Vulcanus in Japan is a program organized by the EU-Japan Center for Industrial Cooperation, sending 30 European engineering / science students every year to Japan for a 4-month long intensive language course, followed by an 8-month long internship at a Japanese company.
I got into the program for the 2019-2020 session (I am writing this from my small apartment in Yokosuka, Kanagawa). Thinking back, I wish I had found more information on the internet regarding past experiences of applicants and the application process.
Before getting started, I would like to note that everything I state below are my own thoughts and opinions. They might not be true or accurate, but they reflect my own experience.
Experience and CV
Your background is something that you can’t really change anymore if you are applying now. However, it’s important to highlight the right points to make yourself more appealing to the selection committee.
One of the factors that I think is of utmost importance is to have international experience of some kind, for example an exchange program by your university. This is something that almost all of the 30 of us in my year have in common. If you have been to Japan before or have traveled a lot, make sure to mention it as well.
Other than that, this is a science and engineering focused scholarship, so proving that you have a strong technical background is very valuable. Published papers? Contributed to open source? Mentionable academic / personal projects? Work experience?
Finally, this is not at all a requirement, but I believe it is valuable to know some Japanese. More than half of the selected participants knew close to nothing when they came, but if you have already studied it for a while you can prove to the evaluators that you have a strong interest in the country. Knowing some basics before coming is surely helpful. You will be able to join the advanced classes at the language course and get around the country more easily. I arrived with N2 level and joined a business Japanese class. I had a blast!
As for how to structure and style your CV, there are many guides online. I usually follow a very basic template, you can check my CV in the top bar of this website for inspiration.
In your motivation letter you have to hit some basic points, which are mentioned in their “Info about Compulsory Documents”):
- Your summarized background (also mention scholarships, awards, etc.)
- Your current line of work / focus
- Why Japan and why Vulcanus, both personally and academically (make sure to mention how you will learn a lot from the seminars, language course and internship)
- What makes you special / a good fit for them
Of course, make sure your English is flawless. Show it to as many people as possible and ask for suggestions. After you feel its ready, wait a few days and read it again. Does it still feel good? Probably you will notice that some sentences can still be polished more. Writing a good statement is a long and tedious procedure. Ganbatte!
After being shortlisted, you have to write another letter to the company you want to apply to. Make sure to adapt it a little to highlight the points that make you a good fit for them, and show them that you did your homework on reading about them and their mission.
If you need an extra pair of eyes, you can send me yours through email, if I have time I will take a look!
You need one or more strong recommendation letters. Try to find a professor that you are close to and who would write only in your best interest. Vulcanus is not the same as a graduate school, so I believe that more than ranking or prestige of the person who wrote it, honest and convincing words win the game here. Some of the things I believe they value the most are mentions regarding your teamwork skills, motivation and adaptability. The letter that my professor wrote for me had the following structure:
- How we met, what interactions we had
- My achievements and strong qualities from her point of view, while I was under her supervision
- Assertion that I am a good fit for Vulcanus and Japan
Applying for vulcanus is a rollercoaster experience. Don’t let it get in the way of your studies or work though! I certainly spent more time than I should researching about where I would live and how my life there would be, even when I didn’t even know if I was shortlisted.
I believe that the first stage (shortlisting) evaluates your general fitness for the programme, so if you have a relatively strong background there is not much that you should fear. Where things get tough is in the second stage. It’s much more random and depends on how well you actually fit to the company that you applied for. Also, every company uses different criteria to evaluate you (many will carry out interviews).
I would suggest choosing a company where you believe your background fits well. For example, I was interested in many of the available positions but chose as my first option one where I satisfied their optional language skills (Spanish and German).
When you get shortlisted, the committee suggests you some good matches according to your background. However, some people got suggestions for positions that didn’t really fit their interests so well. I was very satisfied with mine, so I can’t talk from first hand experience. I would suggest contacting them and asking for the reason why they chose that position for you. Don’t hesitate to change the suggested option for a different one if you feel uncomfortable though.
In the coming months I will write more posts about my experience as a Vulcanus participant, so check back from time to time!