Special to Arab News
Mohammad Matouq, 26, remembers when he first arrived in Tokyo from Jordan. “It was a cultural shock for me,” he told Arab News.
But Matouq, who had won a scholarship to finish his studies in Japan, overcame his initial cultural shock, learned the language and stayed until he received his Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Nagoya University.
Not only was he able to benefit educationally, but Matouq decided to stay and work in Japan. Ten years later, he returned to Jordan to take a senior position at Al-Balqa Applied University.
Matouq, who now heads the Jordan Japan Academic Society, said the scholarship was a life-changing experience.
“I learned so much from the Japanese, including how to think clearly and be patient before making any important decision,” he added.
Matouq said the Jordan Japan Academic Society includes students who have received their master’s degrees and doctorates, and who benefited from scholarships provided by Japan’s government.
The returnees now teach and work throughout Jordan, and have become a key constituency for Japanese investments in the country.
Nidal Dabbas, spokesman for the Jordan Investment Commission, said the Japanese government’s scholarship and training programs have been extremely beneficial to Jordan.
“These programs have enriched our society, and allow us to better understand Japanese culture and business thinking,” he told Arab News.
“Jordanians who have spent time in Japan, many of whom can speak Japanese, have become perfect bridges,” he said.
“Just imagine how ice is broken once you have a person in Jordan speaking to an investor from Japan in their own language.”
Jordanian graduates from Japanese universities, as well as hundreds of public servants who spent three to six months in Japan, have become an important link between the two countries.
The longstanding relations between Jordan and Japan received a major boost last November when the two countries signed an agreement to promote and protect investments.
The agreement was signed in Tokyo by Japan’s foreign minister and Jordan’s minister of planning and international cooperation, in the presence of Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Jordan’s King Abdullah II. The agreement aims to bolster a thriving Japanese investment portfolio in Jordan.
Malek Twal, head of the Asia desk at Jordan’s Foreign Ministry, told Arab News: “While we look forward to furthering financial investment in Jordan, what we badly need is technological exchange, and learning from one of the world’s financial giants how they work.”
Matouq said: “We need to learn from our Japanese friends basic concepts such as teamwork, following systematic procedures and long-term planning.”
Dabbas said there are many successful Japanese investment projects in Jordan, including in the energy, IT and mining sectors.
Dabbas expressed hope that the investment agreement will alleviate Jordan’s employment crisis, especially among the youth.