1. Why I decided to attend Kyoto Seika University:
I had the feeling of wanting to go to a foreign country since I was a child. When I was a teenager, I went to the U.S. through an exchange program. During my time as a student at Kassel University School of Art and Design in Germany, I had the urge for new experiences again and I wanted to go to a country I had not been to. I spoke with my friend about this and we both agreed that we didn't want to go to an English-speaking country because it would have been too easy. We were thinking about far away countries that would challenge us with a completely different culture. Coincidentally, my teacher at that time just came back from a tour in Japan in which he visited Kyoto Seika University to sign an exchange program partnership.
So we asked my teacher about studying in Japan, and he said that if I was interested, he would help us arrange it. We prepared our application for Seika, applied to study as exchange students, and got accepted. I would say I didn't actually choose Seika. I just ended up in Kyoto Seika University for a semester and loved it enough to reapply as a MEXT research student after graduation
2. What I learned in Kyoto Seika University:
I focused a lot on studying about storytelling. In the beginning, I didn’t speak much Japanese when I came back as a MEXT research student so I was doing a lot of independent studying. Other than storytelling, I learned Japanese culture, Japanese language, and Japanese mythology. It was very interesting because it's very different from what we have in Germany. It’s hard to pinpoint the essential things I learned because the whole environment of Seika enabled me to freely study whatever I wanted to. I thought that a Japanese art school was going to be very strict with a lot of rules. That was my preconception I had about Japan, but Seika is not strict at all.
You're free to do whatever you want to do. With all that freedom, the hard part is to actually find something you want to do. Seika is an artistic playground.
3. The attractiveness of Seika:
I especially liked Seika being so close to the mountains and that switch from the flat city to the mountains. In Germany, a city slowly turns into fields which slowly turns into a forest. However, in Japan, there are streets and then right next to it, there is a big forest. I could really feel the Japanese mythology because there is a very clear distinction between the flat areas you live in and the forests which are really hard to get into because of the steep mountains. There is a sort of secrecy or even something fearful in nature here. That's really when I got the sense of what Miyazaki's movies were about. Princess Mononoke was foreign to me when I was in Germany, but then I came to Japan and it wasn't so foreign at all. Ghibli’s strong connection with the Japanese perspective on nature is very mystical.
Seika’s programs were very different from my school in Germany but not in a bad way. For example, I'm not a Manga reader but when I was taking a Manga course, it was really helpful in giving deeper insight about Manga. Before that, apart from Katsuhiro Otomo, I really didn't know much about Manga. Also, the teachers were very supportive. When I presented my stories, they always said, “It sounds interesting, let's see what we can make of it.”
4. Life in Japan:
For me personally, what I like about Japan is the challenge of living here. In Germany,
I understand everything about the culture because I grew up there. It is too easy. I believe it's good to have the challenge of trying to understand another language and the people. You could say that Japanese people are fragile and that European people are very much about having strength, even towards outsiders. We are accustomed to giving each other a lot of criticism in our culture. You cannot force your opinion in Japan. Communication in Japan requires you to maintain harmony and try to circumvent any problem, always trying to reach an agreement in one way or another. In the beginning, you don't realize things like this at all. You talk to Japanese people in a strong tone, and they usually won't give you a reply. After getting to know them, you may be surprised that they become very friendly. You really have to learn by experiencing these things. Apart from that, it's actually not a struggle. It's really easy to live in Japan. It's safe and it's clean. People are completely fine here and they accept you for your difference.
5. The impression of working in Japan:
I do know that there are a lot of prejudices about working in Japan. You work long hours until you drop. However, coming from a freelance standpoint, it's fun. It doesn't matter which work you do, work is always hard. In my company, I don't have a mean boss that would push people around. Everybody is really friendly. In Western companies, people assume you don't think about the work if you don't express your opinion. They want to see that you're engaged and that you want to be involved in everything. In Japan, it's a lot more passive. It's not harmful like most people imagined. I am working as a character designer and very happy with the environment where I can be completely absorbed in my work.
6. Future prospects:
Honestly, now, I reached the long-lived dream. Ever since I was 20, I wanted to do the work I'm doing now. It took me 12 years from when I decided I wanted to work for a game company and I'm finally here. I have reached a milestone and I am not much of planner, so I don't know what's next. For now, I'm really happy with the work I'm doing and I want to stay in this company for a few more years at least.
7. A message for prospective students:
I think if anyone has an opportunity to come to Japan for a few years, it would most likely be very different from life in your own home country. It's going to be an amazing experience and it will broaden your horizon. It even influences you to the core. For example, if you are an oil painter and study Japanese language here, I'm sure that will greatly influence your approach in painting from a technical standpoint. If you have an opportunity, don't hesitate. When I graduated from high school, a teacher once said, "If you can, travel, and go as far away as you can." I'm not brave enough to start my own company, but I am brave enough to come to Japan and I think more people should take that opportunity to leave their own country and experience a different culture.