Internship journal

Jian Gong

It was a normal sunny workday in Tokyo. I woke up at 7 a.m. and ate two homemade “onigiri,” or rice balls, and an American grilled cheese sandwich that I bought from the convenience store the night before.
I only had about seven minutes left to put on a suit and a simple blue tie. Then I ran to the train station and got stuck with a million men in suits. No talking, no smiles. Everyone took their own pace in harmony.
This was a typical start to my day while interning at Japan for Sustainability as a communication and sustainability intern from June through December of 2009. It was hard adjusting to the Tokyo business pace, yet it felt natural to be part of the Japanese culture and lifestyle.
My primary responsibility at work was planning projects. I went to meetings every morning, wrote reports, visited stakeholders and made presentations. I was lucky that the company gave me so much trust, although in the beginning it took me a while to learn the Japanese way.
I felt warm toward my boss and colleagues because they treated me – a Chinese student who studied in the U.S. – not as a guest, but more as an international friend.
Besides my main work, I attended many business seminars, with topics ranging from system thinking to sustainability issues. Because of my initial language problems, I always carried a small recorder with me and listened to all the recordings again and again throughout the evening. In addition, I initiated a youth project and event about China’s green trends that successfully took place in Tokyo toward the end of my internship.
That was the business side. Regarding the personal side, I was happy to find a good balance in Tokyo. As a rock climber, I used to go to an indoor climbing gym in west Tokyo at night. Twice a week after work, I would eat at a small “ramen” restaurant and then climb for four hours until the gym closed.
During the summer, I often participated with friends in Japanese cultural events such as the fireworks ceremony. During the fall, I sometimes went to enjoy some nice hot spring spots around Tokyo.
The greatest things I learned in Japan were how to think sustainably, cross-cultural communication skills and most importantly, the power of networking. I kept all of my networks in Japan, and continued to work with some of them.
This internship unsettled me because I explored and learned more about real world problems – and yet, it assured me of where I should look. It will take time before the final outcomes of this internship become visible. “Just be patient,” I keep telling myself – something I have learned from the Japanese.