There are few university students who have the opportunity to intern in Japan and even fewer who get the chance to do it while only speaking English. Naturally, this leads people to ask me What do you do for work? This blog post will be dedicated to sharing my tasks, routines, and events I have had the honour of participating in here at CityNet-PlusArts.

To make viewing this blog post easier, I’ll leave direct links to the main questions I answer:

What is the background of the company?

CityNet is a network of local governments and organizations around the Asia-Pacific region which was founded by UNDP and UN-HABITAT in 1987. Their objective is to promote technical cooperation among cities to address urban issues with the help of diverse groups of stakeholders. You can apply to be part of this network by participating in events, seminars, and collaborations to strengthen the region. Memberships are open to individuals, organizations and local governments.

Plus Arts is a Japanese non-profit organization that specializes in the integration of design and arts related to urban development, disaster prevention, and social issues. For example, they sell disaster educational materials designed for children like board games, card games, workshops, and other creative work.

Plus Arts is a member of CityNet and has supported CityNet projects on disaster risk reduction. They committed to host CityNet-PlusArts Center for Creative Partnerships (CityNet Kobe Office) in 2021.

How can you work in Japan if you only speak English?

My internship placement was coordinated by the Center for Asia-Pacific Initiatives in partnership with the University of Victoria. They send English-speaking interns all across the Asia Pacific region including Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, and more. The partner organization established in Japan has a combination of languages spoken. However, since the work our company does gets spread all across Asia, English is the mutual language that all members use. My tasks focus on the field of communications, report writing, and marketing. For example, every month I am responsible for publishing the E-Newsletter which features articles, photo galleries, and announcements. Below I’ve attached the newsletter I created for June, which features an article about a 3-day seminar I attended in the Philippines.

What kind of skills do you need to do your job?

The newsletters, data entry, and reports I make require me to use tools like Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. Since I’ve had some training and coursework using these tools it doesn’t feel too new for me, however, the learning curve comes from the standard of work and professional writing style. Since the people who read the work we produce are political figures like mayors, other non-profit organizations, and professors, the writing we do must be of a high standard but also digestible enough given the fact that English may not be the first language of our readers. Additionally, my work requires me to use design tools like Canva, photo editors, and artistic tools. Usually when documenting events, workshops, or seminars, I am the main media personnel tasked with taking photos or notes which later are taken into post-production to be edited.

What new skills are you learning?

Being an intern in a new country, industry, and environment has forced me to learn a variety of new skills. As a business student at the University of Victoria, most of our projects, assignments, and case studies revolve around solving a problem. It can be about budget constraints, market share, or exploring options for a new strategy to generate revenue. At PlusArts, my work tends to be more documentation oriented like reporting on the things that took place at an event, inputting survey results into spreadsheets and using those findings to create marketing material. I’ve learned so many different skills that I would have never had the opportunity to learn in the classroom. Working in an office where English isn’t the majority language forces me to be more aware of my body language, social habits, and edicts around my co-workers.

Working in multicultural environments is becoming an increasingly import skill to learn for the modern-day workplace and I have learned that first-hand during an international internship like this one. Being the only person who doesn’t speak the official language of the country you are working in can be a huge challenge.

While working back home in Canada, I have never been the only Canadian employee at my jobs. This made it difficult to understand some of the challenges someone in that position might feel. However, since working here in Japan and being in the shoes of that perspective, I have learned a greater sense of cultural awareness, acceptance, and appreciation.

Since I don’t speak fluent Japanese like my colleagues, I feel an overwhelming desire to fit in and be part of the conversation at work. Not to say I feel excluded or targeted but simply that being from a different country makes me different then other people. It makes me think, a lot of the time people from other countries in the Canadian workplace just want to be treated with respect, and not looked at differently because of the way they look. This is a really important takeaway for me to reflect on in the future as I interact with many people from various backgrounds.

During my first week, I had the opportunity to do an introduction presentation for our company alongside three surrounding offices in our building. It was such a pleasure to share my Canadian background, culture, hobbies, and interests with the people I would be spending the next three months with.

Who do you work with at PlusArts?

This is the PlusArts team. We are about 9 people at full capacity, and I couldn’t have asked for a better group to work with. There is a positive energy that spreads throughout the office even though people work incredibly hard for long hours. I have been welcomed with positivity during my time and even picked up some phrases to use around the office like “おつかれさまでした” or “thank you for your hard work” which I say each day after leaving the office. At least once a week someone will hand out Japanese sweet treats, cookies, or rice crackers that they have been gifted from a client. It’s the nicest thing ever and this sort of thing just doesn’t happen back in Canada. Click here for the company’s “Meet The Team” profile on their website.

What was the seminar in The Philipines that you atteneded about?

One of the most interesting opportunities I got to experience was the 3-day seminar in The Philippines which I mentioned earlier. This was my first time ever to go on an international work trip which I had always dreamed of doing. The purpose of the annual seminar is to get CityNet partner organizations together to listen to a panel of speakers from various fields, network with local governments, and build partnerships across members. Additionally, we had the opportunity to visit a local community that previously had issues with pollution, which is currently being rehabilitated.

This experience was very meaningful for me in many ways but what stood out was the people I had the chance to meet. With over 100 participants, about half being domestic attendees from The Philippines, and half being International attendees, there was a variety of interesting people to engage with. Alongside staff like mayors, directors, firefighters, professors, and companies, there was also the team that organized the entire seminar event who were some of the nicest people I had ever met. This team group worked incredibly hard putting one of the best seminars I have ever attended in my life. You see in the photos below Brian and Robin who were part of the photography team for the City of Makati.

During the three days, here is a brief overview of what happened.

  • Co-Lead Strategic Planning Meeting to gather inputs on the Disaster Cluster Plan for 2023-2026.
  • Seminar Day 1: Opening session and a thematic session on Understanding Risks in the Era of Systemic Risk, and Risk Communication.
  • Seminar Day 2: Thematic session on Governance and Financial Systems to Work Across Silos and Design In Consultation with Affected People, Site Visit to Barangay San Isidro’s Community-based Waterways Management, and Barangay Poblacion Earthquake Drill.

How has this work changed your outlook on the future?

Kendra (my boss) said to me last week that it’s not uncommon to see interns change or modify their career path or major after attending these internships. This is because you gain such a high level of exposure to different industries, cultures, and global issues that people face around the world. These types of inspiring callings are great enough for people to rethink their life purpose, goals, and future in life.

Now, I would be lying if I said I have become a completely changed person with a whole new life trajectory because of this experience, however, I can confidently say this placement has been the deepest I have critically reflected on my role in the world, and what my priorities are. These include my future jobs, the type of people I want to be with, the places I want to live, and the values that I want to carry forward.

As a business student, I have heard some single-story narratives about our values like we all believe money is a zero-sum game, there are only winners and losers, only profits or losses, and that in order for one person to succeed, another must fail. In my perspective, the Gustavson School of Business takes a different approach, they aim to create socially responsible business graduates who seek to find the “triple bottom line” which is People, Planet, and Profits. This way of thinking enabled me to approach this placement with a perspective and allowed me to focus on what aspects of life I can hope to better for others.

These are three areas l have personally been affected by and ways I can help create a positive impact:

  • Provide community-building web design or software services for assisting older communities in Canada.
  • Become a sales manager for a clean tap water development company that monitors, maintains, and tracks Asia’s ability to gain affordable access.
  • Help create marketing material for international, study abroad, or internship students to empower them with travel opportunities from Canada to the Asia-Pacific region.

These ideas did not come to fruition overnight, however, each of these goals has had some type of personal connection to my life, and CAPI has allowed me to see into the logistics, coordination, and ways to make socially responsible projects like these come to life. This internship has helped me realize this and I am so grateful that at my age I have the opportunity to be a part of these sorts of fulfilling goals to pursue.

This is where I will conclude Blog #4, it was very rewarding to write this post as it made me reflect on all the people I’ve met, the skills I’ve learned, and the opportunities I got to experience in the past three months. With only a couple weeks left until the end date of my internship, I want to thank you for reading my posts and will leave last week’s Blog #3 below. Bye everybody!