MASSA’s 3rd Alumni Event Celebrates Lasting Friendships and Expanding Partnerships

On July 22, 2023, the 3rd Meeting of the Malaysia Alumni of Sakura Science Association (MASSA), “Celebrating Friendship and Expanding Partnerships”, was held at the Acappella Suite Hotel in Shah Alam. Co-hosted by MASSA and the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST), about 80 attendees gathered at the venue. The event celebrated a return to in-person meetings and explored some of the many opportunities and paths to Japan available for aspiring Malaysian alumni. As revealed by Dr. CACA in the sharing session, ties nurtured through SSP and SSC have triggered a whole new round of synergy between Malaysia and Japan.

The event was moderated by MASSA coordinator Mr. Muhamad Haziq Bin Shahrom Ravin Daram, who facilitated in a friendly and relaxed manner, punctuating the sessions with fun quizzes featuring Japanese culture and history. For instance, participants were challenged to answer questions about Japan’s national anthem (Kimigayo), the height of Mt. Fuji (3776 meters), and much more.

In her opening remarks, MASSA Head Coordinator Ms. Nur Shakila Binti Muzammir spoke about the background of MASSA, which met for the first time in October 2019 in Kuala Lumpur. Known then as the Sakura Science Club Malaysia, it was rebranded in 2020 and officially registered under the Registrar of Societies of Malaysia. She mentioned that last year (2022) was the 40th anniversary of the Look East Policy, which strengthened bilateral ties between Malaysia and Japan. In light of that, Ms. Shakila affirmed MASSA’s “duty to continue the partnership with the strength and the bond that we have with our Japanese friends.”

Ms. Nur Shakila Binti Muzammir

In his video message, Mr. FURUYA Keiji, President of Japan-Malaysia Parliamentary Friendship Association, lauded the event and its participants. He recently exchanged views with a Malaysian senators’ delegation and he sees a strengthened relationship between Japan and Malaysia in diverse fields such as politics, economics, culture, art, science, and technology. As the head of the Parliamentary Friendship Association, he is committed to boosting the cooperation and exchanges between the two nations. He expressed hope for MASSA to further bolster bilateral communication.

Mr. FURUYA Keiji

His Excellency Mr. TAKAHASHI Katsuhiko, Ambassador of Japan to Malaysia acknowledged the long-standing bond between Japan and Malaysia, nurtured through educational exchanges and close business interactions for decades, including the more than 2,000 young Malaysians who have been invited to Japan since the Sakura Science Program started in 2014. He also mentioned a recent meeting in Kuala Lumpur between Japan and Malaysia’s ministers in charge of higher education, where both sides agreed to further promote people-to-people exchange, including the Sakura Science Program.

Ambassador TAKAHASHI Katsuhiko

Mr. Raymond Tan from the Japan Student Services Organization (JASSO, Malaysia Office) provided a comprehensive overview of studying in Japan, for Malaysian students after secondary school, depending on English/Japanese proficiency. He also explained the admission qualifications for master's and doctorate programs. He mentioned the Examination for Japanese University Admission (EJU), a standardized test for international students wishing to study in Japanese universities, and detailed the language proficiency requirements for different programs.

Mr. Raymond Tan

Dr. Lai Hung Wei, MASSA Coordinator and Chief Advisor to SSC Japan (former SSC Japan Head Coordinator)

In his presentation titled "Embracing the Land of Endless Discovery: A Seven-Year Voyage through Japan's Language, Culture, and Career," Dr. Lai Hung Wei shared his experiences studying and working in Japan over seven years. Dr. Lai was accepted into the Tokyo Institute of Technology in 2016, where he took up photodynamic therapy for cancer treatment. While hard work is essential, Dr. Lai stresses that it's also important to "plan early and always be prepared! Opportunities are available everywhere but it is up to you to grab them."

Dr. Lai highlighted the structured and independent nature of Japanese research and education, but assured attendees that universities support their students in the lead-up to graduation, including career guidance and job placement assistance. He also introduced the Sakura Science Club website, which offers monthly Sakura Mentor Columns on various topics written by Sakura Science members living in Japan and My Way to Japan Columns which provide advice on how to study in Japan, including scholarship opportunities and application tips.

In the Q&A that followed, Dr. Lai was asked about the main challenges he faced during his time in Japan. He said that being alone forced him become more independent and less introverted. Though his research and stay were fully covered by a MEXT scholarship, international students in Japan are allowed to work up to 28 hours per month. Dr. Lai also said maintaining a work-life balance was important, and that he was known for both working hard and playing hard. As long as students have a vision and passion for their work, they too can achieve a satisfying balance.

Dr. Lai Hung Wei

Dr. Che Azurahanim Che Abdullah, MASSA Coordinator

In her presentation "Sakura Science Advancing Research Partnership in Cancer Nanotechnology," Dr. Che Azurahanim Che Abdullah (Dr. CACA hereafter) of the Biophysics Lab at the University of Putra Malaysia (UPM) and also a MASSA Coordinator, spoke about the importance of international research partnerships. Such partnerships are necessary to solve the “hardest problems of pure and applied science". Good partnerships can increase access to resources, research capacity, and even publication dissemination. But clear benefits and incentive structures for both parties must be worked out in advance in order to maintain a lasting relationship.

To illustrate, Dr. CACA shared the story of the formation of a research partnership she and Dr. Lai Hung Wei organized between UPM and Kochi University. Dr. CACA realized the potential for a partnership in her field after a speech by Dr. Lai at a Zoom seminar during the pandemic. The two researchers collaborated over several months, eventually securing a one-week research trip at Kochi University through the Sakura Science Program (SSP).

Malaysian students visited Kochi University, where they observed robotic surgery and photodynamic therapy, interacted with Japanese students, and experienced Japanese culture. Dr. CACA expressed hope that seeing Japan's significant contributions to cancer nanotechnology would inspire the next generation of Malaysian researchers.

Dr. Che Azurahanim Che Abdullah

Mr. Muhamad Haziq Bin Shahrom Ravin Daram, MASSA Coordinator

Finally, Mr. Haziq, the moderator of the day's event, spoke about the benefits of learning Japanese for one's career in Malaysia. He began by introducing the JLPT, the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, which is offered twice a year in five cities across Malaysia.

Learning Japanese even in Malaysia comes with certain benefits, including increased job opportunities, higher salaries, and part-time job prospects. Japanese speakers in Malaysia often work regular hours compared to English speakers who work various shifts. Though it requires discipline and hard work, Mr. Haziq urged the audience to "take this opportunity to make language an additional skill and secure your dream job in the future.” He also referred to the Japanese idiom phrase “nana korobi ya oki” (七転び八起き)─to get back up for the eighth time, even after falling down seven times─literally to overcome difficulties whenever they hit us.

Mr. Muhamad Haziq Bin Shahrom Ravin Daram

Following the Sharing Session, Dr. CACA announced the winners of the video contest. The competition awarded the six videos with the highest number of likes on the MASSA Facebook page:

The winners were:
1) Maryam Nazirah Nazril
2) Nur Azryna Zainal Abidin
3) Dharshini Perumal
4) Intan Fatimah Sasila
5) Ashreen Norman
6) Mohamad Aznan

We extend many thanks to Dr. CACA for taking care of the video contest.

Congratulations to the winners of the video contest and quiz

Later on, all guests and alumni moved to the hotel restaurant to enjoy delicious food while networking earnestly. Lively conversation and laughter broke out from different tables. Mr. ITO Sotaro, Deputy-Director of JST Sakura Science Program Headquarters, congratulated and thanked MASSA for organizing such a memorable event. Dr. Lau Woei Jye, who had extensively supported some administrative aspects of the event, gave the final remarks, thanking all honorable guests, coordinators and alumni who came together to rekindle friendship. The secretariat would also like to voice our wholehearted gratitude to all coordinators who prepared for the event despite pressing official duties. We also extend our sincere thanks to Mr. Raymond Tan of JASSO Malaysia Office who has been providing guidance to SSC alumni on several different occasions.

Mr. ITO Sotaro
Dr. Lau Woei Jye

We wish the best to all attendees and sincerely look forward to seeing you at the next meeting!
The event video compiled by Dr. Lau Woei Jye can be viewed here