Before coming to Japan
My father served in the Vietnamese navy during the Vietnam-America war, and after the war, he started working at a shipping company. According to my father, when he first sailed over to Japan on business he realized Japan was a splendid country. Since I heard the story from him, I had been dreaming to become a seaman like him, so that I could see what he saw and told us about Japan was true.
In order to make the dream come true, I proceeded to the Vietnam Maritime University after graduating from high school. I got information for studying in Japan when I was a first year student at the university, and attempted the examination with students from other technical universities. Fortunately, I passed the exam as a student out of 24 successful candidates, and I left my home country for Japan in the early morning on April, 2, 1996.
Arrived at Japan
When I just arrived at Japan, I was surprised by many things. First, the smiles of welcoming people, skyscrapers, paved roads, and the coldness in early April, automatic doors, vending machines, hand dryers in restrooms and so on, all those automatic things really surprised me. Especially, even now I clearly remember such shameful experiences as not knowing how to use a toilet seat, the difference between shampoo and conditioner and so on. I washed my hair with conditioner but I could not make bubbles with it. These things made my image of ”Made in Japan” doubtful until I understood the difference.
The Japanese Language school
In the first year, I went to the Japanese Language School of the International Students Institute in Shinjuku, Tokyo. I began to study Japanese including hiragana in an environment without any other languages all day long. Several months later, I had a dream in Japanese one day, and I was really happy. Besides that, I lived in the dormitory of foreign students at Komaba in Meguro ward, which has students from various countries, so that I could exchange cultures with the other students and enhance our international understanding. I made a lot of friends including Japanese through studying together, joining events and festivals. Furthermore, I learned Japanese not only at school but also by building up my relationship with my host family. They were very kind to me. When I had a lingering cold, my host mother took good care of me. Besides that, she took me to a lot of places in Tokyo, and taught me Japanese customs. I learned a lot of Japanese that was not taught at school from my Japanese host mother.
The first year in Tokyo passed so fast. In the following year, April 1997, I entered the third year of the Shipping Technology Department, Oshima KOSEN. There was a gap between my life in Oshima and the one I had in Tokyo. My first impression of Oshima was of vast nature. From the window in my room, I had a prospect of the sea and of the mountain. My second impression was the quietness in the student dormitory. There were only a few students in the dormitory at that time. This was because when I arrived there, it was in the spring vacation, and the students in the dormitory had mostly gone back home. A few days later, school started. My heart was full of hope to make friends, however, my classmates spoke in Japanese too fast for me to catch. Presumably, the first reason is that they had a local dialect which I had never heard. The second reason was my reading and writing skills. There were many Chinese characters I couldn’t read in the class, and besides that, the teachers wrote so fast in chalk on the blackboard that I could not take notes. I always had to request for help from Japanese tutors after school.
Six months later, I got used to KOSEN life. My seniors, who were strict to juniors, guided me in my study and around Oshima. One day, I participated in a walking competition in Oshima, and I could communicate with the local people. They told me where there was good fishing, so I fished and gave fish to the neighborhood, and they gave me back vegetables. The barter exchange life helped me save money greatly.
The big event to complete the Nautical Science Course was one year of on-board training on the ocean-going training ships of the National Institute for Sea Training after four and a half years of study. I had experienced training on the sailing ship Nippon Maru and a motor ship for six months each. It was very significant for me to experience group living on board, surrounded by the open sea, and I also experienced various cultures from many countries through this unique curriculum to sail around the world.
After graduation from KOSEN, I wanted to study about marine traffic management in harbor sea areas, hence I transferred to the third year of the Department of Maritime System Engineering at the Tokyo University of Mercantile Marine with a recommendation for my advancement from KOSEN. The transferred students like me needed to get much credit recognition to finish in a short term because I had only two more years from the third year. In addition, I had to work part?time jobs. It was very hard in those days. However, I aimed to go on to graduate school and I encouraged myself not to give it up. In the end, I was able to complete the bachelor course.
At graduate school, I joined in research to develop an Autonomous Traffic Management System using information from AIS (Automatic Identification System) in harbor sea areas. I acquired my doctorate for "A study on Autonomous Traffic Management Systems Based on Planned Routes and Navigational Information Transmitted by AIS”. In order to improve the safety and the efficiency of ship operations, this system calculates the optimal routes of all ships in the area using planned route information. It is expected that this system will greatly contribute to the reduction of the possibility of collision in congested sea areas and raise the level of marine traffic management.
After graduate school, I got employed by Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, Ltd. in April 2008. I belong to the Seafarer Group of the Marine Safety Division which recruits excellent seamen for safe voyages. Coincidentally, I have been in charge of the scholarship program that my company sponsors for the Vietnam Maritime University where I had been for one year before coming to Japan.
This is my thirteen years’ experience in Japan. Before stopping my story, I want to tell you one thing: “Think positively and work hard all the time! It will definitely carry its own reward!”
Lastly, I would like to thank the people who guided me to study and took care of me, from the Japanese Language School, Oshima KOSEN, the Tokyo University of Mercantile Marine, and the Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology, for giving me a great environment to study in and supporting me.