Working and living abroad as a visiting researcher
By Zoe Mildon, on 29 April 2016
I am a third year PhD student in the IRDR, my research is focussing on the geometry of normal faults in the central Apennines and the implications for stress transfer during earthquakes. Through my PhD I have travelled many times to Italy to do fieldwork, but my travels have now taken me further afield to Sendai, northern Japan. I am in the middle of a four-month fellowship funded by the JSPS (Japan Society for the Promotion of Science) working at the International Research Institute of Disaster Science (IRIDeS) at Tohoku University, Sendai. I am working with Prof. Shinji Toda to develop a program he wrote, called Coulomb, to model the transfer of stress following an earthquake on faults with variable geometry, specifically the Italian faults that I am studying for my PhD.
At the Institute, I am based in a fairly large open plan office for the Disaster Science Division, with PhD students, Associate and Assistant Professors in the same space. The photo included is of everyone in my office (and my husband) our for dinner together.The atmosphere in the office is a little different to the PhD room at the IRDR, it is very quiet most of the time. Most people in the office can speak a little English, a few speak English very well (including my professor). I can speak and understand a small amount of Japanese, but not enough to hold a decent conversation. My desk is pretty nice, actually I have two desks pushed together so I have lots of space, and I am right by a window. I am enjoying my commute to the university much more than I do in London. In London it takes me an hour to get to UCL from home, whereas here it takes less than 15 minutes by subway, or I can walk (via a Shinto shrine, see the photo with the cherry blossoms in bloom), which takes about 40 minutes.
One of the biggest changes that I have experienced is living space; in the UK I live in a house with my husband, but here in Japan I am living in a large student dormitory. I have my own room, but it is pretty small, just enough space for a single bed, desk and set of shelves. Luckily I couldn’t bring very much stuff over with me, as there isn’t space for much else. The washing and cooking facilities are shared between all the residents (around 60 people, most study at the university) and so are usually quite busy and not particularly clean. But it is all part of the experience, and I have met some lovely people in my dormitory.
Food has been less of a change than I expected. Before I came, I was warned that there wasn’t much western food available and to take some home comforts (which for me was dark chocolate and a jar of peanut butter). But I have been surprised how easy it is to buy western staples like pasta in the supermarkets. There are also two dedicated international food shops in Sendai, but they are more expensive than the normal supermarkets. But I am definitely missing cheese, I probably eat cheese almost every day in the UK. It is available here, but about twice the price for half the amount of cheese as the UK.
I am enjoying Japanese food, and I’ve been taken to some excellent restaurants in Sendai with colleagues. Until about two months before I came to Japan, I was a lifelong vegetarian, but I had made the decision to start eating meat and fish while I was in Japan so that I didn’t have to worry about whether I could a meal out or not. So far I have tried many things, including octopus tentacles (too rubbery), raw sea urchin (surprisingly tasty despite appearances), sashimi (raw fish) and Kobe-style beef. Several places I have stayed or been to, you are simply presented with an evening meal or breakfast, with no choice. So I am glad I made the switch, as otherwise there are occasions that I could have gone without much of a meal.
In my last month in Japan, I will attending the Japan Geoscience Union Annual Meeting (like AGU) in Tokyo. Most of the conference will be Japanese sessions, but there are some English sessions on each day. I will be speaking about my research I have been doing while in Japan, my talk will be in the first session on the first day of the conference. This will be my second international conference that I have presented at, and I am really looking forward it.