Hi, my name is Ryo Kosaka and I’m an undergraduate senior student at University of Tokyo. Until this December 2022, I am an exchange student in University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, or so-called UIUC. My purpose of abroad program is, deepening my knowledge on labor issues from various perspectives. Based on my internship experience in India where I witnessed labor issues Japanese companies are facing overseas, I decided to study this field so that I could contribute to Japan’s economy from the business field. UIUC, with more than 10,000 international students, is renowned for offering variety of courses, and based on the abundance of courses and my interest, I decided to study in this university.
Ⅱ. School study
To achieve my goal, I took 2 courses on Economics, 1 course on Geography, and another course on Labor Employment Relations. Although the 4 courses do not seem to be relevant, all of them address labor issues from various perspectives.
Do you remember the news on Elon Musk becoming the president of Twitter and laying off hundreds of employees? As the case of Twitter shows, the labor law and employment custom in a country is different from each other. Drawing on the actual U.S. Federal Labor law and employment cases like Walmart, Costco, Twitter and so on, the LER course discuss rules and issues about work, globalization, and unions within U.S. The labor law in United States and other developing countries do not cover employees’ freedom of speech, nor do they compensate high enough. It was interesting to learn that although the labor union should work as a collective bargaining force to amend the situation, the racism and sexism within the workplace had been depriving unions of their legitimacy and persuasiveness.
While LER provided me with basic knowledge on labor, it is limited to U.S. That’s why I take another course on Geography called “Geographies of Globalization”. This course aims to interpret the embedded exploitation structure of each region such as India, Mexico, Sub-Saharan Africa and U.S. In the course, we addressed issues like how the U.S. imperialism has shaped the exploitation structure of banana plantation workers today, or for example how the policies like NAFTA and TPP affects the local farmers. Also, the professor provided students with opportunity to talk with real activists and researchers online, such as in this picture, where we had chance to discuss unions and labor capitals with another university’s professor.
In Japanese, there is a saying “鳥の目、虫の目、魚の目”, which tells us to look at things happening from broad perspective, and also from close perspective. The LER and Geography courses discussed unfair situation of workers and its current trends, while the 2 economics courses stand on Human Resources Manager’s perspective and discuss adequate organizational structure, compensation methods, and hiring standards. The first picture is an assignment on deciding how much a firm can offer to pay for each employee, using regression approach. And in the second picture, we learnt an economic rationale for the number of workers a company can afford to hire. Students also performed a role play about actual Feedback session on workers’ performance. My friend played a role of worker wanting higher salary, and I played the role of manager trying to decide how much to compensate.
Ⅲ. Campus life & Extracurricular Experiences
Other than my academic experience, the campus and extracurricular experience in UIUC have been very special. UIUC is full of campus recreations and after classes, I have some time to play sports with my roommates, watch official football games, enjoy music lives, and study in main library (which is one of the biggest in the country).
Also, during the Thanksgiving week, I had time to travel in New York where FUTI is registered. It was inspiring to see the largest city in the world and also some skyscrapers developed by a Japanese company in Hudson Yard.
Moreover, as an extension of my study, I have been conducting research on the “role of Japanese expatriates in foreign subsidiary companies”, and interviewed a firm located in Illinois. Being able to witness Japanese auto parts manufacturing company maintaining highly competitive advantage abroad, and also local workers taking leadership was simply pleasing and astonishing. From the CEO’s words, I could learn the importance of understanding each other’s culture and backgrounds, in order to construct a strong bond and trust.
Ⅳ. Acknowledgement Thank you very much for all the supports from Ito Foundation U.S.A. The academic and campus experience in UIUC wouldn’t have been this wonderful without the generous financial support, and being able to get inspired by other recipients in U.S.A. has been very encouraging. I further hope to develop my knowledge and capabilities on labor studies, and contribute to Japanese multinational companies and ultimately to the society as a whole.