Hello everyone! My name is Rachel and I am one of those students Paula mentioned who had no idea what she wanted to do senior year of college. With the aid of a combination of luck and constant vigilance (but mostly luck) I was able to find a very interesting job, but first a little background on my state of mind throughout college.
College = Freedom
I went to College with the phrase “free at last” in mind with no real idea of which direction I wanted to go in. I wanted to do “a little bit of everything” (classic avoidance of actually making a choice) and I was ready to sign-up for just about any class (Theater of the Streets anyone?) I arbitrarily decided to major in biology. I have always been interested in Japanese culture so I signed up for some Japanese language and literature classes. To be perfectly honest, I did not actually sign up for my first year college courses myself. I was in Thailand when the paperwork came in the mail. My mother filled out the paperwork after speaking to me briefly on the phone about what classes I wanted to take. I was far too distracted by the shiny lights of Bangkok to really focus on the conversation and I honestly felt like any classes would be great. Hey, it was college!! I was in! The hard part was over. (Naïve right?)
Choosing Japanese Studies as a Major
If you switched into Japanese Studies because you hated your 8:00am Biology classes with a passion and cellular respiration was more of a foreign language than Japanese, this is for you. I had no plan. I had likes and dislikes. After great deliberation (or rather one too many times of sleeping through Bio 112), I made the choice to follow my likes and I hoped that the rest would fall into place. Four years later, sitting in my chair at graduation, I realized that life is not one big Tetris game with a computer player at the helm. In short, I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do with my Japanese Studies major. I felt like I had everything I needed to get a good job but I could not put those things together to form a bigger picture.
Despite having no plan, I did really well in college (this was my general goal and I had a lot of fun doing well in courses I loved). I studied abroad in Osaka for a year and had an amazing time. My Japanese language skills were decent, but not fluent. I had taken Japanese studies courses in the fields of literature, history, law, language, theater, music, media, architecture and art. I participated in many activities in college in which I had a leadership role such as Japan Club, Kendo and Residence life. I had a wealth of knowledge but no idea how to translate that into an actual job. What was my way of dealing with this conundrum? I did absolutely nothing. I waited. I decided to focus on my thesis and after I graduated I would think about the next step.
There were two very big decisions that I was able to make before graduation. I decided that I did not want to go to graduate school immediately after college. I wanted real world work experience and I needed to know for sure that Japanese Studies was something I could make a living out of outside of the academic world. I also decided that I did not want to go back to Japan right away. I felt like it was more important to stay in the US because my grandfather was very ill and my family would need me to be close. So now what?
What do you do with a BA in Japanese Studies?
I started out the summer after graduation in a sort of haze. I got a job at a daycare at my gym. In the evenings, I looked online for other job opportunities, but I was getting nowhere. Here I was with a Bachelors degree and absolutely no direction. How do you find a job in Japanese Studies? I put my resume on websites, I considered applying for a government position but many of them required fluent language skills or graduate degrees (plus the hiring process is notoriously long). I did not do an internship in college and I had no connections in the working world. My father is a computer network engineer, a field I know nothing about and have little interest in and my mother is a teacher, something I might like to do but is not directly related to Japanese Studies (I didn`t have any qualifications to be a teacher either). My sole mission became finding a job that was relevant to my degree.
Finding a Job
This turned out to be more complicated than I initially thought it would be mostly because I had no idea where to start. After a month, I still had no idea and then I got lucky. A friend of mine had decided to do the JET program after college. She brought my attention to a job posting on the Embassy of Japan website for an administrative assistant position. The Embassy of Japan is located in Washington DC, a reasonable distance from my family`s house in Hanover, Maryland. The requirements for the job were basic computer skills, administrative skills, a Bachelors degree, excellent writing skills and familiarity with Japanese culture (no Japanese language required but strongly preferred). There were three administrative positions open and each one was in three different sections of the Embassy: political, economic and press. I know next to nothing about these fields but I was prepared to act like I did (yay Theater of the Streets!)
The first challenge is getting noticed. A resume and a cover letter were required to apply. I had already missed the application deadline but I did not let that stop me. I sat down and wrote my cover letter right after I read the job description which was very vague. My cover letter was essentially a love letter to Japanese culture and I used it as a chance to really personalize my application and show off what I know. I related my experiences with Japanese culture and the facts that I play the koto and practice kendo. On my resume, I played up my Japanese language skills but I did not declare fluency (which would have been blatant fraud.) I sent my application in the next day and forced myself to remember that these things take time.
Seriously? You want to interview me?
Exactly one week later, I got a call from the Embassy. They told me that they were interested in interviewing me for one of the three open positions. I was shocked. I had convinced myself by this point that they would not look at an application that had been sent in late. I readily agreed to go for the interview. Next step, clothes. I needed business appropriate attire. My entire wardrobe was composed of free t-shirts I got in college and jeans. After a few nerve racking shopping trips, I finally had one outfit that I really liked and felt comfortable in. Before my interview, I made the mistake of hunting down other people who had interviewed for the position and had failed. This made me quite nervous because I did not feel like I was more qualified than them. I managed to set that information and my nerves aside and I was off to the Embassy of Japan in DC!
Next time I will talk about the general trials and tribulations of interviewing for a position in a Japanese work environment. I will share my personal experience and then some of the important points I have learned while working at the Embassy of Japan. The interview is a crucial part of any hiring process and it is stressful no matter where you have to do it. I hope that my advice will help to calm your nerves and make you feel a little more prepared for the very interesting experience of being interviewed Japanese-style.
Rachel Reed graduated from Gettysburg College in 2008 with a BA in Japanese Studies. She worked as an Administrative Assistant in the Political Section at the Embassy of Japan in Washington DC for two years (2008-2010) and later worked as an Assistant Language Teacher with the JET program, in Gojome, a small, rural town in Akita Prefecture.