Emma Leek, a Journalism major and Japanese minor, undertook a virtual internship in the Summer of 2021 with one of our intership partners, as part of our Asia Internship Program. She has written about her experience below:
Over the summer I undertook a virtual internship with an international exchange company called Colorado House International. The founder, Sam Goodman, is a Colorado native and CU alumni who currently lives in Kanagawa, Japan. I was able to chat with him a bit during the interview for the internship, and I received a lot of prep information from the people at the Center for Asian Studies, but I was still very nervous for my first official day on the job. It turned out that I didn’t need to worry much because Sam was more than willing to talk me through my duties and tell me about the company. I learned that Colorado House International was a startup that facilitated company tours between Japan and the U.S. that eventually shifted its focus to exchange programs between medical universities in Japan and the West, and then shifted its focus again from in person to virtual tours due to the pandemic.
From the internship description and interview with Sam, I learned that the internship would not require me to be fluent in Japanese, would require some proficiency with various social media platforms, and would require me to do a lot of research. My major is in the College of Media, Communication and Information and I am minoring in Japanese, so I felt that everything described was in my wheelhouse. I was a little disappointed that I wouldn’t get to practice my Japanese very much, but as it turned out there were many opportunities for me to practice both my Japanese skills and my online skills.
One of the first opportunities I had to speak Japanese was during a business meeting I sat in on. From what I learned from Sam, Japanese business dealings have a lot of formalities, and it can take months to get to the point where one can have a productive conversation. I was allowed to sit in on one of those meetings on zoom, and met a very nice woman who Sam called Keiko sensei.The meeting was in English, which showed me that there is some leniency when it comes to foreigners, while I previously thought that not speaking Japanese would be a taboo of some sort. Sam and Keiko senseitalked about setting up an international business program at her university. I didn’t have to do anything during the call, but was still nervous as I spoke to her in Japanese at the beginning of the meeting for a bit.
For the next couple of weeks, our main focus was to recruit more Japanese universities into the virtual exchange programs. In order to accomplish this, I spent many days researching prominent Japanese universities, scouring Japanese databases for potential liaison’s emails, painstakingly drafting emails in the proper keigoformat [using polite or honorific language in Japanese], and contacting the company’s official email. While Japanese was not necessarily required at any point of this process, I quickly found that it was very helpful to know some good Japanese phrases. When it came to finding email addresses for potential liaisons, for example, I learned that the English versions of Japanese University websites are often more barebones than the Japanese versions and they often didn’t list any names or email addresses of their faculty members. In the Japanese versions however, all I had to do was find some keywords like “internationalization” or “heads of departments” and I would be brought to a more helpful information page. Additionally, Sam said that we could send feeler emails out in English, but I pushed for us to send them in Japanese if possible, and with a combination of AI and human translations we drafted an email in Japanese that would turn out to be a great asset to us.
Sam warned me that it would be unlikely for the universities to immediately show interest in our somewhat unknown business, but two major universities actually responded to our inquiries within the first couple of days. After the initial response, we quickly set up zoom meetings with the representatives. Both of the calls were on the same day, but in Japanese time so I was up until 3:00 am for one of them because I didn’t want to miss out.
The first meeting was with a relatively high ranking professor named Eri sanfrom a university in the Kantoregion.The second meeting was with a professor from a university in the Chūbu region named Hitoki san. At the end of both of the meetings the professors said that they were very interested in the programs and would need some time to follow up with their colleagues, which would take a couple of weeks. They also mentioned that part of the reason they were willing to meet us was because of the professional email I sent them, which made me proud. By the time the internship ended we were still waiting for a proper follow up, but I was told that if relationships with the two major universities were established, I’d be able to get some of the credit since I found the contacts for those universities and started communications.
One skill that I did need to think about frequently and had to refine as I went along was my business communication skills. Over the course of the internship, I found myself stumbling a bit when it came to effective communication with the university representatives and Sam. I think I was a bit flaky with communicating with Sam for the first part of the internship, and hadn’t really established the difference between personal and business communication. I realized I was probably creating some confusion for him by not communicating efficiently. I had a similar problem with the university representatives when replying to their emails. By the end of the internship though, I definitely figured out that efficient communication requires you to respond quickly and professionally, and that proper communication can make or break a business.
At the end of the internship, Sam said that if I wanted I could do some more work for him after graduation. Before the internship I was wary about the idea of working in Japan for both the cultural and language barriers, but this internship has taught me that there aren’t any obstacles that can’t be overcome. Right now I am improving my Japanese proficiency so I can study abroad and one day live and work in Japan.