on the Go

Students from the University of Calgary explore business in Japan

Japan’s world-leading businesses have attracted global attention and set a standard that few nations can match. The quality, efficiency and precision of Japanese products and services have generated international trust and a longstanding reputation for reliability. As a result, educational institutions, including the Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary, in Alberta, have establish­ed programs in which groups of students travel to Japan to learn first hand about, and experience, the local mode of business.

On May 9, 25 undergraduate students from the business school, accompanied by program leaders Teri Bryant, Leighton Wilks and his wife Christine Louie, arrived in Tokyo from Calgary. They had come for one of Haskayne’s Group Study programs, which features a three-week trip to Tokyo, Nara, Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto. Their focus was mainly on Japanese business, but aspects of tourism — temple visits and a trip to a sumo match — had a place in their itinerary.

Bryant, a retired professor, launched the program after 25 years of teaching about business with Japan at Haskayne. Along with Wilks, the current instructor of the courses Experiencing Japanese Business and Business with Japan, and a former Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) participant, she enrolled 22 students in the program for the first time last year.

The semester-long syllabus consists of two courses, providing the students with two course credits. One week before their voyage, Wilks and Bryant begin to equip the students with the knowledge and skills that will help them make the most of their excursion.

Bryant said she gives “a lecture every day to provide some background about Japan — everything from history to culture, manners and business environment.” Wilks, meanwhile, coaches the students to grow as individuals and in their cross-cultural intelligence. As he explained, “It is very much about having people develop the skills for international managerial confidence so that people can have the broad skill necessary not just to go to Japan, but to go anywhere foreign and successfully manage.”

The Experience

The students drop in at Toyota’s Takaoka Plant in Toyota City, Aichi Prefecture.

This year, the students visited and received presentations from various companies in Japan, including Mizuho Securities Co., Ltd., Pembroke Real Estate Japan, LLC, Nichirei Corporation, Toyota Motor Corporation, and Omron Corporation. Bryant and Wilks were able to organize these meetings not only through tours offered to the public, but through their personal ties in Japan, which they look to expand and diversify each year.

Sarah Reid, a fourth-year accounting student, said, “My highlights for the trip were all of the company tours that we went on, because you can come to Japan as a tourist and not see that side of it. Also, the different cultures within each of the companies revealed different parts of Japanese culture.”

Caroline Macdonald, graduating with a human resources major, added, “The amount of preparation and care that went into delivering these presentations to us was something I didn’t really expect.” To Wilks, “each company visit reveals something new about Japan and gives a little more insight about what is going on here in the business world.”

“Every student needs the opportunity to travel at some point in his or her degree, because the world is only getting smaller.”

In addition, the group had the chance to interact with Waseda University students who are involved in similar programs. This gave the students the opportunity to exchange ideas and compare their ex­periences at differ­ent businesses and in school systems as well as, most notably, of the job recruiting process.

A visit to the Embassy of Canada to Japan offered the students insight into relations between Japan and their home province of Alberta, as well as with Canada as a whole. Moreover, the government’s role in an embassy, and the importance of that embassy, were topics that students found educational.

New Perspectives

In visiting various companies and the Canadian Embassy and meeting Japanese students, the young visitors encountered traditional Japanese businesses face to face, and learned how they will be transforming in the future. Macdonald said, “I didn’t even know that full permanent immigration is so low here. But it does make sense. From just experiencing the cities and going on company visits, [you can] see how well they preserved their culture.”

With regard to the future, Reid noted some of the effects of globalization in Japan. She commented on how businesses affect one another internationally, and said that it was apparent that young Japanese employees are no longer remaining at one company for an extended time and are likely to be more aggressive than in the past in finding new positions — as they are in Canada.

Another takeaway from the trip was the vitality of international communication. Shelly Kirkland, who is finishing her human resources degree, said, “I think that any time you go into another culture and try to understand why they are the way they are, and why and how things work, it is beneficial [for when] you work … especially in Canada, because we have so many different types of people.”

Echoing this sentiment, Macdonald said, “If you have to meet with people from other cultures on an individual basis, you might be more comfortable knowing that you have broadened your horizons outside of Canada.”

More than Facts and Numbers

Even after just one year, admittance into the program has become highly sought after among Haskayne students. According to Wilks, six students have already applied for a position next year. In fact, Japan has become by far the most popular and frequently offered destination for overseas courses at the University of Calgary.

Students are increasingly looking to internationalize their degrees and gain more from their university programs than just textbook knowledge. “Every student needs the opportunity to travel at some point in his or her degree, because the world is only getting smaller,” Reid said.

A visit to the Nichirei Corporation includes a photo session with the company’s official character, Itame-kun.

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