class full of international students and using mainly English. After class, students also try to speak Japanese, and I realized that we are all different and belong to different cultures and backgrounds, but we communicate in a room. This is like a society. I’m grateful for this experience.

What opportunities do you think are available in Japan?

I realize that the priority for some Japanese students is to do a part-time job. This is interesting. Giving importance to a part-time job more than studying? I was surprised because, in Thailand, a student’s priority is studying. So, parents say to children that they don’t have to work because they can work later. This is a missing part of Thai culture. How many experiences can we get by only studying? How can we know about the work we want to do after studying?

I try to work or do many new things as much as possible and get a part-time job as an English conversation partner with the university. And I got some experience from an English camp with Japanese high school students. At first, I didn’t see the point of joining them and talking with their high school or junior high school students and getting money. One day, my friend told me that the Japanese government gives opportunities for kids to communicate in English. I think that’s so cool because it is an investment in the next generation. The government concerns more about how they work in the future for the country, how knowledgeable they are, and how well they communicate. Trying many new things and learning a lot of things from people and international students is an advantage of studying here for me.

Could you tell me about any dreams or ambitions you would like to realize in Japan?

If I have a chance in the future, I want to work here, but considering my Japanese language skills, I want to get a job in an English-speaking company. I would like to communicate with people from other nations. That is my future dream. For now, I am trying to search for an internship in an English-speaking company. I don’t have an exact dream, but I try to have an internship in the U.N. in here Japan.

Break boundaries and be open-minded to communicate with others

We would like to see fruitful exchanges between Japanese and other Asian people. What are your thoughts on how such exchanges can be realized?

Before interacting with other people, the most important thing is to understand that we are only human beings and don’t have boundaries. There is no country and region to separate people. When we want to change something, we need to break boundaries by understanding that we are all human beings. We just grew up only in a different area or in different culture and language.

To be honest, I was a prejudiced person. When I worked with students from different counties, I was curious why they didn’t behave the way I did. I just judged them by my own culture and by what I have been taught and realized that we should understand that we are a little bit different. It doesn’t mean they are wrong, or we are right. Before having a fruitful exchange, we need to understand that. When we can’t understand other people’s behavior, we should give them a chance to explain to let ourselves learn more about them.  

I know how difficult cultural exchanges are. It’s hard to get out of our own culture and understand different cultures. If we are open-minded, we can touch and deeply think about them from different perspectives, for example, the way they are treated, or their society. This helps us to adapt to the better world we live in together. We can’t live in our own country without relationships with other countries because our world is a multicultural society. So, we need to be an open-minded person at first.

What changes do you think should be made in Japan to make it more attractive to Asian people?

Last semester, I joined a forum with Japan, Taiwan, and other Asian countries about how Japan can make policies to attract more Asians and Taiwanese and heard that the internship policy is tricky for Asian people.

I heard that many Thai nurses come here as an internship for about 5 years, but after that, they need to go back. When the contract is over, they must return to their own country. That is a waste of time and money. I think that Japan needs to concern more about it to attract more Asian people because the population in Japan is now shrinking, and the older generation is increasing.

Do you have any advice for Asian people who are thinking of studying in Japan?

I think many Asian people want to be here. I had a chance to work at the Imagine the Future Fair, and many international students who wanted to work in Japan joined it. Their problem was the money, of course. Let’s talk about my experiences. I wouldn’t study here if I hadn’t gotten the scholarship. It was a financial matter as well. If only you find this scholarship or exchange program somehow, you could be here. So, just try it at first and learn to open your heart to get out of your comfort zone. It is hard but most important.