Alumni Spotlight: Ben Norton

Photo Credit:
Wed, 01/04/2023 - 15:09

Major: International Business (through the College of Business)
Minor: Japanese Studies
Graduation Year: 2013

Who is your employer, and where are they located?
My employer is Senshu University. It's located in Tokyo, Japan.

What is your job title and what kind of work does it involve?
My job title is "Study Abroad Coordinator" (in the International Academic Affairs Office). My work involves overseeing outbound study abroad programs in 15 countries (i.e. communicating with partner universities via phone and email, processing students' applications, conducting pre-departure orientations for students, and processing students' transferable credits). My other duties include supervising the university TOEFL ITP® Test, translating official documents, interpreting for foreign visitors to the university, teaching conversational English courses, providing consultation to students considering study abroad, assisting with inbound international students, and assisting with university entrance examinations. I happen to be the first foreigner to be hired as a full-time administrator in Senshu University's 140-year plus history.

What sparked your interest in your area of study?
My interest in Japan started at a young age. I started learning Japanese when I was about 7 years old from a family-friend who was Japanese. She lived near my grandparent's house, so every time I'd visit them, I'd also visit her and she'd teach me Japanese. Growing up in the 90s, many aspects of my childhood in the USA involved Japanese products (TVs, electronics, and cars) and Japanese culture (TV shows and sushi restaurants), so I was always mystified that such a seemingly small country had such a huge impact on my daily life.

Having been born and raised in Lincoln, I was fortunate enough to have many opportunities to feed my interest for Japan. I took Japanese classes at Lincoln Southwest High, participated in the Bright Lights Program (in which Japanese students from Senshu Matsudo Middle School participated in neat and unique summer classes in the summer with local students), and often visited the Kawasaki Reading Room at UNL campus. I first studied abroad in Japan in 2008 for six weeks in Osaka through a program in high school called "Youth For Understanding". This experience reinforced my love for Japan, so I naturally chose "Japanese Studies" as my minor at UNL and eventually studied abroad again in Japan for four months in 2011 at Senshu University through the "Business, Culture, and Language Program". The partnership between Senshu University and UNL began in 1985, so I'm very thankful to be a part of that long history between both universities.

What do you see as the value of your degree?
The value I see in my Japanese Studies minor is immeasurable. Thanks to the wonderful Japanese language courses I took during my time at UNL, I was able to further my ability to communicate in Japanese and deepen my understanding of Japanese culture. I apply all of the knowledge and skills I learned through my minor on a daily basis since I now work and live in Japan. CAS provided me not only with language courses, but courses related to Japanese culture as well, such as "Introduction to Japanese Film". Even though 90% of my job is conducted in Japanese, in order to communicate effectively, I must also have a deep understanding of Japanese culture (from social norms to historical context) in order to be successful at my job. Therefore, I'm thankful for CAS providing me with course to help me further my abilities and deepen my understanding.

Were there any other people, activities, or events from your time at UNL that helped you get to where you are now?
There were countless people, activities, and events from my time at UNL that helped me get to where I am now! Theses include the Japanese language and culture courses I took under Dr. Ikuho Amano and other instructors, the former director of the Kawasaki Reading Room (Reiko Harpending) and current director (Madoka Wayoro), my participation in events conducted by "Global Friends of Japan" (e.g. "Japan Night" and "Japanese Conversation Table"), and the east Asian history courses I took under Dr. Parks M. Coble. I was very fortunate to meet so many wonderful students, staff, and faculty during my time at UNL. All of these people, activities, and events had a profound impact on my life by providing me with a diversity of new experiences and knowledge that helped me become a more well-rounded individual. Working as a study abroad coordinator in a foreign language, I have to apply a wide-range of skills in order to conduct our programs, so I'm very thankful for the unique experiences I had at UNL that helped me prepare for my current profession.

Tell us about the path you took to get to where you are today in your career and how you applied your education in Japanese studies to get here.
The path I took to get to where I am today in my career is long and winding, but the later half naturally involves my studies at UNL. I studied abroad at Senshu University in fall of 2011, and at the end of the program, I followed the advice of a UNL professor involved with the program (Dr. Scott Fuess) and wrote various thank you letters to the Japanese teachers and staff at Senshu University before I left. When a position opened in there International Academic Affairs Office two years later, they remembered my thank you cards and offered me the position during the fall semester of my fourth and final year of undergrad. At that time, I was working as an accounting intern and translator at Kawasaki Motors Manufacturing Corp., USA in Lincoln (who donated the Kawasaki Reading Room to UNL in 1992). It was a very full-circle moment for me to apply the Japanese I learned from visiting the Kawasaki Reading Room in my internship at Kawasaki Motors Manufacturing Corp., USA, and it was my intent to continue working there after graduating from UNL. However, the chance to work at Senshu University was a once in a lifetime opportunity, so I ultimately decided to move to Japan. I departed for Japan the day after graduating UNL, and starting working the next day, so I transitioned quickly from being a student to being an employee. Moving to Japan was a difficult decision since I wanted to remain in Lincoln after graduation, but after living in Japan for almost 10 years now, I'm fortunate enough to travel back to Lincoln at least once a year, so I get the best of both worlds.

What are your future professional goals?
As for my future professional goals, I hope to continue growing and developing as a study abroad coordinator at Senshu University. Helping students achieve their dream of studying abroad is both rewarding and demanding, and requires the ability to solve very complex problems all while working in a foreign language. Therefore, I must always maintain the mentality of Kaizen (the Japanese concept of continuous improvement) in order to better anticipate potential problems and effectively solve any that arise. This of course is the case for any profession, but the added element of working in a foreign language and culture makes it that much more challenging, yet ultimately, worthwhile.