Updated: Jul 25
WCF-Mates! is a segment where we feature and showcase the lives of those who have collaborated with WOMENCANFLY.CO. (Commonly used by Australians, ‘mate’ refers to a friend or someone you are close to.)
In Volume 3, we meet Chika Sakamoto, a Student Exchange Concierge living in Sydney.
We first met Chika at a business school seminar in Sydney. She participated with international students from her agent while also touring with a different agent on her own. Chika looked after us regardless of the fact that she was with another agent. We still remember clearly until this day how touched and grateful we were that we’d just crossed paths with a counsellor who was as kind hearted as she was.
These days, Chika is extensively active in Sydney by sharing Australia’s attractions and interesting features on social media, advising those who are interested in studying abroad and offering counselling for others.
“Studying abroad is a major milestone in one’s life”, says Chika. She talks about her dream of moving abroad because of the significant strengths she’d be able to learn while studying abroad and exploring other countries.
Who is Chika?
Prior to moving to Australia over 10 years ago, Chika was in charge of marketing at Asahi Beer.
Initially, Chika didn’t feel like her job at Asahi Beer was worth doing and had thoughts of leaving. However, when she consulted with her seniors who she respected, she was told that marketing was a useful skill that could be widely applied in almost any job. After hearing that, she became self-motivated and felt like she had to give it her all and embraced the exciting opportunity before her.
Chika’s results grew and opportunities to go on business trips rose accordingly. However, when she moved abroad, because she couldn’t speak English, she wasn’t able to deliver presentations that touched the hearts of others and thus felt a sense of failure.
It was at that time she took leave from work and decided to study English in Australia for a year. She intended to go back after a year but, “It’s ended up being more than 10 years”, laughs Chika.
Currently, Chika works as a Study Abroad Concierge at an agency called IS Student Exchange Network. There, she listens carefully to and advises prospective exchange students before they embark on their journey on things like their background, current situation, goals from now on, budget, duration of stay and introduces them to various options. Once their school and length of stay is decided, Chika supports them with various procedures, visa applications and of course, work experience.
Among them, it seems that there are people who she gives advice to even after they return to Japan. Studying abroad isn’t the end goal, it’s a milestone in your life. It’s always heartening for her to be able to be a part of and support someone during that time in their life.
Chika’s amazing accomplishments
Even though Chika bears the title of being a Study Abroad Concierge, in actual fact, there is a wide range of people who seek her guidance, including those who haven’t decided on studying abroad yet or those who have the slightest interest in other countries. For that reason, Chika’s consultations feel more like life advice rather than study abroad advice.
A talent of Chika’s is working with people to help them with thinking about their life beyond studying abroad. She doesn’t blatantly push exchange students to do something and at times will ask, “Apart from studying abroad, what other choices do you have?” They then stop and think of a solution together. We’re convinced that there are many who end up discovering what they want to do while talking with Chika.
Chika also frequently delivers online seminars and appears on Instagram Live where she gives people the opportunity to ask about trivial topics such as, ”Is it okay to talk about something like [x]?”
In the middle of a student’s time abroad, even though there are times when they want to change the way they do things, each time someone revises their plans, the flexibility is a joyous aspect of Chika’s role as she is able to do things like helping them with a new way of studying abroad.
It is important that you become honest with how you feel in order to have a fruitful study abroad experience. As the duration of your stay is limited, it is important to make your time worthwhile.
Studying abroad - What’s in it for you?
Although studying abroad is one option, Chika says, “It’s okay even if your stay is short, I hope you can experience what life is like abroad at all costs.” There are so many other things that you can gain apart from improving your language skills.
Regardless of how developed a country is, there are a lot of things that become inconvenient about living abroad as cultures and languages are different. Through these inconveniences, what comes naturally to you is overridden with new values which gives you the chance to look at yourself from a fresh lens.
Japan has many standards, unspoken social expectations and rules. They have some positive aspects, but if you feel suffocated, you don’t have to feel obligated to follow these rules at all.
In Japan, there are many who get worried and say things like, “You’ve worked at your company for so long so it’s a waste to change jobs”, or, “How can you study abroad at your age?” However, overseas, there are lots of people who support you and are positive towards your decision. The set structures of having to be a particular thing will fade away and you will be able to make choices freely.
Chika says when you come overseas, you will have the power to broaden your horizons. There are times when she feels like she can’t keep soaring because she's pulled by a thread somewhere and perhaps there are many people who feel the need to rush and jump into things. However, if you feel tired, it’s okay to stop and take a break.
However, one important skill that can be learned by experiencing life abroad is balancing the responsibilities that come with flying solo.
As a fellow Japanese person, Chika want you to spread your wings
In May 2020, WCF and Chika’s collaboration on an online seminar, “Do what you want to do regardless of your age! Tips on studying abroad from women around age 30”, received a great response.
On the day, WCF’s Founder, Kimiyo talked about her experience with things like interning, working, studying English and expanding her network in Australia to those interested in studying abroad or starting something new.
Kimiyo shared how she lived on her savings, wasn’t able to find a job, the day she got frustrated and burst into tears, her concerns about getting married and how studying abroad isn’t all glamourous. Her talk conveyed a fairly realistic reality of studying abroad along with the irreplaceable experiences she gained. Her session also received a positive response.
There is a lot of empathy for what Chika speaks about to the point where it gives us goosebumps. Both Chika and WCF agree that, ”The option of going overseas presents itself because you have come into contact with more choices and new values.”
Even though there are no role models in Japan yet, perhaps you can find hints if you look around the world. Chika wants to support you with broadening your options through her experience as a Study Abroad Concierge and WCF is here to do the same by sharing personal experiences and providing networking opportunities.
After seeing Chika’s sincere attitude towards exchange students, we asked her to collaborate with us. Chika is reliable and gives appropriate advice so if you are even just slightly interested in living abroad, please feel free to reach out to her. We’re certain you will feel like you are taking the steps in moving forward with your life.
In 2006, Chika moved to Australia after leaving her job in marketing at Asahi Beer to pursue something more to life. It’s now her 12th year in Sydney. Nowadays, she supports hundreds of exchange students and those interested in studying abroad as a Concierge at IS Student Exchange Network. She regularly holds seminars and accepts consultations over the phone and Instagram from time to time.
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