Kakehashi Project 7: Big Day Out in Tokyo

A full day in Tokyo, Japan was dedicated to exploring the city! From Asakusa Temple, Harajyuku shopping district, to an observation tower overlooking Tokyo city, the students dive into the unique and interesting capital of Japan.

The sixth day started with Austin eating all of the eggs at the breakfast buffet, as usual. However, this day would be unusual as we would be traveling to different sites around Tokyo and given time to explore. First, we went to Asakusa to visit Sensoji Temple and Nakamise Street. The Sensoji Temple is an ancient Buddhist Temple built in 7th century AD. It was very interesting to see the structure of the different buildings on the larger complex as well as the large crowd we were walking through. We saw many women dressed in yukatas (a summer kimono) taking pictures in front of the different structures. It seemed like this was popular, as some of the shops we passed offered yukata rentals. Just outside of the temple area was Nakamise Street, a large area of street vendors and shops. Some people decided to keep exploring around and made it out to the Sumida river.

Sensoji Temple

Looking out from the Temple, many shops and vendors are set up in the street
Dennis at the Sumida river with the Tokyo Skytree in the distance

The original Pokemon video games (developed in Japan) included a part of the game where players could enter a large department store with many stories and specific groupings of items being sold on each floor. Growing up in the United States, this did not make a lot of sense, but upon visiting Akihbara, it started to make sense. Akihabara’s two main attraction points were a mall and bookstore. The mall was seven floors, with the lower floors resembling technology and department stores and the upper floors having current popular culture branded items (such as Pokemon, Star Wars, and Super Mario). The book store was nine floors tall with different types of manga books on each, though it was very tough for us to decipher the difference between types of manga books because we couldn’t read the language. There were also some sections dedicated to hobbies such as trains and automobiles.

Going up the escalator at the bookstore in Akihabara. This section has books on computers and coding.

We then went to Meiji-jingu Shrine & Harajuku; the Shrine was part of a larger park where many tourists and locals were walking and enjoying the scenery. Meiji-jingu is a Shinto Shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji, who reigned from 1867 – 1912. The shrine was built in 1920.

Entrance to the path leading to Meiji-jingu Shrine

Across the main road next to the park was a small St. Patrick’s day festival (as our big day out in Tokyo happened to be March 17th). Many people living in Columbus have visited the Dublin Irish Festival – the core concept is that a group of first, second, and third generation Irish living in America put on a large cultural festival, complete with Irish dancing, traditional folk music, exhibits, a lot of food, and games like Gaelic football. The festival here in Japan that we stumbled upon was much smaller than the festival in Columbus, but still had much of the same types of stands and presentations; there was a street rugby game, a live band, and some typical Irish food. The most interesting part of this festival, however, was that it was put on by Japanese people (as opposed to Irish immigrants and descendants); everyone in the live band playing the Irish folk music was Japanese. One of the contacts from Japan International Cooperation Center (JICE) told us that they did not know about St. Patrick’s day in Japan until recent years, so it is small but growing as a celebration.

Japanese celebration of St. Patrick’s Day in Harajuku

Harajuku was an extremely crowded shopping district. With the sheer number of people walking around, it felt like being in New York City, but the streets were extremely quiet and peaceful with no shouting, horns honking, litter, or unpleasant smells. One thing that really stuck out was the customer service we encountered. In America, we’re used to retail workers being indifferent (more or less) to their jobs, and it quickly became clear that Japanese retail workers will bend over backwards for customers, requested or not, which was interesting to see. For example, Dennis had finished trying on some shirts in Adidas and went to see some of the shirts back to their racks. Even though he was only about 20 feet away from the rack, an employee quickly ran up with a smile, took the shirts, and put them back. Similarly, Jacob was looking at shirts and a store employee would not let him fold the shirts back up himself, insisting that he let her fold them.

Harajuku street corner overlooking the crowd

After Harajuku, we returned to our hotel to relax and get ready for the big travel day ahead of us. Before going to bed, Ethan led a group down the block to a mall that had a 60th floor observation deck looking out over Tokyo. It only cost ¥900 (about $9), and the views were amazing.

No caption necessary!

Read the next post! Kakehashi Project 8: Sunday Scaries

Or read from the start! Kakehashi Project 1: Pre-departure and Travel Day

Kakehashi Project 4: Try it and See

They visit the Japanese External Trade Organization (JETRO), an organization facilitating foreign direct investment opportunities in Japan, and OMRON, an electronic company creating job opportunities for people with disabilities. Both exposing them to the unique and interesting dynamic of doing business in Japan.

We didn’t have to board the bus until 9:30 a.m. on the fifth day, so we had a very long breakfast, complete with friendly gossip. 

We took a short bus ride to hear a speaker from the Japanese External Trade Organization (JETRO). JETRO is a non-profit organization that helps non-Japanese companies with foreign direct investment opportunities in Japan. This work includes assistance with visas, immigration, human resources, navigating the local markets, and other key functions. JETRO has provided assistance to companies in a diverse array of industries such as automotive, healthcare, manufacturing, retail, and technology. In the past, JETRO has provided assistance to major companies including Amazon, Tesla, and Johnson & Johnson. Our speaker, Mr. Yusuke Okano, talked about his time working for JETRO both in Japan and in their Chicago, Illinois office (one of six in the United States). The presentation wrapped up and we appointed Dennis to give Mr. Okano a gift from us. We then left and headed off to lunch.

Lecture on JETRO from Mr. Okano

Continuing on the ‘cook your own meal at a restaurant’ theme, lunch was a combination of cabbage, egg, and pork that we mixed together and cooked on a grill in the middle of our table. We were given glasses and told to fill up our glasses at a soft drink dispenser. The labels on the dispenser were written nearly exclusively in Japanese, so it quickly became a game of sampling each option to figure out what everything was, which exemplified most of our meals on the trip – we took on a ‘try it and see’ mentality as some of the foods we were eating had never entered our consciousness before arriving in Japan. Because every table had a hot grill going, the restaurant was steaming inside, so we ate as quickly as possible, so that we could go outside in the breeze. There was a pet store on the other side of the plaza that some of us went to see; in addition to the pets we were expecting such as dogs, rabbits, and fish, they had some other types of animals such as owls and mice. All of the dogs were behind glass, which made it quite tough to boop them on the nose.

We were each given a bowl of cabbage, pork, and a raw egg that we mixed and then cooked on the grill in front of us
Kevin, Christine Dawson, Dennis, and Chandler enjoying lunch together

After lunch, we were off to OMRON, a company that we didn’t know much about prior to our visit. Coming off of a big meal and crowding into a small, warm room for the presentation, we were initially concerned about our ability to listen (read: stay awake). This is why it took several seconds for us to really grasp the overall uniqueness of the OMRON mission; while several companies in the U.S. employed primarily people with disabilities, they were rarely considered successful from a purely business standpoint. Companies like Goodwill thrived mostly as a combination of altruism, donations and separate regulations for non-profits and charities.

OMRON, however, was different. They are a fully-functional, successful business that employees people with disabilities and, rather than work around the particular disabilities their employees were presented with, they worked with them. On the line, everyone had the same production requirements. OMRON was willing to go above and beyond in terms of finding ways to make that possible, but otherwise the employees were all considered equal in terms of both benefits and responsibilities.

Kevin thanking the OMRON representatives for their presentation

The tour emphasized what the presentation told us, with windows allowing a look onto the line where numbers tallied each employee’s count for the day. Specially-built tables allowed for both wheelchairs and static chairs to fit under the same way, allowing for an interchangeability between employees with and without disabilities that other companies don’t even try for. Mirrors at the bottom of staircases give full visibility of the hallway that a limited range of movement can sometimes prevent. Even the crosswalk between the office building and plant was unusual, playing a distinctive tune (unlike an ice cream truck) when it was safe to stand out from the general hubbub of the day. All of this played into our big takeaway from OMRON that a company can develop itself to fit the strengths and mitigate the struggles of its employees as opposed to the typical inverse structure of making employees fit a pre-existing job description and work environment. This idea isn’t just limited to employees with physical disabilities either; allowing employees to focus on their strengths and interests will ultimately lead to a more positive work experience. We hope to take this idea with us in the future and implement it in our current group work in the classroom as well as in our future careers.

After departing OMRON, we went to meet our host families for our home stay. We were split up into six groups with three or four people in each group. We grouped up, and each home stay family’s name was called out, so they could join their group, unlike a sorority big/little reveal. Dr. Prud’homme and Lorraine got a break from us for a night, and it got dusty parting from Miho. Ironically enough, some of the host families drove Daihatsu cars (read the blog post on the visit to Daihatsu), so we got to see what their automobiles were like on the inside (very roomy for a compact car, in our opinion). Experiences varied by group, so we’ll cut the blog for day three here and dive into our home stay experiences in separate blog posts. Arigatogozaimasu! Thank you!

Read the next post! Kakehashi Project 5: Ittekimasu or Sayonara?

Read about the home stays! Joe’s Home Stay /  Christine Dawson’s Home StayAustin and Chandler’s Home Stay

Or read from the start! Kakehashi Project 1: Pre-departure and Travel Day

Singlish 101

Want to learn some of Singapore English – Singlish? Megan Reardon gives you a quick lesson on how to speak Singlish, which she learned while studying at Singapore Management University on the Student Exchange Program!

Singapore has four national languages – English, Malay, Tamil, and Mandarin. While “English” is the most widely spoken language, it is initially a very difficult transition for most foreigners. Singaporeans call their dialect of English “Singlish” or colloquial Singaporean English, as it is a mixture of all four national languages and other dialects around. By the end of my exchange program, I was speaking Singlish like it was a foreign language. At first, my friends and I would speak in Singlish terms to show how well we knew Singapore, but it quickly morphed into us unknowingly adding the phrases into our sentences.

There is a lack of officially printed Singlish dictionaries or pamphlets. Since Singlish is commonly regarded as having low prestige, the government and some Singaporeans highly discourage using Singlish. The government has created the “Speak Good English Movement” to emphasize the importance of speaking traditional English. Still, as it becomes more accepted as a cornerstone of Singapore’s culture, Singaporeans use Singlish in casual conversations with friends and family.

Singlish is colorful, expressive, and demonstrates the history and multiculturalism of Singapore. Singapore was established as a British colony in 1824, and remained so until 1942 when it was occupied by the Japanese Empire during World War II. When the war ended, Singapore reverted to British control, but quickly merged with Malaysia from 1963-1965. Singapore became an independent republic in 1965. Given Singapore’s rich history of cultural blends, Singlish is a language that brings diverse ethnicities together.

My favorite Singlish phrases are below:

  1. Lah

This is easily my favorite Singlish phrase. It’s added to the end of sentences as an exclamation, or to add emphasis to a sentence. It can be used in questions, exclamations, or statement sentences. Examples of sentences lah can be used in are, “The weather is so nice today lah!”, “Will you pass the pepper lah?”, and my personal favorite, Ok, lah!” By the end of my time in Singapore, I would answer almost every question with an, “Ok, lah!”

  1. Kiasu

Singapore’s education system has a reputation for being highly competitive and overly focused on grades. Bred out of this competition is a highly individualistic culture. This individualism continues to manifest in many of the company cultures around Singapore. Kiasu is a word that is essentially the fear of losing out to other people. It is getting a child ahead so they won’t be behind their peers, overly prepping for group presentations, or being competitive to the point of doing anything to win. One example of a sentence using kiasu would be, “She is so kiasu that she bought her school books early so she could study over summer.”

  1. Can can

Typically, people in the U.S. use affirmative words like “sure” or “sounds good”, but Singaporeans largely use one word as an affirmation more than any other word – can. It can also be asked as a question, as in Can I?” Asking for favors usually ends in a, Can can!” Working on a group project, people would answer questions with a simple, “can.”

Kakehashi Project 2: The Undergrads and The PhDs

The first day of adventures in Japan! The group met with the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to learn more about the Japanese economy and the countries characteristics. After a tasty lunch they visited the Imperial Palace and ended up with a great photo shot!

The first day started with a continental breakfast in the basement of our hotel. Austin arrived as soon as they opened, determined to try as much as possible and fill up for the day. The rest of the group was still either getting ready or sleeping, so he made friends with a group of students from Rutgers that was also participating in the Kakehashi Project.

After checking out of the hotel, we left for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA). During our ride in, we finally got a chance to see the city during the daytime. We arrived at MOFA and were quickly ushered up to a large conference room. Our group from Fisher as well as students from Rutgers, University of Kentucky, and UNC Chapel Hill all gathered to be addressed by the ambassadors from Japan International Cooperation Center (JICE) on the nature of the program and what to expect. Immediately following the orientation, Mr. Ogiwara Hiroshi, an economist from MOFA, gave a presentation on the Japanese economy. He highlighted the current state of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TTP) as well as the trade relationship between the United States and Japan. Some of the PhD students from University of Kentucky asked him very insightful questions to promote a good discussion.

Sitting in our orientation session at MOFA

We departed MOFA to eat lunch at a local Tokyo restaurant. There were two long parallel tables for our group, and without any sort of direction or conversation, all of the males sat at one table and all of the females sat at the other, not unlike a middle-school dance. We were extremely impressed with the quality of the meal; Pat from OSU liked the Edamame beans so much that he ate them whole – shells included!

Ahmed and Pat getting ready to enjoy our first restaurant meal in Tokyo

After lunch, we attended a lecture from Professor Taniguchi Tomohiko, a professor at the Keio University Graduate School of System Design and Management (SDM), teaching international political economy and Japanese diplomacy, as well as a Special Adviser to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet. This presentation was by far the most impactful on many of us.

As he tried to summarize Japan in 23 PowerPoint slides, what resonated with us was the way in which he divided Japan’s identity into three pillars: resilience, continuity, and maritime identity. As an example of Japan’s historical resilience, Professor Taniguchi alluded to the 2011 earthquake off the Pacific coast of Tōhoku, the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in Japan and the fourth most powerful earthquake in the world since modern record keeping. This devastating natural disaster caused 15,895 casualties, left 6,156 injured, and 2,539 missing. According to the MOFA, 116 countries and 28 international organizations offered assistance, including the United States. Despite the damage, Japan persevered through the tragedy and carried on as a stronger nation.  Today, Japan remembers the date of the Tsunami, March 11th, in remembrance and in honor of those suffered.

Professor Taniguchi Tomohiko speaking on Japanese resilience, continuity, and maritime identity

The second pillar was continuity. Japan is well-known for bridging the gap between tradition and innovation. This is best exemplified by how Japan has the world’s two most longstanding operating hotels, the Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan and Hoshi Ryokan, which were founded in 705 and 718, respectively. In addition, Japan is home to the world’s oldest sake brewery, Sudo Honke, and the world’s oldest family business, Kongo Gumi, which has been building temples for 14 centuries. And yet, Japan has been on the forefront of innovation in major industries such as the technology and the automotive industry. Still, traditional Japanese culture has been passed on through generations and remains important to people in the modern day, such as their tea ceremonies (which we got to experience later in our trip, so keep reading our blogs).

The third pillar of maritime identity has shaped Japan’s economic positioning in the world. As it pertains to global trade, Japan’s importing and exporting operations are shaped by Japan’s maritime positioning. Furthermore, much of Japan’s most well known dietary delights are facilitated through Japan’s oceanic proximity.

We walked out of the presentation really starting to wrap our heads around what Japan really is. As Americans, we grapple with what America is and what it means to be an American; the lecture from Professor Taniguchi Tomohiko gave us a significant amount of insight into what Japan is and what it means to be Japanese. Fittingly, the next stop on our trip was the Imperial Palace. The landscape reminded us a lot of the National Mall in Washington, D.C., as there was open gravel walking space in the middle of the city. Most of the group stayed in front of the entrance and saw the guards changing out, and a small group of us walked around the park area.

Chandler thought that it would be a perfect photo opportunity with the sun at dusk and the city in the distance, so we quickly posed; the picture ended up looking like an early 2000s boy band album cover, which we were all extremely pleased with.

From left to right: Joe, Austin, Judson, Dennis, Evan, and Jacob

Miho rushed us off to the Tokyo airport for a domestic flight to Oita, a seaside prefecture on Kyushu, Japan’s southernmost island. We were told that dinner would be on our own in the airport, and we were handed ¥2000 each (the whole idea of the exchange rate hadn’t fully set in yet, so we initially thought we were rich. It was about $20). Erica decided to use her money to get a haircut in the airport, using Kevin as a translator. The flight to Oita was roughly 90 minutes, but it went very quickly as we all slept through it. After a quick bus ride to our hotel, we again went right to bed, beat from the day.

Read the next post! Kakehashi Project 3: Operations, Onsens, and Aesthetics

Or read from the start! Kakehashi Project 1: Pre-departure and Travel Day

The Substation

One of the classes Megan Reardon took at Singapore Management University (SMU) was “Arts and Culture Management”. She worked on a group project to research about The Substation, a arts hubs created under government policy, and through this leaned the difference in U.S. vs Singaporian business practices.

Singapore’s arts scene is not as vibrant as other countries. Since policy has always been focused on economic development, arts policy has often been deemed as a sort of forced social project. This is not a uniquely Singaporean problem – Hong Kong and Shanghai also face similar obstacles. One of the policies implemented was the Arts Housing Scheme, which refurbished vacant government buildings into arts hubs. The Substation was born out of the Arts Housing Scheme and is Singapore’s first independent contemporary arts center. Established in 1990 when the arts in Singapore were severely lagging, as a collaborative and pioneering experimental arts center. For one of my classes, Arts and Culture Management, my project team was assigned to analyze The Substation’s role in the emerging Singapore arts scene. Once the centerpiece of a bustling neighborhood, The Substation is now surrounded by new, upscale restaurants and shopping centers, and unable to financially compete with the surrounding businesses.

Image from Google Images

Part of our assignment was interviewing various people associated with the development of The Substation in its current form. Though no longer thriving, the mission is clear – to foster creativity and innovation in the Singapore community by providing programming, practice spaces, and courses to artists. For part of our project, we had to interview people closely connected with The Substation, whether it be previous artistic directors, the woman who gave The Substation its original building, or various artists who have used their facilities. These interviews gave me the opportunity to discover more about how business is done in Singapore.

The most interesting observation in comparing Singaporean business to how business is done in the U.S. is the level of formality. Though I had previously believed lunch meetings to be very casual, the lunch meeting with several of our interviewees was formal. There was no small talk, no exchange of pleasantries, but the ever looming feeling that we were there for business only.

Another difference in business practices was that our professor joined us on meetings. At first, I found this odd. It was as if our professor did not trust us enough to be able to conduct the meetings on our own. However, as we continued interviews, I eventually learned that my professor attended these meetings as a vessel to continue her own learning. She was just as curious about the answers to our questions as we were. The emphasis on continued learning is very strong in Singapore. Because it is such an economically advanced society, people are constantly trying to stay on the cusp of what is new and exciting. It’s why Singapore continues to thrive during these times.

Our Final Presentation Timeline

First Month of Adjusting to the Culture of Japan

Cayhil Grubbs explains the process of adjusting to a new culture while he is abroad in Tokyo, Japan on the Student Exchange Program to Rikkyo University. “I knew how to deal with this feeling – laugh”

When I first landed in Japan, I didn’t truly feel like I had left the U.S. There was English under each kanji character on every airport sign, every staff member greeted me in English, and there were foreigners everywhere. I didn’t truly process where I was until I went to the supermarket a few hours later to look for things like hand soap and paper towels. At first everything felt normal. The supermarket’s layout was similar, I could here American pop music playing through the loud-speakers, and I even heard the Migos’ song “T-Shirt” playing a few minutes later.

The soap section changed everything. Everything was in Japanese. I couldn’t tell the difference between hand soap, body soap, and shampoo. Trying to pick which soap brand I wanted was humbling. It marked the first time I felt helpless in Japan, but I didn’t mind because I knew how to deal with this feeling – laugh, pull out Google Translate, and learn more Japanese. These are the basic survival tools of living in any foreign country for the non-fluent nomad/exchange student.

One thing I’ve quickly adjusted to is the dorm and surrounding area I live in. Like Ohio State, Rikkyo University has more than one campus. The main campus is in Ikebukuro, Tokyo and the second campus is in Niiza, Saitama. Unlike Ohio State, Rikkyo’s dorms aren’t on campus. I live in the dorm right outside of Asakadai Station, called RUID Asakadai. The many restaurants and stores in and surrounding the station can be very lively during the day, but the area gets nice and quiet at night. There’s a certain sense of serenity in the air, a calmness, peace. I think this aspect of Japan is overlooked. The calmness is unmatched in the world.

Since I have Japanese class at 9 o’clock every day, I have to take the train during rush hour. Any train I get on before 8:30am is packed. The train ride to school is extremely uncomfortable, not because of how you get body slammed with the collective force of nine sumo wrestlers every time the train car rocks back and forth, or that at each stop five people try to squeeze their way in for every person that gets off, or even the fact that it’s a 23-minute ride. What makes it uncomfortable is the strange pose I inevitably end up in. It’s like playing twister, but all of your color’s spots that are close to you are gone, you only get one spin the entire game, and there’s no room to fall.

Having lived in Japan for nearly a month, I’ve noticed a few cultural things that are different. The one thing here that has stood out the most to me is using a public bathroom. Not all public bathrooms have soap and there’s nothing to dry your hands with. Paper towels only exist in grocery stores and the rarer than unicorn hand dryers are weaker than Derrick Rose’s knees. Lastly, anime, video games, media, and sushi are not representative of real life. Americans don’t eat hamburgers for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s better to not come to Japan with expectations, especially not ridiculous ones. Allow yourself to learn through experience. Let yourself be surprised.

Chinese New Year in Singapore

Megan Reardon shares her experience spending time over Chinese New Year! From Hong Bao to lantern festivals, she describes the celebration she saw while on the Student Exchange Program.

“恭喜发财!” As I walked around Singapore during Chinese New Year, you could hear these words being uttered by groups in passing. The literal translation of 恭喜发财 (gōngxǐ fācái) is “Congratulations on making money,” meaning well wishes for prosperity in the New Year. Chinese New Year is one of Singapore’s biggest cultural celebrations. It is celebrated at the turn of the traditional lunisolar Chinese calendar, which traditionally falls around the middle of February. The best way to describe the importance of Chinese New Year is by comparing it to the U.S. holiday of Thanksgiving. Traditionally, the Chinese New Year is a way to celebrate deities and ancestors, as well as an opportunity for family to come together from around the world.

There are many traditions that occur during Chinese New Year. Perhaps the most treasured tradition is the giving of a red Hong Bao envelope to the young. The red color symbolizes good luck and is used as a symbol to ward off evil spirits. This is such a common practice that even my landlord gave me a Hong Bao with $10 Singapore dollars! Other traditions include cleaning the home to ward off bad spirits that have accumulated in the prior year, eating mandarin oranges to celebrate fullness and wealth, and tossing together a large plate of Yu Sheng, a salad made of raw fish, fruits, and vegetables to ensure a lucky, prosperous, and healthy year for all.

The Hong Bao with S$10 from my Landlord
Tossing the Yu Sheng Salad

At Singapore Management University (SMU), though Chinese New Year was on a Saturday, we had the day off of school so international students had the opportunity to travel home if needed (in China, the students and adults get a WEEK off of school/work). Many expats in Singapore treat this weekend as a chance to explore the surrounding countries, knowing that everything closes down for the weekend, including restaurants, shops, and grocery stores. Rather than leaving the city, we decided to experience what Singapore had to offer for the Chinese New Year.

Every year, Singapore lights up the city to commemorate the Lunar New Year. Chinatown is lined with beautifully designed lanterns for weeks prior to the New Year. There is a giant lantern with the yearly zodiac; in 2017, it was The Year of the Rooster. During the weekend of Chinese New Year, downtown Singapore has a festival with glowing lanterns that explain what Chinese New Year is and the history of the holiday in Singapore.

Every year, there is a fireworks show over the water on Marina Bay. Since Marina Bay is in the downtown area, we were able to get reservations for one of the many rooftop restaurants in the skyscrapers, observing the fireworks from the one of the best vantage points in Singapore.

At the rooftop restaurant with fireworks behind us

Can My Semester Abroad Be Over Already?

Culture shock happens, even if you prepare as much as you can before you depart. Megan Reardon shares some of her culture shock moments and how she survived through them while in Singapore on the Student Exchange Program.

After you go through the application process and finally get accepted, you start telling people about how you are spending a precious 1/8 of your college experience in another country. If your experience is anything like mine, your parents will be asking how safe it is, your aunts and uncles will demand constant Facebook updates, and your friends will rant about how they wish they could visit. People who have gone abroad before will talk about the transformative nature of studying abroad. They will talk about how it completely changed their perspective on life, gave them more patience and understanding of other cultures, and was the greatest college experience one can have. When I was packing to leave on Christmas Eve, these were the thoughts going through my head. “I’m going to come back to the U.S. a completely different person that people won’t even recognize me. I’m going to be so tan.

Within the first 36 hours of leaving my house that Christmas Eve, my flight had been rerouted four times, spent the night in the airport, lost my luggage, my accommodation had no record of me planning to arrive, lost a $600 deposit on housing, and knew absolutely no one in the city. At this time, the only thing I wanted was to be back in Ohio, sitting on the couch on Christmas Day and be with my family.

Looking back, that experience was my most challenging in any of my experiences abroad. At the time, I didn’t think that anyone would understand what was going on in my mind. Now, I can clearly define this as culture shock. All of the prep classes, YouTube videos, and articles I read, could not prepare me for the reality which is physically going to another country. Everything was changing at once and I was not prepared. By the time I finally met other exchange students two days later, I was ready to call it quits. Talking with the other exchange students about how strange it was to be in Singapore finally pulled me back to reality. I was no longer “alone” and had people to share and reflect on everything with.

My point with this story is that culture shock will probably happen, and you won’t be nearly as prepared as you think you are. Culture shock is  normal, and being ready to deal with it and face the uncertainty that it brings is essential. The best thing that I did for myself during those first few days was watching a Netflix movie one afternoon during a rainstorm. It brought me back to a place of familiarity. Additional to that, I continued to remind myself why I was so excited to be in Singapore. I visited the major tourist areas, toured my school, and drank a cold tea by the South China Sea. That initial culture shock passed, and I was able to really enjoy the rest of my time in Singapore. From then on, whenever I was feeling homesick, I would pull out my journal from the first few days and remind myself of why I was in Singapore.

I wanted to completely immerse myself in Singapore. I wanted to experience what it is like to live in another country for an extended amount of time. I wanted to make friends from around the world. Most of all, I wanted to prove to myself that I had it in me to live alone for four months. I wanted to grow more independent and discover more about myself with each new day in Singapore.

By the time my program was over, I was so thankful that I stayed in Singapore. Though I would continue to feel culture shock throughout my four months, I was able to have once-in-a-lifetime experiences that completely altered my view of the world experiences that I wouldn’t have had if I let culture shock hold me back. I am extremely grateful for my time abroad.

Bags Packed – Ready to Move In

Networking at Rikkyo and Job Hunting

Through one of his classes at Rikkyo University, Cayhil Grubbs had the opportunity to visit Adidas Japan! Hear about his experience interacting with business people in Japan on the Student Exchange Program.

My interactions with Japanese business professionals were fairly limited in number, but significant, especially in a class I took called Business Project. In this class, Adidas Japan came in and presented us with a marketing related problem that they are currently facing. We were tasked with finding the best way to measure Net Promoter Score (NPS), and where we could measure it best. We formed groups to solve this problem, and in mid-October and early December we went to Adidas Japan’s headquarters to present our research and solutions.

During my two visits to Adidas Japan’s HQ, I had several opportunities to network with current employees and Rikkyo alumni at Adidas. The employees were more than willing to talk about what it’s like to work in Japan and their experiences with Adidas Japan. I also met several senior executives and mid-level managers that were happy to talk about their career paths, and what they liked or disliked about working in Japan.

I learned a lot about searching for jobs from Japanese students. Looking for a job at a Japanese company in Japan is very different from the United States. Internships differ between the two countries as they usually last one or two days in Japan versus two or three months in the United States. These one day internships are unpaid. Students do most of their network through these internships and career fairs. In Japan, looking for a job once you graduate is called “Job Hunting” as they typically take time off of school to schedule a lot of interviews, do as many one day internships as possible, and go to a lot of career fairs. Japanese workers rarely change companies. As far as networking goes, reach out to your professors and counselors to find out about career fairs and potential job opportunities. Several of the professors at Rikkyo teach part-time and work at various firms. Most networking techniques that work in the U.S. also work in Japan, so put them to use and be persistent.

Studying at Rikkyo

Jumping in to academics at Rikkyo University and Tokyo, Japan, Cayhil Grubbs shares the unique differences in taking classes in Japan on the Student Exchange Program.

Studying at Rikkyo University is very different than at Ohio State, especially as a business student. One of the big differences you’ll immediately notice is that unless it’s a Japanese language class, you’ll only have class once a week. Stacking your schedule with a ton of classes on one or two days so you can be free the rest of the week sounds nice, but each class is 90 minutes instead of 55. Multiple classes back to back can really take a toll on you, and the back of the class is too crowded.

An important difference between the actual business courses at Rikkyo and at Ohio State is the type of assignments your professors will assign. At Ohio State, we typically have quizzes, two or three midterms, a final, and maybe a case study or two. Midterms and finals tend to be tests, and if you have a group project, there are right and wrong answers to whatever questions you are tasked with answering. At Rikkyo, tests are few and far between as papers and group projects dominate midterms and finals. Papers rarely come with rubrics, and often times there’s no absolute final answer to the group project you are working on. It’s up to you to embrace the ambiguity as you can’t run away from it. If you struggle with things like this, talk frequently with your advisor and professors. Professors help you save money since they don’t require you to buy textbooks.

The last major difference in classes is that the semester starts and ends much later at Rikkyo University. This year classes started September 20th, and the semester won’t end until mid-February. The timing of the semester affects which classes you can take as some don’t allow students to leave early. Classes taught in English are offered at specific times, and if there are two classes you want to take but they’re at the same time, you’ll have to pick one. Even if you can leave early, you’ll probably still have assignments due long after you’re gone.

I recommend taking Japanese language courses because you’ll be living in Japan for the next four months and English and pointing will only get you so far. You should at least learn how to order food, ask where the bathroom is, ask for help, and ask someone if they speak English, plus learning a foreign language is fun! I had six semesters worth of Japanese under my belt before I came, and that was just enough to communicate the basics and really important things. Unless you place into an advanced class, you’ll have Japanese every day. There’s typically homework and quizzes every day, which is helpful for studying if you like to procrastinate. The Japanese program is excellent and truly builds your ability to speak and listen to Japanese from the ground up.