Rather than staying on American soil next year, a group of Bowdoin seniors will launch their careers in Asia, dispersing after graduation to far-off places such as Singapore, Tokyo or Kagoshima Prefecture.
Vyjayanthi Selinger, assistant professor of Asian studies, says she’s seeing more Bowdoin students than usual this year headed to Asia for work or internships, including many more undergraduates. While she’s not entirely sure what’s behind this migration, she credits the active alumni group Bowdoin Club of Asia for helping entice undergraduates and graduates to Asia. She also points to students’ positive study-abroad or summer-abroad experiences.
Bowdoin Career Planning also collaborates with the Bowdoin Club of Asia to link students up with opportunities, working closely with William Bao Bean ’95, to create a list of internships or jobs through the club’s referral program, according to Career Planning Director Tim Diehl.
Profiles of Students Headed to Asia*
Carolyn Barber studied abroad in Nagoya, Japan, for a full year during her junior year, living with a host family and loving every minute of it. At Nanzan University, she studied “a little bit of everything”: tea ceremonies, flower arranging, linguistics, history, translation, arts and culture. For years leading up to this experience, Barber had been learning Japanese, a study she began when she was in high school in New Haven, Conn. At Bowdoin, Barber majored in Asian studies.
Barber said her interest in Japan was cemented after she traveled there in high school. “It was the first foreign country I’d been to,” she said — the first culture she got to know apart from her own and the first time she saw the United States from a foreigner’s perspective.
Now she is returning to teach English next year with JET, the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme. She doesn’t yet know where she will be placed but figures it will likely be with a school in a smaller city. JET, now in its 26th year, is “aimed at promoting grass-roots international exchange between Japan and other nations,” and attracts participants from 40 countries who teach English, coach sports or perform basic diplomatic functions.
In the future, Barber, who has studied Spanish and German, said she is interested in pursuing a career in translation. Although she modestly chalks up her proficiency in Japanese to “conversational,” she does give herself credit with her accent. This, she says, is because she listens to a lot of Japanese music and has watched a lot of anime.
Mai Kristofferson is moving to Tokyo next year, where her parents now live, to work for the marketing and consulting firm Macromill, Inc. She was hired by the Japanese company in the fall after attending a career fair in Boston for bilingual Japanese-English speakers. An Asian studies and government major, Kristofferson said she will likely work in the area of investment relationship management.
To do well in her interviews — she did 12 interviews over two days — she not only dressed the part (Kristofferson says there’s an unspoken rule that all job candidates in Japan wear a black suit, black shoes and a white shirt, and carry a black handbag), but she also took a class on the proper way to speak in the Japanese business world, which requires knowing when and to whom to use certain honorifics. She also carefully picked companies to approach, selecting ones that she felt had a progressive attitude toward women and foreign employees. Macromill, for instance, has a number of women on staff who say they will continue working after getting married and having children. “That is something I want as well,” Kristofferson said.
Kristofferson was born in Japan but moved to California when she was three, when her father pursued a career there in business technology. Her mother is Japanese; her father is American.
“When I am in Japan, I feel very American,” she said. “And when I’m here I feel Japanese.” One of the changes in herself she notices when she is in Japan is her outspokenness, more an American attribute, she says, than a Japanese one.
Kristofferson grew up speaking some Japanese, but strengthened her language skills during her junior year abroad studying at Waseda University in Tokyo. She says she’s excited to return to advance her Japanese. Her long-term dream is to work in diplomacy, perhaps with the United Nations.
Kim Lacey ’13 has been hired by the Japanese government as one of JET’s coordinators for international relations, or CIRs as they’re called, a position she says she was attracted to because “it provides invaluable experience for those who are considering pursuing a career in international relations in the future….” The position will place her in a local government office to help coordinate international exchange activities, offer translation and interpretation services for officials, teach English and receive foreign guests. Because this position requires fluency in Japanese, only between 4% and 5% of JET participants are CIRs, Lacey calculates.
Lacey not only speaks Japanese (which she’s been studying since her sophomore year at Bowdoin) but is also fluent in Korean (she is from South Korea) and has high proficiency Russian. She spent a year abroad in Moscow, studying at university and interning for EducationUSA.
When Lacey talks about her desire to live in Japan, she brings up the history of hostile feelings between South Korea and Japan. “The Japanese are not seen very favorably in South Korea,” she said, especially by people of her grandparent’s generation. “But history shouldn’t hinder us from going forward. … My ultimate goal is to be a diplomat and bring nations together.”
Like many of the other seniors headed to Asia after graduation, Vivaan Seth has led an international life. He was born in Delhi to Indian parents (his mother is a business reporter; he father worked in business), and moved when he was eight to Moscow when his father was transferred to new job within the multinational firm Unilever. After seven years in Russia, Seth attended high school in Singapore before heading to Maine to attend Bowdoin.
Now Seth is returning to Singapore to work for a eVantage, a three-year-old start-up that offers IT solutions to businesses across Asia. He’ll be working in sales and marketing, and though he doesn’t have a lot of experience in the area — he was a philosophy major and economics minor — he said it’s the part of the business world that most appeals to him.
Seth focused on finding a job in Singapore because he is fond of the place. “Out of the big cities in Asia, it has one of the highest standards of living; it’s an oasis of development,” he noted. “It’s very structured, clean, safe and has a lot of the economic benefits of other Asian cities.”
Seth got hooked up with his future employer through a Bowdoin connection, Michael Julian ’09, who worked in Singapore before moving to Hong Kong. “People in the tech world in Singapore know each other,” Seth said. The alumni group Bowdoin Club of Asia is also very strong in Singapore, Seth added, and he said he’s excited to connect with other Bowdoin alumni while he’s there.
In the future, Seth said he’d like to return to the United States to attend business graduate school. “Culturally I’m more American than anything else,” he said. “I relate to people here and like the country.”
In June, Lydia Singerman will be traveling to Nan, Thailand, for nine months to teach English at the elementary school, Bandon Sriserm Kasikornk School. She is being funded by Princeton in Asia, which offers about 150 fellowships each year to Burma, Cambodia, China/Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Laos, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nepal, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Thailand, Timor-Leste and Vietnam.
Singerman describes Nan as a small “city” (population 22,000) in Northern Thailand that sit along the Nan River. Much of the surrounding land is used for agriculture. Singerman and four other fellows will make up the whole English department of the school and be some of the only foreigners in the area, she said.
Singerman credits her junior semester abroad in Accra, Ghana, as sparking her interest in travel and international development. “I was attracted to Princeton in Asia because I was curious to discover a new part of the world as well as teach,” she said. “I view teaching as the perfect opportunity to explore and learn from a new culture while contributing to a community. I am also excited to eat Thai fruit, hike the mountains of my regions, try every new tropical fruit and maybe take up Thai boxing.”
Singerman points to her coursework in gender and women’s studies, which is her major, as useful in preparing her for her upcoming cultural immersion experience and in helping her think critically about being abroad.
Jonathan Song wants to be in the midst of change, in a country undergoing transformation day to day. “The 19th century was the European era, the 20th century was the American era, but the 21st century will definitely be the Chinese era. China is on the rise, with its growing middle class, widening markets and developing technology,” he said. Growing up in Hong Kong gave Song an intimate perspective on the tremendous growth of China’s domestic market. “There’s amazing untapped potential in China, and I want to be part of that change, to see it and feel it personally.”
Using connections established through the Bowdoin Club of Asia, Song discovered Yodo1, a start-up tech company in Beijing looking to hire college graduates. He interviewed with company officials through Skype in three different languages: Cantonese, Mandarin and English.
Yodo1 is helping game developers such as Robot Entertainment and Handy Games to introduce iOS/Android games into China. With 300 million Chinese on smartphones, and more buying new phones every day, Western game companies see a lucrative opening. But the companies need an in-country market specialist to help them navigate China’s complex distribution channels and social media landscape, Song said, which is where Yodo1, which has about 100 employees, steps in. Song will work in business development.
To help launch his career in China, Song took his final semester off from Bowdoin and enrolled in an intensive Mandarin Chinese course in Taiwan. An economics major, Song said he sees his future in Asia and in business, perhaps as an entrepreneur. He added, though, that his liberal arts education has prepared him to face any challenges. “Bowdoin offered me a chance to dive into the unknown and not shy away from new experiences,” he said.
Born in Sichuan province in China, Ruiqi Tang and her family moved to Nagoya, Japan, when she was just 12 months old so her father could pursue a doctorate in neurobiology and molecular biology. Her family stayed in Japan until she was seven, when they moved to the United States. But the country has not let up its hold on her.
“I love Japan,” Tang said. “Japanese was my first language, and though I am Chinese and speak Mandarin Chinese at home, I have always felt a personal attraction toward Japan.” She views her return to Japan in August to teach English for a year as a chance to reestablish her “special connection” to the country.
Tang, a gender and women’s study major, brushed up on her language skills last summer when she interned with a start-up company in Tokyo — an internship she secured through the Bowdoin Club of Asia. Tang said she requested a location in the countryside, and has been placed in Kagoshima Prefecture, in the southwest tip of Kyushu (the most southern of Japan’s four main islands). “Part of what motivated me to apply to JET and go to Japan was to experience what it’s like to be in a small community and be immersed in the culture,” she said.
Tang’s plans for her future entail working in development and health, with a focus on marginalized communities. In the summer of 2010, she received a Global Citizens Grant from Bowdoin to teach English at a school for abandoned Tibetan girls, Sengcham Drukmo Girls’ Home in the high mountains of Golok Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai Province. This past winter break, Tang received a short-term Urban Teaching Fellowship to help teach in a low-performing, under-resourced school in Boston.
*This is not meant to be a comprehensive list; for instance, it does not include RaiNesha L. Miller ’13, who will teach English next year in Indonesia on a Fulbright grant. Miller’s story is included in a Bowdoin story on 2013 Fulbright recipients.