Except for the times when parents are screaming at me, telling me they will sue me, or the times when the phone rings at 2 am just to check that the emergency system is working properly I really really love what I do.
It is fantastic to talk to young men and women who are making leaps of faith into the unknown with hopes of becoming fluent in a language, getting a great job or, in many cases just change something that they feel is wrong about their current situation. We spend a lot of time listening to our customers in order to understand their “past, present and perceived future selves”. After all what a study abroad experience is will be different for everyone and very much dependent on what you want to get out of it.
When I left Sweden for Japan the first time 18 years ago all I knew was that I wanted to do something different. If this brought me far away from my family and friends so much the better. I was not comfortable where I was at the time and needed a BIG change in order to shake myself up. Japan came up as an option because it was one of the places I could get sponsored to go on an exchange program. The way I have always seen it is that I did not chose Japan, Japan chose me but of course that might just be me justifying my own choices…
To taking a year out of high school, which I did not dislike but at the same time did not really love either, to travel somewhere different and learn another language and culture never felt like something risky. The fact that it is very common in Sweden to do this might of course have helped me along the way but more than anything it felt like an adventure. I saw hundreds and hundreds of students at Lund University, the next town over from my high school, graduating from the same programs with the same qualifications going after the same jobs and I thought to myself, “will it not be easier if you have some kind of skill that very few people have”. in other words high demand and low supply.
And then, with the help and support of my family, who took in a Brazilian student while I was away, I made my leap of faith and never looked back.
Until today that is.
Now I am looking back because I am trying to understand why so many young Japanese student see going abroad to study and experience another culture such a “risk”
I believe that it is the job hunting process.
Every year thousands and thousands of students don identical black “recruiting suits” and head out for mass interviews with Japanese companies. A normal student might go to 20-30 of these interviews with the hopes of getting 2-3 offers. A whole industry is built around this with books on interview tips and answers as well as general etiquette on how to stand, sit, bow, smile and address people. The result, everyone ends up looking exactly the same.
And here I thought that getting a job was about standing out from the crowd of applicants, daring to be different and having an opinion and convincing the interviewer that I, and only I was the best person for the job,
In Japan it seems you are supposed to be exactly the same as everyone else, just better.
Better school, better grades, better background and better friends.
So of course, if you did what most people do not and left Japan to experience something different this might just, believe it or not, make you different.
Can you imagine the horror of not going to an interview not at a large Japanese manufacturing of service company but instead a small one with foreign expansion ideas. At the same time you are not wearing your black “recruitment armor” but some kind of relaxed business attire.
What will your parents say?
What will the neighbors in your home town think?
The leap of faith for a young Japaneses student is much much bigger than most of us can imagine which makes it daunting, scary and yes, risky.
Trading a known future for an unknown one is not always as easy as it seems.
Being different is not easy but if you dare it is worth every ounce of the effort it takes.
“Those who dare win”