It’s totally worth it! – Go Abroad

Ending her studies in Japan on the Student Exchange Program, Phuong Tran shares her final thoughts living and studying in Tokyo. The challenges, the struggles, but also the new unforeseen opportunities that these brought and the better experiences she gained as a result.

I have just returned home and have some time to reflect on my experiences in Japan, I realize that I have failed to accomplish about half of the things I had planned. Am I disappointed? Only a little, because I have gained something else, which is even greater.

My student exchange, of courses, did not include only pleasant experiences. The first upsetting thing occurred to me even before I left the U.S. I was told that the dorm was full, and I had to find accommodation somewhere else. Finding another apartment was not that hard, but the total cost was almost doubled. More importantly, it had made it hard to communicate and hang out with other students who were staying at the dorm. There were times when I could not go to some events because the time and location were not convenient for me. I really wished that I had been accepted into the dorm so that I could have built a stronger bond with other international students.

My second disappointment was about school. When I did my interview for the program, the interviewer asked me what I would do if I could not take all the classes I had planned to take. I said I had another list of classes to substitute. However, that was easier being said that done. During the school orientation, I was kind of panic when being told I could not sign up for the two most-looking-forwarded-to classes, Business Communicating and Business Project, because of the schedule conflicts, my early-return request, and the class’s capacity. I pulled out my substitute list, but again, most of them could not fit into my schedule or not being offered this semester. I ended up taking two random business courses in order to fulfill the credit requirement.

With all those being said, I felt clueless and frustrated in the beginning of the program. Now that I think back, my problem was that I got fixated on a few objectives. Actually, after school started I soon realized I should not have been too worried. I did not have to look hard, new opportunities to learn and adventure came to me one after another. And all of these unforeseen invitations were what made my exchange’s experiences so wonderful.

As I mentioned earlier, I failed to get into my preferred business courses and thought that I could not be able to learn the “business culture” anywhere else. Fortunately, the other courses I got into also emphasized on group work and interactions between cultures. I appreciated that my professors assigned students into groups that had both international and Japanese students. We could not choose to work only with friends, but also new people, especially the ones from completely different cultures. Also, I was able to got a part-time job at school, which taught me the basic Japanese business etiquettes. Furthermore, there were many career events offered to international students either on or off campus. My most favorite one was the visit to Oak Lawn Marketing’s office, during which I could see an actual workplace and even participate in creating the marketing plan for a new product.

My Japanese teacher and classmate. We came from all around the world (France, Australia, Indonesia, Thailand, America, etc)

My Japanese teacher and classmates. We came from all around the world (France, Australia, Indonesia, Thailand, America, etc)

I had to admit that sometimes I felt lonely for staying in an apartment apart from others. However, I have met people whom I want to befriend for life. Also, the International Office at Rikkyo did a wonderful job on keeping us busy. They offered us many opportunities to experience tea ceremony, Ikebana (Japanese flower arrangement), Christmas parties, city tours, etc. After experiencing all of these exciting activities together, it was hard not becoming friends. When I first came to Japan, it took me a long time to get to my apartment carrying a big suitcase by myself, but when I left, my new friends helped me carry my luggage, which had been doubled in size, up to the gate. Just thinking of that made me feel so happy.

A trip to Asakusa with other international students. (The trip was organized by Rikkyo's COBBY group)

A trip to Asakusa with other international students. (The trip was organized by Rikkyo’s COBBY group)

Beside that, staying in an apartment has not only taught me many things about living in Japan but also helped me improve my language skills. In fact, except at school, I only communicated with people in Japanese. If I had stayed at the dorm, there should have been someone I could ask for help, but living alone, I had to deal with all issues by myself. Actually, Rikkyo’s International Office provided many resources to support my life there. However, they were not always available and it took time to arrange a Japanese student to assist me. Thus, I had to go to the city office, bank, etc. by myself to complete all necessary paperwork. My thought was “Lets go see if I can handle this. If I can’t get things done, then I will ask for help later.” I was so worried at first but then I gained more and more confidence in using Japanese. Also, never once I felt I was treated unfairly for not speaking Japanese well. Japanese people are very very friendly and helpful, I can assure you that!

I still think having a clear objective for going abroad is a good thing, but now I believe that keeping an adventurous spirit and being open-minded is more important. In the end, we cannot predict our days in a foreign environment as accurate as when we are home. No need to be obsessed with the plan. My stay in Japan has taught me so, and now I appreciate all the experiences I had over in Japan, even for the unpleasant ones. If I had to talk about the study aboard experiences in only a few words, I would say, “It’s totally worth it.”

About the Author: Phuong Tran, Senior, Accounting and Japanese. Student Exchange Program- Japan.

Business Exposure in Japan at the OLM DAY 2015 Event

Phuong Tran shares her experience, attending the OLMDay2015 event in Tokyo, while she studies in Japan on the Student Exchange Program. She expanded professional networks and got insight of Japanese business, all thanks to being awarded one of Japans’ Bridging Scholarships.

I considered myself lucky for being one of the recipients of the Bridging Scholarships, which was funded by various private foundations and major U.S. corporations. The best thing about receiving this scholarship was that I received not only financial aids but also opportunities to attend professional events during my time in Japan. Back in December 2015, I was invited to participate in the OLMDAY2015 event at Oak Lawn Marketing’s office in Toranomon, Tokyo. The OLMDay2015 event was sponsored by Oak Lawn Marketing Inc., and offered to American students who received an OLM scholarship through the United States-Japan Bridging Foundation for studying in Japan.

During the event, me and three other students were given an introduction presentation on the company’s background and business, a tour around their office, and had hand-on experience through a marketing workshop, and then a meeting with President Hill.

I was really thankful for this opportunity because this was my first time to visit a Japanese company and talk to the employees who were actually working there. I also appreciated the fact that some of the staffs were from other countries, so they were able to give me an insight on what kind of jobs that foreigners (like myself) could do in Japan, and how they fit in the company’s culture.

The marketing workshop was very fun and exciting. After being introduced to the company’s marketing philosophy “Before After After,” we were divided into groups to create a marketing plan for a “product that is not available on the Japanese market yet” under the guidance of the OLM staffs. We had only about 20 minutes to prepare, which made me very nervous, but the OLM staffs were very friendly and helpful. Everyone in the team had a chance to express our ideas and was willing to do that. We collaborated very well even though we did not know each other before.  Then we presented our plan to the marketing director and received feedback from him.

The experience that had the most impact on me was the meeting with Mr. Hill, a very passionate businessman from America. I asked him about the company’s participation in the post-disaster recovery because the incident was one of many things that had ignited my interest in Japan. Back in 2011, I watched news about the situation in Japan and was impressed on how Japanese citizens got together in order to overcome the disaster. However, I was impressed at how the president addressed the issue from the viewpoint of a businessman. According to him, one of OLM’s significant contributions in reviving the economy in the area was continuing their business and creating jobs. I agreed with Mr. Hill that businesses should aim for profit even in such situation, and by doing that they could benefit the whole community.

The visit was very helpful for me as well as other students since we were all interested in working in Japan in the future. The staff was very friendly and answered all of our concerns about working in Japan, such as over-time work and how to communicate with other Japanese co-workers. From my observation, Oak Lawn had a diverse and American-like culture, especially in their Sales and Marketing branches, which was understandable since the company was founded and directed by an American. I sometimes felt concerned about whether or not I could actually work in a Japanese company, but after this visit, I felt like I had an idea about what to look for in a company in the future.

On the other hand, I feel that we were busy with many things to do in such a short amount of time. I wish we had more time to sit down and have conversations with the OLM staffs. Nevertheless, OLMDAY2015 was a wonderful experience, and I appreciated the company for providing me this opportunity to learn about business in Japan.

OLMDAY2015

OLM’s office and my team during the marketing workshop.

The event was also reported on the company’s website here.

About the Author: Phuong Tran, Senior, Accounting and Japanese. Student Exchange Program- Japan.

Student Life at Rikkyo University

Peak into Phuong Tran’s student life at Rikkyo University in Tokyo, Japan. Join her as she dives into the unique and fascinating culture of Japan as she studies there for the semester.

My name is Phuong Tran, and I am currently an exchange student in Tokyo at Rikkyo University. I share in this post of my first month here in Japan on the Student Exchange Program.

This is my first time in Tokyo, and every day I find myself enjoying new and exciting experiences. My days have been unexpectedly busy with school, but there are still many thing I want to participate in but do not have enough time to do.

Currently, I am taking 8 courses at Rikkyo, including 2 business courses, 2 Culture and Literature courses, and 4 Japanese language courses. Each class worth 1.5-2 credits, and  there is only 1 class (1.5 hour) per week for each courses. So far, I enjoy the two Culture and Literature courses the most because of the fun activities we do in class. For example, last week we were divided into groups of two students and performed a short “manzai” (a Japanese traditional style of stand-up comedy) in Kansai dialect.  We wrote the script in Japanese by ourselves first, then the instructor helped us with making the conversation sound more natural in Japanese. Then we performed the script in both Japanese and English in front of the class.

I personally did not think I was very good at doing comedy but it was a very interesting experience. We had people coming from different countries in my class, and I realized we all have different ideas about what makes a comedy “funny.” For examples, my teacher explains that in Japanese “manzai,” the jokes revolve around mutual misunderstandings, double talks, etc. This may be hard for foreigners to understand because we do not know much about the background. However, my European friends created a normal daily conversation script, which did not have any puns at all. I did not think it would be funny at all when I read it on the paper, but the way they performed, it made us all laugh.

I also enjoy the two business courses in a different way. The two classes are offered in English, and the content is not very difficult comparing to a typical course at OSU. However, doing group-work with Japanese students has taught me many things about their culture. For example, the international students are very active during class discussion, while the Japanese students tend to remain silent event when being asked. I find it hard to discuss case problem with them at first, because they keep saying “yes,” “maybe,” or “I think so, too.” However, after we became friends and more open to each other, working in group was a breeze. A tip, I think, is to talk with them about things other than the course work, become friends, then go back to work. It seems to me that my Japanese teammates did not want to share their ideas with people they do not know well. But after they feel comfortable with sharing their opinions, they work very hard and contributed a lot to our project.

The four Japanese language courses are the most time-consuming ones. I am placed in level 5 (out of 8) based on the result of my placement test. Each of the four focuses in a specific skill, including Reading, Grammar, Writing, and Speaking & Listening. The hardest part for me is Kanji, Chinese characters in Japanese. Even though I have finished 4 years of Japanese back at OSU, I only know about 5-600 Kanji, so it takes me a lot of time to do the reading assignments. Since there is no class for Kanji, I applied for the Language Center’s Kanji test at the end of this month and was given extra assignments in order to study for the test. The test is optional and won’t affect my grades, but I have to study really hard for it.

However, I love Japanese language and this is one of the main reason I am here at Rikkyo, so I am trying my best every day. I love the Japanese pronunciation, and being in Japan is ideal for improving my pronunciation. Recently, I find myself often “eavesdropping” on other peoples’ conversations on the train. It is really hard to follow the conversations between native speakers but I hope I would be able to understand more in the end of my stay here.

Every day, I leave home around 9am and won’t return until after 9pm. Even though most of my classes are in the afternoon, I still want to stay at school in order to join other students at Rikkyo’s Global Lounge, which is a wonderful place to make new friends, either Japanese or international students. The Global Lounge is basically a free space with many tables, where Japanese and international students are welcomed to come and leave at any time. Occasionally, we have special intercultural events such as Study Abroad Fair, students’s presentations on their home countries, oversea experiences, and job opportunities after studying abroad, etc.

Global Lounge at Rikkyo University

The Global Lounge at Rikkyo University

Personally, I feel it’s easier to make friend with Japanese students at the Global Lounge than at any other place at school because they are more open and willing to talk to foreigners. At first, I brought my homework with me to the Global Lounge, but then I realized that talking to new friends is more worthwhile there. I applied to be an discussion leader at Global Lounge’s English table and now I am looking forward to my first day doing this job next week.

In general, I find classes are not very hard, but the amount of homework is more than I had expected. However, between the 8 courses I am taking, I find time to join my friends in their course field activities such as a trip to some oldest temples in Tokyo. I feel very comfortable at school and do not feel much pressure about grades. The only thing that makes me upset is that I have to return early in December so I won’t be able to celebrate the end of this semester with my new friends. I have also applied for some extracurricular activities at school (such as taking a Japanese class with a volunteer from Rikkyo Women’s Alumni Association). I am excited for these upcoming events and hoping to share in my next post! 

About the Author: Phuong Tran, Senior, Accounting and Japanese. Student Exchange Program- Japan.

Last day in Bangkok

I can’t believe our GAP experience is almost over. The last three weeks have been such a great experience. I have learned a lot about team work and professionalism, as well as Thai people, Thai culture and why they are so much better off than Vietnam economically.

Now heading back to my internship, I hope that the lessons I’ve learned from this trip will help me in my new position. Thank you Fisher for this wonderful opportunity, thank my friend for helping me during the project, and to Thailand: แล้วพบกันใหม่ (see you again).

Some random memories:

Most professional photo

Most professional photo

Thomas was checking out some painting on an ancient house wall.

Thomas was checking out some painting on an ancient house wall.

Free live music in a shopping center

Free live music in a shopping center

 

This city keeps building huge temples every where, something to look forward to for my next visit.

This city keeps building huge temples every where, something to look forward to for my next visit.

 

Last meal in Bangkok, cooked by my girlfriend, taste like home. So delicious.

Last meal in Bangkok, cooked at home. So delicious.

Another side of Thailand

After two weeks in Bangkok, our team decided to expand our experience to some other areas of Thailand during the weekend. However, half of the team wanted the loudness and craziness Pattaya, one wanted the romance of Bali, Indonesia, while I chose Hua Hin, a very quiet and beautiful beach just about 300km (186 miles) from Bangkok.

The place was quite the opposite of noisy Bangkok. We enjoyed some of the most peaceful days since we came to Thailand. The most pleasant experience for me was the people in the town. They were extremely honest and helpful- definitely a great relief from the tuk tuk and taxi drivers in Bangkok. If you enjoy peaceful beaches, nice weather, great street foods and elephants, this is the place to go.

This was the place where we lived in Hua Hin, very nice little hotel we found on Airbnb

This was the place where we lived in Hua Hin, very nice little hotel we found on Airbnb

The elephant was coming to pick us up. 400 baht each ($13) for 20' riding. The name of the elephant was Tuk Tuk, which was really funny as the experience we had with tuk tuk (a kind of motobike taxi) in Bangkok was aweful.

The elephant was coming to pick us up. 400 baht each ($13) for 20′ riding. The name of the elephant was Tuk Tuk, which was really funny as the experience we had with tuk tuk (a kind of motobike taxi) in Bangkok was awful.

 

Tuk Tuk meeting his gang

Tuk Tuk meeting his gang

Camels, ugly animals with beautiful eyes. And they were almost as tall as  the elephants.

Camels, ugly animals with beautiful eyes. And they were almost as tall as the elephants.

Found a nice bar with live music (Jazz and Saxophone) with 5 stars on Tripadvisor. Obviously we didnt understand anything about Jazz, but the place was really cool.

Found a nice bar with live music (Jazz and Saxophone) with 5 stars on Tripadvisor. Obviously we didnt understand anything about Jazz, but the place was really cool.

Colorful Bangkok

After several days of hard work with the team, at last I had sometime to go around and explore the city of Bangkok on a sunny day. What I wanted to see was not the typical temples and touristy attractions, but the normal life of Bangkok. And, I was not disappointed. This city is so vibrant, literally. There were so many beautiful things to see and bright colors were everywhere. I truly felt thankful to the GAP program for this opportunity. Without it, I would probably have come to Thailand on a standard tour (which is very very popular in Vietnam) and missed the real attractions of this wonderful city.

Enough for the lengthy introductions, here are the pictures:

The statue outside of the Central World, biggest shopping center in Bangkok

The statue outside of the Central World, biggest shopping center in Bangkok

Thai people love Aston Mini, I love them too

Thai people love Aston Mini, I love them too

Cute elephants.

Cute elephants.

Outdoor shopping area

Outdoor shopping area

IMG_0396

What I hate the most in Bangkok is the traffic. It is even worse than that in Vietnam. However, this traffic jam looks really good in the picture. :)

What I hate the most in Bangkok is the traffic. It is even worse than that in Vietnam. However, this traffic jam looks really good in the picture. :)

People queing to wait for the bus. This is not something you will ever see in Vietnam.

People queing to wait for the bus. This is not something you will ever see in Vietnam.

Adding some colors to the street of Bangkok

Adding some colors to the street of Bangkok

Random photo of my  team mates going to a client interview. Just to keep this post work-related. :))

Random photo of my team mates going to a client interview. Just to keep this post work-related. :))

To be honest, before I came here, I expected the city to be the same as Sai Gon, Vietnam, but I was totally wrong. Bangkok is like Sai Gon on steroids. It has been a wonderful experience, and I will definitely come back here someday in the future.

#Shanghaibody

After a fun Saturday night, we had the chance to sleep in on Sunday and cut into our sleep debt! After awaking, we met six of Dandan’s friends from Shanghai for Dim Sum at 11 am. The food was INCREDIBLE. Yes- most of our team’s blog posts have been about food, but that is because what we eat here is just so amazing (#shanghaibody). At our Dim Sum brunch, we had round after round of appetizer type treats, with Dandan and her friends doing the majority of the ordering and the rest of us doing the majority of the eating.

One round of dim sum!

One round of dim sum!

In the afternoon, we all went different directions. Yuming and I went to the Yu Garden, one of Shanghai’s main attractions. It was beautiful and serene, in stark contrast with the rest of the city which is made up of sky scrapers and modern buildings. It was also FILLED with people, and the street vendors were going crazy. With the help of Yuming, I practiced my negotiation skills and was able to buy some reasonably priced souvenirs, and Yuming and I got in our average ten miles of walking in a day.

Yu Garden

Yu Garden

yu2

Just a few thousand people

Just a few thousand people

We all met up for dinner at yet another mall food court, which sounds inauthentic. But, the food courts are filled with all sorts of different types of real restaurants, and are absolutely incredible. It also allows us to satisfy our different cravings (i.e. chicken feet and tendons for Yuming, spicy everything for Ian and John, American food for Neel, traditional for Dandan, and anything not spicy or too eccentric for me).

Words Aren’t Enough

One of the most constant comments that we have heard from Kurt Roush is that GAP would be the best experience we’d have at Fisher. He is definitely right. It’s hard to put into words how amazing this May has been, but I will do my best.

China is amazing. I have never seen so many people, viewed such tall buildings, or eaten so much great food. Every day has been a new adventure, from learning new words in Mandarin to exploring a new part of the city. You would need years to see all of Shanghai. And, it is only one of the incredible cities here! I can’t wait to come back to this country (although I am really looking forward to clean air!).

Which brings me to my next point: international work. I knew from the time I was a junior in high school that I wanted to work internationally. This experience has only made my desire stronger. I love learning about new cultures and actually living in them, rather than just being a tourist. And, the work itself has been so useful. I have less work experience than most of my MBA counterparts, and these three weeks have given me such great insight into corporate life, and my rate of learning feels exponential. From scope creep, to strategizing, to meeting with upper management, I have taken it all in, and am so thankful for the exposure.

I am going to end with the most important part of my GAP experience: my team. I have been on many teams—from sports, to consulting projects, to academics teams—and this team has definitely been one of the best. Each individual brought something unique to our group, and every single person had a shining moment during the process. Whether it was John enlightening us with his endless understanding of the U.S. healthcare system, Yuming expertly creating the slide that was central to our project, Neel asking thoughtful, unique questions to our client, Dandan translating all Chinese articles for us, or Ian being the diplomatic, incredibly intelligent, client manager that he is, each individual contributed greatly to our success. And, it goes beyond the actual project. From Yuming wechatting (we are totally bringing this to the US) all day, Ian being one of the most sarcastic, funny people I’ve met, Neel constantly trying to convince us to go to McDonald’s, John slipping in hilarious, unexpected jokes, and Dandan literally saving our lives on a daily basis, we had such a great time together. All the second years warned us that we would get sick of each other and people would need space, but this didn’t happen to us. The final Thursday of our project, working on only a few hours of sleep and in crunch time, was the first time that we had any visible tension. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to work with. None of us were super close before this trip, but I look forward to going back to Fisher with five new friends.

Team Philips!

Team Philips!

2 hours of sleep, 2 hour presentation, 2 people left!

Friday was a rollercoaster of emotion, from frustration to joy to pride to sadness. It started at the Philips office, where we worked until 1 am, finishing our 140 page slide deck and our prezi for our 8 am presentation. This culmination of an 18-hour workday on Thursday led to the first, albeit minor, tension in the Philips group, as people fought passionately for their personal preference of slide formatting and graphics. The hour ride taxi ride back to the hotel (apparently in Shanghai it is literally “rush hour” 24 hours a day) gave us barely enough time for 2 hours of sleep, before our agreed-upon (not completely willingly) departure time of 4:30 am.

Take out Korean food for dinner during our 18 hour work day

Take out Korean food for dinner during our 18 hour work day

After some final editing and another practice run, we were ready to present to the CEO of Philips Healthcare China, Dr. Desmond Thio (OSU MD), as well as the head of strategy, the head of R&D, and a few others. We planned for an hour presentation, including questions. This turned into 2+ hours of lively discussion, and we couldn’t have been happier. They were genuinely interested in and impressed by our work, and couldn’t believe how much we had done. It made all of the long meetings the last 12 weeks completely worth it. We can’t delve into details per our NDA, but let’s just say we hit a few points right on the money!

Team Philips with Philips employees post presentation!

Team Philips with Philips employees post presentation!

Our client contact, Andrea, took us out for Korean hot pot after the presentation, sans Dandan who decided to spend her last night at home in Nanjing. Neel, Ian, and John then went to the airport, and Yuming and I took much needed naps. We then had a great final night in Shanghai, which lasted until 5 am, meeting up with the CVG team and exploring some new areas of Shanghai nightlife.

Korean Hot Pot!

Korean Hot Pot!

The last two...

The last two…

I can’t believe this amazing journey is over.

Hump Day Dumplings!

Wednesday was another productive day for the Philips team. We had a great meeting with two folks from the R&D department, who gave us more insights into what product and service sectors Philips is looking to expand. We also took advantage of the white board that Dandan ordered for us on TaoBao (think Chinese Amazon, but cheaper and with more options), and dove deeper into our actual presentation by coming up with a detailed outline. The hard work we did in the US is really paying off now, because we are able to focus all of our energy on putting everything together and making a quality presentation!

Hard at work!

Hard at work!

For dinner, we met up with half of the CVG team at Tian Zi Fang and explored the giant food court. We had the best fried dumplings in Shanghai at Yang’s Dumplings, and some of us also got some sushi! We did some shopping at local craft shops in the area, and also enjoyed some Tsingtao. Dandan’s best friend from college also came out after dinner, and they haven’t seen each other in four years! On the way home, John, Neel, Ian, and I had our own adventure. We got off the subway at the wrong stop and wandered around a street filled with Gucci, Armani, and Tiffany stores for about two miles before Neel got us back on the right track. Just a typical night in Shanghai!

Obama/Mao gear was everywhere

Obama/Mao gear was everywhere

Dandan found some new sunglasses!

Dandan found some new sunglasses!

Best billboard we've seen so far

Best billboard we’ve seen so far

We discovered an editing app that Chinese girls use to edit their faces for dating sites, called "Meituxiuxiu" and here is how we edited Yuming!

We discovered an editing app that Chinese girls use to edit their faces for dating sites, called “Meituxiuxiu” and here is how we edited Yuming!