The purpose of this article is to examine the personal, academic, and professional experiences of five Japanese university students who did short-term academic internships in three southeast Asian nations. Since students in Japan often associate international opportunities with inner-circle English-speaking countries (e.g. the United States of America or the United Kingdom), this article highlights the perceived benefits of choosing Southeast Asia as an educational destination. In limited published studies, researchers have revealed that Japanese students may gravitate towards Southeast Asia for multilingual language learning opportunities, lower perceived discrimination, and reduced financial costs. This article provides additional insight into the discerned advantages and disadvantages. Data for this qualitative exploratory study include weekly written reflections from students who were in southeast Asian countries from late 2018 to early 2019, followed by a focus group and individual questionnaires in the months following the participants’ return to Japan. Based on thematic analysis of self-reporting, results suggest that the participants found value in their experiences due to the (a) proximity and costs involved, (b) comfort with using a non-native variety of English, and (c) development of intercultural competences and soft skills. More specifically, participants felt that their experiences were less financially burdensome on parents, compared to similar experiences in inner-circle destinations. Also, participants reported feeling comfortable using English as a lingua franca, despite communicating in lower-context environments. This, in turn, contributed to the development of their adaptation, negotiation, and communicative skills. If higher education stakeholders and recruiters can better promote the educational experiences of Japanese university students in Southeast Asia, such as those featured in this article, then it is possible that access and participation may increase in the future.
Keywords: study abroad, overseas academic internships, English acquisition, intercultural competences