Today, riarumi meets Ryoko Yahagi, a student of World Literatures and Cultures and Spanish at The University of Queensland, Australia. Ryoko shares with us her journey towards achieving her dreams, and the highs and lows she’s faced as an international student in a foreign country, as well as her thoughts on women’s standing in Japanese society and how men can help foster an environment of greater gender equality.

Who is the riarumi?

My name is Ryoko, and I’m a Japanese university student studying in Australia. Right now, I’m in Mexico as an exchange student. I like talking to people, especially hearing about them, their interests, their dreams, and so on. But I also like doing a lot of activities by myself. For example, rather than joining in group tours, I prefer traveling by myself using public transportation, walking around new places like locals, eating local foods and talking to local people. I participate in activities alone, even if none of my friends are interested, or if all of my friends decide to do something, I don’t necessarily follow them if it’s something I’m not interested in.

I’ve planned and done many activities by myself during vacations, such as being a conservation volunteer in America, a farm volunteer in Australia, and had experience as a nanny. At the moment, I’m looking for something for this summer – doing research activities during semester breaks is always exciting!

What are you currently studying and what prompted you to take this path?

I’m currently studying at the University of Queensland in Australia as an international student, doing a Bachelor of Arts with majors in World Literatures and Cultures and Spanish.

The reason I decided to study in Australia is because of the multicultural environment of the country. When I was in high school in Japan, I became interested in studying intercultural communication at university. However, I felt certain that there are limitations to studying that as a  major in Japan, where it is still a homogenous nation. Given my interests and my intentions for my studies, I thought it would be better to live in a multicultural country so that I could communicate with people from different countries and learn their cultures on daily basis.

What is your personal dream for the future? How and when did you first realise this dream and what are you doing to achieve it?

My dream is to be a reporter who introduces various cultures from all over the world to Japanese people. I’m hoping to find a job at a TV company and work for some cultural programs.

Since I was a child, I’ve been fascinated with expressing myself by doing announcements (for example, participating in broadcasting contests and broadcasting clubs at school). And when I was in high school, I started realising how interesting it is to learn about the cultural differences between Japan and other countries, especially the differences in how people think and behave.  I want to combine these two interests of mine for my work in the future.

Are there any future goals you currently feel uncertain of, or that seem ‘cloudy’ in your mind? How do you tend to deal with this (common) feeling of uncertainty?

Sometimes I feel that my dream is risky, or unstable, because what I want to do can’t be categorised as a specific occupation. For example, to be a lawyer, there are exams to take, so students know what to study and what they need to do to get a job. But there’s no exact or defined way to be a cultural reporter. Also, some people say my Bachelor (Bachelor of Arts) isn’t useful for getting a job, because it doesn’t teach ‘practical knowledge’, such as accounting.

All I can do now is believe in my dream coming true. All I have to do is find the place where I can do what I want to do. Because I clearly know what I want to do and I’m enjoying my study now, and I’m sure some people – and therefore, companies – will understand me and be able to see something in me, if we have the same goal.

You’ve had experience living in several countries, including Mexico and Australia. Could you tell us about that? In what ways has living and studying abroad shaped you and your outlooks on work and life?

Studying abroad has definitely been beneficial for my interests and my studies. Because I’m interested in intercultural communication and my major is cultural studies, it’s always very interesting to talk to local people and learn about cultural differences throughout daily life. Cultures can be learnt though actual experience, much moreso than from just reading books.

In Australia, I’ve had opportunities to live with a lot of people from different countries, sometimes having to confront problems due to cultural differences. In Mexico, there are a lot of traditions and practices which are very unique to and different from other places.  I think these experiences have been making me flexible and open to new things.

How’s life outside of work (home life)? What do you do to relax?

At that moment I’m doing a ‘video-report project’ during my free time. I make short videos about various aspects of Mexican culture and, each week, I upload one to a social network. I just purely enjoy the entire process of making the videos – finding themes, writing scripts, conducting interviews, taking videos and editing them – and I lose track of time when I work on them.

When I feel stressed out, I write everything that’s been troubling me in my diary. That’s how I refresh myself.

Do you feel that young women in Japan are becoming increasingly forced to make a choice between having a personal life/family life and a career?

Compared to the past, many Japanese women are now working outside of home. However, I feel that it’s still difficult for them to work and live life at the same time in Japan. For instance, I learnt at school that some Japanese women are forced to quit their job when they become pregnant (this is because Japanese companies believe that pregnant women aren’t capable enough to take on important roles), and so it’s difficult to return to full-time job once their children grow and they have time once more to work.

Of course, women shouldn’t abuse their position as a mother (they should be responsible for their work while they have children), but companies should be flexible and respect the lives of their employees. They shouldn’t only ‘utilise’ the skills of their employees, or treat them as just tools for getting a job done.

Is there a gender equality imbalance in Japan? What can young women like yourself do to address this inequality?

I think there are some roles ‘for men’ and some roles ‘for women’ in Japan. It seems that Japanese society doesn’t readily give women much initiative. Women are expected to support men and encourage them by behaving stupidly as if men are superior to women, for example, smiling at a man’s discriminative jokes.

To cope with those problems, I think it is important that women strongly foster the idea of independence. I know some women just want to get married, be housewives and ‘live easily’. (I asked some Japanese university students about their dream and that was how they answered me!). If women hold these ideas, it’s not difficult to see why men look down on them. So, I think we (women) should keep our motivation high and impress men, so that it’s clear that we’re no less in any way.

… And what can men do?

Men should understand the idea that both women and men should take care of themselves and each other. A man can’t just work outside the home environment and let his partner do all the housework. Men shouldn’t expect that all the housework is to be done by women, because they aren’t children; they are independent adults. Working hard in one’s job isn’t an excuse to be lazy or dependent at home.

For example, both of my parents have jobs, so they both do the housework almost equally. When my father comes home late and eats dinner by himself, he washes his own plates. When I was a student in Japan and needed to bring a lunchbox to school every weekday, my mother and father used to have a routine of ‘lunchbox duty’. For example, my father would make my lunchbox on Mondays, my mother on Tuesdays, and so on.

Have there been any especially difficult moments when you’ve been working to fulfill your ambitions? What do you do to cope at those times?

Though it was my own decision to study abroad to pursue my dream, it took almost two years until I started enjoying my life in Australia. To be honest, I regretted my decision at first. My English didn’t improve as I expected, and I couldn’t get used to Australian culture. I cried almost every night, and I even thought of changing university and going back to Japan.

But the situation changed since I ‘gave up to myself in good way’. For example, I stopped blaming myself that I can’t speak like a native English speaker. I started thinking ‘I can’t be a native, and my goal is not to speak English perfectly but to use it to communicate with people and understand them’.

Also, I decided to think ‘I’m Japanese and I grew up in Japanese culture. I’ll behave in the way I’m comfortable with’. These ideas let me accept myself, set me free from pressures, and made me feel better. Then I finally started enjoying my life in this new place!

What has been your proudest or most encouraging moment so far in your life?

The uni semesters that I’ve passed so far!  To me, university studies have been the hardest of my life. Usually, I’m stuck at the library and there have even been times when I’ve been about to fail some courses. But each semester I learn a lot about cultures, which motivates me a lot, and I’m proud of myself at the end of every semester.

What (or who) inspires or motivates you to keep going?

People in other countries! Who, at the moment, are Mexicans. I like learning cultures and am very motivated when I discover interesting cultural differences, because that’s why I’m studying abroad and that’s what I want to focus on in the future.

Usually, I’m given those ideas and new lessons when I talk to people and listen to their stories, because it’s the people that make up a culture. Lately, I’ve been so impressed and inspired every time I talk to Mexican people, as they tell me about very interesting and unique cultural points and the history of Mexico. They motivate me to keep learning, and to keep pursuing my studies and my dream.

How do you ideally imagine yourself and your life to be in, say, 5 years?

Hopefully, I would get a job at a TV company and would be taking steps to become a reporter. At first, I’d like to polish my skills to be a great reporter, as well as further deepening my knowledge about various cultures. When I have enough experience as a reporter and enough knowledge, I’d like to work on a program which introduces cultures from all over the world.

At riarumi, we usually end with an inspiring quote. Are there any quotes or philosophies on life that you particularly like and would like to share with readers?

“Everything is meant to happen, and it happens to enrich your future.”

Since I left Japan, I’ve encountered a lot of difficulties, probably moreso than I’ve had pure enjoyment. But every time those things come to an end and I look back on the past, I feel confident, and I believe that those experiences have made me stronger, which is good for my future. So I try to remember and reflect on this when I have problems in my life.

Do you have any further advice for other young women like yourself?

Not only to women, but I want as many as people as possible to have dreams and to live to achieve them, because I’m sure we can enjoy all the things in life, if we have them. I say this because, when I was teaching students at a “juku” (cram school), I found that not many of them had their own dreams, and therefore they couldn’t find any reason to study and, as a result, they didn’t like studying. They would be more motivated if they feel that they’re studying for their dreams to come true.

Saying that, some people may then ask “how do I have a dream?” I personally believe that you can realise a dream, or find one, if you are curious about the things around you, and be completely open to experiencing them. Also, it is important not to be afraid of doing things alone. Being alone is not an embarrassing or shameful thing at all, but rather, it will give you more opportunities. I know harmony is valued in Japan, and people tend to be concerned with what others think of them, but you shouldn’t give up doing something because of other people. Actually, when I started thinking of studying abroad, no one, including the people at my school and my family, was happy with the idea at first. Some of my friends even laughed at me. But I did more research so that I could convince them, or sometimes I just ignored what they said (or, as I mentioned before, wrote everything in my diary to help me forget their discouragement). If someone gives you negative comments about your decisions, don’t take it to heart. They’ve probably said that to you to maintain their own face, or maybe just because of jealousy. So, go ahead; you can impress them later!