If you try everything, you will find what you want to do and where you want to be.
Living in a foreign country with a different language and culture can be a challenge. Even the most flexible children may feel hopeless and feel that they cannot do anything, depending on the time and environment they start living in a foreign country. Ms. Keicelyn, who came to Japan from Philippines, is one of those who had such an experience. Even so, one by one, she overcame the barriers to higher education and employment by clearing the tasks in front of her, and this time, we would like to introduce the episode of how she paved her way.
Spending lonely days without understanding Japanese
Ms. Keicelyn was born to Filipino parents, and her father died before she could remember. She and her younger brother came to Japan from the Philippines to live with their mother, who was living in Kasai, Tokyo, when she was in the second grade. She lived in Japan for two years and then returned to the Philippines, but her mother brought her back when she was in the first year of junior high school, and she has lived in Japan ever since.
Her first visit to Japan as an elementary school student was “a very good experience,” she recalls. Although she could hardly understand Japanese, she made many friends at school and her teachers always cared about her.
It was not until her second visit to Japan that she truly faced the obstacles of living in a foreign country. Her mother invited her to come to Japan for a three-month visit, and although she intended to return home soon, she ended up continuing to live in Japan. She became homesick, did not fit in at junior high school, and did not make any friends. She was a target of bullying and says, “When I was in the eighth grade, I seriously considered suicide.
She continued to study Japanese after school and other times, but she did not make much progress, and it was really hard for her to keep up with her schoolwork. In the meantime, the exam season came and her teacher informed her that there was a high possibility that she would not be able to go to high school.
Her mother did not put any strong pressure on her to go to school. Rather, she left it up to the child’s own will, but Ms. Keicelyn, who had a serious personality, was in a hurry.
”If I couldn’t go to school, I would be looked down upon very lowly in Philippine society. If I couldn’t go to school, I would be looked down upon very lowly in Philippine society, and I didn’t want to disappoint my mother, so I worried about it every day. “
Turning point was participation in the free school
At such a low point in her life, she found out about Tabunka Free School through Facebook, which is run by the Multicultural Center Tokyo, a non-profit organization that supports children with immigrant background. She just wanted a place to stay and a sense of security. At the school, where children with foreign roots who were also struggling with learning Japanese and their career paths gathered, she began studying Japanese and other subjects for entrance exams. This was a major turning point for Ms. Keicelyn.
”I was very happy that I went to Tabunka Free School. It was a very different environment from junior high school or Japanese language school, and I was not alone, there were many friends around me who shared the same environment. I realized that I wasn’t the only one who had problems with my parent working in Japan or not understanding Japanese. The teachers were also very good at teaching Japanese and other subjects to children with immigrant background, and they had a good understanding of different cultures. I think that’s what helped me get into high school in the end. “
Ms. Keicelyn said that she did not have a concrete vision of her future in terms of higher education or employment. To be honest, at the time, all she could think about was “I want to go back to the Philippines. However, when she saw her friends studying hard at the free school, she began to think that she should just enter high school and decide later what to do after that.
”I felt that if I worried too much, I wouldn’t be able to concentrate on my Japanese studies, so I decided to go step by step.”
Getting to express myself in high school days
Thanks to her hard work, her grades improved and she was successfully admitted to the Foreign Culture Course at Tagara High School (Nerima-ku, Tokyo), where many students with the same foreign roots as her were studying. Surrounded by friends from Philippines, Brazil, China, United Kingdom, and many other countries, her situation has changed dramatically since her junior high school days.
Being in an environment where she could express herself greatly increased her motivation for school life. She also joined the dance club and recalls that she was able to have a fulfilling high school life. She also became more active outside of school. She also worked part-time at various places such as convenience stores and fast-food restaurants to learn Japanese. The fact that she could earn money while learning was very attractive to her.
However, she still struggled with her Japanese as always. Because of this, when the time came for her to decide on her next career path as a senior in high school, she did not have many options to consider.
”I had studied in English all through school, and my Japanese was far from native, so I thought I could only be an English teacher. Then I had a chance to talk with a Japanese father of one of my friends. He told me that it is very important to graduate from a university in Japan, so I decided to study at Dokkyo University, which has an English department. Just like when I graduated from junior high school, I thought I would think about it later. “
Challenge sales in Japanese and improve one’ s career.
Even among children with immigrant background, there are many different ways of thinking about career paths and careers. Some start early with a vision of their future and work hard, others see their origins as their individuality and try to use it as a “weapon”, and still others try various jobs that suit them before deciding on a path.
As we have mentioned, Ms. Keicelyn has taken a step-by-step approach, concentrating on solving the problems in front of her one at a time. Even if what she could do was limited, she would think of the best way to go from the options she had and implement it. This is the attitude that she will continue to maintain in the future.
She was still unsure about her career path. Even when it came time to start looking for a job before he graduated from college, she was still unsure of what she wanted to do. She thought about becoming an English teacher, as she had done when she graduated from high school, but she was more willing to take on new challenges than before.
”I have been living in Japan, working part-time, and studying Japanese, so I thought I would like to work while learning more Japanese. So, I decided to work part-time at Company A, a company that supports foreign residents.”
The job she took on was to provide rental guarantee services for foreigners. In Japan, real estate owners are particularly strict in their assessment of prospective foreign tenants, and in many cases, it is difficult to find guarantors. Therefore, Company A, as a company, acts as a guarantor and handles any problems related to residence. Ms. Keicelyn ‘s role was to act as an interpreter in these situations to facilitate communication between the parties involved. Soon, her work was recognized and she was promoted from part-time to full-time.
For a while after becoming a full-time employee, she was engaged in clerical work such as preparing visa application documents, but she began to feel that she wanted to work as a sales representative and meet people. Part of the reason was that she was not good at working on the documents, but the other reason was that she wanted to try her hand at sales using Japanese.
Since the company was also involved in introducing foreign human resources to companies and facilities for the elderly, there were many opportunities to negotiate with high-ranking personnel. It was a challenging job for Ms. Keicelyn, who was not yet proficient in the use of keigo (honorific expressions) and did not know much about Japan’s unique business manners.
”I was worried, but I suppressed my embarrassment and tried to think of myself as Japanese. To be honest, I made some mistakes, but I reflected on them each time and worked on my Japanese and business manners.”
When she actually experienced sales, she realized that there was no discrimination against foreigners, which she had been concerned about, and that “as long as you can speak Japanese, there is no problem”. This feeling could not have been obtained without trying it.
Now, two years after her first job, Ms. Keicelyn has taken the next step and has moved on to a foreign-capitalized human resource consulting firm. She says that her experience as a salesperson has given her the confidence to take on the challenge of working for a foreign company, which is more challenging but offers better conditions. “I’ve been sending money to my relatives in the Philippines, so I think I’ll be able to afford it in the future,” she said with a smile.
Able to find what you want to do and where you want to be.
Looking back on her time in Japan, Ms. Keicelyn was moved to tears at times during the interview. Although what she has accumulated has now come to fruition, she feels that she does not want children with immigrant background to have to go through the pain she went through. She shared her thoughts on her future activities.
”I think the number of foreign nationals in Japan will continue to increase, but there is still a lot of bullying at schools, so I want to create a community to eliminate that.”
She gives this advice about choosing a path and building a career.
”Even if you feel like giving up, I want you to find a different way. Even if you only have a few options now, they will surely increase in five to ten years. Whether it’s a part-time job, studying Japanese, or making friends, if you take on any challenge, I’m sure you will find what you want to do and where you want to be. It is also important to listen to advice from outside the community you are in and take action.
What brought Ms. Keicelyn out of the darkness was the fact that she found a place and a sense of security by meeting a different community at a turning point in her life, that she proactively took in the advice of those around her without wasting time, and most importantly, that she continued to take steady steps, even if it was little by little.
When she was in junior high school, she probably never imagined herself having a career at a foreign company 10 years later. Nevertheless, Ms. Keicelyn ‘s life has proven that if you work hard at what is in front of you, you can find your way.
Interviewing and writing: Hiroshi Yoshida