NAIST Materials Science Study Abroad Program for Doctoral Students

The Division of Materials Science (DMS) of NAIST provides its students with excellent opportunities to experience research culture and practices outside Japan through the Study Abroad Program, more commonly referred to as a lab stay.

University of Eastern Finland, Joensuu campus, on a beautiful sunny winter day!

Doctoral students from the DMS are required to earn credits under the set of courses called Internationalization Subjects. Two of the most commonly taken subjects are the Practical English for Materials Science (UC Davis English Program) and the International Internship. Students who participate in the lab stay program earn two credits under the International Internship subject. Many students, however, opt to do both, first participating in the UC Davis English Program then proceeding with the lab stay. The latter functions as a training ground for new English communication skills acquired in the previous program.

Magical landscape created by the sun, the leafless trees, and thick sheets of snow that definitely makes you feel like you’re in Finland!

In preparation for the lab stay program, a student can either choose to go to NAIST Academic Partners or look for another university, depending on the compatibility of one’s research topic with the hosting institute. NAIST has more than a hundred academic exchange agreements with foreign universities and research institutes spread over multiple countries.

Communication with a potential supervisor can be established by the laboratory supervisor (at NAIST) or the student himself. Through this, a potential research topic can be discussed and necessary arrangements such as invitation letter, hosting agreement, student housing, etc can be made. Visa application may be necessary depending on the student’s nationality and the country of destination. Moreover, scholars would be delighted to know that NAIST covers most of the major expenses, such as the airfare, visa-related fees, and an accommodation subsidy. A comprehensive overseas travel insurance is also provided by NAIST to ensure the safety of the students during the entire lab stay program.

Joensuu City Theater, located in the city center, was built in the National Romantic style of architecture that flourished in the Nordic countries in the late 19th century.

I spent my two-month lab stay at the Institute of Photonics, Department of Physics and Mathematics, University of Eastern Finland (UEF) in Joensuu, Finland. My host supervisor was Assoc. Prof. Matthieu Roussey, the team leader of the Integrated Optics Group. Under his guidance, I worked on an interesting topic: slot waveguide integration of Bloch surface wave platforms. It was a productive and enjoyable two-month stay within Prof. Roussey’s group.

The snow-covered path that I take to get to the UEF campus everyday!

Last year, two other students from my laboratory joined the lab stay program. Christian Mark Pelicano spent two months at the RWTH Aachen University in Germany while Keisuke Yano worked under the Department of Physics, University of Cagliari in Italy.

It snowed almost everyday in my two-month stay in Joensuu.
The temperature ranged from 0°C to -24°C.

Indeed, more and more students each year are opting to go on a lab stay because of the tremendous opportunities it opens. It can definitely further one’s research and allows one to build a network for collaborative research work. I was blessed to have an open-minded and optimistic host supervisor who saw my research visit in his group as a starting point for further collaboration between NAIST and UEF.

Helsinki Cathedral. Probably the most iconic landmark in Finland.

Apart from the research aspect, the lab stay program is also an amazing opportunity to explore another country. During my stay in Finland, I was able to visit Helsinki and other major cities and learn more about Finnish culture and history. Immersing in a new culture, meeting people with different beliefs and customs, and interacting with a totally different society is a rewarding and humanizing experience. As student-researchers, this allows us to see better the world that we are trying to improve with our individual research, whether it be in physics, chemistry, or engineering.

Clock tower of the Helsinki Central Station, the main transportation hub in Finland.

A Day Trip to Nara’s Illustrious Past

NAIST continually offers opportunities for its students, especially international ones, to experience and be more immersed in Japanese culture, besides the world-class research and academic formation that it primarily provides. Last November, around 12 students participated in a tour around Nara Park and visited three historically and culturally significant places: Todaiji Temple, Kasuga-Taisha Shrine, and the Nara National Museum. Both Todaiji Temple and Kasuga-Taisha Shrine are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites and are extremely popular for tourists. And what makes this trip even more appealing? It was free and featured English-speaking guides! They helped us better appreciate the history and culture behind these incredible centers of Buddhism and Shintoism during the period when Nara was still the capital of Japan around 1300 years ago.

View of Nara City from Nigatsu-do Hall. One can easily recognize the roof of Todaiji Temple from here

Two of thousands of Nara’s famous deer dueling even with their antlers cut off

The students gathered in the familiar fountain in Kintetsu-Nara Station and were split into two groups, with each group designated an English-speaking tour guide.

The monk called Gyōki Bosatsu standing in the middle of the Kintetsu-Nara Station fountain

The first stop for this trip was Todaiji Temple (東大寺), which houses the Big Buddha (Daibutsu, 大仏), the largest bronze Buddha sculpture in the world! Todaiji is also known for being one of the largest wooden structures in the world. Here, we learned a bit about the history of Buddhism in Japan, and how it greatly influenced the Japanese society during the Nara period. We also learned about the significance of the pindola wooden sculpture just outside the Great Buddha Hall (Daibutsuden, 大仏殿). It is believed that if you have some pain in some part of your body and you touch the same body part of the sculpture, your pain will go away. For example, if your feet hurts, you should touch the feet of the pindola. That’s pretty cool, isn’t it?

Group photo just before entering the Daibutsuden

Todaiji’s Big Buddha, the largest bronze sculpture of Buddha in the world!

Wood sculpture of a devoted monk who is believed to possess healing powers

After this, we did a little hike to the east to Nigatsu-do Hall, which is still part of the Todaiji Temple complex. Here, one can admire an amazing view of the city of Nara. An important cultural event associated with repentance called Shuni-e (修二会), which literally means Second Month Service, involves the monks carrying burning torches in the balcony of Nigatsu-do Hall. People believe that when a spark of fire falling from the balcony hits you, then your sins will be cleansed. The tour guide mentioned that this ritual has been performed uninterruptedly since the completion of the hall around 770 AD, even during the war.

Nigatsu-do Hall during fall

The tour guide giving a short quiz about the Nara deer

The second stop for this cultural trip was Kasuga-Taisha Shrine (春日大社), which is built on the mountainous area believed to be the home of the Shinto gods. The popular Nara deer, which are revered to be messengers of the Shinto gods, freely roam this area, as well as in Todaiji. The tour guide taught us how to properly pray in a Shinto shrine and some students got to try it! The hundreds of lanterns lining the walkway are lit only twice in a year. It makes a spectacular view during these two rare occasions, according to the tour guide.

The lantern-laden approach to the sacred Kasuga-Taisha Shrine

The main entrance to the praying hall of Kasuga-Taisha flocked by many tourists

After sightseeing in these two world-renowned spots, we proceeded to the Nara National Museum to learn more about the history of Buddhism and Nara as an ancient capital of Japan. The museum houses several masterpieces of Buddhist sculptures made of wood, bronze, and other materials. There was an enormous number of Buddhist sculptures in the Nara Buddhist Sculpture Hall, there’s literally one in every corner and direction! It was such an immersive experience to learn more about the prominent role that Buddhism played in ancient Japan.

East entrance of the Nara National Museum building showing a distinct architectural style

After this, the German intern in my lab (who is enjoying Japan so much, so far) and I wrapped up the day by having one of the best tonkatsu I’ve ever tried in Japan (in my personal opinion). At the end of it all, our stomachs, minds, and hearts were all full and delighted. NAIST has delivered yet another amazing tour for its students and we can’t wait for the next one!

Group shot with the tour guides before we parted ways

PS: For anyone who wishes to participate in NAIST-sponsored events like this, just watch out for the e-mails. They’re there! Don’t ignore them and be quick in replying because slots always fill up quickly!

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