SOAS University of London

Nancy Naomi Ueda

During the degree I was constantly learning not only about research topics that interested me, but also about practical skills such as critical writing in English, constructive criticism and time management.

During my university years in Brazil, I put in a lot of effort to finish both my degrees in International Relations and Social Sciences in order to obtain a good average grade because I knew I wanted to apply to a master’s degree or to do the Brazilian diplomat’s examination. Life circumstances, however, made me give up on those ideas, at least temporarily.

After graduation I decided to come to Japan through the Japanese Government’s JET Programme to work as a Coordinator for International Relations for the Shizuoka Prefectural Government. For five years, I represented this government in meetings with leaders of the local Brazilian community, gave lectures to Japanese children and adults about the cultural differences between Brazil and Japan, and also had the opportunity to work together with Brazilian diplomats in Japan.

When I was about to leave this job, a colleague advised me that a master’s degree could open new opportunities, and mentioned that he had a friend who got a degree from the University of London International Programmes. Right after that conversation, I searched for the available distance learning degrees and the moment I saw the MA in Global Diplomacy, I knew it was the right one for me. My fiancée also assured me about the good reputation of SOAS, so I decided to apply because I thought it would be a great opportunity to wrap up that professional experience with a renowned institution.

I was going through a period of change in my life but I knew I was going to stay in Japan for a few more years. At the same time I always wanted to study in an English-speaking university, so the distance learning masters from the University of London was the perfect match for me.

A few weeks after I enrolled at the master’s programme, I was offered a job as a research assistant at the Shizuoka University of Art and Culture in Hamamatsu, Japan. This position gave me the flexibility in terms of work hours to focus on my essays and examinations when deadlines were close. All the support and understanding I had from my superiors, colleagues and family were essential for me to balance work and study activities.

During the degree I was constantly learning not only about research topics that interested me, but also about practical skills such as critical writing in English, constructive criticism and time management. The beginning of the course was very frightening to me because I was not confident enough that I could deliver all the tasks, and interact with my classmates and tutors using proper English. It was a challenge in itself but the feedback from my tutors and the self-study hours about academic writing, helped me to build up my confidence so that I could start focusing 100% on the content of my writings. My perfectionist side, however, worked against me most of the time because I would spend too much time reading references instead of starting work my own essays. Although unrelated to my master’s subject, I was forced to learn about the importance of time management, and that sometimes we have to let go of perfectionism in order to prioritise tasks.

Because of my situation living in a foreign country and working on matters related to a local social environment for many years, I was very alienated in terms of global affairs when I started the master’s programme. In the first months, however, my tutor started a discussion on a current events related to the impact of the Internet on diplomacy that completely sparked my interest. After that, I started to focus on modules in which I could research Internet-related topics further, and it eventually became part of my dissertation as well. The master’s degree from the University of London opened my mind to the social and political impacts of the Internet, and also for the opportunities we all have thanks to this global network.

As the next step in my academic career I am considering applying for a PhD programme in a topic related to the Internet. And from next Spring I will also debut as a lecturer in a Japanese university, something that would not have been possible without my master’s qualification.

One of the most important skills I have learned from the master’s programme was the ability to think critically about all information available out there, to be able to distinguish between reliable and not so reliable sources. In the age of Wikipedia and social media, I think it is an essential skill one should have for any profession. All the essay writing and feedbacks we had to provide to classmates were also valuable in teaching me how to summarise my arguments and how to criticize the writings of fellow students in a very cordial and diplomatic way. These are definitely skills that I will be applying to my own work from now on.