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.

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.

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.

Christmas Days

Rikkyo University is also named Saint Paul’s University, and it was founded by Channing Moore Williams, an Episcopalian missionary. Therefore, there are deep religion traditions at Rikkyo University.

This is the main gate of Rikkyo University, and the two big trees are decorated as Christmas Trees. There was also a lightening ceremony of these Christmas Trees on December 3rd 5:00 pm this year. On that day, many people came to Rikkyo campus to see the ceremony. I had a class at that time, so I could not see the ceremony myself =( This picture was taken by my friend.

Besides these two trees, there are also many beautiful paintings inside the Rikkyo campus, celebrating Christmas this year.

These three paintings are on the buildings at Rikkyo University. Several days before, I saw some students were working on them, and now, they are all finished. I like these paintings because they make me feel warm in heart.

Job hunting season at Rikkyo

The job hunting season in Japan is quite different from that in the US. Most colleges students in Japan tend to finish their study when they get the bachelor’s degree and start to work in companies, rather than entering a graduate school. Therefore, college students have to start their job hunting process in their junior year, and most of the students will find jobs before their graduation.

My Japanese classmates and professors at Rikkyo University told me that the Junior year is the busiest year for students because of the pressure to find a job. Also, the chance to get a job after graduation is very low for college students in Japan.

The year arrangement in Japan is also different from the US. The school year always starts in April or May, so the autumn semester is the last semester in their Junior year. The job hunting season this year started in November. So it is very common to see students wearing suits walking in the Rikkyo campus starting November.

Weekend in Kyoto-Japanese Autumn and Red Leaves

Last weekend, I had a very short but memorable trip to Kyoto, the old capital city of Japan from more than a thousand years. Before Japan changed its capital city to Tokyo, Kyoto was the center of Japanese politics, economics and culture.

We were taking the Shinkansen (the high-speed railway network in Japan) from Tokyo to Kyoto. It took around 2 hours, and on our way there, we met the Mount Fuji, famous for its snow-white “hat”.

In Kyoto, there are a lot of traditional Japanese Shrines, or Jinja, and temples.  Many of them exist since the ancient times. When we were visiting the Yasaka Shrine, there was a conventional Japanese wedding held inside the shrine (Shown on the middle of the picture above).

Kyoto still keeps the traditional side of Japanese culture. Unlike Tokyo, which is more modern and westernized, people living in Kyoto are more likely to wear Kimono, the traditional Japanese clothes. At first, I was curious to see so many people wearing Kimono walking on the streets. I asked my friend whether there was a festival these days so that people wear Kimono. My friend told me that this is their life style.

Also, we saw several Geigi on our way to a temple, shown on the lower left corner of the picture above.

The natural sight in Kyoto was so breath-taking! It made me feel as if I were in the ancient time of Japan.

And… we also tasted the food in Kyoto. I just think that is is art rather than merely food!

Self-pressured Learning Pattern at Rikkyo

The teaching pattern at Rikkyo University is quite different from that of OSU. Although, this semester, I am enrolled in 8 classes, but I never feel stressed out. At first, I unaccustomed to the teaching pattern here, because instructors didn’t us a lot of pressure.

There is a kind of course called Research Seminar here at Rikkyo University. The Research Seminar is held every year, and according to the standing of the students, they could choose to enroll in the seminar. I enroll in the 4th Year Research Seminar for International Business. The class size is small, and there are only 12 students in our class. I talked with my Japanese classmates in our class, some of them told me that this is the only course that they are taking this semester. The time arrangement in Japan is also different from the US, college students always graduate in March, so this is the last semester for them. The content of this seminar is unique, too. Every week, we have a report or part of a book to read, mostly they are theories about the current international business.

This is one of the books that we have to read in three weeks. It analyzes the changing patterns of Japan and Germany under the global trend of Financialization and under the impact of US and UK.

Our instructor, Professor Ozaki, never forces us to do anything. At the beginning of this semester, he told us about our assignments and time arrangement. Then, all we have to do is to study by ourselves, reading the books and discussing during the class time.

I think this kind of teaching pattern is really depending on students ourselves. It is really self-pressured. And it requires me to be more careful on the time arrangement for my study. Professors do not keep sending us email to tell us what is due. And this is also another new thing I learn from this exchange experience.