[From April Issue 2015]
“The other day when I went to a business networking event for various companies and made a presentation in Japanese, so many people rushed up to me to exchange business cards that I ran out,” says Nate SHURILLA in fluent Japanese. “Also, when I was job hunting, a broader range of options opened up to me because I could speak Japanese; this resulted in a job offer from one of Japan’s main mega banks. The ability to speak the native language gives you a huge advantage when it comes to securing a job in a foreign country.”
Shurilla hails from the state of Wisconsin in America. “Before he got married, my father lived in Japan doing volunteer work for his church, and used to discuss his memories of this experience with me and taught me simple Japanese. Through this, I became interested in Japan, too, and elected to learn the Japanese language in my middle and high school years.” When it came time for him to enter secondary education, Shurilla applied to do volunteer work for his church and went to Japan, just like his father.
At first, Shurilla was shocked because it was so difficult for him to understand spoken Japanese. “My first placement was in Yamagata Prefecture where I couldn’t understand a word the old people spoke. Later I understood that they had a unique dialect. However, the experience had a huge impact on me at the time and it made me think I had to study more Japanese. At the same time, though, I understood that the conversation would continue even when I did not understand the words, if I just smiled and said, ‘I see, I see,’” he jokes.
Shurilla decided to study ten new words, two new grammar rules, and five new kanji every day. “I used store-bought flashcards and also read books. The first book I read had about 200 pages. It began to make sense at around page 150,” he says.
When his two years of volunteer work came to a close Shurilla returned home and went to college. There he chose to take classes in Japanese where he studied grammar and the cultural background of Japanese expressions. “Thanks to the grammar lessons, I could systemize knowledge I acquired during my stay in Japan. Also, understanding Japanese culture is very important. For instance, I think the greeting ‘otsukaresama desu’ (thank you for your work) is uniquely Japanese. Bearing in mind that it comes from appreciating other people’s hard work and being considerate of their fatigue, you would know in which situations to use the expression.”
When he was a college senior, Shurilla sat for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) N1 and passed. He then applied for the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme and returned to Japan. “I returned to Japan because the earnestness and diligence of the Japanese people had made a big impact on me during my previous stay and I had begun to love Japan,” he says. “While working in Japan, there was a period when I was bothered by the interference of my direct supervisor, but I overcame that by talking to another boss at a higher level.”
Now, Shurilla is working for a marketing company in Tokyo. “If you speak your native language and Japanese and have some kind of skill, like programming, you can find many job opportunities in Tokyo,” he says. “I am now involved in ‘Around Akiba,’ a project to promote the appeal of Akihabara to the world. I feel it’s an advantage to be able to speak Japanese, particularly when doing interviews.”
Text: SAZAKI Ryo