Applying for my PhD project, I was fully aware that a portion of my PhD project would be undertaken in the cosmopolitan city of Fukuoka, Japan.
I was more than excited and determined to apply for the grants and funding necessary for such a huge and dramatic move. When the day came that I discovered that I was successfully awarded the travel funding for a 2 month stay in Fukuoka I was overjoyed; although perhaps a little bit in denial. It all seemed so unbelievable. I had only just settled down properly into my new lab in Oxford, but after only 7 months I was planning for the next chapter of my career. It took a lot of planning, both academically and practically.
Being so focused on my project, it was easy to forget the practical aspects of such a dramatic move. I had so much to figure out – whether I needed a visa, where I was going to live, how I was going to travel there, to name a few. It was all very stressful and confusing. But somehow distracted me from the reality of the situation. It may sound ridiculous, but even when I had sent off my scientific resources, waved goodbye to my family and even when I was sitting on that plane it all seemed so unreal. Only once I landed, did it hit me. After my months of planning, I felt totally unprepared for the experience that awaited me. Landing in the early hours of the morning, the post doc (Kimiko) waited patiently for me at the arrivals gate, despite me being held back at the gate for over an hour, being totally incapable of explaining the purpose of my visit to the non-English speaking Japanese officers! Everything seemed so alien to me. I was shell shocked.
Kimiko kindly drove me to my new home, a cosy flat opposite the University. Despite her limited English, she tried to explain to me as much as she could think of, about how life worked in Fukuoka. My mind was buzzing! So much information, that I only half understood. If I was struggling to determine how to put out the rubbish bags, how was I ever going ! to learn all these new lab techniques I had planned? Only the lab head could speak fluent English, with all other lab members keen to learn English from me. My days were spent trying to learn new techniques by watching and guessing and trying to communicate in English over Japanese tea and fish snacks. My time in Fukuoka was incredibly enriching. Primarily I learned a wealth of scientific techniques, which I am able to relay back to my laboratory. I also attained data which I have been able to present at national and international meetings and will be used in my thesis; but more surprising and probably more valuable I have learned valuable life skills. I learnt so much about focus, communication, determination and perseverance. The time that the lab members spent on me, trying to help me understand them, trying to explain processes to me despite the obvious language barrier was so admirable.
I wondered if I would be so patient if the roles were reversed. I am more than certain that I would not have survived such an amazing and eye-opening experience had it not been for the kindness and generosity shown to me by the host lab (Maenaka lab) at the Institute of Bioregulation, Kyushu University. I have learnt so much from time in Japan and truly believe that I am a better scientist, and also a changed person because of my experience. Even though it seemed terrifying when I first arrived, I truly believe it is so important to embrace every opportunity that presents itself to you and I am so glad that I did just that. I only hope that someone will visit our lab soon so that I can re-pay the favour.