January 21, 2010 11:18 AM

Farewell my endless summer

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From the U.S. to Japan

I welcomed the turn of our new decade by surrounding myself with palm trees, paw prints, and chilling 60 F [brrrrr] ocean breezes; and of course, I cannot forget running , well more like walking, with my mom. Quite a peaceful life to live if I do say so myself. But being the restless and free spirited soul that I am, soon I'll trade all of these perks of California living in for cherry blossoms and expensive fruits and vegetables- or should I say はなふぶき と たかい かさいるい - halfway across the globe in the wonderful country of Japan. Yes you've guessed correctly; those are Japanese characters.

Recently, I was accepted to the Engineering and Science in English Junior Year Program at Tohoku University. Quite a mouthful huh? In addition to taking Japanese language and biology classes, I'll be researching in a lab for 15+ hours/week. Please don’t be fooled that I am one talented young lady who is so fluent in Japanese that she can carry out independent research projects in Japan. I confess, my proficiency in Japanese is that of a 5 year old or rather that of a 3 year old! Despite the language barrier, my enthusiasm to meet my second ‘lab family’ and figure out the purpose of my life [without my family inculcating their ideas on my decisions] far outweighs my fear of being in a foreign place all by myself.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm a big baby when it comes to leaving behind my two precious heelers and family behind. However, I desperately need an entire Pacific Ocean to separate myself from my comfort zone in order to keep my sanity. Just kidding! Studying abroad at this point of my life will most definitely provide ample opportunities for me to grow as a scholar and a person.

Why you may ask. Being part of a collegiate culture where my standardized test scores and G.P.A. are constantly under scrutiny, excelling as a team member and team leader are my solutions to escape the clinical methods many people rely on to judge my abilities. Over time-either due to habit or my obsessive compulsive nature to ameliorate my mediocrities- I routinely ask myself what I can do to be a leader in any chosen activity. Sometimes before and after the activity!

My Leadership Goals in Japan

Going to Japan is not an exception. Prior to my ten+ hour flight, I made efforts to find information on leadership to aid in my soul searching of what being a leader is about. Fortunately, I found a thought provoking article on leadership by Philip E. Agre1, a UCLA associate professor. Professor Agre explained it best when he wrote how “the true leaders of a profession are the thought leaders: the individuals who synthesize the thinking of the profession's members and articulate directions for the future.”1

I must say, trying to be a “thought leader” is quite a difficult feat for this sheltered bookworm to accomplish. Thus, two of my many priorities this semester are to: 1) observe and hopefully live the admirable Japanese work ethic and 2) gain practical experience inside and outside the laboratory to “evidence [my] capability, motivation, and commitment to conduct independent study and research at an advanced level” (Duke University’s Nicholas School). Along the way, maybe I could pick up a few techniques on assaying data and delegating responsibilities from my future principal investigator and lab friends. My goal is to gain enough wisdom to notice a person’s strengths and help him/her maximize the potential behind his/her talents. But first in order to earn the right to do so, I need to stop being cautious, take risks and allow myself to be vulnerable. I realized that traveling and studying abroad seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to earn and learn about the honor and privilege of being someone’s leader.

Another point that I agree with Professor Agre is on how “leadership means both talking and listening, both vision and consensus.” Currently, I’m tingling with both anticipation and apprehension for the day when I’ll be force to listen in order to survive as a foreigner and to be in any position to talk. There is a dual purpose to all my madness. Firstly, this will quicken my assimilation into the Japanese culture. Secondly, being able to understand the mentality and conflicts a listener faces will help the talker (who I ultimately wish to become) appreciate the needs of both parties. Because at the end of the day; both listener and talker are serving each other for the benefit of the team.

I realize that by going to Japan, I am forcefully putting myself in a situation where growth is of a necessity. Or in the words of my friend, “the only way is UP” since I am starting again from scratch in many regards. I’ll be in a foreign land, surrounded by strangers who speak a foreign language, with no local family members for comfort and support. Tough challenge for a girl who has never been outside California in the past 16 years! Despite my incessant tomfooleries in this blog post, I do feel passionate about Professor Arge’s opinions on how “every professional must be a leader.” As an APIASF/GMS scholar, I understand that we all aspire to become a professional in our chosen field. I also understand that we have a responsibility to lead others in order to continue the cycle of opportunities and hope given to us by our generous benefactors. With our great support system and innate intellectual curiosities of APIASF/GMS scholars, I have confidence that every one of us will realize our potential to become a leader in our profession. Taking this line one more level up, I believe that you can be a leader too. If you can listen, talk and think, you are already half way there at being a leader. Just remember to listen with your heart, feel with compassion and think with intuition.

1. Arge, Philip E. “How to Be a Leader in Your Field:
A Guide for Students in Professional Schools.” Phil Agre’s Home Page. 7 Oct. 2005. UCLA. 15 Jan. 2010 http://polaris.gseis.ucla.edu/pagre/leader.html.

P.S. I wrote this narrative for my APIASF/GMS blog and thought it would be neat to post it on here.


Amelia Nguyen | Permalink | Comment on this article | Comments (2)

Comments (2)

Hi Amelia. When did you get your acceptance notification? And by what? Email, letter, or phone call? Do you know if other EAP programs will be giving notifications soon? Thanks.


Posted by Jade | 2010-01-21

Hello Jade! I recently got my official acceptance letter through email. Later on, people from the University wide Office will mail my actual letter in order for me to apply for my visa. However, I knew about my acceptance months ago through my Berkeley EAP adviser. I don't know much about other EAP programs, but I am under the impression your EAP adviser will contact you as your departure date nears. But Jade, you don't need to worry about getting accepted. As long as you fill out all the forms they ask you to by a certain deadline, you're *most likely* guaranteed a spot :). Really. I'm glad you found this blog. If you have any more questions, feel free to ask! I'm happy that you've decided to study abroad. Good luck with the application process and with SCHOOL. Try to stay dry and warm too!


Posted by Amelia | 2010-01-22

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