Christopher Cullum was an exchange student at Akita International University in Fall 2016, and wrote to reflect on his exchange experience after returning home and graduating from Mississippi State University with a degree in engineering.
Expectations and Reality
Expectation and reality often never coincide. As a boy from an off-the-beaten-path state of the Union, Mississippi, my preconceptions of Japan were shrouded in popular culture references from the likes of anime, manga, and J-POP, coinciding with a brief one week stay in Tokyo.
My greatest realization upon arrival for my exchange with AIU was the tremendous amount of similarity students had with each other, regardless of national origin. It appeared everyone I spoke with had an intense desire to further develop professionally, as well as work towards understanding of differing opinions over a wide array of political, socioeconomic, and cultural topics.
Within the first week, friendships were quickly formed not only with local Japanese students, but also students representing a plethora of countries. The realization that I could traverse AIU’s quaint campus and experience this tremendous diversity overwhelmed me with appreciation for the hyper-globalized setting my exchange afforded.
Benefits of Exchange in Retrospect
Access to this unique atmosphere allowed me to develop an understanding of who I was as an individual as much as it did as an engineer.
Today, I step into a role as Project Engineer with Memphis Light, Gas, and Water, a utility company based in Memphis, Tennessee, USA. Though my role will primarily use technical skills from the engineering sphere of knowledge, my time in Japan molded me into a more effective communicator by enabling me to approach individuals of vastly different origins and experiences.
The confidence from these communication skills allows me to better serve the company, which subsequently better serves the customer through efficient exchange of ideas towards systemic solution with respect to creative differences.
It is through diversity of ideas that a holistic approach to problem solving can fully be recognized.
I came originally to AIU to improve my Japanese language proficiency and understanding of Japanese culture. However, I left with a greater understanding of the world we live in today.
We are all neighbors on this great home we call Earth, and AIU is a fantastic model of this cohabitational environment to which we share. My hope is that all who come to this great campus will experience a similar sense of appreciation of this shared identity.