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December 12, 2023

Chance Encounter Leads to Internship in Japan

# Edge Conference
# Education
# Japanese
# Networking
# Team/Culture

Cal Poly student Mary Wood's connection with Yukinori Okimoto at Edge St. Louis leads to unforgettable experience

Mary Wood, a graphics student from Cal Poly attended the Edge St. Louis World Expo and turned a chance meeting with Dscoop member Yukinori Okimoto of Goof, Inc. into an internship in Japan. Following is an interview with Mary about her experience:

You’re currently studying at Cal Poly. What are you studying, and what do you aim to do?

I’m pursuing graphic communications with a focus on management. I aspire to be a creative director, facilitating idea generation and helping artists bring their work to life.

You came to St. Louis with the group led by Mike Ferrari. How did you end up going to St. Louis for the event?

I was recommended by my advisor, representing a chapter at the Technical Association of Graphic Arts. It was an opportunity that came my way.

How did you connect with Yukinori Okimoto from Goof? How did you get to Japan?

During Magic Johnson’s keynote, my classmates and I asked a question about human connections, mentioning we were from Cal Poly. After Magic finished, Yuki-san approached us excitedly after he heard we were from Cal Poly. 

He shared his experiences at Cal Poly and how he had tried to talk his own daughter into attending. As we talked more he mentioned the possibility of an internship at his company in Japan, and I jumped at the chance. 

I followed up with an email, sharing my resume. That’s how it began. After some correspondence, we set dates, and off I went to Tokyo for three weeks.

Have you traveled before?

I studied abroad in Italy the previous summer, and took a spontaneous trip to Spain and France in high school. This was my first time in Asia.

What were your impressions of Tokyo?

It was fascinating, drastically different from Europe! The culture, norms, even how people walked on the streets and dressed was so unique. The calmness and quietness were striking compared to the U.S., which tends to be louder. 

Being alone was a bit terrifying but also empowering. I don’t speak Japanese, so I relied on context clues and navigating on my own. It was an eye-opening experience.

How did you manage the language barrier in Japan?

I had to rely heavily on Google Translate and intuition. There is typically no English on signage and spoken English is rare in many parts of Tokyo.

I became more comfortable over time with everyday interactions. For instance, when I went to the grocery store for something, using context I knew what they were going to ask. Like “Do you want a bag?” How that is said in Japanese I still cannot not tell you, but the common gestures helped me understand. 

And, yeah, I always a bit afraid someone would ask me a question, but Google Translate helped out when I needed it.

How was navigating public transportation in Japan?

Challenging! All of the station names look and sound the same. I used Google Translate a lot, hoping for the best. I adapted by observing and learned to recognize certain cues. I’m not easily flustered when things go wrong, so I adapted. 

I think that mindset was crucial because there was a few times that I took the train by myself and I thought, “I really hope that this is where I’m supposed to be.” Of course there were instances that I missed a stop and had to reorient myself. But it always worked out.

Did you work in Goof's main office?

Yes, and I also had the opportunity to tour three printing facilities that Goof collaborates with. I spent most of my days talking with co-workers and learning about the company. At the end of my internship, I presented my perspective on Goof and how it compares to American companies and their culture.

Have you visited other printers before?

Yes, I interned at a local printing facility, but none comparable to the scale I experienced in Japan.

How did the Japan experience influence your career path?

It clarified my preference for a more creative role before the manufacturing phase. I thrive on collaboration, and the manufacturing side lacked that communal aspect I seek. It helped me understand what I’m looking for in my career.

Would you do it all again?

Absolutely! In a heartbeat.

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