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FLAS Alumni Spotlight: Sitting Down with Chris Choi

October 27, 2020


FLAS recipient Chris Choi graduated in Summer 2019 with a joint MBA and MA in Japan Studies, focusing on international business, marketing, economics, and national security. He offered to sit down with the EAC for an interview.

Thanks for the opportunity to chat, Chris. How are you holding up?

I’m doing well! Thank you for inviting me.

Can you expand on your experience learning Japanese as an East Asia Center FLAS fellow? When were you a fellow? What year(s) of Japanese did you study?

Sure. In between the second and third years of my graduate program, I was an East Asia Center FLAS fellow during Summer 2018. It was the Second-year Intensive Japanese course taught by Dr. Kaoru Ohta (Ohta sensei), with assistance from TAs Lowy and Horikawa. They all did a great job, and who can ever forget Ohta sensei’s jokes? There’s nothing like studying hours of Japanese every day during the glorious Seattle summer. Plus, right after the course I was able to put the skills to use right away as I went to Japan for Army Reserve duty.

You currently work at Philips, yes? Tell us a little more about your position.

That’s correct. I’m currently a Consumer Marketing Manager on the Sonicare Power Toothbrush Consumer Marketing Team. I’m responsible for upstream marketing for my product range at our business group, working in areas such as portfolio strategy and new product innovation.

Does your study of East Asia impact decision-making in your current position?

Definitely! East Asia contains many of our most important markets, as well as promising future markets, and I deal with at least one part of the region daily. Using what I’ve learned at UW about Japan, Singapore, and other parts of Northeast and Southeast Asia, I’ve been able to explore interesting business opportunities, such as those related to shifting demographics. I feel that I’ve also been able to better understand customers and consumers in these markets.

How do the skills learned during your FLAS fellowship translate to this role?

During the FLAS fellowship, I had to immerse myself into the world of Japanese language and culture to adopt a different lens, as difficult and uncomfortable as that could be. I had to adapt to overcome ambiguity as I struggled to develop proficiency in a different worldview. These are all applicable to my role, as we may not always have all of the data we need before we need to make key decisions. Also, I try to account for cultural and other differences and consider how various consumers would view our propositions.

What kind of experiences did FLAS provide that you would otherwise have not had?

I have always been very interested in intensive language study, but for various reasons, the FLAS was the first opportunity that I’ve had to pursue this interest. Despite the workload, in one sense the simplicity of being able to concentrate all of my efforts (for two months, at least) on only studying a language was quite appealing to me, as this is decidedly not the experience during the regular academic year, where you need to spread your focus on several courses. It provided a different type of academic experience that was quite rewarding.

Do these experiences translate to your professional career? How so?

I think so. Since my current role is my first experience in consumer marketing and oral health care, I have had to quickly focus and adjust to a new function and industry, learning the lingo and norms of not only my company, but also of retailers, dental professionals, and others. It is similar to how I had to adapt to a different culture to be successful in the intensive Japanese course during my FLAS fellowship.

So what’s next for you? Do you see your language study providing continued benefits wherever you might end up?

Although I’m still figuring things out, in the future I am thinking about exploring other parts of the healthcare industry. I do plan to remain in marketing, and I would like to focus more on East Asia, so my language study will most certainly continue to be advantageous. In addition to self-study, I may also pursue other structured opportunities for continued Japanese study.

We appreciate your time, Chris!

Thank you and take care! Go Army!

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