By: Muziah Kargbo

In 2017, Morgan Pitelka, Professor of Asian Studies and Director of the Carolina Asia Center, applied to the Consulate-General of Japan in Atlanta for UNC to be a designated 2018 Kakehashi program school. After UNC was chosen for the Kakehashi project, he collaborated with the Kenan-Flagler Business School to launch the one-time program.

Thankfully, I was recently able to do an email interview with one of the participants of the Kakehashi Project, Graysie Carreiro, who was generous enough to answer some questions I had for her about the program. The interview is as followed with minimal editing. And thank you again to Graysie Carreiro for taking her time to provide these answers.

  1. Please introduce yourself (e.g. major, name, year)

My name is Graysie Carreiro and I am a senior (May 2019), pursuing a Bachelors of Science in Business Administration and a Bachelor of Arts in Asian Studies (Japanese). After graduation, I’ll continue my time at Carolina through a year with the Masters of Accounting Program at Kenan-Flagler Business School. 

  1. What was the Kakehashi Project and why were you interested in participating? Did you have an interest in Japan or were you more interested in getting a global business experience?

I learned about the opportunity to participate in the Kakehashi Project through Kenan-Flagler Business School. One of my professors approached me after class one day and told me about the opportunity to participate in a Government of Japan initiative that recently connected with Kenan-Flagler. We didn’t know much about the program at the time – only that it was an initiative by the Japanese government to connect young North American business students to Japan. However, my professor believed the integration of business and Japanese culture matched perfectly with my personal background and my career goals and suggested I apply for the program. 

My personal connection to Japan runs deep. I spent 7 years of my childhood in Japan and am pursuing a double major in Business and Japanese. When I heard about the opportunity to return to Japan and integrate both of my majors through the Kakehashi Project, I knew I couldn’t pass it up. The Kakehashi Project (or the “Bridge to Tomorrow” program) is an exchange program, promoted by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Through the program, I knew I’d be able to further my knowledge about Japan, practice my Japanese language skills in formal situations, and gain insight into the business environment within Japan – a context where I hope to work one day. 

  1. What was the most valuable thing that you learned from the program?

Japan is at an extremely interesting socioeconomic cross-roads. Population decline has limited the domestic labor force and prompted immigration reform. New global alliances (such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership) open up new avenues for trade while political tensions are molding new barriers for Japan. Japanese businesses are grappling with these changes and are learning to take advantage of the opportunities for growth that result from them. 

Although I spent quite some time in Japan during my childhood, I learned so much about the Japanese business context through my time on the Kakehashi Project. Getting the opportunity to speak with government officials, CEOs, and even local families about such a dynamic socio-economic environment increased my understanding of the business environment in Japan and gave me a better appreciation for the complex global economic forces currently at work. 

As a growing businesswoman myself, I was particularly struck by the changing role of women in the Japanese workforce and in Japanese society as a whole. Japan is actively initiating reform for women in business and is creating opportunities for them to balance family lives and their careers. This change is a stark contrast to Japan’s deeply-rooted traditional family and gender roles. The future is bright for women in Japan. 

**One particularly impactful part of the Project was a 24 hour homestay with a local family in the country-side. Through our time with the Onuma family, other participants and I not only got to experience “real-life” in Japan, we also learned the value in human connection beyond cultural and linguistic barriers and formed lasting friendships that we still maintain today. This part of the program was probably the most memorable for me. 

  1. Did this program change your study abroad intentions or academic plans for the future?

Participating in the Kakehashi Project gave me even more motivation to work with a Japanese-related company one day. It’s one thing to grow up in and around Japan and to understand the cultural dynamics that govern society. It’s quite another thing to see those cultural dynamics applied to business contexts that make a difference in the lives of the every-day person. 

Through the project, I was also able to appreciate the little things about Japan that I love so dearly – things like white rice and miso soup with every meal, rolling mountainous countryside, and polite bows every time you meet someone new. I think the program did a wonderful job of exposing us to Japan’s large business trends while also candidly introducing us to beautiful aspects of the culture, society, and everyday life. 

  1. Would you recommend this program or other programs like it to other students?

I would absolutely recommend this program to other students. Getting the opportunity to apply your classroom learning in a foreign experience is one that is so rare and so beneficial to learning. 

  1. Anything else you would like to add?

One of the great benefits to the Kakehashi Project at UNC was that we combined students from Kenan-Flagler Business School and the Asian Studies Department. This mixture of backgrounds provided such a vibrant, dynamic learning community during our pre-departure class time and also through our in-country experience. We all learned so much more through each other’s experiences than we would have if we had gone in a more homogenous group. 

A required component of The Kakehashi Project was that we record our experiences and impressions of Japan through social media outlets. I created an Instagram account (@callmegraysie) specifically for my time abroad at UNC where I recorded all my experiences. Perhaps students interested in participating in The Kakehashi Project might find it useful. I’m also very excited to share my experience and am available for questions at any time via email (Sarah_Carreiro@kenan-flagler.unc.edu). 

 

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