Rio Saijo: 'Changing my surroundings to change myself'

Jos Eertink Reading time Minutes

Rio Saijo, research exchange student at Saxion, is an all-rounder. He is taking a master’s degree, is learning English, is involved in two study programmes and will soon be starting the minor course in Industrial and Sustainable Building. He is simultaneously working on a project that he developed together with his supervisor and professor in Japan. And that’s not even mentioning the cultural challenges facing Rio in the Netherlands. High time for a chat with a pioneering student and his supervisor at Saxion, Professor Christian Struck.

Driven, considered, but also friendly. These are just a few words that can be used to describe Rio Saijo, research exchange student from Japan. We meet him the day after a snowy night in the Netherlands. Rio walks into the meeting room with his coat on and a black beanie on his head. It is clear: this is someone who is on the move. Not only form Japan to Europe, but from challenge to challenge. Rio introduces himself: “Originally I studied Facility Management and Building Technology in Japan. I was looking for a university or institute that focuses on building technology or sustainable building. The company where I was working part time, FM SYSTEM, suggested that I should come to the Netherlands.”

Two research projects

In the meantime we have been joined by Christian Struck, Professor Sustainable Building Technology. He is one of the Saxion staff who supervises Rio during his stay in the Netherlands. Rio has another supervisor in Japan and that is more than welcome, considering he is working on two parallel research projects, one at Saxion and remotely on one back home. In Japan he is supervised by Professor Ichinose, whose main focus is building equipment.

Rio’s work is important to our research group.

Christian Struck, Professor Sustainable Building Technology

About his project in the Netherlands, Rio says: “I carry out research with help from Christian and his team members.” He has a weekly meeting with Christian, and between these he can ask and get information from other colleagues in his work group. One of the questions that Rio has already worked on concerns the functioning of the heat pump in the Smart TinyLab at Saxion. To work on this he needed access to the data generated by the heat pump.

“Rio’s work is important to our research group,” explains Christian. “He is working on a specific part of a larger research project that contributes to the development of our future competences. Rio is helping us develop these competences. These are specifically concerned with the development of simulation models and integrating these into building management systems. He does his case study in the lab. The ultimate goal of Rio’s stay in the Netherlands is to produce a journal paper.

Small talk

As we talk about producing a journal paper it even starts sounding like nothing special. While of course it most certainly is. Even more so when you consider all the challenges a research exchange student like Rio comes up against. During the course of the conversation it becomes clearer that it is not about ‘accidental challenges’, but rather many yet separate destinations. Besides producing a journal paper, Rio is busy learning English, is simultaneously contributing to two research projects and is immersing himself in Western European culture which is certainly different to say the least.

This is the first time that I’ve been overseas for a longer period. Everything is new to me, everything is different compared to Japan. The atmosphere at Saxion is very lively.

Rio Saijo, research exchange student

When asked what struck him most when he first arrived in the Netherlands, Rio replies: “This is the first time that I’ve been overseas for a longer period. Everything is new to me, everything is different compared to Japan. The atmosphere at Saxion is very lively. People talk to each other everywhere, that was already a surprise for me.” Rio is referring to the small talk that he heard all around him after arriving in the Netherlands. People that ask each other in passing things like: “How’s it going?” It is a kind of conversation that is relatively unknown to him. “In Japan we only have those kinds of conversations in a close-knit community,” he says. “People are very open here.”


Talking of openness, everything about Rio shows that he is happy sharing his experiences, while at the same time he is more considered than most European students. It is something that graces him, as every time he wants to start his story after a brief pause, his reaction is well-considered and to the point. On the differences he experiences as research student in Japan and the Netherlands, he says: “The relationship that I have here with Christian, is more like a relationship you have with a colleague. I can ask him everything on a technical level, but also for example when it comes to cultural differences. He gives me much direct advice. It is not the case that Japanese students have to do everything by themselves; the professor gives us advice when we ask for it. Yet at the same time students are still expected to first think about things on their own.”

It turns out that there is another reason that Rio has his beanie pulled well over his ears: he has an ear infection. This also brings challenges with it: how to navigate your way round the Dutch medical circuit. How can you get to see a doctor here? “I can’t force you,” Christian says winking at Rio, “but I have strongly advised you to see a doctor. I see that as part of the job: if we get you to come here, then we also have to provide you with what you need. Also when it comes to social things, or where you can do your shopping. One of my colleagues gave Rio his old bike. Rio also goes jogging with another colleague. He recently took part in the Urban City Run.

Rio, Christian and colleagues at the Urban City Run in Enschede.


Even though Rio will be ‘completing’ this academic year at Saxion, we nevertheless still take a look ahead. To the question what he wants to take back to Japan, he says surprisingly quickly: “Mentality.” Then he elaborates: “My motivation to come here, was to gain experience of another culture. And to have contact with people who have a different background, even if that is sometimes a practical challenge for me... I have to change my surroundings to change myself.”

Rio is certainly in the midst of that change. “I’ve almost decided to continue with an academic career when I get back to Japan,” he says when we talk about his future plans. “After I’ve got my master’s degree, I want to do a PhD. I find it difficult to look any further than that.” Having said that, he can imagine working in a country other than Japan, and that’s thanks to his experiences as an exchange student. Do these experiences make him stand out in his homeland? Rio: “I hope so. I hope that a stronger mentality has its benefits.”

More about Rio’s research activities in the Netherlands

As research exchange student at Saxion, Rio is busy with Building Information Modelling (BIM). BIM is a standard used for documenting and reporting on building related data. Rio wants to see how this ‘BIM data’ can add value by its application in Building Management Systems. These are systems that regulate ventilation, climate control and lighting. Rio is conducting his own case study in the Smart TinyLab at Saxion.


Jos Eertink

Als redacteur probeert Jos alles wat complex is toegankelijk te maken. Buiten werktijd houdt hij zich het liefst bezig met poëzie en schilderkunst. Hij was de achtste stadsdichter van Enschede, maar rijmt alleen als het moet.

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