Skip to main content
Health Sciences
SFU Co-op Student

picture of mount fuji in the distance
Gilles Desjardins on Unsplash
No doubt [working abroad] will be different; it may even fall outside the boundaries of your comfort zone, but it’ll allow you to fully immerse yourself in another culture, learn more about yourself and your own capabilities.

It has always been a wish of mine to do co-op abroad to gain valuable work experience, but the opportunities always seemed quite minimal, especially for a Health Sciences student like myself. However, after doing some personal research and taking the time to speak with SFU’s International Co-op Coordinator, Amy Lee, I was introduced to the Canada-Japan Co-op Program (CJCP). Hosted by UBC, the program aims to connect students from various post-secondary schools across Canada with paid internship positions in Japan. As SFU was a participating post-secondary school in the CJCP, students whom started internships with this program would also be able to fulfill their regular SFU Co-op requirements. I loved the idea of being able to travel whilst learning new things, so I decided to give the program a shot.

Amongst the possible employers, one company stood out, Kao Corporation, a research and development company specializing in home, toiletry and beauty care products. If the brand names Jergens and Biore sound familiar, that’s because they’re developed from Kao. Due to my familiarity with these companies and my interest in Japanese culture, I wasted no time in applying once I learned they were hiring. Soon, a phone interview was conducted, after which I was selected as their internship student for eight months.

I didn’t dare believe it—even on the day of my departure, I still wasn’t able to believe it. But eventually, as the plane descended and the intercom bellowed, “Ladies and gentlemen, we have arrived in Japan”, it finally hit me. I was in Japan, a place with easy accessibility to ramen and sushi and anime goods galore! Most importantly, it was where I would call home for the next few months.

Adapting to the Environment

Amidst the excitement, I also began to worry. Whilst I avidly enjoyed Japanese culture, I didn’t speak the language—much less understand it. How was I going to communicate with anybody? I still remember my first day; my stomach churned nervously as I waited for my supervisor to greet me. However, the moment I met him, he welcomed me with a kind smile. Starting then, I had a feeling everything was going to turn out much better than what I anticipated.

Although, I am not able to discuss my research ventures, I can attest to the fact that there is a huge difference between learning about molecular biology techniques in lectures versus applying them in real life. I made many mistakes in the beginning, but it was through these errors that I made corrections and found an efficient way to carry out my experiments. Every day, I learn new material and I constantly look forward to what other new knowledge I will acquire next.


One of my fears I had prior to my departure was my inability to communicate in Japanese. To add, I was aware that Japanese culture placed much importance on hierarchy, so I was quite worried I would mistakenly speak informally to the upperclassmen. However, they were always lenient and kind to me, which made me feel welcome. In the first few weeks, I was also slowly introduced to a group of individuals called doki. Doki is a term used to describe your colleagues that entered the company the same year as you. So, like me, they were freshmen, and I spent most of my time with them. For example, it is common in Japan to host nomikais, and I often joined in. A nomikai is a casual drinking party that allows coworkers to de-stress after work, but be warned: they can take place any day of the week, and may even extend to nijikais and sanjikais (Second and third drinking parties, respectively), which means you might not even get to bed until 3:00 AM. That being said, I was astounded to see that all of my colleagues were ready to work the next day. As such, my first nomikai was a very eye-opening experience.      

Traveling in Japan

Work ventures aside, I also take the free time I have to go exploring. It’s Japan, after all! So far, I’ve hiked up Mount Fuji with other CJCP interns (confirming that it will be at least a few years before I embark on another treacherous fifteen hour overnight hike), visited the renowned Ghibli Museum (Ghibli Studio are the masterminds behind renowned animated films such as ‘Spirited Away’, ‘Totoro’ and ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’) and travelled to the traditional, rustic city of Kyoto to enjoy the natural landscapes and sceneries, like the Arashiyama bamboo forest. There is just so much to see and do in Japan—the possibilities are endless.

Needless to say, my first four months here have been anything but mundane. For those curious about embarking on an International Co-op term, I highly advise you to pursue working abroad (be it in Japan or in other countries) if the opportunity arises. No doubt it will be different; it may even fall outside the boundaries of your comfort zone, but it’ll allow you to fully immerse yourself in another culture, learn more about yourself and your own capabilities. Personally, travelling to Japan was a very big step for me. However, I took the plunge and am now having a great time learning and exploring. What else awaits me for the next four months, I’m not too sure. What I do know is that no matter what, it’ll be a fantastic experience. Until then, じゃあね (Jaa ne: See you later)!

Beyond the Blog

  • More information about the SFU International Co-op program can be found on their website
SFU Co-op Student
visibility  238
Feb 16, 2017

You Might Like These... Co-op Reflections, Professional Development, Career Exploration, Seeking, Work Term Extension

author, courtney, smiling
A Second Term in Government: More of the Same?

Having completed my first work term for Health Canada as a Communications Officer Intern, I was eager to try something new, and the government was not where I believed that was going to happen. That is until I was offered a position at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada...

picture of glichelle pondering a though
Surviving Workplace Politics

Ever been peeved with workplace politics? Have you ever been a victim of office politics? One student shares her experiences from the workplace with tips on how to survive.


person with their head in a book
Responsibility and Success

One of the most memorable parts of my time in co-op was the collection of accidents, errors, mistakes, and mix-ups that happened in the course of working in the laboratory.


You Might Like These... International

a red bus in the middle of a busy street in Hong Kong
Challenge Yourself

Ever wondered what it would be like to work in Hong Kong? Yat Li shares with us in the last installment of his 3-part series on his experience challenging himself, adapting to cultural differences, norms and work environments as well as overcoming mistakes.

girl with headphones on in radio station
Working for the CBC, My Favourite Moments, and Some Tips for Aspiring Journalists

From a young age, Ashley Fraser loved telling stories.  While studying communications at SFU she began to realise that journalism might be her future career and the CBC Peter Gzwoski internship opportunity was the perfect way to get her start. 

Picture of two people sitting at a table looking at each other
Elise's CGA-BC Co-op Experience: Landing Your Dream Job

Are you pursuing a career in Human Resources or interested in working for the CGA? Check out Elise's co-op experience as the Recruitment & Employment Assistant and her important career lessons she took away from her placement.