Could you go into some detail about your career path until now?
I spent a year in Japan on a Working/Holiday visa in 1989, came back to Vancouver to do 4 years at UBC, and then went to Kagoshima as a CIR (Coordinator for Int’l Relations) on the JET Programme. I spent 5 years in Osaka working as a copywriter and TV reporter, went to the US to do my MBA, and then got a management consulting job with Deloitte Consulting in Tokyo. I worked with Deloitte and one other local HR consulting firm in Tokyo for about 8 years, and then felt it was time to get out of the rat race, so I moved back to North America and did a 3.5-year master’s program in Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture. I now have my own acupuncture and Chinese herbal practice here in Vancouver: Black Sheep Acupuncture & Herbs, and I absolutely love my job.
How has an Asian Studies degree helped you in your endeavors?
While I learned a lot in school, I feel like the degree was most useful because of the people I met through the program: students, professors, alum, and people with Asian Studies backgrounds in general. Seeing what they were passionate about and how they applied their Asian Studies focus in their careers was invaluable to me as I decided what path to carve out for myself.
Are there any opportunities in your field?
I’m an acupuncturist now, which is a great field for anyone in Asian Studies, but there are also abundant opportunities for Asian Studies graduates in consulting. Speaking an Asian language opens some very interesting doors, but I think our ability to understand and truly bridge cultures is where many of us really add value. An Asian Studies degree combined with strong business experience will continue to be in demand for decades to come.
What can students/recent graduates do to get a foot in your industry?
I would say three things:
- Get involved as much as possible in your area of interest while in school. If you are interested in consulting, engage local firms doing business in Asia and ask how you can work with them. Interning a few hours a week is one option, or you can do unpaid, short-term consulting projects for them. If they don’t have to pay you, it’s much easier for them to get approval and bring you onboard. Try to get involved in activities that give you real exposure to how projects are run and to client interactions, even if it’s just sitting in project or client meetings and having a chance to discuss and give your input afterward. When interviewing for positions after school, being able to say “I was involved in ‘this’ project or ‘that’ industry” will stand out to potential employers.
- Engage people in the industry, both locally and abroad, to ask them for advice. If you are asking for a job, people often shy away or refer you to their HR window, but if you say you just want their advice, you’d be surprised how many people will be happy to talk to you. And while this goes without saying, go to those meetings with specific knowledge and questions about their company and industry. Doing this provides both great information and connections.
- Once you are graduated, it is infinitely easier to get a job from on the ground in the country you want to work in. This may be specific to Japan, but they are very relationship-oriented, and so people want to meet and talk with you in person before even considering hiring you.
Do you have any other advice that you would like to impart to students/recent graduates?
I’m not sure about other countries, but in the case of Japan, speaking the language well was prerequisite. I interviewed a lot of candidates that could speak ‘well’ but not enough to make them usable in a real work environment, and I didn’t hire them. The non-language learning curve is usually very steep in any job, so you need to work on polishing your language skills before you get to the table. Specifically, I’m talking about day-to-day tasks like talking to clients on the phone in keigo, running a meeting in Japanese, reading business content, etc. If you don’t learn these things in class, set up a study group with other students or engage someone to teach you and practice with you. And if your language level is still not quite there when you graduate (mine definitely wasn’t), plan and budget to do an intensive local language program in your country of choice.