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‘This isn’t what I envisioned’: The British student who’s over the Japan travel ban

Japan travel ban
"My interest came from the idea of learning languages -- it’s one of my passions. I want the ability to speak multiple languages as it’s such a beautiful thing," Qasim Khan tells Study International. Source: Qasim Khan

Qasim Khan, 23, is tired of the Japan travel ban — literally and figuratively. Last year, his plan was to embark on a journey of a lifetime to study Japanese — a lifelong passion — at Hiroshima University.

Instead, barred by the Japan travel ban, he’s unable to enter the land of the rising sun and forced to study online, while dealing with a painful nine-hour time difference between Japan and the UK.

“Unlike some of my classmates (who live in Asian countries), I have to take night classes,” he says.

Below we speak to Khan to learn more about his online study experience, the Japan travel ban and his future plans: 

Where does your interest in Japanese Studies come from?

My interest came from the idea of learning languages — it’s one of my passions. I want the ability to speak multiple languages as it’s such a beautiful thing.

Learning Japanese was a dream of mine since I never had the chance to study it during high school or even self-study. When the opportunity came at the University of Sheffield, I decided to jump on it. 

Despite it being an unconventional route (as my peers picked majors like business studies and I was always criticised for my choices), I have open-minded parents who support my decisions.

What made you choose to study in Japan? Share your journey with us so far.

Now, fast forward to my second year during the second lockdown in the UK, we had the chance to pick a uni for our study abroad exchange programme. I chose Hiroshima University as I heard amazing things about it from the friends I made in Hiroshima.

What are some of the biggest obstacles you face in regards to the Japan travel ban?

Since I’m doing my course online provided by Hiroshima University, I’m finding the nine-hour time difference between Japan and the UK difficult. Unlike some of my classmates (who live in Asian countries), I have to take night classes. 

Thus, it creates an environment where I’m not in the best-motivated state to study or even converse with my classmates. Furthermore, I feel it’s hard to bond with individuals online. 

However, since I’m all for learning about new cultures and languages, I decided to create study and bonding sessions with my peers to get to know them more. Because we are all in different time zones, I truly wish I got the chance to meet them in natural circumstances. 

I feel this isn’t what I envisioned what a “study abroad” experience would be like.

What more do you think should be done for students affected by the Japan travel ban?

I believe students are not a threat to anyone since most of them are fully vaccinated in principle. There should be reciprocity with each country. 

While I’m staying in the UK, the more I meet with Japanese exchange students who are allowed to come here, the more mental weight I bear. I worry about the Japan travel ban, what time I need to sleep or stay awake. 

This lifestyle is unhealthy and we (stranded students) cannot bear it anymore.

What’s your uni doing to support you during these tough times?

The online courses that my host uni provides are excellent. However, some are on-demand classes that are not available because most of the students are stranded. 

These face-to-face classes I really want to take but since I’m not in Japan, I can’t enrol in them. My home uni, the University of Sheffield, occasionally check up on me to see how I’m doing mentally. 

As I discover the culture gap between my host uni and home uni, the University of Sheffield value students’ mental health more. 

What backup plan do you have?

I don’t have a backup plan as my entire degree seems to rely on the experience that I’m not gaining at all. I want to be able to teach English to Japanese students and I can’t take any classes catered towards that.

I envision myself handing in my CV and my employer asking me about my study abroad experience. The thought of answering with my online experience brings guilt in me.

What advice do you have for foreign students who want to study in Japan?

My advice would be to always have a backup plan. I didn’t expect the Japan travel ban to continue for this long and I’m not sure what my future holds for me.