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I am an Economics student, with an interest in Statistics and Data analysis. I recently started my graduate studies, attending a M.Sc. in Economic and Social Sciences at Bocconi University (Milan). The program offers the chance to spend a year at the Graduate School of Economics of Keio University (Tokyo), obtaining a Double Degree (i.e., a Master's Degree in Economics from both universities).

Last year (at the end of my Bachelor), I attended an exchange semester in Korea and I loved the experience. I was challenged by courses that I liked (mainly in Statistics) and enjoyed the exchange student life in East-Asia, with all that comes with it. After coming back to Italy, I am dreaming of moving to Asia for a longer period of time. I am currently studying Chinese and, if I have the chance, I would love to at least spend part of my future career in this part of the world. So I decided to apply for the Double Degree mentioned above.

Now, here comes my dilemma. Talking with my classmates (including those who studied at Keio in previous years), I have heard that attending a year in Japan would not be recommended for someone who wants to pursue a Ph.D. afterwards. The reason is, in short, that Japanese classes are easy compared to the school I currently attend. Apparently, Japanese students have an easy life during their uni years, and so spending a whole year there would disadvantage me when applying for a Ph.D. program in the future.

Although I am not sure about how I want to continue my studies, I also don't want to sabotage any potential application to a good Ph.D. program. Also because, I suppose, my area of specialization (namely, Statistics and Machine Learning) would require such a program for better future career prospects. I have thought of ways in which I could "keep up" with my classmates, e.g. self-studying anything that I would "miss out on" by going to Japan (making use of the good amount of free time I would have there). But would this convince an admission board?

Finally, this choice clashes with personal life as well, since my girlfriend lives in Korea and, by staying in Japan for a year, we would be able to see each other more frequently (we have talked about this). I feel like I am required to make a choice between my personal future goals (i.e. living in Asia) and my career ambitions (i.e. keeping doors open for the future).

I would like to know the advice of more experienced people on this.

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    I suspect a lot of the discussion is going to focus on your premise that Japanese classes are easy. While I don't want this question to become even longer, you may want to give some more detail about why you believe this to be the case. – cag51 Nov 24 '19 at 19:55
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    Whatever you do, be sure to involve your girlfriend in this discussion. (I find it strange that you mention her only at the end of the question.) – user115896 Nov 24 '19 at 20:17
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    You wrote that you went to Korea and liked it a lot, learn Chinese and consider going to Japan. These are 3 very distinct countries with different cultures, languages and academic systems. They probably differ more from each other than say Italy, Poland and Sweden. Don't lump them all together and assume your experience in one will carry over to the others. – quarague Nov 25 '19 at 12:37
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I'm an assistant professor data mining in another EU country.

Suppose that you choose to do this exchange semester at Keio University, and then apply for a PhD position in my lab. What your resume would tell me, is not that you elected to go to a university with relatively simple courses*. Instead, what it would tell me, is that you elected to acquire a double degree, with exchange semesters in two countries on this planet that are both vastly different from your home country and vastly different from each other. That is far from taking the easy road. Instead, you show me that you are willing to go the extra mile, in order to develop your skills more broadly.

This broad development is very important for a prospective PhD student. During your PhD, technical mastery of statistics and data analysis is only part of the required skills: you will need to collaborate with others in the group, clearly communicate your results in written papers and oral presentations, and manage your own professional and personal responsibilities. Going on exchange semesters gives you an advantage on your application. My data mining group encompasses about 50 people, from 18 distinct nationalities; an interest in and experience with a rich variety of cultures is worth much more to me than a perceived relative difficulty of the exact courses that you follow.

Good candidates for PhD positions are scarce. A broad development sets you apart from other candidates, if you choose to apply for a PhD position. If I were you, I would take the experience of going to Japan for a semester. That this aligns well with your personal life is a nice bonus.

*assuming that this simplicity is actually the case, of which I have no knowledge.

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