Not going on to graduate school for Japanese Studies

Are you trying to make a decision about attending grad school for Japanese Studies, but are you wondering if it’s really right for you just after undergrad? Don’t worry, there are plenty of good reasons to take an extended side trip and do something different! I’m here to write about my personal experience with my decision not to pursue graduate studies for a few years.

I graduated from Gettysburg College in 2008 and went to Fukushima on the JET Programme for 2 years. I’m now an administrative assistant at a high school study abroad program.

blurry thoughts about grad school

“What are your goals?”

In the fall of my senior year at Gettysburg, I started to consider my post-undergraduate path. I had passed the JLPT 2-kyuu exam in the previous year and was preparing for 1-kyuu (which I did end up passing, just barely). I knew I had more than the minimum Japanese level to apply for a Coordinator of International Relations (CIR) position with the JET Programme. JET was my first choice, but I did consider grad school.

I believe at the time I had a brochure with a title like, “Knowing if Grad School is Right for You!” I can’t recall where I picked it up, but it might have been at Gettysburg’s Center for Career Development. Usually this type of brochure begins by asking you to answer three to five questions to help you figure it all out. It isn’t a magic formula you can trust completely, so it’s worth having a discussion with your advisor about your grad school potential. In any case, I couldn’t answer the questions to my satisfaction.

The first question was something like, “Why are you considering a graduate degree? Do you have a clear understanding of what your career goals are?”

Well, to make this story short, I didn’t know.

I thought about it seriously for several days (looking back on it, I didn’t agonize over my decision for too long). I was interested in several fields of study (history, linguistics, social science), but I had no concept of how those things would translate into “Future Career A” or “Future Career B.” I couldn’t successfully narrow down my interests. In my junior year, I began focusing on anthropology and those courses broadened my area of interest beyond Japanese Studies, but I wasn’t prepared to commit to Anthropology.

I received good advice that your plan for grad school can change over time (despite how focused and detailed those application statements of purpose appear!). However, if I wasn’t convinced I had a plan, then it would be best for me to put off grad school and save the money. I was also burnt out from being a student and the prospect of working was exciting. My idealistic thought was, why force the grad school decision when there are so many things I haven’t done yet?

Turning life experiences into a career

For the time being, I decided to go back to Japan with the JET Programme. I was unsure of my future career for most of the 2 years I spent in the mountains of Fukushima. I had chosen a good path that would eventually lead me to a solution, but it took some time. I was attempting new activities, which started to satisfy my desire to gain more experience and confidence beyond my comfort zone.

Ironically, the new brought me back in touch with the past. Working in a Japanese school environment, I remembered my first study abroad year in Japan during my junior year of high school. I suddenly realized that I had passion for study abroad and I wanted to work in that field.

Eight months after that turning point, I’m looking back and wondering why I didn’t realize it before. My positive experiences studying abroad with Rotary International and Kansai Gaidai make me a good candidate for administering such programs and building cultural experiences for a new batch of study abroad hopefuls.

Right now might be an especially good time to start working in study abroad because of the Global 30 Project. Japanese universities are developing more internationalized programs that will appeal to foreign students. International faculty and administration can make a huge contribution to Japanese institutions. While the numbers of Japanese university students studying abroad continues to decline yearly, the numbers of foreign students are always growing. In addition to academic programs, they will also need assistance and support in their daily lives.

Getting into the field


As a JET, there were some opportunities for information about how to search for a job on your own in Japan. But, those were only guideposts and encouragements. The truth is that many jobs are never advertised, so you have to be proactive about the job search. It helped that I was already in Japan on a working visa, but of course no one was going to just knock on my door and offer me a job. You really have to be willing to put yourself out there and ideally show potential employers specific reasons why you are the best person for the job.

I polished my resume (in English and Japanese), practiced “walking through” my resume in front of the mirror, registered for online job search engines (such as CareerCross), and kept my eye on the hiring pages of major universities. I also signed up for JAFSA`s (Japan Network for International Education) mailing list. In addition to announcements about conferences, universities also post job announcements from time to time. Mailing lists are one good way to find opportunities, but it also helps to go to networking events and meet professionals.

Through my research, I started to learn about the state of study abroad, what professionals are doing to strengthen their programs, and where the jobs could be found. Most university positions start in the spring, while I was looking for a job starting in August. I kept my job search area wide; I would have relocated to almost anywhere. Luckily, in my final month on JET, I was hired for an entry-level position with a high school study abroad program in central Japan. It started the day after my JET contract ended.

Years after graduation, I’m looking at a similar “Deciding if Grad School is Right for You” questionnaire and that first question about goals is much easier to answer. My goals are much clearer to me after time away from studying. Many of the programs I’ve looked at require work experience, so I feel that I’m on the right track. After getting at least two years of experience at my current job, I hope to start applying to grad schools in the US. I’m very thankful to be using some marketable skills (translation, business manner, office management) that I can further develop in grad school and hopefully have luck in the employment field.

It’s amazing what a difference work experience can make in terms of confidence and maturity, so if you are unsure, it might be beneficial to take your time before rushing into the grad school decision.



Nyssa Shannon received a B.A. in Japanese Studies with a minor in Anthropology from Gettysburg College.  She is a former JET Programme participant and served as a Coordinator of International Relations in Nishiaizu-machi, Fukushima (2008-2010). After returning to the US in 2011, she earned an MA in Intercultural Relations from Lesley University (’13). Nyssa then worked in administration as a cultural interpreter for a Japanese manufacturer in the Midwest.

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4 Responses to Not going on to graduate school for Japanese Studies

  1. Pingback: Not going on to graduate school for Japanese Studies | JapanLike

  2. toranosuke says:

    Thanks for sharing your story and path like this. I am sure it will be helpful, or at least encouraging, to many people.

    I often wish I could have taken that path, been that person. If I were to write a similar post, it would boil down to “I’m in grad school because I believe that it is necessary for success in pursuing certain really serious and formal professional sorts of careers, e.g. working in academia, or as a curator at a major museum.” But that all sounds really serious and strict to me, and I don’t want to be the guy discouraging others from thinking they can achieve their dreams w/o having to go to grad school; I don’t want to be the guy advocating the standard, strict path.

    Whenever people ask me my career goals, I might give them the sort of formal answer of that I’m going to get a PhD so that I can be competitive in pursuing a proper full-time curatorial position at a place like the Metropolitan Museum… But then I also often say that I often think about just stepping off the well-trod path, and dreaming, wishing, of falling into some awesome opportunity to just work at a traditional arts center on Taketomi, or giving historical tours of Kyoto, or something.

    I envy you your JET adventures (I’ve never gotten into JET), your special and unique experiences in Japan, and wish you luck as you continue on your own personal path.

  3. Pingback: Should I go on to a Ph.D. after my M.A.? Four insights about the differences between being an M.A. and a Ph.D. Student | What can I do with a B.A. in Japanese Studies?

  4. Pingback: Resource: Japan Foundation Directory of Japanese Studies | What can I do with a B.A. in Japanese Studies?

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