- [Liberal Arts 01] Liberal Arts Starting from a Pencil
- [Liberal Arts 02] Thinking Method to be Acquired by Liberal Arts
- [Liberal Arts 03] Changes after Graduating from Liberal Arts Education
- [Liberal Arts 04] Japanese High School Students and Liberal Arts
- [Liberal Arts 05] Learning after Finishing College
Author: Kotaro Aoki
From Liberal Arts to Business School: Why Liberal Arts Matters in Life
With unseasonable typhoons coming every week, Japan is now a place where you can easily feel the effect of climate change.
This is the third article of the introduction course on liberal arts. We have introduced liberal arts’ philosophy and critical thinking, and this time I invited a graduate from Wesleyan University, Yusaku Takeda, and asked him about his college days and life after graduation.
Mr. Takeda is enrolled in a doctoral course at Harvard Business school. Even though he is still a PhD student he has already coauthored and published a paper on the prestigious Global Strategy Journal. He is building up his career as a business scholar. He is going to enter the teaching profession after graduating from school.
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A: Please introduce yourself.
T: My name is Yusaku Takeda. I was born and raised in Shinhidaka town, Hokkaido, and graduated from Hokurei junior and senior high school in Sapporo. I entranced Wesleyan University as a Freeman scholar and majored in College of Social Science. Right now I am enrolled in a doctoral course at Harvard Business School, doing a research on Macro Organizational Behavior.
A: What is Macro Organizational Behavior?
T: In Macro Organization Behavior we research why organizations exist. Micro Organization Behavior is how individuals behave in a group as well as their individual motivations and such in organizational settings. On the other hand, Macro Organization Behavior focuses on group dynamics, how organizations are affected by outside environments or other organizations.
A: What did you do after graduating from university?
T: I was a consultant for about half a year in New York but realized that it wasn’t the kind of job I wanted to do. I quit and returned to Tokyo. In Tokyo, I became a research assistant for professor Ikujiro Nonaka, known as the pioneer in the field of knowledge management, at Hitotsubashi Graduate School of International Corporate Strategy.
Doubting Common Sense, Choosing My Path
A:What made you pursue an American liberal arts university?
T: Going to liberal arts university was completely coincidental. I was good at science and hoped to get a research work. My father’s family owned a company so I had this vague future plan of doing research with some connections to the society. I was planning to study agriculture at the University of Tokyo or Hokkaido University, because agriculture is a very practical field.
A: How did you come to think of the US colleges as an option?
T: There were two events. The first is an annual school visit to Tokyo University. I witnessed a scene where a professor was reading out textbook quietly while students were taking notes passively. The atmosphere was devoid of enthusiasm, and a question came to me. Do I really want to study at this place for four years? I later learned that things are more or less the same at other universities in Japan. And there was another event after that.
After returning to Hokkaido, I attended an international exchange event with our sister city Kentucky. With American visitors, I talked about my interest in agriculture. He advised me to study at a university in Kentucky. I thought going to university in America was fascinating but I answered, “For now, I will enter a Japanese university and then I want to go to America as an exchange student or a graduate student.”
A question came up to me in the bus on the way home. Why did I say I would go to the US after entering a Japanese university? Recalling the scene at Tokyo University, I concluded that the choice of entering a Japanese university must be a common sense imprinted by school and society. I boldly decided to go to a university in America.
A: What made you choose liberal arts university?
T: There was a book that changed the way I thought about education. It was a book about agricultural developmental aid in Africa, where wells were donated but they quickly went out of use, because people didn’t incorporate them into their everysay lives.
No matter how advanced technology and research become, it can’t be applied to the real world if you don’t understand people’s customs and cultures, because it is humans that use these technologies and products.
I found that agricultural programs at colleges I was going to apply for lacked that perspective and focus in their education. Before learning about technical aspects of things, I wanted to learn more about human. So I switched my choice to entering a liberal arts university.
Surprises after Surprises at Wesleyan University
A: You were accepted to Wesleyan University with Freeman scholarship in 2010. Was there anything that shocked or impressed you in the beginning?
T: All the things I used to think natural in Japan were all turned upside down.
For example, toilet. In dormitories at Wesleyan University, things are “gender neutral,” so toilets and shower rooms aren’t separated by gender. This idea is relatively well known in Japan now, but at that time it was new to me. Even though I understood it in my head, I was surprised every time I ran into people of a different gender in shower rooms. Because I never had a chance to think about gender neutral back in Japan, I was not able to join my roommates ‘ discussions on this topic.
Also I was amazed by how hard students studied. Wesleyan University was a place where students seriously discussed their studies not only in classes but also in cafes and dormitories. On the contrary, Japanese high school students and university students had a notion that studying seriously was embarrassing. It was important to compete against others for good grades, pretending that they were not studying hard.
The high school I graduated from was an academic-track school so the value of studying was understood, but it was no exception from the above Japanese culture. I was shocked to see students at Wesleyan University talking their studies seriously, seeing it as a cool thing.
Rigorous Study at CSS Transformed Me
A: How did you change in such environment?
T: Hm, there were two stages for my change. The first is my adaptation to Wesleyan’s cultural and social environment in the first year. The second is from the second year on, my academic training.
In the beginning there were few things that surprised me but I adapted to school pretty fast and enjoyed my days at school. My dormitory had few students from abroad, so I mixed with Americans and smoothly adapted socially and culturally.
Enjoying weekend parties and new cultural amusements, I attended classes with minimum effort. I cannot say that my grade was wonderful but I was able to finish my first year without any problems.
All these changed in the second year. Wesleyan ‘s College of Social Studies starts from the second year, known as having the most rigorous curriculum in college. Official name of college was “college of social studies ” but students called it “college of social suicide ” because it was notorious for making you study all day.
I had though days than I had ever had. The first reading assignment was a book Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes.
Because of an enormous amount and difficulty of the contents, I could barely keep up. During this time, I read philosophy books for the first time. In the second year we studied social theory, with readings such as Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche and Discourse on Inequality by Rousseau. Through philosophy I thoroughly doubted my common sense, and that made me nihilistic for a time, which can be said as a side effect of critical thinking.
Then at the end of the second year, I had an oral exam and written exam that were supposed to test the results of one year’s studying.
I wrote papers in a few days and discussed them with professors. I thought I prepared enough but I ended up feeling defeated. The cause was obvious. I didn’t study enough.
Experiencing this setback, I changed my attitude from “minimum, acceptable effort ” to “doing my best on each task.” The tough academic environment always required more than my ability, so if I didn’t do my best, I couldn’t keep up with class.
This is how I changed my mind in the third year, and the following year, I became a person who was well respected in the department.
Liberal Arts Learning Enhances My Business Study
A:You are now studying at a business school. How relevant are your college experience and education?
T: The education I received from Wesleyan is the basis of all I do. College trained my abilities in reading, writing, and speaking. Learning at the rigorous environment like Wesleyan enabled me to get the doundation to improve myself afterward.
Also, comparing to other Harvard classmates (the students who did technical studies of business and finance in undergraduate), I feel I can look things more deeply. At Wesleyan there was this atmosphere, where political and philosophical perspectives were considered cool. When we gathered and had heated discussions, we had broad perspectives than technical issues. Without any predetermined ends, we could freely pursue our interests and ideas. Free and deep thinking process would not be cultivated through the career-oriented education that puts certain ends first.
How does Liberal Arts Education Work for People?
A: How does liberal arts education work for people who are not scholars, for example, business men and women?
T: Sometimes critical thinking helps you in business but what I think the most important aspect of it is that liberal arts education allows you to have a broader perspective in life.
A few years passed since I graduated from the school, and my classmates and I are all pursuing our careers now. When I talk to them, I feel like many of my classmates are able to step back from daily life and have a broad and objective perspective on their lives.
This is because we were educated in the environment where we can search what we like and what we want to do seriously. Also, thinking without predetermined ends enables us to think critically, which can be applied to life.
Secondly, liberal arts is the education that enables us to defend ourselves from collective thinking. As you can see from the past history and the present political situation, collective thinking is a very powerful, frightening thing. From Nazis Germany to North Korea, to the Trump administration, what’s common among them is the mechanism that disseminates certain beliefs and ways of thinking at a large scale.
You can not easily recognize your situation when you are swallowed into this big energy. The defense against collective thinking is to critically think about various ideas from your point of view, and this can be trained through liberal arts education.
Who Should Pursue Liberal Arts Education?
A: Lastly, can you give a message to junior and high school students?
T: Make your decision by yourself. It seems obvious but it’s quite difficult.
For example, do not go to a Japanese college just because your parents and teachers tell you to do so. Do not choose an American college just because you have to study English in this global age or something. Consider all factors and decide which path you want to go. Don’t just buy into images that the public impose on you. Decide your path by yourself.
Also, liberal arts education is not for everyone. Liberal arts education gives your future full of unpredictable things, from your friends to your major, to your work.
A curious person who can embrace unpredictable accidents positively is maybe the one who fits liberal arts education.
Liberal arts education is just a one of the choices you have. There are good points in going to a research university and deciding your major early. I recommended that you choose your path based on what makes you excited the most.
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I have known Mr.Takeda since college. His most noteworthy characteristic is honesty.
He doubted the obvious choice to go to a Japanese university and has been deciding his own path, by putting himself at the center of his judgment and decision.
Voices of common sense by teachers and parents that says “you have to be like this” are sometimes strong, but you need to critically think about that and be honest with your ideas and feelings. This will be an important quality in life.
Also the fact that honesty to oneself is nurtured through liberal arts education it’s something you can learn from Mr Takeda’s experience.
Editorial supervision by Kotaro Aoki
Kotaro Aoki is a writer, translator and aspiring philosopher. Kotaro is enthusiastic about education, philosophy, literature, and global and local scale human affairs. He is born and raised in Japan, and spent 4 years at Wesleyan University (CT), USA, for his bachelor degree. Upon graduation from Wesleyan University, he joined BlackRock, an American financial institution. He was involved with the trading and liquidity function, and after 4 months he decided to quit the firm. Since then, he has experienced different jobs in diverse industries from publishing to bartending. He is currently learning programming and on his way to launch a web application that might benefit people and himself.