Kate Russell spent six months in White & Case's Tokyo office thanks to the firm’s guarantee to give every trainee an international seat
Tell us about your international seat...
I was keen to work somewhere that was very different to the West and in a country that had a rich culture. A colleague of mine worked in the Tokyo office and her experiences convinced me that it was somewhere I would like to work and live. In March 2016 I moved from London to Japan. While in Tokyo I sat in the project finance team mainly working on the financing of Japanese solar projects.
How easy was it to settle into another country?
My time in Tokyo was eye opening as its so overwhelmingly different to London, both culturally and as a city. For example, Japan is still quite hierarchical in the home and in the office; juniors should be extremely respectful to their seniors. Tokyo is also such a vast, built-up, densely-populated and busy city that it’s easy to have a Lost in Translation moment.
There are also differences in work life that can take time to get used to. In Japan there is a certain way to address people and exchange business cards. The firm provided language lessons and the Japanese tutor gave me some useful guidance on business etiquette beforehand. Associates in the Tokyo office were also happy to steer me in the right direction. The country isn't very ethnically diverse so it was interesting being part of the minority in a huge metropolis, lending me a different perspective.
Not being fluent in the language can be a barrier in everyday social life, but it wasn't a problem at work as English was spoken in the office.
Getting used to life in a new country can feel daunting but the opportunities to explore and meet people are endless. The firm also put on a number of social events while I was in the Tokyo office, including sporting activities, hiking, BBQs and dinners. This made things a lot easier.
To get the most out of an international seat it's important to be open-minded and get stuck into the local culture. I tried jellyfish and chicken sashimi, ate sushi under fireworks with some market workers and hiked Mount Fuji to watch the sunrise.
How did you benefit from the international seat?
Stepping out of my comfort zone and working in a different part of the world has given me more confidence, awareness and independence - attributes that will be helpful in my career.
When you work for an international firm, you understand that the work you’re doing is cross-border and multi-jurisdictional but actually going to work in an overseas office gives you a heightened sense of the reality of this.