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Opinion: An Experience of a Lifetime in Japan | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Students walk under snow covered trees at a park in Tokyo on February 14, 2014. (AFP/ Toru Yamanaka)

When I was 18 I could not have dreamed that visiting a strange and faraway land—both in terms of geography and culture—such as Japan would have such an impact on the course of my life, particularly as this country was so mysterious and distant and not much was known about it at the time.

On my arrival in the country everything was strange,including the language and the culture. I loved writing the Japanese language and its characters and I tried to expend all my effort to master this art. I thank God I was accepted to study at one of Japan’s most prestigious and famous universities, Meiji University, in 1980.

On my first day there I learned a great lesson that has stayed with me throughout my life. I took care to keep in the good graces of the professor who was in charge of my first practical lesson studying engineering, working hard and reading a lot of Japanese in order to excel. I arrived early for my first class and waited for the other students. After the attendance had been taken I was amazed that the other students did not seem to know how to use the various tools that we would be using during the lesson, particularly as I was well aware of the extent of Japanese diligence and attentiveness.

I took this as an opportunity to show off my skills to the rest of the class, and particularly the professor. We had been allotted five hours to complete the task. To the amazement and surprise of the other students, I started working on my own and completed the appointed task within half an hour. I was very happy about my achievement and, overcome with pride, went immediately to the professor’s office to tell him that I had completed the required task. The professor gave me a strange look—one I can still recall to this day—and invited me to return with him to the classroom. He looked over my work and firmly asked me to come to his office.

I did not know what he wanted, or why he was acting so harshly, instead of rewarding me or saying me “well done.” He shut the office door and said: “You do not know what you are doing. Did you think you were the only student in the class who could to this? Everyone can. The point of the exercise is for you all to work together in order to get the best results, not to work on your own. In order to be welcome at this university, you need to radically change your thinking. Therefore, I will not provide you with the syllabus for this module. In fact, you can consider yourself dismissed from this class for this semester so that you remember this experience for the rest of your life.”

I tried hard to change his mind, particularly since this was a compulsory module. However, he rejected me categorically and said, “You can retake the class next term.”

At first I thought he was being unfair and biased, but as time passed I understood the lesson: teamwork is one of the keys to success.

This experience helped me a lot in my life and I still cannot forget this honorable professor. When I graduated, he approached me and said: “I have been following your academic performance and I am proud of you and your success.”

From my own personal experience, teamwork is one of the most important reasons for the success of any entity, whether we are talking about a company, or institution or the homeland. Teamwork is an integral part of Japanese culture and one of the reasons why this is so successful and distinguished. This was the view of work culture I gained from my time in Japan as a student and something that has remained with me throughout my life.