Helen Jones reports on an EC-sponsored programme that immerses Europeans in Japanese culture
D es Carberry spends eight hours a day learning Japanese and then, once he's braved one of the most crowded public transport systems on earth, he goes back to his Tokyo flat to start on his homework.

Mr Carberry is one of 50 European nationals on the Executive Training Programme, which is sponsored by the EC in a bid to build up a stock of European managers able to speak Japanese who can spearhead exports to Japan.

He will spend 18 months immersed in Japanese language, culture and business practices, including six months on placement with two Japanese companies, before taking up a role in Japan for his employers Royal Sun Alliance.

The programme, which is in its 17th year, is challenging. Mr Carberry says: "It's very, very tough. I speak French and Italian but learning Japanese is vastly different and it is a real culture shock coming here."

While Mr Carberry is stretched intellectually, his employers are having to foot some of the bill. The EU pays pounds 90,000 for each participant, which covers the course, tuition fees and administration. It also provides a settling in allowance of about pounds 3,500 and a monthly allowance of about pounds 2,400. The cost of living in Tokyo is high and if participants lived very frugally they could just scrape by on the EC allowance. However, John Patrick, of PA Consulting, who is involved in selecting the participants on behalf of the EC, says: "That is not acceptable. Companies have to make a commitment to the people they send on the programme." They are expected to top up the EC allowance by a minimum of pounds l,500 a month and pay for all airfares.

Mr Patrick adds: "Anyone coming on the scheme has to be aware that the standard of living will be like that of an MBA student rather than a full ex-pat package - we are not talking about palatial apartments."

As well as having to sponsor the employee, participating companies must be prepared to lose his or her skills for 18 months. Mr Patrick says: "It is a very demanding course and there is no time for participants to do business for their companies on the side. But the long-term rewards are high."

Steve Lewis, head of law firm Denton Hall's Tokyo office, recognises this. "We are involved because we want to win more business from Japanese clients. We want to persuade them to draw up contracts using English rather than American law. I can't speak good enough Japanese but the cost of putting me on the course would be too high because I am a partner and it would lose income for the firm." Instead, Denton Hall is sponsoring Mark Stableford, 27, a recently qualified solicitor. He says: "It's a very valuable course but far tougher than I expected. I get no free time, but I'm still enjoying it."

John Patrick is currently selecting the next batch of candidates. He is looking for people aged between about 24 and 42. They do not have to be brilliant at languages but have to possess the right sort of attitude. "The intention is not to turn out linguists but people who can make a contribution to their businesses," he says. He would also like to receive more applications from women.

Mr Patrick adds: "It is probably easier and less expensive for the sponsoring company if the candidate is single. A spouse or partner doesn't get any right to work so you have to consider what they will do all day while you are studying very intensively."

Mr Carberry, who is 31 and single, says: "The advantage of being single is that I only have myself to worry about. If I had come with someone else I would worry about how they would cope. The programme is very tough so you wouldn't get to see much of them. But on the other hand, it can be quite lonely at first here on your own."

However, David Morgan, marketing services manager for precision instruments company Renishaw, who went on the course several years ago says: "There is great camaraderie among course members so there's a good social side."

Mr Morgan said that perhaps the hardest part of the course was his placement with a Japanese company. "Nobody spoke English and I had to drum up all the conversation with my colleagues. The Japanese are quite content to leave you to your own devices so to get the most out of it I had to keep talking to them. I would go home at the end of the day totally exhausted.

But despite the intensity of the course so far no one has ever dropped out. Mr Carberry says: "I would recommend it to anyone. It is a fantastic opportunity not only to learn the language but also to meet Japanese people and the other course members from all parts of Europe. It is brilliant for networking."

For further details contact John Patrick at PA Consulting 0171-730 9000. Closing date: end of August.