A Strong Me

I am Yusuke Son from Yokohama, Japan. Let me take you through my life from Japan to China and CEIBS via the US, India, Vietnam and Thailand.

Born and raised in a very traditional Japanese family, I had always aspired to go abroad. My first experience outside Japan was in New York when I was 18 years old. My passion for studying languages was born there. As I spoke little English back then, I forced myself to practice it wherever I went. Even while riding the Amtrak train, I would always sit next to kind-looking middle-aged people and ask questions about difficult words in paperbacks I was reading at the time. Most of them would get curious about me and strike up a conversation. My experience in New York made me want to study English for a longer period. Several months later, I enrolled at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon.

Life in Portland, Oregon

My next destination was India in 2005 when I was 19 years old. I was planning to travel around India for a month, but I lost my wallet with all of my cash and credit cards on the very first day. Having lost everything valuable except for my passport, I stood in the middle of the street having completely no idea what to do. I was focused only on surviving after that. I stole five pieces of chapatti from a hostel where I was staying (that being the only time I have ever stolen anything in my life) and begged for water on a sweltering Indian street all day long. After being hungry and thirsty for days, a kind Japanese gentleman lent me some money. The experience made me think that something like this could happen to me again when I least expect it. So I made up my mind that I would build a ‘strong me’ that could survive anything life threw at me. This idea of ‘strong me’ is what eventually brought me to Shanghai.

In India, hours before somebody stole my wallet

Fast forward 14 years and I was in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam working for one of the biggest advertising agencies there. Having worked in Tokyo and Ho Chi Minh for 11 years, I had become a skilled marketer. I was happy with my job and had no reason to be uncomfortable. However, witnessing China’s growth at an unprecedented pace from the side-lines made me want to be a part of it. I wondered why I had never studied Mandarin.

Life in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

As fate would have it, I bumped into Tetsuya Tani (CEIBS MBA 2020) in Bangkok. We used to work for the same advertising agency in Tokyo, and he was just about to start his MBA journey at CEIBS. My conversation with him was the first time I had ever considered doing an MBA. The following week, I flew to Beijing where Tetsuya lived, and he gave me huge stack of GMAT prep books. After significantly cutting back on sleep for two months, I finally managed a score of 670. Luckily, CEIBS admitted me to the programme. Since one of my most fundamental goals in coming to China was to master Mandarin, I decided to come to Shanghai before my MBA programme started to devote myself to studying. After two months of self-training, I got my HSK level 6 and HSK advanced speaking certificates.

With fellow Mandarin students at East China Normal University

The CEIBS MBA programme started in August 2019. Since then, I have had countless opportunities to build a ‘strong me.’ Life at CEIBS is about so much more than just studying. It is a journey to uncover previously unconsidered possibilities. Let me take you through several different aspects of my life here at CEIBS.

First: Studying, of course, as I am an MBA student. I believe the unique feature of CEIBS’ programme is its strong connections with real business. We get to see real-life applications of everything we study in the class. CEIBS also offers the Integrated China Strategy Project (ICSP), which is a great opportunity for students to work with real companies and to tackle real business issues in China. The ICSP is an exceptional opportunity, especially for international students to experience the business environment here.

Company visit as part of Organizational Behavior course

Second: Friendships and connections. People at CEIBS are from very diverse backgrounds. The MBA journey, especially at the beginning, can be very tough and stressful. It is so important to develop strong relationships with your classmates. The network you become a part of is immense. I have met countless people through classmates’ networks here in Shanghai, from the president of Muji China to a Japanese entrepreneur who is trying to build the biggest baby care platform in China. The learning opportunities are simply unparalleled.

With fellow MBA classmates at Shanghai Night Boat Party

Third: Global exposure. The Malaysia module was a life-changing experience for me. As part of the camp, we spent three days with a group of 11- and 12-year-old children. The purpose of the camp was not to teach the kids, but to help them discover who they are. As a father of a 1-month-old boy, the most important lesson I learned was that I do not have to necessarily teach my children things. Asking quality questions to encourage them to think for themselves is much more meaningful. The CEIBS MBA is not only about studying, but also about learning life lessons.

Malaysia module, with children in our group

Fourth: Studying Mandarin. On the side-lines of the programme, CEIBS’ environment is a perfect place to study Mandarin. The school provides a Mandarin course based on each student’s level. However, an even more important element is the conversations I can have with my Chinese classmates. For those who want to improve their Mandarin skills, CEIBS is a great place.

Fifth: Location. Shanghai is one of the most developed cities in the world, especially in terms of technology. For someone who spent the past four years in Vietnam, every bit of life in Shanghai is breath-taking. I have not touched cash for half a year since coming to Shanghai. I do not purchase things at retail stores – everything is delivered to the school’s delivery box after I buy it online. At restaurants, I just scan a QR code at the table to order food or to pay the bill. Reading 100 articles about new technology cannot beat one day of living here in Shanghai.

Finally: Thinking deeply. For the past 11 years, I did not have time to pause and think about my life. I did not think much about my future career plan, as I vaguely thought that I would work for my previous company for the rest of my life. After many changes, including becoming a father, quitting my job, and becoming a student again, my horizon is completely different. The fact that we have time to reflect on our past and future life might be the most important element of the MBA. I can see who I am much more objectively, and I understand my strengths and weaknesses more clearly. I have come to realise that that most important things in my life are, first, to do every possible thing for my baby to make sure he has a happy life, and second, to love my wife to the fullest and make sure our lives are full of happy memories.

For those who live in places like Japan and Korea where working style is not flexible and quitting your job to do an MBA is not a very popular option. I had countless reasons not to do an MBA. My job was stable with good perks. Life in Vietnam was fun. I was older than the average MBA candidate. My parents did not like the idea of me quitting a stable job and being jobless for two years. So, to do an MBA was a tough decision. As a Japanese person, to diverge from a stable and promising path is still relatively unheard of. However, I can assure you that there is nothing to worry about. As long as you are willing to change yourself and do not hesitate to devote yourself to change, your potential is limitless. If you feel unsatisfied and are looking for a way to change yourself, just give it a try. There is nothing better than being true to what you really want to do.