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Working Abroad | Crystal on her time in Japan

Travelling There and Back Again

Crystal Koh has a really diverse and varied working experience. She currently works as a Data Scientist at Softbank, a company based in Japan, yet her first experience working abroad was in a completely different culture in London.

Crystal’s interest in working abroad started in 2018 when she accepted a role as a Data Scientist at Hackmasters in London under the NTU OEP (Overseas Entrepreneurship Programme). The experiences in London made her realise that as a born and bred Singaporean, the world was a huge unknown and there were many things she didn’t know. Moreover she had never really travelled overseas and lived there independently. She thoroughly enjoyed her experiences working abroad at Hackmaster, and just had to jump at the opportunity when Tokyo-based telecommunications company SoftBank was in NTU to give a recruitment talk. After a year of physically working in Tokyo, she’s currently working remotely back in Singapore due to the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic.

Experiencing Japanese Hospitality

Language barriers are naturally a huge concern for any individual hoping to work overseas. Being a Japan-based company, SoftBank used to only hire employees who could communicate in basic Japanese. However, Softbank made an exception when hiring Crystal.

Still, contrary to Crystal’s expectations as she had never been to Japan at all, the majority of the people she met in Japan spoke only Japanese and not even basic English. This made life in Japan more complicated due to the language barrier. Whilst Google Translate did help, much of her everyday life was now conducted in Japanese, including even mundane everyday tasks which proved to be a huge hurdle.

Working Abroad in Japan

Crystal’s work experience spanning across 3 different countries (Singapore, United Kingdom, Japan) has really highlighted some differences.

“Japan has more emphasis on hierarchy”

One thing that stood out for Crystal during her time in Japan was the workplace hierarchy, which was a big part of working in Japan. There was an order to everything. At work, there was a strict chain of command to gain approval before projects and proposals reached more senior figures in the company, regardless of whether the decision was big or small. Outside of work during social occasions, this hierarchy was embodied in the practice of ‘nomikai’ where it is respectful for subordinates to pour and offer drinks to their superiors. Still, as Crystal emphasized, SoftBank is a huge company so strictness and adherence to the hierarchy ultimately varied across departments depending on the manager’s personality. In Crystal’s experience, her department was more flexible and had a comparatively liberal working culture in contrast to other departments within SoftBank.

Another thing that made Crystal’s time in Japan so different from her prior experiences was the language barrier. After multiple experiences overseas, Crystal is confident in immersing herself in different cultures, picking up the nuances of cultural norms and adapting to different social behaviours. However, language still proved to be a difficulty. Despite being prepared that Japanese was Japan’s conversational language, she was surprised by how few people understood English when she first landed (considering that English is widely seen as a global language). Google Translate was an instrumental tool during her time there, being used in everyday life from grocery shopping to official company meetings. Still, there were moments where Google Translate failed, during which her Japanese friends would be her translators.

There were also aspects of private life that made the whole working experience unique for Crystal. Unlike renting a house in London or in Singapore, rented houses in Japan were fully unfurnished. Meaning no fridges, microwaves or even furniture; a completely barren and empty apartment. Life in Japan was also highly structured and there were norms for even trash disposal. Household garbage has to be sorted based on whether they were burnable, unburnable or recyclable. There were also designated trash pickup points, and even specific days scheduled for the pick up of each category of trash.

Landing the Offer

Since interviews are now mostly conducted via Zoom (due to the COVID-19 pandemic), it may seem difficult to secure an offer to work overseas. However, there are certain things that aided Crystal in the job search process which you can take too!

During the hiring process, Crystal’s overseas internship experience caught the attention of her manager. Employers are especially interested in individuals with different experiences who can contribute different perspectives to the company. Failing to secure an overseas internship experience is still all right; it can be supplanted by having multiple local internship experiences while you’re still in school. Afterall, employers are on the lookout for transferable skills that are applicable to the work you’re applying to. Speaking of skills, while language is often overlooked, it can be helpful and convenient if you are fluent in the language spoken at the company you are interested in. English may be an internationally popular language, but speaking the native language of the country you’re applying to allows you to actively partake in more company discussions. This is something that employers look out for as it means that you will likely have an easier time acclimatizing to the new company’s culture too.

“One opportunity will come by, and you will get something that you want”

There are also many opportunities to better position yourself to land these overseas job offers, even outside of school. There are different extracurricular activities to broaden your horizons, such as projects or even competitions that might indicate your interests and skills in the field. For example, Shopee organises hackathons that even non-schooling individuals could take part in. There are also multiple websites and social networks that could be useful for finding out more information and tips about specific fields and subjects, for example Women Who Code (WWCode) and Eventbrite. For coders, Crystal recommends Kaggle. LinkedIn is also a wonderful platform to meet amazing people in lieu of the lack of physical networking events due to the COVID-19 pandemic. People, including headhunters, will reach out to connect to you if they see you on their feed and you never know when someone might offer the opportunity you’re looking for!


Here at CareerSocius, we hope to empower individuals to find a job they love. We would love to be part of your journey.

Tag us at @careersocius on Instagram, Facebook or LinkedIn and share your experiences working abroad with us ☺️



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