Interview by Isao Tokuhashi
Edited by Jennifer A. Hoff
Steward Goenardy (Indonesia)
We at My Eyes Tokyo have been listening to the voices of many people from Indonesia, including tourists visiting Japan. And this time, we would like to introduce you to a person who is probably the youngest among them so far: Steward Goenardy, who is engaged in research on microorganisms at a university in Tokyo.
We have mainly met with people who are engaged in business or unique activities in Japan, but we rarely have the opportunity to meet with people who come to Japan for study or research purposes. In this interview, we asked him why he chose to study at a Japanese university and what he’s learned so far from being in Japan, given the recent media reports that Japan is no longer chosen by the world as a first choice to study, work or immigrate.
*Interview at Ikebukuro (Toshima-ku)
Am I an eccentric who came to Japan?
Taiwan is a popular destination for study abroad among Indonesian students. This is because it is considered the most English-speaking region in Asia. Other popular destinations are Germany, Singapore, and Malaysia, where English is understood. Unfortunately, Japan is well considered to be a country where English is not often understood, even in Indonesia. Therefore, I don’t think there are many Indonesians who come to study in Japan like me (laughs and sighs).
I am currently studying microorganisms at the Tokyo University of Agriculture. I have loved animals since childhood and often watched animal documentaries such as National Geographic. Although there were no microorganisms in the programs, I learned programming in junior high school, and when I heard that there is a field of study called “Bioinformatics,” which is a fusion of life science and informatics, I became interested in it and decided to study at Tokyo University of Agriculture, which offers courses in this field.
You might think that I came to Japan from Indonesia to study at the Tokyo University of Agriculture. But actually, that is not true. I came to know about the university only after I came to Japan.
“Dreamland” is not the same as a study abroad destination
I have been immersed in Japanese pop culture since childhood. Anime such as “Gurren Lagann” and manga such as “Yakitate!! Japan,” toys such as TCG (Trading Card Game) and Beyblade, games such as Pokemon and Digimon…
Eventually, as a high school student, I became interested in studying abroad. But I never thought about going to Japan. At the time, I had been gathering information on New Zealand and the Netherlands as study-abroad destinations. I just longed for places where I saw images of rich nature (laughs). I thought that a dreamlike place full of my favorite things and that a good place to study would have to be completely different. But then one day someone asked me, “Why don’t you come to Japan?” It was one of my aunts who is married to a Japanese man and lives in Chiba Prefecture.
I had been unsure of where to study, and yet I was quite a big fan of Japanese culture, so I saw it as an attractive opportunity. After graduating from high school, I spent about 3 months at a Japanese language school in Jakarta, frantically cramming the basics in, and came to Japan in 2019.
I studied at a Japanese language school for another year while staying at my aunt’s house in Chiba, and during that time I came across the Tokyo University of Agriculture as my place of study.
Japan was going through the coronavirus disaster when I was starting my classes, so I didn’t have to go onto the campus in Setagaya-ku, Tokyo, very often. But when I did commute sometimes, it was far from the place where I was staying (laugh), so I finally moved to Tokyo last year (2021).
Japan is not my comfort zone
If you are used to a safe and secure place like Japan, you’ll feel a lack of security in Indonesia. An incident in which spectators rioted at a soccer stadium and many people died was reported in Japan, but that is not so unusual for us back home. Another thing to note is that if you lose something in my home country, you will never get it back.
I returned to Indonesia this year (2022) for the first time in about three years and thought, “I don’t want to go back to Japan anymore” (laugh). But thinking about my university lectures, I returned to Japan after a two-week stay.
I have always been shy and not very talkative. But when I come to a foreign country, I have to open my mouth and express myself to survive. If I stayed with my family, they would take care of everything for me, but in Japan, I have to do everything by myself. Moreover, the language barrier is higher in Japan than in English-speaking countries. That is why I feel that I am growing mentally.
Giving Back to the Earth from Japan
I am now a junior in college, but first I am trying to finish my college degree. I used to be interested in bioinformatics from a technical point of view, but during my second year of college, I became interested in the use of microorganisms in solving environmental problems such as marine debris and air and soil pollution. I was shocked to learn about the current state of the global environment in a lecture I attended at the time, and as a person who lives on the earth, I wanted to do something to give back to it.
I plan to work on research on methane gas in the years to come, and I would like to go onto graduate school to do more full-scale research. In the future, I would like to become a researcher in Japan as a profession. I hope to contribute to solving the world’s environmental problems through my research.
What is Tokyo to you?
It is a place that I have longed for, a place that made me who I am today, and a place that made me discover and achieve my dreams and goals.
What is Japan to you?
It is a place that has changed me.
When I was in Indonesia, I was considered to be a quiet person by those around me. I was bound by this image and I thought to myself daily, “I have to be quiet.” Somewhere in the back of my mind, I always knew that I wanted to change that. But I didn’t dare to do so.
Then one day I decided that I wanted to be more honest with myself. If I want to change myself, I have to change my environment—that’s why I decided to go abroad.
I did not originally set out for Japan with any clear intentions, but even so, by coming to Japan, I was able to break through the “shell” that had confined me. No one in Japan knows about my past. I was already here, so I decided to do what I wanted without worrying about what others would think of me. I will be who I want to become, where I want to be!—That’s what I felt with conviction.
I have lived in Japan with the support and help of my aunt, university professors, and friends. I have also met people from various countries and don’t feel that I am the only foreigner living in Japan. I know that I am not alone.
I am truly grateful to Japan for allowing me to meet such people, who are all “friends” even though they come from different countries and backgrounds.