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「会うは別れの始め」Meeting is merely the beginning of separation… How I came back to Japan

I’ve been writing here and there but it’s been five years since my last post on this blog. Let me tell you that I’ve had the pleasure to meet a few readers over the years, in many locations all over the world, and it’s been really great. I think it’s about time I started this blog again.

If we time-jump back to 2013 to the 22 year-old me − someone who had just left a job in Japan not knowing what the future holds, things are very different now–in a very good way. From fall 2013 to 2014, I spent time, quite literally days and nights, working on my master’s degree in Bristol, UK. It was one of the most difficult times of my life. Thinking back , I was a bit daring to have gone to pursue a degree in something that I had no solid background knowledge in. It was daunting but not impossible. I could only hope for the best but if anything, experience has taught me that good efforts will always be rewarded; I graduated with Distinction for my MSs (Master of Science) program. I will never forget that celebratory night my friends and I had. For a year and about four months, I studied, I worked part-time at two different places for two very cool bosses, I travelled (with the limited time I had) and I explored when I could, but most importantly,  I made some really good friends − some that I know I will always keep in touch and that is the most awesome thing of all. As the title says though, we all had to say goodbye eventually but I have got to met them again in many places later on. For many reasons, Bristol will always be one of my most favorite cities in the world.

 

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In June 2014, a week after all my final exams, I went to a career event for companies in Japan. Japanese companies that want to hire bilingual graduates came all the way to recruit people in the UK. I was well prepared, but the anxiety of not knowing what’s next was quite overwhelming. It was a productive weekend in London. I came back to Bristol preparing for a trip to Tokyo for another career event, but then I accidentally saw a tiny ad on Facebook about another career event in London that was going to be held in the next six days. It was not a well-known one so most people did not hear about it before but I clicked on it anyway. Thanks to their very user friendly website, I sent out mass CVs to all the companies that were attending with only just a few clicks. I didn’t really hope for anything because I was quite late in registering but fortunately, one company called me for an interview. And it was the first company that officially gave me a job offer that very weekend and after weighing all my options, it also turned out to be the place of my choice. I can tell you now that I am so glad I saw that ad (THANK YOU, FACEBOOK!).

After obtaining a degree certificate in January 2015, I started working for the company in April of 2015. Three years have passed. It is a telecommunication company in the oldest telecom group in Japan. The consolidated total group performance ranks the group in the top 100 of the Fortune 500 with almost 300,000 employees worldwide. All seemed great but of course, I encountered a lot of obstacles and difficulties witnessed by everyone around me. After all these years, I learned that there is nothing that comes easy − choosing to go abroad, learning other languages, pursuing a field you didn’t know before, working in a country with cultural and language barriers-–these things are as tough as you’d imagine. However, one of the saving graces of the company was that three nights a week (in my department) we had no-overtime days (unless you really need to). I actually had a life outside of work, but work was the center of my life.

First, I was assigned to an engineering team in one division right after I joined the company. It all came as a total shock as I had obtained a master’s degree in Economics and Finance. However, in Japan, this is quite normal. Companies place new graduates into the division that they see fit, disregarding their academic backgrounds, hoping to make them well-rounded employees who know the firm from the bottom up. The year I entered the company, the plan was for all of the roughly 180 new graduates  to gain some proper technical skills for at least three years before being rotated to other roles in later years. This kind of rotation, again, is typical in Japan as people are expected to stay in the same company for a long time (though this trend is changing quickly). I had a very tough time. For 1.5 year, I learned technical know-how, how do onsite engineering work and project management. Not to mention that I needed to do all of that in Japanese. Thai is my native language but I’m fluent in English and was good in Japanese but I needed to get a whole lot better, very fast.

The work itself, the language, and the work culture…all was intense. But I was very lucky to have many 同期 (douki – people joining the same time) and a boss that understood my wanting to move to the field I was trained for but he encouraged me to try the engineering work first. He promised to move me to another team and that motivated me to try my best in the work I was assigned to. Not giving up turned out to be the right decision. I gained a lot of experience and made great business relationships with people involved. I wouldn’t take that time back. Now, I know I wasn’t the easiest person to work with either. I had to bother a lot of people − everyone was always willing to help! I was not as good at Japanese as I am now and I had zero engineering skills, but they entrusted me with lots of opportunities to do exciting projects. From feeling like a fish out of water, I could finally breathe.

I was later moved to another team as promised. I was a bit sad as I was actually having quite a bit of fun, by then. But I was going onto the right path. The work in this team was a mix between the technical and business side of things − more business and investment related, I’d say. I got to do so many interesting projects and I enjoyed it. Of course, things weren’t easy but it wouldn’t have been fun without some obstacles, isn’t it? In this team, I succeeded in carrying out a project and I even got to travel as far as Africa, another place on earth that will always leave a deep impression on me. It’s like Bristol but for a different reason. Things were really great.

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My favorite photo from Africa. Just five minutes before the rain..

Then, it was time to say goodbye.

I decided to pursue a more specialized type of work but I can see the dots connecting all the way from the moment I joined the company to my next step. It was hard to tell my boss and start saying goodbye to everyone but it had to happen…

As a way to thank everyone who has been so supportive and kind to me for the past three years, I wrote a farewell message to send on my last day. In Japan, you can google samples of these types of farewell emails with title ‘退職のご挨拶’ (Resignation Greetings). It is as if there are formats ready for you to fill in, you only need to change a few words  for it to match your own experience in the company. I chose to ignore most of that and write from the heart. In less than an hour I finished one very long email with the title ‘会うは別れの始め (Meeting is merely the beginning of separation)’. It might be a little unusual and philosophical but I meant it.

Here it is (edited slightly from original)*:

Screen Shot 2018-02-11 at 23.38.41*If you are interested, let me know and I can probably make a translated version or a summarized one. I did not do it because I do not want to change the nuance of the message. So I am going to leave it like this for now.


I don’t think I’ve ever written anything like this and I wanted to save it right here. I am so glad to hear back from a lot of people, that they loved it. Apparently, the title is very effective in getting people to open the email (*wink). I hope that though it was a goodbye, they’ll remember me because I surely will remember and appreciate all the people that have helped me for years to come. The road ahead is going to be tough but challenges can also be great. Surely, there are so many unknowns. All I can do is keep trying my best and hopefully things will turn out more than fine.

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