Travel restrictions in Japan and their impact on doctoral students

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Hana (name changed on request), an Iranian college student in Hokkaido, Japan, feels like a fish out of water. Japan’s travel restrictions closed its borders to students for more than a year, making Hana a lab-less researcher.

“It actually affects my mental and physical health,” says the doctoral student. “So much so that I had to see a therapist. “

We caught up with Hana to find out more about how she handles Japan’s travel bans:

Tell us about your doctoral studies and where your interest in your course came from.

I have always wanted to be a researcher. When I was studying veterinary medicine in Iran, I did a lot of research on a type of disease in cattle and was motivated to move forward on the subject.

After graduation I found a job through my university to study in Japan. My supervisor has very advanced knowledge about this specific disease which led me to apply for a doctorate.

What then made you choose to study abroad in Japan?

Hearing how amazing the laboratory facilities are at Japanese universities and their high-ranking professors drew me to the country. I have a very scientific mind so I want to study and do research in Japan because I’m sure I would be good.

With the travel restrictions in Japan, what difficulties do you face in your studies?

The first thing anyone would mention is the online classes that take place at night, but that’s actually fine with me – classes at night and working during the day with little sleep. What doesn’t suit me is not being able to do my research which has to take place in a lab on campus.

Keeping a researcher out of his lab is like keeping a fish out of water. It actually affects my mental and physical health. So much so that I had to see a therapist.

I got top marks with all of the theory work in my online courses, but unfortunately the research cannot be done remotely.

What do you think should be done for those affected by travel restrictions in Japan?

The only thing that would help stranded students affected by Japan’s travel restrictions would be letting them return to the country. Especially research students because our education is not sustainable online.

Many scientists (including Japanese) have reported that the Omicron variant is benign and there are very few cases in the country (less than 100 per day). I really hope they will open the borders as soon as possible.

What about your university? Are they supporting you?

Yes, my university in Japan is very supportive. The staff and my supervisor do everything they can to help me continue my education.

What back-up plan do you have if travel restrictions in Japan continue?

I really hoped and planned that my education would take place only in Japan. For eight to nine months, I designed my research plan ready to enter the lab.

I love my research topic so I’ll wait a bit longer but I’m afraid they won’t open the borders at all. With that, I try to look for other opportunities but also hope that travel restrictions in Japan will be lifted.

Any advice for students wishing to study in Japan?

Lots of students on Twitter have asked me what I think about studying in Japan and I advise them to forget about it during the pandemic. It’s sad because Japan is a great country and destination for students, but I don’t want these students to be in my situation because it has a mental impact.


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