Tag Archives: go international

European Accounting Experience – Karinn Uppal

Introduction

I am a first generation American. As a child of immigrants who came to this country with a strong drive to succeed, it was only natural for me to be taught the value of hard work, commitment and, above all, education at a very early age. Because of my strong desire to achieve and excel I choose to take on challenges that will better my knowledge and perspective. The most recent challenge I have taken on is to pursue my Bachelors and Masters Degree simultaneously. I believe that the Accounting Program and the Masters Program here at the University of San Diego will do just that.

Traveling and being a well-cultured individual has taught and shown me many different aspects of the world and given me a global perspective from a young age. I am a very lucky individual who has been given many opportunities to explore out of my home. From traveling alone abroad, to visiting my parent’s motherland, I have seen so many different sides of the globe. Places as diverse as an impoverished village in India, to the Champs-Élysées in Paris, France, both very different settings, with different stories to witness and experiences to have. In cities such as London, Paris, and Rome, I hoped not only for an incredible travel experience, but an opportunity to expand both my professional and personal aspirations, and I received just that. This program helped me excel and take a step further towards my goals.

The International Accounting Experience

On this trip, I expected there to be many office visits, including both accounting firms and companies. In addition to these professional trips, I also expected us to partake in typical tourist activities, such as being on a tour bus in London to visiting the Vatican. In my free time I was able to explore the city in a new light, interact with different people, and find hidden places in the city I did not know about prior to the visit.

The company visits were centered on the differences between what we are accustomed to in the United States versus the international guidelines and standards found in other places. Specifically, I was able to see how this played a role during our visit to the IASB. At this particular visit, we met David Ji, an employee who presented us with a lot of information on accounting standards and what they hope the future looks like. His presentation was of value to me because it helped me understand how subsidiaries and companies have to deal with standards globally, something I will have to do once I start working.

Prior to the trip I was intrigued to see how the culture plays a part in the work environment and how the professionals act with each other versus our cultural norms. I definitely saw this culture difference in France. The hierarchy at the Amada visit was very prominent, and it was shown that those who have a higher standard job do not like to do work that is “beneath them.”

The tourist activities and exploration helped me grow personally. Through the other activities I was able to come across students I was not close to before the trip had started. I created new relationships with Austin Andrews and Andrew Taggart, two people I did not know at all prior to the trip. In addition, I went to the Colosseum with Carolyn, Cheng Cheng, Veronica, and Cecilia, four other students I had not known prior to this trip. Building relationships with these girls exposed met to a culture I had not been exposed to before. I realized how different the Chinese culture is by having conversations with them about home.

Professional Growth

With the International Accounting Program, I enjoyed meeting with our European colleagues and counterparts during the planned company visits. I exchanged ideas and had thought-provoking discussions based off the many questions I had asked. Specifically, it was very helpful to meet expatriates in the Big 4 where they would answer all of our questions. As someone who wants to enter a public accounting firm and work internationally, it was very helpful to meet someone who is currently living my future goals. At PwC I met two expatriates who were on their international rotations. I continuously asked if there was a culture shock moving and if they would want to go back to the states. It was interesting to see two different perspectives and different answers towards this question. One PwC employee said she would and will eventually move back to Southern California no matter what, where as another employee said he was there for the long-term and wants to permanently move there.

Someday, I may want to pursue career opportunities in Europe, and therefore having professional relationships with people that live and work there could be immensely rewarding. I met Claire Beng, a partner at KPMG that stepped in at the end to answer our questions. Claire and I bonded over our similar view towards a company we had both previously worked for, Accenture. After having a conversation with Claire she gave me her business card and said, “Stay in touch. I look forward to speaking with you.” After hearing that I added her on LinkedIn and she remembered exactly who I was. This connection will be beneficial and helpful to have back in the states and its very exciting to have made a connection through this trip.

Conclusion

This program was fast paced, with a full and busy schedule. It provided me with a good view and keen insight into what I could expect life to be like in the “real” world past the academic life at USD. I will constantly be busy in the public accounting field, with new clients, becoming certified, and building good work relationships; I will not have much free time in my day. I have further developed two critical skills that I need prior to entering the professional world: to be able to prioritize tasks and have excellent time management skills.

I believe that traveling abroad while in the process of obtaining my masters was an extremely enriching experience. I gained a new set of skills that will add to my professional career and personal life. This experience connected me to a whole new world of people, may it be students or professionals, many of whom I hope to have lifelong meaningful relationships.

Prior to being an Accounting Major, I was a Biology Major. But now that I have developed this passion for business and accounting; the idea of traveling and receiving credits towards my Master’s degree that once appeared as a dream has become reality. This international program advanced my persona and character in more ways than one and I am so appreciative that I was able to partake in it.

To check out more student experiences, please visit our Study Abroad blog page.

Information on international opportunities can also be found on our website.

A Perfect Ending of My MBA Experience – Vivian Ma

Life as a student is enjoyable especially when you get involved in an Ahlers Center’s study abroad program. My second time studying abroad in the emerging country of Peru and my last time joining the Ahlers Center for an international program as a MBA student has given my whole MBA learning experience a perfect ending. The GSBA course of Latin American Business Environment was short, intensive, yet harvestable.

Firstly, during the two day on-campus classes, we learned the conceptual frameworks, managerial skills and background knowledge to help us make more knowledgeable decisions when it comes to formulating and implementing business strategies in Latin American countries. 

Secondly, it was always our unique advantage that we were scheduled for company visits during program. The most impressive one for me was the visit to Belcorp’s headquarters in Lima. Their vision contributes to the empowerment of women in Latin America, to awaken and build women’s capabilities, so they can imagine a better future and make it happen. On the day of our visit, it happened to be the International Women’s Holiday and they launched a campaign of red lipstick to symbolize women as warriors. We were involved in this campaign as well. I was so grateful, humbled and inspired to be there on that day and part of their vision.
Thirdly, besides the class itself and the company visit, there were two more amazing parts of this trip. We engage in a culinary tour on bike, which not only allowed us to cover more ground to visit places of interest, but gave us more flexibility and connectivity to the city as opposed to the standard bus tour. After finishing the class, we had the opportunity to explore a world miracle, Machu Picchu. We experienced four seasons, the rains, clouds, and sunshine, all in one day to get an amazing view of Machu Picchu city. It is just like a life’s journey. When you experience obstacles or tough times, you really enjoy and treasure the happy times more. 

It is so true that the USD MBA study abroad programs are a real beauty in that it provides multiple opportunities to enable myself to fulfill a transformative journey, including hands-on consulting projects with big companies, national level support for entrepreneurs and so on. Life is never easy, but thanks to USD and to the Ahlers Center for International Business, I am more confident and well-prepared for my future. I would love to help promote these trips in my home country and get more and more people benefit from these awesome program.

To check out more student experiences, please visit our Study Abroad blog page.

Information on international opportunities can also be found on our website.

Consulting for Multi-Billion Dollar Companies in Munich – Asad Naqvi

The real value of an MBA along with the enormous multi-disciplinary knowledge that it inculcates, spanning across all critical business functions, is the international experience it can provide to help students develop a global mindset. A global perspective means being open to new ideas, issues and solutions. It will give business leaders an opportunity to explore changing ways of uncovering new business opportunities and evolving to implement leaner business models. It means being culturally sensitive and willing to learn from others. With businesses getting increasingly global and interconnected, an international perspective has become a skill every aspirational business leader must possess.  Working for LEDVANCE in Munich, was a wonderful platform to simulate the experience of working as a consultant for a multibillion dollar organization. It gave us a chance to get a pulse of the working culture in Germany, especially since the organization had booked a conference room for us to work within its premises. The lunch and coffee breaks allowed us to connect with other employees, learning about the business culture in Europe. More importantly, these meetings were pivotal in helping us seek a deeper understanding of the firm’s business and the electrical lighting industry. We leveraged these tidy bits of information to tailor our suggestions to the executives at the company. The experience has certainly equipped me with better decision making tools for European markets, by highlighting the differences and synergies between the business etiquettes and environment in the continent.

To check out more student experiences, please visit our Study Abroad blog page.

Information on international opportunities can also be found on our website.

Studying Italian Culture & Economy in Florence – Emmalyn Spruce

Intersession 2017 lasted exactly 35 days. Yet, as I look back on the countless impactful experiences, unique perspectives, and new friends it has provided me, it feels as though it lasted a lifetime. The trip I participated in (USD’s Second Year Experience in Florence, Italy) began in January, but I was able to spend time traveling Europe with my roommates beforehand. We started in Amsterdam and worked our way down to Florence over the course of a week or so, spending a few nights in places such as Zürich, Switzerland and Stuttgart, Germany. Although the experience of traveling abroad without the help of a travel agent or pre-determined schedule organized by an experienced professional was a stressful, exhausting, eye opening and completely rewarding part of my time in Europe, I’ve decided to describe my academic experience abroad as a student of International Business.

My first and favorite meal in Florence

As a participant in the Second Year Experience, students are able to choose from a variety of different courses offered during the three-week long excursion to Florence. Each class is taught by a USD faculty member and students receive USD credit towards their core requirements or major/minor. In addition to attending class every day, we participated in a number of course-related trips, which included visits to local museums and monuments such as Michelangelo’s David and an interactive virtual reality art exhibit featuring the works of Gustav Klimt. We also had the opportunity to meet with the owner of Leonardo’s Leather Shop, a local store we partnered with to collect data for our final projects, which analyzed the statistical trends of the shop’s sales. Our schedule also included a number of free days on which we were permitted to explore Florence on our own or travel to other Italian cities and regions by train.

The Colosseum looks just as incredible no matter how cold it is, but I’ve provided photographic proof that we nearly froze in Rome.

On our second free day in Florence, we set out to walk from our hotel through the narrow, cobblestone streets in search of lunch. We took our usual path along the river towards the city center, but were stopped just before we arrived by a line of police cars blocking the road. Whistles were sounding and chants were being shouted in Italian. The policemen were casually standing around, smoking cigarettes and chatting by the edge of the square, keeping an eye on whatever was happening just around the corner. Upon seeing this we became less nervous about what we might find. I made my way through a thicket of parked bicycles and into the square, where an ocean of light blue and cherry red flags ebbed and flowed. I watched as the people who held them in the air wandered back and forth speaking to one another and trying to keep warm as the protesters funneled into a small side street towards the city center.

It took a moment to find someone in the crowd who spoke our language but, after a few minutes, the purpose of the protest was vaguely described to us in broken and heavily accented English. The middle-aged Italian man said that they were workers for a major textile companies. Their employers had promised them new contracts and when the time came to sign them, the companies backed out. They were advocating for workers rights and specifically for contracts with fairer wages. As we made our way towards our usual lunch spot alongside the protesters, we ran into Mateo, a graduate student whom we’d met at Florence University of the Arts. When I asked him what he knew about the demonstration he explained that employees from different textile and footwear companies across Italy had come together with the help of a number of different Italian labor unions to protest the non-renewal of contracts. He pointed out signs that different sections of the group were holding up, “For example, this group you can see is from Milan, and those over there are from Bologna. They have traveled here to protest together so their numbers are larger.” Upon rifling through some Florentine news sources, I discovered that there were a number of reasons why the protest took place in Florence. The union officials who helped to organize the event intended for the timing (it occurred on the same day as many of the Florence Fashion Week events) to encourage the consideration of the difference between those who are wearing and selling high-end Italian clothing, and those who make it.

We could see the protest continue later that day in Florence, closer to the city center.

Poverty was not something I expected to see very much of when traveling to Europe. I assumed that, because we would be spending our time primarily in tourist-heavy areas, we would not see much exposure to this particular economic issue. This was not the case. Everywhere we went individuals could be seen selling trinkets in the plazas, outside of museums, and next to monuments. Others frequented the same areas and begged for money instead. I noticed that the large majority of these individuals were not native Italians. Many of the people I spoke to were refugees from Senegal, Africa. Some of the people had lived in Italy for many years and selling these knick-knacks and souvenirs had been their only source of income, while others had just recently arrived and could barely speak Italian, much less English.

Based on articles found in domestic sources such as The Local Italy and foreign sources like The Wall Street Journal, Italian politicians are primarily concerned with both the current banking system and immigration. A series of bad loans has plagued Italian banks since the Global Financial Crisis in 2008 and they are still working toward recovery. In addition to a financial system that is constantly at risk, Italy has taken in a record number of refugees and asylum seekers over the past few years. According to the UN Refugee Agency, the number of unaccompanied minors fleeing their home countries and seeking asylum in Italy has doubled in the past year alone. Unstable banks, along with the recent influx of immigrants from Africa and the Middle East, has caused major political upheaval in Italy and Italians debate solutions to these issues most frequently. It seems that many of the same economic, political, and humanitarian issues are prominent topics for discussion in both cultures. I was surprised to discover that economic stability and the immigrant crisis are major issues that both Italians and Americans are concerned with. Some of the other aspects of Italian culture, however, were much different from those in the U.S.

One of the most prominent differences in culture that I noticed and felt the need to adjust to was the emphasis on time. I noticed in many instances that, for Italians, time is most definitely not of the essence. I felt as though I was being rude when I asked for the check after a meal in a local restaurant, or decided not to have wine or dessert. In the U.S., we treat time as though it is an invaluable resource that must be utilized to its maximum potential. Every minute of my life is scheduled to a T, and meals in particular seem to be treated as a necessary evil that must happen as quickly as possible so as not to interrupt whatever important work needs to be done. I found that I had great difficulty adjusting to this particular aspect of Italian culture at the beginning of our trip, but by the end I was perfectly happy to spend two hours of my day enjoying a four-course lunch as we looked out across the beautiful Arno River.

We sat here for three and a half hours.

The academic aspect of studying abroad is thoroughly rewarding and I would recommend it specifically to those interested in international interaction. There are a few pieces of advice I would offer someone who is interested in studying abroad. The first is to make sure not to underestimate the importance of balance. Studying abroad isn’t exactly a vacation, but spending enough time on your academics will allow you to have a more educated understanding of your host country and its people. You will appreciate it in the long run. The second is to allow yourself room to deviate from the plan. Lose yourself in a city you don’t know, meet new people, ask for help, trust yourself and let yourself be vulnerable so that your time abroad changes you for the better.

To check out more student experiences, please visit our Study Abroad blog page.

Information on international opportunities can also be found on our website.

Ahlers Center Fellows of 2016-17

Many students completed an extensive application and interview process last fall, and ultimately three were selected as Fellows because of their past accomplishments as well as for their perceived ability to succeed in the field of international business. This program will be offered yearly to international business (IB) majors and minors, and will give students a chance to further their academic development through experiential opportunities in this area. Once students are accepted to the program, they commit to participate in three international business related activities as Fellows. Upon completion of these activities, they are eligible to receive a scholarship during their final semester at USD. Further, once the students graduate from USD, the Fellows also commit to mentor future IB majors and minors in their efforts to build a global mindset at USD. Now let’s meet our 2016-2017 Ahlers Fellows!

Emmalyn Spruce

Emmalyn Spruce is a second semester sophomore at the University of San Diego majoring in International Business with a minor in music. She participates in a number of extra curricular activities on campus including USD’s Choral Scholars Program, the Academic Review Council, and the USD chapter of Phi Alpha Delta, Pre-Law Fraternity International. She is a California native who loves to find adventure in every aspect of life, although her favorites include those found in literature, economic inquiry, and travel. Through the Ahlers Center Fellowship Program, Emmalyn hopes to supplement her degree with valuable international experiences that will help her to grow both as a businesswoman and as an individual. She looks forward to giving back to the program post-graduation by serving as a mentor for future Ahlers Fellows.

Aman Chopra

Aman Chopra is currently a senior at the University of San Diego majoring in International Business & Marketing with minors in both Theatre Arts and Information Systems & Technology Management. He was born and raised in Mumbai, India, but has lived in several countries including Qatar, Singapore, the U.K., and the United States. Moving around the world has exposed him to the diversity of cultures and complexity of global business. Through the Ahlers Center Fellowship program, Aman hopes to improve his knowledge of international business and expand his network with highly influential people in the field.

Janaye Perry

Janaye Perry is a Sociology major with an International Business and Leadership minor. Her dream is to be able to work with international students on various conflicts, working towards peace and unity across cultures through hands-on work. Janaye’s career goal is working with international non-profits to best utilize her skills of fostering positive and productive group dynamics. Through the Ahlers Center Fellowship program, she plans to use her inclusive, ethical, and process-oriented skills to manage those from various cultural backgrounds and work effectively towards promoting a more peaceful world.

To check out more student experiences, visit our Study Abroad blog page.

Information on international opportunities can also be found on our website.

An Unforgettable Adventure – Jeremy Sebastien

“Shanghai was my first trip to Asia and I approached the situation with an open mind and excitement to experience a new adventure. From the time that I got off the plane, Shanghai was complete sensory overload. The smell of food, the people, and the sounds of motorbikes honking as they drive past are omnipresent. There is an undeniable energy present in the city.

I have been fortunate enough to travel to other parts of the world. As an American, it is relatively easy to navigate most areas because of a clear western influence and common usage of English. Shanghai was different—in a good way. Not much English is spoken and the written language does not have any recognizable characters. When the journey started, I felt like a fish out of water. It didn’t take very long to feel at home in China.

Shanghai is an interesting blend of modern and ancient. The city is extremely cosmopolitan. A walk through Xintandi could make one feel like they are in New York City. Nanjing Road—with its bold neon signs and endless shopping—draws people into the spirit of the city for an evening stroll with no destination in mind. On the other hand, I would walk down that same road first thing in the morning and was amazed at how the main street looked like it was from the future, but the alleyways that branched out looked like they hadn’t been changed in centuries.

We had a job to do in Shanghai. The client that my team worked for was an up-and-coming agency that had a young staff and bold ideas. From d ay one, the company treated us as their own. They took us out to lunch and always made sure that we felt comfortable in the office. We were even invited to an after-work event and the invitation was extended to the rest of the Intersession group. We played dodgeball and laughed all night. It was one of the most memorable nights of the trip.

Our client gave us the freedom to explore ideas for the project. It was exciting to be a part of a newer firm that allowed its employees to act in an entrepreneurial way. It was also exciting to see that China is a growing and interesting place to do business. The country is expanding its reach and it was interesting to see the almost endless potential.

The study abroad program was one of the reasons that I decided to attend USD. My experience exceeded expectations. We were put into a new environment with a new culture and a new company. With that framework in place, we had the opportunity to take what we wanted from the trip. I came into the experience with the objectives of learning a new business culture and stepping out of my comfort zone. I wanted to take on an intellectual challenging project while experiencing life on the other side of the world. I left with much more than I wanted. I left with new friends, a broader global perspective, and an adventure that I’ll never forget.”

To check out more student experiences, please visit our Study Abroad blog page.

Information on international opportunities can also be found on our website.

In the Spotlight – Katrin Kandlbinder

Each year, the Ahlers Center welcomes international short-term scholars and researchers to the University of San Diego campus. Such visitors contribute to the Center’s vision of creating dynamic and globally robust environments in and out of the classroom. These scholars collaborate with USD faculty on various research projects and support the faculty in their academic endeavors.

We are delighted to have visiting researcher Katrin Kandlbinder with us for the current spring 2017 term. Katrin is a doctoral candidate at the International Real Estate Business School of the University of Regensburg in Germany. Working with USD’s Dr. Norm Miller, Katrin is conducting joint research on the United States housing market and how information efficiency affects real estate markets over time. She will be presenting her findings, alongside Dr. Miller, at the upcoming American Real Estate Society conference in April. We had an opportunity to sit down with Katrin to see how she has enjoyed her new home city of San Diego.

What has been your favorite experience in San Diego thus far?

I enjoy the weather, walking along the beach and especially the people. Everyone in San Diego has been so friendly and I have found it really easy to make friends. People are very willing to meet you and take the time to get to know you here. I have been very impressed with how willing people are to help strangers.

What is one thing about San Diego that you found surprising?

I think the public transportation system could be improved. I was surprised, for a city this large, that the public transportation is not more efficient. Everyone here has a car. And a dog! It seems that everyone in San Diego owns at least one dog.

What do you think you will miss most about San Diego when you return to Germany in April?

I will miss the weather, the ocean, and the open mindedness of the people.

Where are you living in San Diego?

I have an apartment in Little Italy which I love. The neighborhood is wonderful with plenty of shops, restaurants, cafes, bars and activities right outside my door. I joined a yoga studio close to my apartment and every Saturday I shop at the Little Italy farmers market.

What are some of your hobbies?

I enjoy yoga, visiting friends, and swimming. I play the saxophone and I also take voice lessons. So I love music!

What is something that you tried for the first time in your life in San Diego?

Clam chowder. Wow, it’s great!

What is something you have not yet tried in San Diego but hope to do before you leave?

I would love to try to surf. I am waiting for the weather to be a bit warmer and then I plan to try to surf for the first time.

Tips for Traveling to Lisbon and Madrid

Shreyas Sreekanth visited two locations, Madrid and Lisbon, and gave us some tips for what to do and see in both locations. Read on to find out more!

Since this was the first time I was visiting Europe, my excitement before leaving was overwhelming. We had a large group of people from different programs joining us in these wonderful locations, which made it even better to meet new people and hang out together. The pre-departure session that my classmates and I had with the Ahler’s Center was very helpful to prepare ourselves for the locations we would be traveling to, as we had speakers present who are from Lisbon as well as a person from the US currently studying in Madrid. They were kind of enough to give us a broad picture of what the locations are like, safety tips, appropriate traveling means, as well as suggestions of different restaurants and places to visit.

Lisbon is a great city in terms of the people, locations, food, and places to visit. The opening dinner on the first day was a great opportunity to meet everyone in the program. The authentic Portuguese cuisine was to die for, as I had the best sea food and wine. Our class was held in Catolica School of Business and Economics, which was a 10-minute cab ride from our hotel. The professors and students from the school were very receptive and catered to our needs in the best way they could, which made us feel more comfortable in our new environment. The class schedule was perfectly balanced between attending class and completing school work before we went out to explore the city.

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The city tour that the Ahler’s Center planned was what opened my eyes to what Portugal has to offer, as well as its prominent history. We had a certified guide who took us to the oldest part of the city, gave us information about how the city had been destroyed by an earthquake, and described what had to be done to build it back up to what it is today. It involved quite a walk, so it is highly recommended to be in comfortable attire and shoes (which will be stressed by Allison the day before). Everyone was quite tired after the session, but the highlight was going to an amazing pastry place, Pastéis de Belém, where we were served the best chocolate tarts I have ever had until now. This is a must try in Lisbon, as I ended up having a few every day after the tour.

The other must visit place is Sintra, where beautiful castles are located, as well as a breathtaking view from the western most part of Europe. The hike is through some wonderful small waterfalls and various ancieimg_20160604_013729nt castles. Again, it is recommended to wear comfortable shoes and attire, as it is almost a 4-hour hike to see all of the sites. The city also a lot of small little restaurants and boutiques that are interesting to peruse in, the restaurants are perfect to go with friends after a long day’s trek in the evening. A peculiar trend that I observed in Lisbon is that dinner time is usually around 10 PM, and hence, the places are open quite late. The language is not really a problem, as all the restaurants have English menus, and the minimal English that the cab drivers know is sufficient to get around the city without much difficulties. However, it is recommended to learn a few basic words in both languages, but if not, it is very important to carry a business card of the hotel with you at all times in case of an emergency.

After a week in Lisbon, we headed towards the city of Madrid in Spain. The most prominent experience I had in Madrid is the Tapas tour. Tapas is img_20160530_174244a must try in Madrid, as there so many variations to the small dishes and tapas is available in a lot of different places. The Dean also joined for us the event, making it that much better. We were lucky enough to be in Madrid during the UEFA finals between two of the most prominent clubs in Spain, Real Madrid and Atlético. The craze about soccer in Spain is real, as it is widespread throughout the city, and it seemed like the city came to a halt for those entirety of the game.

We were also fortunate enough to have guest speakers at both the locations who were from Europe to give presentations on their respective regions. The opportunity to learn about the history of both countries, the EU, and the Eurozone in general was fascinating. The industrial visits to We Do Technologies in Lisbon and the Google campus in Madrid was very useful to understand how business functions in Eimg_20160603_202749urope, and the experiences described by the founders of We Do technologies was very informative. They explained the challenges they faced in their industry, as well as how different it is to run a business in Europe in comparison to the US. The industrial visits are a core part of the program and it is mandatory to attend both of them. On a final note, the logistics and program itself were carried out very efficiently, with many thanks to Allison from the Ahler’s Center, as she coordinated with the local schools and kept us informed regularly through Whatsapp. Both of the cities were wonderful places to visit, to experience the European culture as well as to gain new knowledge, and a few credits, at the same time!

Tokyo: Culture & Corporate Governance

Jessie Ju made the journey to Tokyo this past spring break in order to experience the contrast between Chinese and Japanese culture, as well as provide future recommendations for traveling to Japan.

Japan, an island country that’s only one and a half hours flying from my home town, Shanghai. I have landed many times in Narita International Airport of Tokyo, yet I had never set foot in the country until this spring break. I was beyond excited to explore and get to know the Japanese culture.

Japanese culture and Chinese culture are very intertwined, yet distinct from one another. We kind of look similar, have something in common in parts of our languages, both eat rice and drink tea. What could be so different? And the answer is, everything!

Getting there and back
There are rarely any direct flights between San Diego and Tokyo. There are two major airlines in Japan, JAL and ANA, which both have frequent flights to the U.S. Both are great airlines with outstanding services. Most of the time, you will be connecting at LAX for your international leg when flying with them. You may also choose American airlines, such as United and Delta, or Asian airlines, such as China Eastern or Korean Air. It all depends on where you connect and the length of your layover. Total traveling time could vary from 12 to 36 hours. There are two airports in Tokyo, Narita (RNT) and Haneta (HND). Narita is larger and most international flights go through there, but it’s further away from the city (about 1 and a half hour by public transportation). Haneta is much closer to the city, but flight options are limited.
Tips:
– Bring a neck pillow and wear loose clothing, as well as comfortable shoes
– Get on Japan time as soon as you board and sleep as much as you can during the flight
– Stay hydrated!
– No matter how tired you are when you land, try staying up until normal bed time

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First Impression
Like most metropolitan cities in Asia, Tokyo has a huge population and very sophisticated public transportation systems. It’s busy, crowded, and exciting. However, it is also a society that prides itself on being highly organized and self-disciplined.

The best place to observe Japanese people is, without a doubt, in the subway. The Japanese subway lines are owned and operated by a few different companies. They virtually connect the entire city and it is the reason why Tokyo, being a highly populated city, does not suffer from traffic problems as a lot of other major cities do throughout the world.

So now, back to our observation of people in the subway. Japanese people all follow unwritten rules that have formed over time. For example, when riding the escalator up and down in the stations, the Japanese all stand on the left side of the stairs and leave the right side open for those who want to pass. When riding the train, people rarely talk with each other or on the phone, nor do they drink or eat inside the train.

Food
We had a survey of our class before going to Japan and the number one thing everyone was looking forward to was Japanese food. Japanese people are known for their seafood, from sashimi (raw fish), sushi, takoyaki (octopus balls), tempura (deep-fried seafood or vegetables) to teppanyaki (pan fried). Japanese food stresses the freshness of ingredients and the balance of subtle flavors.

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The first place we went to in Tokyo was a conveyor belt sushi restaurant. A conveyor belt sushi restaurant is where they place all the food on a long, moving belt that runs through the entire restaurant and the food plates are color-coded by their prices. Customers can just grab the food off the belt and at the end of their meals, the wait staff would calculate the total plates based on the empty plates of different colors. The sushi chefs work in the inner circle of the belt and replenish the food on the belt as needed.

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Another unique dining experience I had in Japan was at a ramen restaurant, where you start your experience by ordering on a vending machine placed outside of the restaurant by the door. Available items are listed with pictures and their prices. You can simply choose the items by pushing the button right next to the picture and a ticket with your order details will be printed at the end. The restaurant itself has stalls instead of tables, and each of these stalls has its own water tap, condiments, and menus. Each stall has a window that opens directly to the kitchen. Before you turn in the ticket from the vending machine, you will fill out a form with your preference of add-on ingredients (garlic, onions, etc.) and flavors (spiciness, saltiness, oil). These stalls can become larger per each customer’s preference. From my personal observation, most customers would rather enjoy their meals alone. It was quite an experience, one that you will never see anywhere else in the world.

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Attractions
During the time we were in Japan, we visited a number of tourist attractions, including the famous fish market and the Tokyo Imperial Palace where the emperor lives. Among these places, the one that stands out is the Meiji Jingu Shrine. Built in 1926, the Meiji Jingu Shrine is considered a spiritual place for Japanese and foreign visitors. The man-made forest around the shrine is seen as the central park of Tokyo. Maybe it doesn’t serve as an accurate metaphor, but it certainly gives Tokyo a layer of balance between human and nature.

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We had the luxury to attend a Shinto blessing session that the shrine conducts for both Japanese families and foreign families. The blessing procedure involved praying, singing, dancing, and blessing. An interesting aspect of the Shinto is that there’s no humanized god type figure. Instead, they believe that every living creature has a “Kanji” (spirit) and that “Kanji” is what they worship and what gives them power. In my opinion, this belief is a religious interpretation of the relationship between human beings and nature.

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Shopping
Tokyo is a paradise of creative products for demanding shoppers. Some of the world’s most amazing innovations could only be found in Japan, such as the multi-functional toilet seats, skin care equipment, and much more. The most popular shopping areas are Ginza, Shibuya and Asakusa, representing three distinct shopping experiences, high-end, offbeat and traditional, respectively. Look out for the most bizarre items, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Class
The combination of corporate governance and Japanese culture is an interesting thought. Before the trip, I had always envisioned it as being a showcase of best practices, given Japan’s leading position in corporate establishment and the high degree of organization and discipline of the society. To my surprise, the corporate governance practice in Japan has been largely impacted by its culture of always taking the middle path, and explains a lot why Japan has not been able to lift itself out of the bubble and reboot its economy.

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We visited a number of great companies on this trip, including Toyota, KPMG, and the Carlyle Group. We also had a long fruitful meeting with Mr. Taro Kono, the Japanese Cabinet Minister & Chairman of Public Safety Commission, who is known to be very straightforward about his political and economic opinions. He pointed out a number of issues and challenges that the Japanese government and companies are facing due to Japan’s corporate culture and its corporate governance conduct.

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KPMG gave us a rather holistic view of the recently established Japanese corporate governance code and how it’s implemented by companies. They have also illustrated the roles of accounting firms and consulting firms, such as KPMG, in supporting and monitoring the execution and compliance of the code.

image043Toyota, on the other hand, gave us a thorough demonstration of their vision, innovative efforts, and more importantly, how these activities tie to their CSR commitments. We also had the privilege to experience some of their new technology in Toyota Mega Web, a showroom of Toyota’s latest products and innovations, where we got to learn how to ride the Toyota Winglet, a self-balancing two-wheeled scooter.

These company visits really enriched the content of the class and allowed us to deepen our understanding of corporate governance in a real business context.

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It was overall an extremely exciting and insightful week. The only regret of this trip was that we did not stay long enough for the sakura (cherry blossom) to reach its full blossom. I guess it serves as a perfect excuse to come visit Japan again 🙂

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