Student Life at Aoyama

Message from Alumni

Obuzor-Obieze Onyinye Frederica (Nigeria, SMIPRP 2021-2022)

Nigeria Customs Service

I often find myself drawing upon my experience in Japan as a reference point during interactions. Not only did the people, culture, and environment inspire me, but they also shaped me with their unwavering work ethic, strong sense of responsibility, effective communication time management and pursuit of excellence. This is all thanks to the Government of Japan, the World Customs Organization (WCO) and the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) for availing me the opportunity to study at the Aoyama Gakuin University (AGU) for the Master’s Degree Program in Strategic Management and Intellectual Property Rights (SMIPRP).

Amidst the challenges posed by the Pandemic, I have to acknowledge the staff of the SMIPRP and the professors who proactively adjusted the schedules to accommodate any difficulties relating to our learning program and travel to Japan. The 2021 batch had a mix of online and face to face learning process and I view this as a fantastic opportunity that resulted in higher-quality education from both mediums. Nevertheless, upon my arrival in Japan, I came to understand that the program becomes richer when conducted physically, which is why I indebtedly appreciates the SMIPRP staff for their efforts in organizing and ensuring our trip to Japan.

One thing that stood out for me throughout the academic year was the good balance of theory and practice, as evidenced by the inclusion of applicable, practical case studies for each theory. The method of tutoring, the style of supervision for the academic research, the instructional resources employed, and the tools to which we were introduced significantly enhanced my proficiency and level of assimilation. The exchange of knowledge, cultural diversity and insights among Customs officials drawn from different countries revealed specific deficiencies and opportunities for growth that can be embraced by all. Designed for aspiring managers, the curriculum was jam-packed with intriguing and engaging studies relevant to the Customs Administrations of the twenty-first century.

Upon return to my Custom Administration, I was commended for my research thesis which was selected for presentation at the 2022 Industry Studies Association Annual Conference. I found it easy to apply the theories and principles I learned from the program because I could easily relate them to real-world situations. Prior to assuming a more leadership position, I spent about a year developing training modules based on my SMIPRP experiences, conducting several in-house trainings on effective tools for customs modernization and engaging in the implementation of some key customs projects. I am currently working as a Technical Supervisor where I supervise, monitor, and assist in the control of technical and operational activities involved in the clearance of goods during its importation, export, and transit to ensure maximum compliance.

As an SMIPRP alumna, I am grateful for the invaluable experience, knowledge, and skills I gained, as well as the leadership qualities I developed during my academic year as the Sub-leader. The network and support I received from other participants from various countries cannot be quantified; some of whom I have reconnected with and worked on projects together. For any customs officer looking to maximize their career potential, I wholeheartedly endorse this program, as my time in Japan had a profound impact on both my professional and personal life.

V D S S Nagarjun Grandhi (India, SMIPRP 2021-2022)

Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs, Government of India

It was a delightful surprise when the university announced the final selection for the course. After 11 years of managership, I am going to become a real student in a real school.

The initial phase of our course was online due to the pandemic, but thankfully, the latter part allowed us to physically travel to Tokyo, Japan. Initially, thoughts of navigating and settling into an unfamiliar territory crossed my mind. However, the university staff proved to be incredibly helpful, guiding us through every detail in a systematic manner. Upon arriving in Tokyo, everything proceeded seamlessly. The campus greeted us with warmth and hospitality, reuniting with our batch mates in person after six months was a nostalgic moment. I remember the first day of our school was such a rainy day. I glanced outside, and in that instant, I anticipated an announcement for an online class. It was my first lesson, come what may, nothing stops in Japan. Slowly, the integration with the society has brought changes in our lives too.

The two semesters seamlessly intertwined, offering a continuous journey of learning. We eagerly awaited our sessions of the Management class to tackle various management questions, delved into Japanese organization life through organizational management class, engaged in innovative exercises and brainstorming discussions in innovation management classes, meticulously refined our thesis under the watchful eye in Master thesis class, absorbed impressive intellectual property rights (IPR) knowledge from three different professors, and immersed ourselves in many more enlightening courses delivered by the wonderful faculty. Each moment spent in our school was treasured. Weekends were eagerly anticipated for exploring Tokyo and Japan armed with the knowledge gained from Japanese class. Every lecture, every interaction during our course, is etched in our memories as beautiful moments.

In equal measure, I gleaned knowledge from the professors and invaluable experiences from Japanese society. The warmth, punctuality, commitment, dedication, and meticulous planning exhibited in the Japanese work culture were profound learning points for me. Despite hailing from different cultures and countries, we were united in the Customs family, forging nine enduring friendships. Today, I proudly consider myself a member of the global customs family.

Thanks to Government of India, Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs, Government of Japan, WCO, Aoyama Gakuin University, Professors and staff of the university who gave me this great opportunity.

Edson M Chilala (Zambia, SMIPRP 2022-2023)

Zambia Revenue Authority

My experience being on the Strategic Management and Intellectual Property Rights (SMIPR) program at Aoyama Gakuin University (AGU) and living in Japan was life changing, enriching, and perspective-shifting. I encountered a lot of interesting concepts, management, research, and strategy tools that have influenced how I make decisions in my work. The course structure, the concepts taught, the class and discussion sessions are, in hindsight, a connected whole that reinforces lessons along the way for a much deeper learning and knowledge transfer. I think that one of the key tenets of the program is the rich cultural diversity it comes with as each of the scholars on the program is competitively picked from across the Globe with varying competencies, experiences, and perspectives. This postures the SMIPR program as a great undertaking for budding managers who often will face varying dynamics in their role as managers.

The program has excellent academic and professional grounding, blending technical concepts that focus on the academic demands of a masters program and cutting-edge Customs and IPR best practices as implemented by an exemplar Customs Administration – Japan Customs. I benefited a lot from using the case method and the participatory approach of learning, where theories are taught and students are given assignments to apply the theories to real life cases. Even more enriching for me was the use of industry experts and practitioners to share their wealth of technical and practical knowledge of Customs and IPR which we then used to develop strategies and country specific interventions aimed at modernizing and bettering our Customs Administrations. I also had the privilege to see in practice, the things taught in class through the visits to Osaka Customs, Kansai Airport for the baggage/cargo scanners and smart gates, the Customs Laboratory, the Supreme Court of Japan, the Ministry of Finance, the Customs Training Institute, the Japanese Society for Rights of Authors, Composers and Publisher (JASRAC), among others. I was privileged enough to also experience the rich cultural sites and culture of Japan like the Emperors Palace, the Meiji-Jingu (and many other Shinto shrines), Mount Fuji, tea ceremonies etc. I also watched the Kabuki, carved my own lacquerware at the Kamakura-bori, ate a lot of ramen, drunk some hot sake and Matcha tea, ate sushi and raw fish with soy and wasabi sauce, tied a furoshiki cloth, among others. And of course, the high technology in all facets of everyday life in Japan was always a marvel to watch, in all its forms – Shinkansen trains, noodle-dispensing vending machines, etc.

The highlight of my study was when I had the rare honor of seeing, meeting and being lectured by the then Secretary General of the World Customs Organization [WCO] – Dr. Kunio Mikuriya, a humble and highly knowledgeable leader who embodies the nature of most of the Japanese people that I got to interact with.

Resulting from my experience on the program and living in Japan, I now think more conceptually, I am constantly looking for ways to improve and streamline our operations at work and I attempt to communicate better and visually. I have also adopted the Japanese small portions for my food, I take my tea/coffee without sugar and walk a lot more to keep active. And in true Japanese fashion of not disturbing the harmony and being considerate of others, I am more conscious of how considerate I am of others.

I remain indebted to the WCO, the Government of Japan, AGU, SMIPRP Team and the Zambia Revenue Authority for the opportunity to build my capacity as a budding manager.

Risky Yakob Purba (Indonesia, SMIPRP 2022-2023)

Ministry of Finance of The Republic of Indonesia

As I reflect on my time at Aoyama Gakuin University, I am filled with pride and gratitude for the education and experiences that have shaped my life. First and foremost, it was a great honor to be selected as one of the ten customs officers from around the world to participate in the well-designed Strategic Management and Intellectual Property Rights Program (SMIPRP) offered by the World Customs Organization (WCO), the Government of Japan, and Aoyama Gakuin University.

My time in Japan was more than just academic; it was a journey of personal growth, lifelong friendships, and unforgettable moments that have shaped who I am today. The lessons I learned in and out of the classroom have stayed with me long after graduation. The program and the values it instilled continue to guide me in my personal and professional life. I am proud to be a part of the SMIPRP alumni and to carry its legacy forward.

I would like to express my deep gratitude for the life-changing opportunity to participate in this program, made possible by the WCO, the Government of Japan and Aoyama Gakuin University. I am also grateful for the dedicated faculty and staff who supported me during my time in Japan, and for the friendships that have lasted a lifetime. My experiences in Japan have prepared me for the challenges of the world beyond campus, and I am forever grateful for the opportunities I was given.

To future SMIPRP applicants, I urge you to seize this remarkable opportunity with open arms and a curious mind. My experience in the program was transformative, not only in expanding my knowledge as a customs officer but also in fostering meaningful connections with professionals from around the world. Embark on this journey with enthusiasm and dedication, for it has the potential to shape your academic and professional trajectory in ways you never thought possible. I wish you all the best and hope that you, too, will be privileged to experience the profound SMIPRP program.

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