My work for the Global MBA Programme at Doshisha Business School (DBS) is almost at an end. From the beginning of April, I shall become a “specially appointed associate professor” at the Research Institute for World Languages, Osaka University. Therefore, I felt it might be appropriate to write a bit of a review of my time at DBS, for my own record, if nothing else.
Having been a member of the administrative team for the Global MBA (GMBA) for the past year, my perspectives are naturally from an administrative point of view rather than an academic one. However, this in itself has been a useful exercise in getting to see the workings of a Japanese University at a structural level. My one word for this experience is “interesting”.
As the key initial programme geared toward globalization at Doshisha University, the Global MBA has been the leading force in the university’s successful bid for the Global 30 initiative. Before coming to work full-time at Doshisha in May last year, since September 2008 I had been coming once a week to help out translating information from Japanese into English for the GMBA website. Upon subsequently joining the Business School office team, I was initially busy translating many of the documents for our new incoming GMBA cohort.
The entire GMBA programme is in English and our students are not expected to have any knowledge of the Japanese language (though, of course, it helps in daily life). Therefore, many documents (library information, student handbooks, official notices, application forms, etc.; everything needed to be translated into English. At one point, I was even making little English labels for things in the building and doing simple things like creating instructions in English for how to use lockers…)
Then, in September 2009 our international students arrived, and I have since been busy translating, interpreting, advising, helping to organise and so on, carrying out all manner of administrative duties. It was an interesting experience because prior to that I had been studying for such a long time as a student at Kyoto University, pouring over books alone in my quiet room with little contact with the outside world unless I sought it in the company of friends. It has been very interesting and eye-opening to observe the dynamics of working in an open-plan office with a team of other people, albeit a little difficult to concentrate sometimes because I am used to the silence of my own study.
The students seem quite happy with the programme, and because the programme is still in its early years, as the initial cohort, there are many opportunities for them to put forward ideas on the development and running of the programme. The 2009 cohort is a diverse body of 20 students from 13 different countries around the world; they are a close-knit community of very enthusiast, dynamic people, and therefore, a lot of fun to be around.
My own field is not related to Business Studies and I have been asked on occasion why I am working at DBS. My first thought is, “That’s the way the cookie crumbles…”, but actually, in a roundabout sort of way admittedly, my work here is very much related to my field, that is, the field of international relations. Granted, my research is more historically based, but a historical base is not much use if it is not to be made reference to in the context of the present, and indeed, the future. Therefore, it is important to understand the present situation too.
I have learned a great deal about globalization and internationalism during my time at DBS. I have also learned a great deal about what constitutes professionalism, and I have developed quite a strong opinion about what does not constitute professionalism. I have been fortunate enough to have been surrounded by colleagues who have taught me a great deal about professionalism, and about the world of business, of which I really knew nothing before.
As my interests lie in the history of Bakumatsu/Meiji Japan, I wonder what the founder of Doshisha, Niijima Jo (or Joseph Hardy Neesima, as he is also known, 1843-1890), would think of his university’s Global 30 initiative and the Global MBA. I assume he would be proud of the developments, although admittedly sometimes during my time here I have sensed frustrations amongst those involved regarding the pace of these developments, and I have an inkling Niijima-sensei might have felt the same. There is still a lot to be done in terms of the general mindset toward globalization within the university as a whole, but small and gradual steps may be better in the long run rather than a dive into the unknown. This begs the question, what is globalization (and should I spell it with an ‘s’ or a ‘z’)? What does it mean to globalize (I’m still not entirely comfortable with that ‘z’… nevermind, I’ll try and get over it)?
For me, an important element of being global however, is multiculturalism. As a child, I grew up in places like Birmingham, Dudley and later Liverpool, which are very multicultural places. Britain is a small island nation like Japan, but it is much more culturally and racially diverse. If the colour of somebody’s skin is different to mine, so what? They still have the same red blood coursing through their veins. If somebody has a different cultural background to mine, so what? Diversity makes the world a more interesting place. Multiculturalism is still pretty low on the cards in Japan. I still get stared at for my white skin and red hair in some places, at least I think it’s that and not my poor dress sense 🙂 Being in the environment of the Global MBA at Doshisha however, is a very multicultural experience. With so many people from so many different backgrounds working together, the environment can do nothing but give you a sense of being a true global citizen.
The one or two movers and shakers at Doshisha are gradually influencing their colleagues and the “fear of the unknown” seems to be steadily dissipating. I imagine that Niijima-sensei came up against a lot of opposition and stick-in-the-mud mindsets himself when he first established his school. Certainly, his escape to the United States of America in 1864 was against the rules; at the time, no Japanese was allowed to leave Japan on pain of death, but off he went anyway to learn about the west. He studied at Amherst College, Massachusetts and was baptised a christian. Then he brought his religion back to Japan and established Doshisha on christian principles. That would have rankled quite a few people in Japan at the time having been a very anti-christian nation for so many years. Christianity had long been forbidden in Japan by the Bakufu government and it was still feared as a method for the western take-over of Japan by many. State Shinto was in many ways established as a means to counter this. Nevertheless, Niijima brought his christianity, set up an English school under its principles and the school eventually became one of the best private universities in the country. Doshisha is now faced with a new challenge, however; does it wish to get left behind, or does it wish to enhance and expand itself to meet the global era? I’m pretty sure Niijima-sensei would want it to move forward into globalisation and make its mark as a world-class university, and it is now taking gradual steps toward this.
Doshisha recently succeeded in becoming a member of AACSB International – the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. I was helping to organise the application for that and I am very glad that we managed to become a member before my work here finished (it gives me a bit of a sense of closure). It may perhaps be some time before Doshisha can become accredited by AACSB (the process usually can take anything up to 5 years, apparently), but if the University stays true to its goal of globalization, I really think Doshisha Business School can make its mark on the world stage. I think Niijima-sensei would be proud of that. Doshisha Business School aims to be a world-class business school. The standards must therefore meet the standards of international institutes. That means much more participation in the global sphere (ie participating in international symposia etc) and Doshisha Business School is certainly progressing towards that.
My time at Doshisha has been interesting. I truly learned a lot about the behind-the-scenes running of a Japanese university. More important to me personally, I also learned a great deal about myself and about what I want out of life. I would be lying if I said my time at Doshisha has been a breeze. If I am honest, it has been quite a struggle for me. I am grateful for all I have learnt however, and I am very happy that I was able to work with some very lovely people. Thank you to the GMBA team.
I hope the Global MBA will continue to go from strength to strength.