Life is an interesting journey that does not necessarily align with our plans, and it sometimes carries us to unknown places. I experienced this and faced an unexpected situation in my education when I first came to Japan. Here, I am going to share with you my experience of tackling the gloomy days.

When we meet unforeseen situations

At the time I came to Japan, I had no previous experience interacting with robots. My major was design and I had spent all my life in art galleries, in the world of colors and papers, dreaming to design new and creative products. But, destiny had designed something different for me, and the story of my studies changed when I came to Japan. My supervisor left Japan one week after I had arrived at Tokyo Tech, and I had to redo the entire lab-seeking process from the beginning. I had spent one year searching for a university, laboratory and supervisor before coming to Tokyo Tech, and all was looking dim after just a few days! It was hectic but I had the opportunity of meeting professors face to face and talking directly with the students. I met different professors, listened to other students’ experiences, and even emailed and met professors of other universities. Finally, the process was finished and I joined to a new lab. However, I did not know that it was the beginning of a new and unexpected path in my education.

My research field changed and I thereafter became involved in human-robot interaction studies. My brain was totally blank in regards to what was going on this field, and I had no experience, previous knowledge, or any ideas for research. Suddenly I found myself feeling hopeless, purposeless, and impotent. The days I spent overthinking things like what I was doing here, what should I do for my future career, what was my role in this research area, what was the benefit of this research for my future, and many other questions that filled my brain and left no space for new ideas and research. I got depressed and felt like I was in the middle of nowhere! It took almost one year to tackle this new situation, and it was during a time I was trying to take my time with taking my supervisor’s suggestions. I shared my burdens with some of my friends and heard about different problems each person had faced. Finally, I chose my research topic, completed the preliminary research, and was ready to meet the robot I was supposed to work with.

My supervisor gave the “NAO” robot (Photo 1) to me to start my experiments. I brought NAO to my office and sat in front of it gazing at its cute eyes. I did not even know how to turn it on! Anyway, I tried to learn working with it, spending nights at the lab, getting help from my friend to program it and make it ready for experiment. I took more time than I normally would, but finally I completed it and started my experiment. However, the story had changed! By this point, I had really fallen in love with NAO like it was a little baby I was training and raising. It was amazing how all those dark and disappointing days evolved to love and eagerness to a man-made creature. Thereafter, I turned into an ardent advocate of social robots (Photo 2). I marveled at the germinating of new interests within me, as my zone expanded to embrace fresh experiences with fervor. I could fight my fears, boundaries, and limitations.

Photo 1: Me and the NAO robot Figure (left), Photo 2: Me and the PEPPER robot (right)

New opportunities appear after hardship

After successfully navigating through the darkest of days, I found myself captivated by the world of robots, eager to delve deeper into their intricacies, and filled with a sense of exhilaration and excitement when I encountered a new robot. I completed my first experiment and am continuing two more, and I am still interested in accomplishing more. Moreover, Japan provides a wonderful opportunity to meet and work with robots. Last year, I had the chance to see one of the largest robot collections in Japan, where 130 robots of 90 different types were exhibited and I could see and touch most of my favorite robots. It was like heaven for me. I want to introduce some of my favorite robots to encourage you to learn more as well. Japan is really rich in the field of robotics and you can find robots and interact with them in cafes, shops, restaurants, airport, stations, etc.

1- Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro, who made a robot that is a copy of himself, is known for his pioneering work with robots. I was lucky to meet him at a local conference in Tokyo, and I also saw his robot at an exhibition (Photo 3).

2- Professor Michio Okada is another inspiring person for me in terms of human-robot interaction, as I really like his robots and the way he develops and designs them. I could see most of his robots at the exhibition, too. It is one of my dreams to be part of his team one day.

3- Lovot (Photo 4) is a very cute and lovely robot that recently became famous in Japan, and we host one in our laboratory too. I had the chance to visit the Groove company’s office and hug Lovot before it was introduced in the market. I and my supervisor, whom I accompanied on the visit, talked with the designers of Lovot. You can also see and touch Lovot at Takashimaya in Shinjuku.

There are many others and everyday I am becoming more interested in discovering new opportunities in this field. This is the new Naeimeh, who previously did not even know how to turn on a robot. When you accept new things, your situation will become much better.

Photo 3: Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro’s robot (left), Photo 4: Lovot robot (right)

Some tips to help you survive and defeat hardships

Finally, I conclude my story by saying that unexpected happenings occur throughout our life or education. I had happy days and sad days, I did not give up, and now I am really interested in what I am doing. I have some tips that may help you as well in similar situations;

1- Don’t attach too much to your plans; see opportunities everywhere: Life cheats us with unforeseen incidents that might bother or disturb us at first, yet they harbor hidden opportunities. Rather than succumbing to fear and disappointment, we must persist, and continue to discover the light. Nowadays, there are many gaps and enigmatic subjects across research fields, prompting the need for exploration and cultivation. These interdisciplinary areas offer a diverse and expansive landscape for inquiry and innovation.

2- Interest is not the main thing we need to follow: From childhood, we are often advised to pursue our interests. However, I experienced something different. Sometimes our interests may be discovered or built during persistent effort and hardship. We should not limit ourselves to only what we like. “Forrest Gump” is a wonderful film which aligns with this viewpoint.

3- Allow yourself to be sometimes disappointed: We may feel bewildered in the ambiguous situations that we have no idea about. However, we need to accept ourselves when we are non-energetic, gloomy, and hopeless on some days. During such times, it is crucial to accept ourselves without fear or self-blame. Instead, we must grant ourselves the gift of time and allow our progress to unfold at its own pace, even if it seems slow. Things will get better very soon.

4- Consult with experienced people: We all need to learn from others’ experiences. However, seeking advice from multiple sources can sometimes lead to confusion, especially in tough and complicated situations. We need to find the right people and consult with them regarding our issues.