Dare For Challenges: 2 Months of Internship in ICA Japan

Please allow me to write an English post about my internship experience in Tokyo for 2 months.

On the previous post I had wrote a story about my difficulties in getting a tourist visa for 3 months. I wrote it in Bahasa Indonesia because I thought it will be useful for my fellow Indonesians. However, this time I would like to write a simple yet amazing story of mine during my internship at The Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA) Japan. This post will be in English because I hope it will be useful for Indonesians and foreigners.

First of all, I was actually planning for a long trip to Japan after my graduation. I graduated in August and planned to go to Tokyo in October. I wanted to practice my Japanese language skills. At the very first time, I planned to take a short course of Japanese language class in Tokyo. Well, actually I had another purpose why I wanted to stay longer in Tokyo. I wanted to span my opportunities to meet my idol a.k.a AKB48, specifically Muto Tomu.

However, I found out that it was quite expensive and I was not sure I could afford the school tuition fees and living cost in Tokyo at the same time.

Thus, I came up with another idea which was looking for an internship program. I realized that it would be pretty hard for me because of my limited Japanese language skills. I am fluent in English but I only speak a little bit of Japanese.

Yet, I dared to face some challenges.

I sent numerous e-mails to any organizations and companies in Tokyo which practically works on something based on my education background, International Relations. First thing first, I tossed them an e-mail about my willingness for a 2 months internship in Tokyo and also my limited Japanese skills. Hereby is an example of my e-mail:

Dear XXXXX, 
I would like to express my interest as an intern in XXXXX. I have just graduated from Universitas Indonesia, majoring in International Relations. I had worked for several research projects with CSIS Indonesia, Knowledge Sector Initiative (KSI), and also Ramkhamhaneng University Thailand. Furthermore I did internship at HaloJepang — monthly tabloid about Japan in Bahasa Indonesia and an affiliation of The Daily Jakarta Shimbun —  as a journalist.
My eagerness to learn and practical experience are points which I believe eligible to fulfill your requirement as intern in XXXXX. I am confident that I would be a beneficial addition to XXXXXX.
I have attached my CV. Thank you for your time and consideration. 
Your sincerely, 

Of course, I received too many rejections because of my limited Japanese skills. They required those who can speak fluently in Japanese. Once, I was accepted by a company which works as business consultant, especially for start up company. They told me that they will not pay for anything and I was fine with that. However, the duration which they asked me didn’t fit in my schedule and my parents told me it wasn’t worth it because I must work full-time and they will not pay me anything. Thus, I must gave up this offer. My biggest consideration was not about they payment or duration but on my job description. I was not sure if I can work with their company because mostly I work in media or research projects and I have no experiences on their field.

I nearly gave up for an internship opportunity. It was getting closer to my departure to Tokyo. I had bought the ticket on a travel fair for a special promo. But my parents was afraid I would not have anything to do for 2 months, except some leisure times around Tokyo. I finally decided to give it another try. It was not only for an internship program but also a cheap Japanese language class in Tokyo. I found out that there are cheap Japanese language classes in Tokyo which are conducted by several volunteers. I sent them e-mails about my willingness to join their classes and they replied me with positive responses. I told my mother about this and she was pretty much reassured.

Yet, I was still curious for an internship opportunity. I remembered that one of my Japanese friends gave me several NGOs website’s link through LINE. I rechecked those links and I realized I hadn’t gave it a try to them. I finally decided to send several e-mail, one of them was ICA Japan. I did what I always did before sending an e-mail to a company or organization. I checked their website to understand what they are working on. I found out that ICA Japan works on community development programs overseas. It perfectly matched with my education background. As the next step, I went through their contact page to find the e-mail. I found a box to send them an e-mail.

Surprised! Surprised!

I received a positive response from someone who wrote his name as Wayne Ellsworth. He told me if their condition and my condition match, the internship possibility would probably happen. In addition, it does not matter if I can’t speak in Japanese because I can speak in English at the office. ICA Japan also needed to ask their executive director who was in Kenya for a program. Finally, after several e-mails, they finally agreed to accept me as their intern and also told me that they would try to help on some allowances. Beforehand, I told them that I didn’t want to demand an exact amount of money but if they could help on my meal allowance it would be a great help for me.

It was about 2 weeks before my departure so everything happened in a flash.

Wayne helped me on making an invitation letter for my visa to Japan. Although there were some difficulties because of some demands from the Japanese embassy in Jakarta, he helped me with his fast response. He also believed in everything I did. We had not met each other but I was extremely surprised that he was so kind and believed me thoroughly.

Finally, the visa was issued one day before my departure.

I arrived in Tokyo safely and had a day to settle everything, including my share house in Tokyo. The day after my arrival, I came to the office with the help of hyperdia and google maps. As expected, I got lost at my first try. I asked a family nearby the office with my limited Japanese skills and they kindly helped me to find the location of the office. Japanese people were very helpful to me whenever I got lost.

I arrived at the office. Honestly, I was surprised that the office was small and there were only few people at the office. I knew that they have big projects with Ministry of Foreign Affairs and also Japan International Cooperation Agency, so I expected a larger office. At the very first time, I met with the man who I always contacted through e-mail, Wayne Ellsworth and another one was Miku-san, ICA Japan staff. We talked for a while about me and also ICA Japan.

My personal desk at the office

I didn’t have anything to do on my very first day, except getting myself familiar with the situation around the office. I decided to make a work-plan for my internship. I still remembered that Wayne mentioned they actually needed someone who worked on media. I had a background working on media, thus I made a proposal for the office. After I finished, I discussed it with Wayne. He is actually the co-director of ICA Japan. We agreed that I would be working on newsletter, brochure, websites, and also other stuffs. Few days later, Shizuyo-san came back from Kenya and I introduced myself to her. She is the executive director of ICA Japan.

Everything went perfectly and finally my first assignment came. They asked me to make a brochure. To be honest, I am not that good in designing, I learnt how to use photoshop but it is very basic. I did my best to make a great brochure. I have to admit that they had a great demand for this brochure and I had to change it many times. But at last, I was quite satisfied with the result although I believe it was not the best one.


I also clearly remember the first time I had a meeting in Japanese. There was a rough translation and I couldn’t understand the whole meeting but I could grab the main ideas of the meeting. It was an explanation about the photosynthesis process in Japanese. Yeah sure, it was really hard to understand. They wanted to continue a program in Cote d’Ivoire, especially the agroforestry program. Hence, they needed this meeting to understand better how everything will work. After that, they decided to check a model farm in Chiba and asked me to go there with a staff of ICA Japan who works in Cote d’Ivoire called Kambe-san and also an expert in agroforestry called Isoda-san. A week after that meeting I went to Chiba to visit the tomato and cucumber farm. It was a long long journey. I guess I spent half of the day on train and car. However, it was an exciting experience because I could see how advanced Japanese farmers are.

Visited a tomato model farm in Chiba

On that meeting I also met one of ICA Japan boards called Kurokawa-san. We talked about my education background and also Indonesia. He invited me to come along with him to a seminar in International House of Japan. Thus, I decided to come to the seminar on the date he told me. It was a great seminar because it was related to my major and I was also very lucky because I could meet many important people. Kurokawa-san introduced me to a lot of people in the seminar, including the moderator who happened to be the academic supervisor of my lecturer in Indonesia. Before I went home, someone called me and suddenly talked to me in Bahasa Indonesia. I was very surprised to know that he is also the academic supervisor of my lecturer. It was a really great opportunity for me. Kurokawa-san is a really nice to me, he also gave me some information about universities in Japan and told me to apply for master degree in Japan.

One month after I joined the office, a new staff came to the office. Her name is Iku-san. She has just graduated from a university in UK for her master degree. She is an easy-going person and it was really nice to welcome her to the office.

I finally got other assignments which were newsletter and new years card. I didn’t find many obstacles on doing these assignments and I personally think that my design was better than the brochure one. They brought the newsletters to ICA International meeting in India. Oh, I remembered there was a main obstacle in making the new years card. It was really hard to fit in the picture into the postcard size. Before making the new years card design, I was given stack of new year cards. In Indonesia, I can’t find a tradition to send new year post card. It was really interesting to see a family’s new year card with their photos on it.

Rough design of newsletter
New Year Card

At last, my internship came to an end. We had a simple farewell at nearby Izakaya with the whole staffs and also my mom who apparently came to Japan a week before I left Tokyo. ICA Japan was a great place for me. They were really nice to me and they trusted me although it was only for a short time. They recognized me as their media specialist for 2 months, not only as their intern. One my first week, they gave me a name card with title as intern. But one my second week, they already gave me a new name card with a new title as media specialist.

They gave me opportunities to speak up and also share my experiences. They were opened to any suggestions I gave, including my ideas about the web-development. Even though I am not an expert in media, but their trust to me made me tried to work hard everyday.

I might be not the best intern but thanks for giving me such a wonderful experience for the whole 2 months. It might be a short time but these experiences and memories will last forever.


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