High school students from overseas are working hard to overcome language and financial obstacles in Japan to achieve their dreams.
In an after-school class run by NPO Frontier Toyohashi, in Toyohashi, Aichi Prefecture, a group of children were doing homework and assignments. Some were born in Japan to parents of foreign nationalities or moved to Japan from Brazil and other countries with their parents, who came here for work.
Those who used to study here have one message to convey: “There are things that only we can do because we know two countries. Don’t give up on your dreams.”
Keiko Ribera, a junior at Horyo High School in Toyokawa, was one such student. As a third-generation Japanese-Peruvian, she has attended the class twice a week since she was in junior high school.
Her long-held goal is to help people who need nursing care.
Ribera came to Japan at age 4. Her sister, who is four years older, has a physical disability so a caregiver comes to their house almost every day to help out.
The kindness of the caregiver left a strong impression on the young Ribera, whose family was struggling to adjust to a new country.
She did not speak any Japanese when she first arrived, but thanks to her interest in kanji, her Japanese language skills developed and she passed the highest level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) when she was a junior high school student.
She then chose Horyo High School because they offered a social welfare course.
However, in her freshman year, her father suddenly announced that they “will be returning to Peru.”
Struck with anxiety, Ribera started experiencing headaches and stomachaches.
Fortunately, her father’s work situation began to improve and the family decided to stay in Japan, so she was able to focus on her studies.
Ribera would check unfamiliar terminology related to nursing care in her dictionary and note them down diligently.
As her school results improved, her dream slowly became a reality.
She decided to apply for a university and “become a certified social worker who can identify the needs of those requiring care.”
In her third year at high school, she started working part-time to save money for the ¥200,000 university admission fee.
She took her AO (Admissions Office) entrance examination for her first university choice at the end of last month.
“I’ve finally made it here,” she said with a smile.
According to Yachiko Kawamura, 56, the director of Frontier Toyohashi, the number of foreign students attending high school in Japan is increasing. However, since the level of Japanese language proficiency required is also higher, a lot of students drop out because they “cannot keep up with the classes.”
“Another reason is that there are few role models around them. Many parents remain employed only as dispatch workers and work away from home, while youngsters who have graduated from high school are freeter and in nonfull-time employment.”
Three years ago, the NPO began working with Toyohashi Municipal Senior High School to offer study sessions for JLPT exams, as well as career workshops.
Leandro Yoshitomi, 21, who graduated from the same high school and is now a junior at the faculty of modern communication studies at Hamamatsu Gakuin University, said he had seen friends withdraw from their studies.
“They would say, ‘We are gaijins (foreigners) anyway. What can we do?’ and give up,” he recalled.
Yoshitomi was born in Brazil and came to Japan when he was in elementary school. He did not understand the language and often vented his frustration with the people around him, eventually being labeled a problematic kid.
But it was when he started working part-time at an ice cream shop during his second year of high school to help his family that he felt a sense of purpose in life.
After using his Portuguese skills to serve foreign customers, he became an invaluable resource for the shop. The experience ended up changing his mindset.
It dawned on him that “there are things that only we can do because of our connections with other countries.”
In university, he asks his Japanese classmates about the meaning of phrases that he does not understand to improve his language skills.
He also attends an English cram school once a week. Yoshitomi now speaks four languages, including Spanish, which is similar to Portuguese.
He wants a job that can utilize his language skills in the future.
In addition to working in a company, he is also considering an academic profession and is taking teacher training courses as well.
“By working just a little bit harder, your options in the future will expand, so don’t give up on your dreams,” Yoshitomi said.
This section, appearing Tuesdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published Nov. 24.