Japanese Studies 5-10-20: Resources and Thoughts on International Education

For our fifth article in our Japanese Studies 5-10-20 series, today we have a unique perspective from Stephanie Toriumi, a student advisor (Academic Officer) for the Liberal Arts program at Hawaii Tokai International College. She will talk about how she landed a job in international education five years out of college. If you’re interested in working in international education, especially in post-secondary education, check out what she has to say below!

Previous 5-10-20 articles:


A little bit about me…

If I were to describe my Japanese education, I think the best word would be a ‘roller coaster’ since there were gaps when I was pursuing Spanish and French, and my level of Japanese dropped. I’m lucky though to have been able to fall back on the cushion of growing up as a second generation Japanese-American surrounded by Japanese language and culture. I also think that’s part of the reason why I’ve always been interested in language education and love traveling and learning about other cultures.

I always idealized working as an interpreter/translator and applied to the Monterey Institute of International Studies (MIIS) with the intention of becoming one, but then changed my career path to become an international educator after realizing that it was more my passion to help students overcome linguistic and cultural barriers. Having had the opportunity to study and work in Japan, I wanted to make use of my past experience and language skills in some way and found that I would be able to do just that in the field of international education.


How did I get here?

International education is a growing field, and includes professionals working in language schools, international student and scholar services, study/volunteer abroad, education policy, government agencies, and more. Now one year after receiving my M.A. degree from the MIIS and five years post-graduation from Middlebury College, I work as a student advisor (Academic Officer) at Hawaii Tokai International College where the majority of students come from Japan to strengthen their English skills in the College Prep program and to get their A.A. degree in the Liberal Arts program.

Before working in Hawaii, I worked as an American Language and Culture Program Director for VIA, a non-profit organization at Stanford University. VIA also runs social innovation, leadership, and healthcare programs for East Asian undergraduate and graduate students as well as service learning programs for U.S. students in Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam. I came across VIA on Idealist while searching for an organization where I could complete my grad school practicum requirements. The international education management degree at MIIS is three semesters long, with one year of coursework at the school and a 4-6 month practicum working or interning in the field.

What kind of international education opportunities are there in Japan?

After working at VIA for a summer, I worked as an Undergraduate Student Exchange Coordinator at Nagoya University of Commerce and Businesssupporting the academic, extracurricular, and residential life of incoming exchange students. I found this job through CareerEngine managed by the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan. It can be difficult finding a university job from outside of Japan because unless you’re contracted through a temp agency, most universities will require you to send your application by postal mail and ask you to come for at least two in-person interviews.

If you’re interested in working at a Japanese university, search engines such as the Japan Research Career Information Network (for universities), GaijinPot (for private companies) are good places to start looking. I suggest looking at schools making a strong effort to internationalize their campus like Ritsumeikan Asia-Pacific University and Akita International University, or one of the institutions in the Global 30 Project. These schools usually attend the annual Asia-Pacific Association for International Education conference, which can be a good networking opportunity as it brings together international educators in the Asia-Pacific region. For more in-depth information on the internationalization of Japanese institutions, you can view my research.

What kind of international education opportunities (related to Japan) are there in the U.S.?

Universities are seeing decreases in the number of Japanese students as fewer are studying abroad. However, short-term exchange programs such as Ayusa (Intrax Japan) and the TOMODACHI Initiative led by the U.S.-Japan Council and U.S. Embassy in Tokyo are helping to promote educational, cultural, and leadership exchange in the U.S. Jetwit is a great resource to look for jobs related to Japan. You may also want to look at the Japan-America society in your region or research institutes like the East-West Center located in Hawaii and Washington D.C.

What if I can’t find a job?

Being non-employed can be scary, frustrating, tiring, and depressing. Trust me, I know what it feels like since I had a hard time finding a job that matched my interests after returning home. Even though it can be difficult to have the time but not the money to have fun, it’s important to stay positive and network with people. In fact, a lot of people find their way into the international education field through connections without a M.A. degree. However, if you want to step up to a managerial position in the future and gain useful knowledge and skills beforehand, it helps to pursue a M.A. degree related to your career path.

After months of nothing, I thought of giving in to take up any type of job; but in the long run I’m glad that I listened to my family and friends to just keep on applying. Also, the long break gave me the opportunity to relax, reflect, and do the things that I always wanted to do. For example, I took the opportunity to get back in shape and write Living Island Style in Hawaii & Okinawa, a short e-book in Japanese about my experience of living in Ishigaki, Okinawa on the JET Program. I used Puboo to create my e-book and found it to be straightforward and user-friendly since it allows the user to add writing and images, publish for viewing on iPad, Kindle, Android, etc., and share for free or sell easily with one-click. It also lets you edit your writing at any time unlike print-on-demand and eliminates the hassle of finding a publishing company.

Why study abroad in Japan?

As companies globalize, more employers are looking for people with international experience and people who can speak other languages. Living overseas is a great opportunity to not only learn the language, but also the culture of another country and meet new people. I feel that my experience abroad has made me a stronger, wiser, more open-minded and mature person. So if you have the chance to study or work abroad, I say take the challenge of leaving your friends and family to explore and discover things on your own. Japan is a great destination not only for travel but also for study abroad because it’s well developed, clean, safe, rich in history and natural beauty, and has good food and entertainment.

Many students find Japan fascinating because they’re attracted to the eccentric country with a unique culture. Nonetheless, cultural and linguistic barriers also make it difficult to adjust and adapt quickly. Even though I had been to Japan when I was little, I still went through culture shock when I lived there. Most people who work in the international education field want to help international students and scholars because they understand the hardships and joys of living abroad from their personal experience. If you’re going to Japan, I recommend checking out Surviving in Japan, an unconventional how-to guide for living in Japan and the Japan Travel and Living Guide.

I hope this post was meaningful for you in some way and wish you the best of luck!


Stephanie Toriumi received a B.A. degree in International Studies (Spanish Literature & Culture) and minor in Japanese and French from Middlebury College. Afterwards, she attended Stanford University’s Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies in Yokohama, and then worked as a Coordinator for International Relations on the JET Program in Ishigaki Island, Okinawa from 2010-12. She has a M.A. degree in International Education Management from the Monterey Institute of International Studies and now works at Hawaii Tokai International College as a Student Advisor (Academic Officer) for the Liberal Arts program.  

About Paula

Paula lives in the vortex of academic life. She studies medieval Japanese history.
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