Alumni Profile: Chris Nguyen '15

This month we had a chance to catch up with Chris Nguyen ‘15 who was a Fellow at J. F. Oberlin University (JFOU) from 2015-2017. Originally from Chicago, Chris graduated from Oberlin with majors in East Asian Studies and Economics. He stayed in Tokyo post-Fellowship to pursue a career that incorporated both of his majors. He is now a Senior Consultant at weConnect, a company that specializes in back office services to multinational clients to support their efforts to establish and manage offices in Japan.

A lot has changed since your days of teaching English at J.F. Oberlin University. Could you tell us about your current work?

I am working in Tokyo as a consultant, which might be the easiest way to describe it. Basically, my company provides back office services to multinational clients. To break it down, you have a company in the States or somewhere in Europe or Asia, and they want to open a branch in Japan. My company provides services to support the branch office in Japan in everything from establishing the company in Japan all the way to payroll, accounting, banking, corporate secretarial services–things like that. Another big goal that we are already pursuing is to be a global vendor. So our main support up until now has been in Japan, and that is where we are specialized. But now we are also helping those same clients interested in opening branches elsewhere, like in Australia or Taiwan for example. We’re trying to expand where we can offer support.

Picture with colleagues at my current company (pre-COVID)

Could you describe your career path post-fellowship to get to where you are now?

I came to Japan with a background in East Asian Studies and Economics, and I knew I wanted to try and link those if possible. I always had the idea that I wanted to live and work in Japan after I finished the Fellowship. During my second year, I started doing research and talking to friends who were recruiting.

During my second year, I was lucky to find out about the Tokyo Career Forum. It was there that I was able to find a company that I felt linked Economics and EAS in my mind.

I also got a lot of invaluable advice from alumni that live in Japan. Mentors in the Shansi Community pushed me to be proactive in meeting with people and setting up job interviews when given the opportunity. I was able to interview toward the end of my Fellowship and ended up locking down an offer.

Birthday dinner in Tokyo featuring Japan fellows Chul Kim and Ariel Powell, as well as former fellow Cassie Guevara, and Obie alum Jordan White

How did your experience as a Shansi Fellow contribute to your career in the business world in Japan? Was there anything specific from that experience?

Teaching can be hard to translate to a company job. It was difficult to articulate how I could directly transfer that into something that recruiters were really looking for. But with that said, I always believed that I was getting a lot of soft skills from teaching. Things like public speaking, working in an environment with other staff, and developing skills after four years in undergrad were all important to my professional development. Also just being in Japan gave me the opportunity to learn about how to approach careers here.

Could you tell us about the class you took on job hunting while at JFOU?

I had the opportunity to take a class that was on job hunting, which of course was directed towards international students learning Japanese and getting ready to enter the workforce. It was perfect for my situation. In the class, we practiced interview skills and learned the lingo around job hunting in Japan.

In the end, the company that I’ve joined is very international. They’re internationally owned, so not a traditional Japanese company. But things could have turned out differently since I did do some interviews with Japanese companies and so for that, the class was really helpful.

Now as an alum who has been in Japan and working, what advice would you give to Shansi Fellows who have recently finished their Fellowships?

Talking to previous alumni is super important. Don’t be afraid to reach out. I reached out to alumni who were living in Japan, and I’d recommend doing that as soon as you can. Don’t be afraid to ask people for their experiences––they've all been super helpful and open to talking about them. It might not be related to what you want to do, but I think that whatever insight they had was really informative.

I think reflecting is also really important. Also do as much research as you can about where you want to go, if you’re trying to decide between staying or going home or elsewhere. But you do have a good foundation in working abroad by doing the Fellowship.

Japan fellows climbing the Great Wall

You mentioned this solid foundation that the Fellowship provides, but what do you think is unique about a Shansi Fellowship?

Of course it depends on the site, but I know for me in Japan there are a lot of people who teach English through other programs, which is fantastic. But something I always appreciated about the Shansi Fellowship was being able to teach at a University that has a relationship with Oberlin. I think at an institutional level they’re already expecting us and know what we can do, and they have an idea of what they want us to do, too.

Shansi does a great job of looking over the Fellows, so I felt secure and that people at JFOU were welcoming. Even the fact that we had places right next to the university, I think that stability made things easier as well.

Beyond career, are there other ways in which the Fellowship impacted your life?

Travel was huge. We would visit other Fellowship sites and other Fellows would visit us in Japan. I think being able to connect with alumni here was important, of course for job hunting, but also just living here in Japan and getting recommendations. For example, I found a taiko group thanks to connections that people had already made here. I think taiko was one of the bigger things that I did on the side.

Also, the Fellowship helped me finalize the decision to stay in Japan long term. I was already starting to build a network in Japan through the Fellowship, and realized that if I wanted to try and continue a career here and really work on my Japanese, this would be the best way to stay in Japan. This was definitely a big step that changed my life in all aspects and I am still grateful to have had this starting point.

Glamping in Shizuoka, Japan, with my fiancée

And the final question is, can you tell us about a memorable moment from your time as a Fellow?

I think this is a hard one for most Fellows to answer because there are a lot of good times. I think, going back to travel, my trip to China was awesome because we got to connect with the Fellows in China. It was all three of the Fellows in Japan traveling together to meet with all of the China Fellows, and of course we met with Shanxi Fellows but we were also in Beijing and met with alumni there, too. We also went to Shanghai. I think some of the local Fellows would even come with us during the trip within China. So that was a great trip.

I think that was my first time traveling to another country outside of Japan. In Japan, I felt comfortable with the language and culture, but everything was new in China. It was fascinating to see the differences even between cities. That trip was very much thanks to the Fellowship, and I hope that current and future Shansi Fellows can get back into traveling again soon, because that was a lovely part of the Fellowship and a great opportunity for growth.

Mural I enjoyed that I found in Shanxi, China

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