Japan: Commuting and Conversing

Marguerite Franklin is currently a 3rd year Japanese and biology major who studied at KCP International Japanese Language School in Tokyo this past summer. Though her time in Japan was short, she learned a lot and had a great experience, which you can read snippets of below!

Commuting in Tokyo

One thing I of course knew before going to Tokyo was the intensity of commutes on the trains. I have quite a few factors going against me: first, being a city, people rarely idle and are always on the move to their destinations. Secondly, Tokyo is an absolutely massive city. And finally, the station that I have to pass through is the busiest station in said city, seeing over a million people a day on average. With all of this in mind, it is not difficult to imagine that the cars of the trains get packed rather quickly. Even knowing all this, I was still unprepared for the complete absence of personal space that was shared with fellow commuters.

It was easy to become self-conscious on the train. No matter how much I may have tried, sometimes I would end up knocking into someone’s side or stepping on their shoes. I felt like I was sticking out like a sore thumb due to my own clumsiness and wondered whether it was possible to ever become acclimated to such an embarrassing predicament. Yet here I am, a week in and I already view my time on the train as a rather fascinating event that I no longer worry about. But what changed in my short time here?

I think I became a lot less nervous when I stepped back and reminded myself that all of the people around me are indeed strangers. I know nothing about them and they know nothing about me, whatever ideas about me that they may hold in their heads are unlikely to be conveyed to me. Observing others, I noticed people nearly falling from paying more attention to their phones than the train coming to a halt, people dropping their phones, and several other incidents where no one batted an eye. I realized how much I overestimated my own importance, it was a small reality check of sorts. Moving forward, I will remind myself that I will always be my greatest critic.

An Unexpected Conversation

As the weeks have passed, I have become so used to my commute to and from school that I unfortunately developed the tendency to somewhat zone out. I pass certain landmarks, such as the McDonald’s by the station entrance, or the Shinto shrine to keep myself on the proper course. However, I am otherwise more focused on the music playing on my phone. I guess you could say I have fallen into a state that has taken my surroundings for granite. Today, however, was different.

I pass the small lot that usually has stray cats, but this time there is no one around and I feel a bit more bold than usual. So I approach a black cat sheepishly, hoping that I would not end up with some scratches. I am pleasantly surprised not only when it meows and rubs against me, but another tabby cat joins us. As I enjoy my impromptu therapy session petting the cats, an older woman comes out commenting how cute they are. The introvert in me instinctively wants to excuse myself and prevent an extended conversation, but the more responsible side of my psyche reminds me that I have little time and want to make the most out of what I have left.

For the vast majority of our talk, I could properly understand what was being said. I will admit that there were times when I had to kind of nod along or just outright say “I don’t understand”, but the woman was very patient and kind. Before I knew it, we talked about common topics like where I am from, to more personal topics such as politics. Before I knew it, a whole hour had passed. Even though it put my whole schedule for doing homework off, I was grateful to be able to get an extended one-on-one practice with my conversational skills. I only have a little over a week left and I am still able to find new things to enjoy even during my regular routine; I’m definitely going to miss Japan, but I know I’ll be back soon.

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Interning and Commuting in Shanghai

Let’s turn to Elizabeth Chung, an economics major who studied during the Spring 2018 semester on the UVA in Shanghai: Fudan University program as a 2nd year. Read about her experience as an intern in addition to her classes below!

While in Shanghai, in addition to attending a full course load, I have also been interning two days a week. The company is called Knudsen&Co, and they are a foreign-invested company based in Shanghai that consults on foreign companies hoping to join the Chinese market. Every Thursday and Friday, I hop on the Shanghai metro during the crazy rush hour and get smooshed into a train cart. The metro during rush hour is really something else. While the trains run frequently, it is just a fact that too many people need to use the trains. People line up for the trains, and once the train doors open, people all push and push into the train carts. I have been shoved a handful of times. While seemingly rude, it is just the fact that people need to get to where they need to go, and if they want to get there on time, they have to push to make it onto the train.

            Once I have made the 45-minute commute, I take the elevator to the 34th floor, the top floor, to get to my office. The CEO is a Danish woman and is simply incredible. She has lived in Shanghai for over 10 years and has been enormously successful with her business. My day to day work is based on whatever my colleagues need help with, whether that be research on recent regulations or working on social media, it really depends on what the current projects are and their priority. This is their busy season, so they have a lot of clients who are working on a variety of different projects. As one of their multiple interns, I am there to help where I can. However, I am also working on a specific project for a new client where I am researching and drafting a government strategies report. My majors are economics and foreign affairs, and I am really interested in how economic analysis affect policy. With this project, I am researching how government policy is affecting and can affect a business plan or proposition. So, it has been really interesting to see how the inverse of what I am interested in works.

            A big part of my research includes learning about obesity in China, where I learned is a major problem in the country. After the United States, China is the most obese country in the world and rapidly catching up to the U. S. Because of this major problem, China has made multiple major policy shifts towards making health a priority when making future policy. I have really been enjoying delving into a specific topic, where I can simultaneously learn about the policy implications for a business and learn about the Chinese development and how that has culminated in serious health issues. In addition to economic policy, I am also interested in development, so gaining knowledge about how Chinese development has progressed for this report has been fascinating for me. Also because Knudsen&Co is a small business, I have been exposed to how a small business can create roots in a foreign country as well as the grit and hard work that is necessary to survive and thrive.

            The fast pace of a small business also brings new energy into the office, and allows me to really be involved in the work that they do, allowing me to learn a lot about business, especially international business. Working 8-hour days twice a week when I have other courses and trying to explore a new country and city have been tiring, and I don’t always get to go out when my friends do, but it has been an incredible experience so far. I definitely have to manage my time more than my friends who are not interning do, but I do feel more like a local when I am on the metro when they are, and working the 9-5. It is the study and interning abroad that has enabled me to have these experiences that I am grateful to be receiving.