Week 8

It’s over. Michael and I’s final presentations went better than I could have hoped, we put together and submitted our final reports, and we said a lot of heart-tugging goodbyes to all our team members, bosses, discussion partners, interviewees, desk mates, dorm mates, and other coworkers. And now it’s over. As I get older and experience more, I keep realizing how profoundly strange time is, and that certainly holds true for this internship. Some days pass too slowly, others too quickly, and the past two months in Japan have gone by lightning fast. I have met more people, seen more sights, tried more food, and learned more lessons in the past two months than in any other single period of my life so far that I can think of. I will try my best to keep the memories, connections, and lessons from this experience alive while moving forward. Here are a few of the things I learned in Japan:

 

  • To start with the obvious, living and working in Japan seriously helped improve my language ability. Talking with friends and coworkers, conducting the interviews, reading signs on the street and in grocery stores, composing emails and reports, and so on all seemed intimidating, but jumping in really helped to build language skills and confidence. The experience helped not only by teaching me new phrases, but also by reinforcing what I already knew and showing what kinds of speech are used in what situations (context is everything in Japanese!). As a disclaimer, the learning process has involved a lot of struggling and occasional embarrassment, and shown me that even now I am nowhere near fluent. But still, every day I have tangibly felt small improvements, which made me feel excited to use what I’ve picked up and to continue learning.

 

  • As mentioned in my last post, the research I’ve worked on here has taught me that for any project, I shouldn’t underestimate the process of figuring out the process. It can take a lot of time, research, and effort just to find out how to do something, so when planning, you should keep those extra factors in mind. And although it’s hard, taking that time to make sure you have the right procedure can reduce wasted resources and make your results a lot better.

 

  • One of the best things about this internship was that it provided an opportunity to have discussions with many different groups and individuals, and those conversations opened my eyes further to just how diverse and interesting people can be. Even within a set of office workers at the same company, people fascinated and sometimes shocked me with their different demeanors, quirks, opinions, hobbies, sleep schedules, and diets. You can never really know what to expect from somebody, even if they seem ordinary on the outside. That sounds a little stranger than I intended, but what I mean is that getting to know people is often fun and surprising, and you can always learn something new!

 

  • Any grown person could easily tell you this, but this internship has really made it sink into my head that the independent, working adult lifestyle is hard. A long workday plus commute time, buying groceries, preparing food, cleaning, etc. don’t leave much time for rest or personal endeavors. Don’t get me wrong, I made sure to experience as much fun in Japan as I could by going out with friends to sightsee, eat, and so on, but even that takes some energy for an introvert. And I had it easy – my expenses were taken care of by the Freeman scholarship and by the company letting me stay in company housing for almost free, and lots of people offered help along the way. Even so, the typical full-time working lifestyle takes a lot and is very different from the college lifestyle, and it had me chugging lots of coffee even after the jet lag wore off.

 

  • The final lesson that this internship taught me was the importance of interdependence. Many times when challenges came up, I tried to handle them by myself- I wanted to grow more independent and to avoid bothering anybody else with my problems. Sometimes that approach worked and taught me something new, but other times refusing to for help backfired. For example, one evening I forgot my phone on the company shuttle bus that took us to and from work in Tatebayashi. I decided to keep quiet and just look for it when the bus came again in the morning. However, later that night, Michael knocked on my door to pass on a message from one of our R&D tutors – a coworker had found the phone on the bus, not known who it belonged to, asked around trying to find the owner, and eventually the message reached me. By not saying anything about the issue, instead of saving people from worrying, I had inconvenienced a chain of several people. This and a few other scenarios showed me that sometimes asking for assistance can prevent stress for myself and others, and even create opportunities for positive exchanges that might not have happened otherwise.

 

In closing, I am grateful from the bottom of my heart to all the people who made this internship such a wonderful experience. This journey has taught me an indescribable amount, and it never would have been possible without the contributions of countless people at William & Mary, Maruchan Inc., and Toyo Suisan. Thank you!

 

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To unwind after the final presentation, I made tofu doughnut holes with a friend from the dorm – despite appearances, they tasted amazing!

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On my way to spend the final weekend in Hakone, a lovely mountain hot springs town, to celebrate completing the internship!!!

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