Studying abroad and encounters with people at college made me who I am today
Kent Ito (Employee in charge of the Americas and Hong Kong at Overseas Business Department of Calbee, Inc., and a 2015 graduate from Department of Social Work, College of Community and Human Services)
Mar 19, 2019
Kent Ito, who graduated from the College of Community and Human Services, now works in a career that takes him around the world. The following is an excerpt from an interview with Ito.
Which small-group seminar class were you enrolled in at Rikkyo University?
Instead, I took interdisciplinary classes called the “university-wide curriculum.” (This is now known as “university-wide liberal arts subjects.”) One of these classes taught by Professor Kazuo Oishi, who specialized in mental health and positive psychology, left an indelible impression on me.
Professor Oishi’s class taught me that I could reduce my mental burden by changing my way of thinking. This involved changing my mindset from “there is no point doing a certain thing” to “I will gain something since I am doing it.” Taking a positive approach to everything struck me as a revolutionary idea. After I entered society as an adult, I often hear that “nothing is useless.” Professor Oishi taught us his ideas, which were encapsulated in this phrase, in an easy-to-understand manner.
Why did you choose Rikkyo University?
Had you decided to study abroad when you entered Rikkyo University?
I also did an internship and later worked part-time in a role serving guests at a foreign-owned hotel for two years, which significantly influenced my career. The hotel was not seeking interns, but I phoned up and said, “I don’t have many skills, but I want to broaden my knowledge by working in a place where I can interact with talented people.” The hotel accepted me as an intern, and I met the general manager, which was a stroke of luck. It completely changed my outlook on life.
The general manager never failed to thank people. He put himself in the position of whoever he was talking to, regardless of their race and age. I had never met such a considerate person and found myself wanting to be like him. I am interested in connecting with people in a world outside my comfort zone. It was my curiosity, and a desire to associate with people I can meet only by jumping into an unfamiliar world, that made this connection.
Did you go abroad to study out of curiosity and your interest in new encounters?
I met a Kent State University professor who was a specialist in human communication. He later introduced me to a family in Colorado, where I stayed for a while. But initially, my English ability was limited to a simple self-introduction.”
How did you overcome your inability to speak English?
If I had six hours of free time after classes, I divided this into three two-hour sessions. In each session, I concentrated on having conversations with students I met in class, friends’ friends and various other people. Initially, it was all one-on-one communication, but as I got used to it, I changed the meeting format by expanding the ages of people I spoke to and increasing the number of participants. Eventually, I asked 10 people from different backgrounds, with knowledge in different fields, to attend a session. That was the biggest reason my English conversation skills improved in such a short time. Overall, I think I talked to more than 2,000 people.
That is impressive.
I did this not only to learn English but also to make me mature as an adult. I think that environment changed me a lot.
You now work at Calbee. How did your job-hunting activities go?
While I was job hunting, Calbee Chairman Akira Matsumoto said something that left a strong impression on me. Chairman Matsumoto is a top corporate leader who has forward-thinking views, and he believes Japanese companies need to bring in fresh ideas of foreign-style management. He talked about work-style reform and promotion of diversity but also made raising Calbee’s proportion of overseas sales to 30 percent a top priority.
Each employee makes a commitment to reach specific numerical targets in a contract called C&A, and the top company leader himself was orchestrating efforts to put top priority on the overseas market. These aspects of Calbee, as an organization, inspired me. I decided to join Calbee because I thought I could build my career as the company expanded globally and gain something that I could not gain elsewhere during this growth period.
Did you use Rikkyo University’s Career Center?
What kind of work do you do?
Calbee already has companies registered in the United States and Hong Kong. Since we have foundations there, we can execute various business operations. So my work often involves looking inside the company rather than outside. My main task is business management. For example, I think about how customer feedback should be reflected to improve products, which is quality control, and how to reduce costs.
Did you want to work in the Overseas Business Department from the beginning?
Do you think what you learned or experienced at university has helped you in your job?
For example, in a Hong Kong-related project I am handling, I do a lot of paperwork such as preparing customs documents to buy materials and communicating with freight forwarders. Whenever I start to harbor doubts and think, “For what or whom am I doing this?” I recall Professor Oishi’s phrase and try to rev myself up. There are some things you can see only by not being caught up in emotions and instead having a broad perspective.
If you were to reenter a university, would you pick Rikkyo University?
What are your aspirations?
*This article is a reorganized version of an advertising feature carried on Asahi Shimbun Digital from February 5, 2018. The content was correct at the time of the interview.
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