20's American in Japan, visa expires soon. Considering Grad school.
June 30, 2013 11:44 PM   Subscribe

I'm a 27 year-old living in Japan teaching English, with my visa running out at the end of August. I'm trying to decide on what to do next - work (more) or pursue a Masters in Asia-Pacific studies. I am rather scatterbrained, and have no clue where to get started logistics-wise in going for a graduate degree. If I were to go down this route, I would also like to narrow down some career paths I could take post-graduation.

I would like to go back to school if possible. I am eager to learn more particularly in the field of international relations. I have the means, and am in a much better place life-wise than I was in university which would be conducive to studying.

Side note: I also have a bit of a blank in my resume in terms of "actual" work, as I've been teaching and translating privately for almost a year now.

I originally majored in Japanese (with a minor in English), and am considering a graduate degree in Asia-Pacific studies (or International/Asian studies). I'm not exactly sure where to go from there career-wise, though.

I guess my main questions are: Is a graduate degree worth it in my case? I don't really have any specific skills besides English-teaching and the ability to speak Japanese. I'd love to hear from some people who were on the fence regarding entering a grad school.

In the case of graduate school: Any program recommendations? The ones I'm looking into at the moment are the UW Jackson school of international studies and Waseda school of Asia-Pacific studies, but just recently started researching. I'd be open to studying in America or abroad (Japan or elsewhere). Also, what kind of jobs could come from this type of study?

Thanks in advance!

PS: Sorry if this question is a little vague, as I am having a rather difficult time deciding what path I'd like to go down in life from this point on.
posted by Kamelot123 to Education (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm a German girl doing a master's degree at Waseda University, and the Asia-Pacific Studies department seems to be rather popular with foreign students. (I only know some of the students very, very vaguely, though.)
I wasn't sure whether graduate school would be right for me either, and while it is terribly stressful, I am now really glad I decided to go for it because I've met so many awesome people. I'm doing a degree in applied linguistics, which is something you can use to... teach. Which you've been doing already.
You're not telling us what you want to do with your life. Would you like to continue teaching or translating, or change directions? That might make it easier to give you hints.
posted by LoonyLovegood at 12:23 AM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think you are putting the cart before the horse. You should determine what you want to do career-wise, and then determine what schooling and/or work experience can get you there. A degree in Asia-Pacific studies will leave you where you are right now, which means without any particular industry-specific skill set. Unless you want to be a teacher or translator, language skills should be seen as secondary to core industry skills. Very few companies will hire someone just because they have language skills and a degree in regional studies. Plus you have time working against you because if you graduate and are almost 30, you will probably have trouble competing in the job market against the younger graduates whom companies may favor for various unspoken reasons. If you want to pursue a degree in government, you could take the foreign service exam now. I know my answer is not the super positive type that feels good to hear, but it's reality. You need to learn a core skill as soon as possible.
posted by Dansaman at 12:23 AM on July 1, 2013 [4 favorites]

Bluh? The foreign service exam is for becoming a foreign service officer. There are lots of other sorts of jobs in international policy and research. Most of them are pretty obscure and not visible to people outside the policy community.

I have several friends who pursued area studies degrees from SAIS (granted, not a school you're considering). While working on their degrees, they seem to have had a rich variety of internship opportunities, doing things I don't understand. The ones that have graduated don't seem to be complaining about a lack of career options.

That said, talk to students and instructors at your programs of choice. They'll be your best and most informative resources. My personal impression, as someone with extremely tangential second-hand knowledge of these things, is that these programs build on the skills and experience their students bring in. I think that if I came into a program like that and just did the coursework, yeah, I wouldn't be much better off on my way out.
posted by Nomyte at 12:55 AM on July 1, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for the replies so far.

Currently, I'm considering teaching (on the post-graduate level, hopefully), translating, counseling, consulting... a few different jobs, and am looking for a way to translate the degree - if I were to pursue it - into one of these. I understand the need for an industry-specific skill set, but honestly am not even sure what kinds of skill sets there are besides IT. I would love to hear more information/ideas!
posted by Kamelot123 at 12:56 AM on July 1, 2013

From what I've heard from my professors, to teach at a post-graduate level, you will definitely need to have a master's degree (obviously) and at most universities, a PhD. As for translating, you can actually study that as well in the new graduate school Waseda just started, where I am doing my applied linguistics degree, but friends are majoring in translation or interpreting.
No idea about your counseling or consulting ideas - what would you counsel or consult about?
posted by LoonyLovegood at 2:50 AM on July 1, 2013

Following up on Nomyte's observation, a good way for you to start would be to contact SAIS directly and get a list of employers that SAIS students work for after graduation and figure it out from there. This doesn't mean you necessarily have to go to SAIS, but it is one of the best International Relations programs out there, and seeing what their graduates do will give you an idea of what your options are.
posted by deanc at 5:39 AM on July 1, 2013

If you want to teach at the post-graduate level you almost certainly need a PhD. Do you want to do research? If so, then a PhD may be right for you. But if you don't want to do research, then please don't do a PhD.

Don't just get a Master's because its the logical next step or you think you want to study more. Get one to satisfy a particular career goal. Area studies MA programs combine two things: language training and graduate humanities courses. If you spent years in Japan and can translate professionally now, you really don't need more university level language training. The only thing that they will be able to train you in is more advanced grammar and how to read difficult literature in the language. Its not very useful stuff.

However, scholarship money in the form of FLAS scholarship are readily available for these types of degrees. If you'll get paid for the MA, and will enjoy the work, why not do one?

I would recommend looking at Monterey programs too.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 5:56 AM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

I went to SAIS. I read your question and immediately thought of the SAIS Nanjing program. You study in China for a year or 18 months or something and then go to DC to finish up. If you want to know more about SAIS, memail me.

That being said, I fully agree with dansaman. You need to do more research about what you want to DO, and that will make the school choice much easier. It doesn't even need to be that specific; I told SAIS I wanted to do something to develop the business sector in the Middle East. I can't remember if I got more specific than that. To be accepted at any school, you will need to have a clearly thought-out, well-articulated reason about WHY, and "this seems like a good next thing" isn't going to impress anyone. When I read applications, I rated anyone that couldn't tell me why grad school, why us, and why now pretty low on the scale.
posted by emkelley at 7:01 AM on July 1, 2013

I recommend holding off on graduate school until you have your career path narrowed down. While employers understand that many people get a college degree and wind up doing something completely unrelated, this is not true for graduate school. In addition, it sounds like you have little work experience besides teaching English abroad. While that would be great if you want to be a k-12 teacher, that experience doesn't make you a particularly competitive candidate in the job market. Third, lets say you hold off on going to graduate school, and you break into one of the fields you mentioned. If you don't like it, you can change career paths-- without adding to your debt load.
posted by emilynoa at 7:19 AM on July 1, 2013

honestly am not even sure what kinds of skill sets there are besides IT

There are many different kinds of skill sets that can be developed, including sales, marketing, finance, accounting, programming, systems administration, business analyst, systems analyst, product management, project management, engineering, healthcare administration, technical writing, training, human resources, law, compliance, auditing, risk management, etc. etc. (and various sub-categories under each of those). Those are just some examples of the core skills I mentioned.

You should try to figure out what most excites and energizes you and what provides stable employment (in terms of job skills being in demand and geographically transferable). And it's important to pick something soon and focus on it so you develop expertise. If you wait too long, it will just get harder and harder to find opportunities. Doors start closing.
posted by Dansaman at 11:09 AM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

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