Wearing the steel-toed boots, blue shirt and pants reminded him of the goals he and his fellow coworkers all shared. Scheduled workplace cleaning times where everyone, regardless of position, swept the floors, took out the garbage and organized supplies reinforced the value of shared responsibility.
The learning was a two-way experience for Ryan. While navigating the language and absorbing a more team-oriented way of working as he cycled through different departments and assisted with projects, he was also sharing his own knowledge and background as a Canadian. Although he didn’t know it at the time, DNP had brought him on staff to be a teacher just as much as he was a learner. Always forward-thinking, the company understood the value of introducing its employees to someone from a distinctly different culture, and of having the group muddle through conversations and interactions together so that all parties could arrive at a better understanding of each other’s perspectives.
It was a daily thing, this butting up against the language barrier, whether Ryan was figuring out table manners or conducting microbial analysis or organizing a weekend snowboarding trip. While at times it was more expeditious at work to use English, Ryan sought every opportunity to work on his second language.
“Working in a non-English speaking country gave me a deeper understanding of how communication preferences can differ,” says Ryan, who was named The Canada-Japan Co-op Program Student of the Year for 2015-2016. “Now I feel more attuned to the communication styles of other people, and also have a better understanding of how to cater to these differences. I’ve developed more empathy for people who want to communicate their ideas but have to do it in a second language. I can relate to it!”
As a result of his co-op experience in Japan, Ryan’s view of his engineering degree is much broader: “It opened my eyes to aspects of international business and the importance of effective cross-cultural communication. I'd love to have a career in the future that would give me international opportunities to build on the communication skills that I developed in Japan.”
There’s an enormous breadth of variety in the programs UBC offers its students to gain tangible real-world experience. Ryan Hirakida’s story is just one example of the kind of enriching, transformative learning experiences available to UBC students who want to deepen their experiential learning and take their careers in new directions.