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4th year international student and social media influencer Jerome Polin aims to change Indonesia’s education system

“No matter how many times you fall, always get back up”

Jerome Polin, School of Fundamental Science and Engineering, 4th year

Jerome Polin is an Indonesian YouTuber, whose channel “Nihongo Mantappu”— which means “Japanese is the best”—has 7.41 million subscribers (as of September 21, 2021). Jerome has become immensely popular by posting videos that help Indonesians learn Japanese in a fun way, as well as videos about mathematics, which he studies at university. In addition to being a YouTuber, he has been active as an influencer in both Indonesia and Japan. In April 2021, Forbes, an American business magazine, selected him and his brother for the “30 under 30 Asia” list, which recognizes Asia’s top entrepreneurs under 30 years old. Jerome faced numerous failures and hardships, and put in immense efforts to achieve success. We talked to him about the inspiration behind starting his YouTube channel, his university life, and future aspirations.

-First, please tell us how you came to study in Japan.

I wanted to study abroad since I was in elementary school. However, my family’s financial situation made that difficult; hence, the only way I could study abroad was through scholarships, for which I studied hard for many years. Subsequently, I was selected for the “Mitsui Bussan Indonesia Scholarship Fund” for Indonesians, and came to Japan in 2016 after graduating from high school. I did not originally intend to study in Japan, but once I started studying here, my life was so exciting each day—from studying at the university with my friends to learning about Japanese culture, and I am very happy with my decision to come to Japan.

-Why did you start creating videos for YouTube?

I wanted to teach Japanese to Indonesian people. There are many people in Indonesia who are interested in Japan and travel here because of the influence of anime and other aspects of Japanese culture. There are also many Japanese language learners; however, only a few can pass the N1, the most difficult level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test. I passed the N1 exam after a combination of studying Japanese for six months before coming to Japan, and a year and a half of studying at a Japanese language school after arriving in Japan. I wanted to use my experience to teach Japanese to people in Indonesia, so I started a YouTube channel in December 2017. After about eight months, my channel had 10,000 subscribers; but YouTube is more popular in Indonesia than it is in Japan, so this number of subscribers was comparatively low. To increase the number of subscribers, I developed content that would encourage viewers to share the videos. By doing this, I was able to increase the number of videos that went viral, as well as my subscriber count.

A frame from a math battle video. Jerome became interested in math when his mother told him that “math can be solved like a puzzle.”

As for the content of the videos, I thought there was a limit to how much my audience would watch if I just taught Japanese; so, I started making videos that introduced famous places and food of Japan, while helping people learn Japanese. I also like math, so I make videos that include battles and quizzes so that viewers can learn math in a fun way. There are also other videos that introduce Indonesian culture to Japanese viewers and vice versa.

-You were selected for the “30 under 30 Asia” list. What are your other projects besides YouTube?

In 2019, I published a book in Indonesia called Mantappu Jiwa, which translates to “Life is Great.” It describes my life from birth to when I started working as a YouTuber. Although I may seem to lead a glamorous life now, I faced numerous hardships and I had to work hard. People seem to empathize with that, so the book became a best-seller in Indonesia.

A post about being selected for “30 Under 30 Asia” on Jerome’s Instagram profile. Q&A Group is his first company, which he founded with his elder brother, that provides educational services using LINE.

In 2018, my elder brother and I established a YouTuber and influencer management company in Indonesia, where I use my experience as a YouTuber to manage other YouTubers and influencers in Indonesia, mainly those with international connections. I focus on creating content, and my brother handles the management side. In April of this year, my brother and I were selected for the “30 under 30 Asia” award by Forbes.

Also, in April of this year, we launched a store in Indonesia that sells fruit tea and other products; we currently have more than 80 stores in 39 cities across Indonesia. I opened the store because I love to eat, and the food-related videos I post on YouTube are very popular. In the future, I would like to try my hand at other types of businesses, such as opening restaurants that serve Japanese food, and creating an apparel brand.

In Japan, I was the first runner of my team in the “Jakarta ‘Kizuna’ Ekiden,” a relay road race held in 2019 to promote friendship between Indonesia and Japan. I am also involved in a project for a local TV station to introduce the amazing scenery and regional products to audiences in Southeast Asia and East Asia. I have been recognized as an influencer with an impact in Indonesia, which is why I am able to do this.

At the book launch for Mantappu Jiwa in Indonesia, which he attended with a friend from Waseda University.

-Are there any ideas you particularly value, or something special you have learned?

My mindset is that no matter how many times I fall, I always get back up. There are many things that went wrong. For example, when I was in high school, I competed in math competitions, and I was not successful initially. But I studied hard and eventually was able to win many competitions. Until you give up, you have not really failed. If you fail, you need to analyze why you failed and try not to repeat the same mistake when the next opportunity comes along. If you reduce the reasons for failure in this way, you will be able to succeed one day.

Left: At a fan meeting in Indonesia. Right: Signing copies of Mantappu Jiwa.

I also learned that, to succeed, you have to do things differently. Doing the same thing as everyone else will not get you any noticeable success. This is why, even on YouTube, I try to make videos that are different from those of others, while using my strengths, like incorporating math topics.

-What was your reason for choosing Waseda University? Also, what are you studying at the university?

When I was attending a Japanese language school here in Japan, I heard about the famous Waseda University, so I decided to apply. I was accepted at the School of Fundamental Science and Engineering and joined in April 2018. As I mentioned earlier, I like math, so I mainly study math at the Department of Applied Mathematics, and I belong to the Matsushima Laboratory, which researches “information theory and its applications.” Recently, I have also started studying data science. At Waseda University, I feel that it is easy to achieve a balance between academics and other activities. Thanks to my many Japanese friends as well as other friends who are international students, I have been able to lead a fun and fulfilling student life. If I had not gotten into Waseda, I might not have been able to work on my YouTube channel the way I do now. I am glad that I could enter Waseda, and I hope that the videos will remain as a memory of my university life in Japan.

Left: Taken in Kesennuma City, Miyagi Prefecture. Right: Shooting a video for YouTube.

– Finally, what are your goals for the future?

I want to focus on YouTube for a while after graduation and get my channel to 10 million subscribers. Also, I have traveled all around Japan, so now I want to go around the world.

After that, I would like to go to graduate school in the US to study education, and in the future, I would like to become the Minister of Education for Indonesia. Education is very important because it is the foundation of everything, but the level of education in Indonesia is still low. I would like to bring back to Indonesia what I have learned in Japan and the US and, as the Minister of Education, improve the level of education. I also hope to be able to work with Japan on some projects. I would be happy if I can be a bridge between Indonesia and Japan.

Episode 796

Interview and text: Waseda Weekly Reporter (SJC Student Staff)
School of Political Science and Economics, 3rd year, Hiroto Yamamoto

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A photo with Jerome’s elder brother (right) who works in Indonesia

Jerome was born in Jakarta, Indonesia, and moved to Surabaya, East Java at the age of six. One of the hardest things about being a YouTuber is the amount of time and effort it takes to prepare, film, edit, and upload videos. Currently, Jerome works with a team at his company to produce the videos, but he always comes up with the ideas for the videos himself. Though Jerome isn’t surrounded by many other international students from Indonesia in his daily student life on campus, he says he is supported by many Japanese friends. “Many Japanese people are shy, so it’s important to strike up a conversation yourself,” he says. His favorite Japanese food is Yokohama-style ramen and tsukemen (dipping ramen noodles). His favorite place is Okinawa, as he is drawn to the beautiful beaches and nature.

Instagram: @jeromepolin
Twitter: @JeromePolin

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