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Samantha Kuah

SFU Co-op Student
Science › Molecular Biology and Biochemistry

An image of Samantha at work with her colleagues
Needless to say, choosing co-op is yet another milestone in my life.

When I started university, my goal was to complete my degree as fast as possible. Co-op was not a top priority of mine. Instead, I blindly focused on completing my degree and neglecting to think what was in store for me beyond that point. As I got closer to completing my degree, I started to think, “What is next”? I had nothing planned for myself and I felt that I did not have any experience to start my career. I panicked and realized that I might not be able to find a suitable career for myself, or even a job! This was when I decided to go for co-op.  Although I regret not considering co-op sooner and underestimating the importance of co-op, I am glad I was still able to take advantage of it.


In 2014 I travelled to Japan, and instantly fell in love with the country for many reasons, and I knew that I wanted to do a co-op in Japan. When I went to the International Co-op office to explore this idea, I learned about the Canada Japan Co-op Program (CJCP). My co-op advisor mentioned that there were many students from my faculty (molecular biology and biochemistry) who have had a placement with Kao Corporation as researchers, and she recommended that I see if there were any positions available. 

I grew up in Asia and was familiar with the Kao Corporation and their products, and the prospect of working there made me very excited.  The SFU international co-op coordinator, Amy immediately contacted the coordinator at CJCP to see if there were positions available. Luckily the Kao Corporation was looking for an intern that semester! Without thinking twice, I immediately applied for the position and everything else went fairly smoothly afterward. The Interview, Visa applications, and paper work all went by like a breeze. I was on my way to go to Japan! I was very blessed to have such great help from the co-op coordinators Susan, Amy and CJCP that made everything so easy for me. 

In what seemed like a very brief moment, I was already on the plane heading to Japan. Everything came by so quickly, and I was overwhelmed by it. I did not know what to expect in terms of work life and culture. I was very nervous yet excited to face the adventure that I was heading to.

Kao Corporation and Living Environment

Kao Corporation is the biggest consumer brand company in Japan. You may have heard of some of the brand names by Kao, as these include Biore, John Frieda, Jergans and Kanebo cosmetics. I was always interested in research and this opportunity with Kao research and development has been truly invaluable. Kao Corporation generously provided me a place to stay in the company’s dormitory and three meals a day. The research center that I work at is located in a rural area of Japan and the company dormitory is only a 10 minute drive away from it. As well, the closest train station is located an hour away from my dormitory. Japan is known as the most convenient city in the world; however, this is not the case for me, as my transportation relies entirely on shuttle buses.  Kao provides a company shuttle that takes us from the dormitory to the research center, and shuttles that take us to the closest train station from both the dormitory and research center. Everything was taken care of by the company.

Settling into my new life in Japan was not a problem, however there were a couple things I had to adjust to. One of my biggest challenges took place in my first week as I was fighting desynchronosis (aka jet lag). Second, Japan has a very strict cultural mannerism, so I was very afraid to offend anyone unintentionally.  Luckily for me, everyone in the company was very welcoming and understanding.

The research that I am currently involved in is related to health and beauty care. This is especially engaging because I am also a consumer of these kinds of products myself. The research requires in depth consumer perspective, thus being able to relate to the research serves as a good stepping stone to more profound research.


On my first day of work, I was immediately introduced to my “doki”- they are those who entered the company in the same year. In Japan, recruitment happens in batches every year. So, my dokis are those who joined Kao Corporation this year. From a Canadian perspective, this might look like homeroom classmates. Coincidentally, there was even another intern student from Canada that was part of my doki. 

I am constantly learning new things while having a lot of fun at the same time. I am already 3 months into my co-op term now and there is still a lot to see and to learn from Japan. I am really looking forward to all the adventures in the future.

Needless to say, choosing co-op is yet another milestone in my life.

Choosing international coop may be nerve-racking, doubtful, or even overwhelming but you will never know how it actually is unless you’ve tried it. Before my co-op, I never knew I was good enough or even qualified for this position. I had a long list of excuses that made me nervous about going to Japan: Japan is too far, I do not speak the language, I will have to leave my friends and family. To my surprise, everything turned out better than I expected. I discovered a new side to myself that I did not notice before. I realized that in order to accomplish what I want to do, it really depends on my own courage and willingness to do so.  

About the Author

Samantha Kuah

SFU Co-op Student
Science › Molecular Biology and Biochemistry
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