Viktorija Belak

BA Japanese Studies
Current job: Analyst
Current employer: GR Japan

What is your current job and what does it involve?
I work for GR Japan, Japan’s largest government relations and public affairs consultancy, as an Analyst. My workload is very varied, and includes: research and analysis of various policy areas in Japan (using Japanese- and English-language materials); translation of Japanese-language materials to English; writing, editing and proofreading English-language reports, project proposals, and presentations; and finally, some administrative work.

Do you use the knowledge and skills you gained from your studies in your job?
In regards to non-language skills and knowledge, yes I do use them. My Japanese Studies degree has given me in-depth knowledge and expertise on many aspects of Japan; having such background really helps when Japan is the focus of your work, and while I keep deepening my understanding of Japan every day, Sheffield has given me a very strong foundation to build my knowledge on. Particularly useful I find the knowledge I gained from modules that focused on Japan’s political system and politics (national, regional and international), Japan’s economy, work culture, management practices, and finally, modules that looked at Japan’s historic and modern relationships with other countries, such as Russia, the US, and countries in East Asia.

Do your language skills play an important role in your job?
Yes, absolutely. My language skills are crucial to my job: as mentioned above, I regularly do Japanese-English translations, and research Japanese-language sources. I wouldn’t be able to get this job if I did not know Japanese.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?
I have only worked in this position for a few months, so there have not been many highlights. Recently, however, I was part of a team that worked on producing a detailed issue and stakeholder analysis report for one of our clients. So far, this project has been the one I was involved with the most, and my contribution ranged from research and analysis, translation, to editing and proofreading.

Why did you choose to Study Japanese Studies at Sheffield?
A friend of mine heard that Sheffield University’s SEAS is one of the strongest specialised departments in the UK, with its Japanese Studies degree especially well-known. As I wanted to learn from the best, I applied, and I never regretted my decision. Another factor that motivated me to apply was that the course offered the opportunity to spend a year studying in Japan.

What are your favourite memories of studying at Sheffield?
When I think back to my time there, the memories that emerge are not the likes of “oh, Student Union was great there”, or “Sheffield’s Archery Society was really a great place to be”, or “I had so much fun with my university course mates”. That does not mean I did not have such experiences; Rather, what I remember and value about Sheffield (and in particular SEAS) the most is how challenging my Japanese Studies degree was. At the time, all I wanted was to become fluent in Japanese and learn as much about Japan as possible, and the course enabled me to do so. The satisfaction of seeing my hard work paying off, becoming better and better at Japanese, the beauty of kanji practice, the unforgettable experience of living, studying and working in Japan on my year abroad, and learning – these are the memories of studying at Sheffield that I value the most.

Do you have any tips and advice for students wishing to go down a similar career path to you?
If I were to give advice to any students wishing to do similar type of work that I do, I would advise them to focus on 1) getting your Japanese to advanced\fluent level, and 2) honing your research and analysis skills.

In regards to 1): a) make the most of your lessons at Sheffield; b) make the most of your year abroad in Japan, even when the host university’s program for international exchange students is not really conductive to improving your Japanese language skills (some students on my course felt that the level of Japanese taught to international students in Japanese universities was below what they had by the time they came to Japan in their third year. I was one of the lucky ones – I went to Aoyama Gakuin, and their program enabled me to drastically improve my Japanese skills); c) take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) while you are abroad in Japan – in some cases having a N2 or even N1 level of JLPT is more convincing to employers than your Japanese Studies degree, because they can more easily compare different candidates’ language skills that way. I took JLPT N1 while I was in Japan, and although I had to study hard to prepare for it, it was worth it in the end as my N1 qualification gave me an extra edge over other candidates when I was applying for my current position. I would suggest students to challenge themselves and prepare for N1 even when they worry they might not be ready, but if not – at least take N2, especially if considering working in Japan after graduation – most employers in Japan require N2 as a minimum.

In regards to 2): make the most of your undergraduate dissertation, as it is your most important project while at university, and if you get a good mark for it, it will show employer your research and analysis skills. Also, if for example you want to work in policy area after graduation, consider writing your dissertation on a topic that demonstrates your interest in policy, government, and/or politics. That way, it will be easier for you to show your potential employer your interest in that area, as you will be able to use your dissertation as proof of your interest. For example, my dissertation was on national policy on urban green resources in Japan; having this experience of policy-related research was another factor that made my applications for the current position stronger. Therefore, I recommend that you approach your dissertation strategically.