Sometimes learning things the hard way is better

The inaugural Cansbridge-EngInE Fellow John Wu’s experiences in Tokyo gave him new appreciation for his parents, and put him on the path to becoming an entrepreneur

For any first-time visitor, Tokyo is always a mind-expanding experience. Few cities in the world can match its size, scale or density, while at the same time, the intense focus on detail that is inherent to Japanese culture combine to make for a potentially overwhelming – but enjoyable – introduction.

It was no less true for 3rd year Engineering student John Wu, who went to the Asian megalopolis this past summer as the inaugural recipient of the Cansbridge-EngInE Fellowship. The Fellowship covered the bulk of John’s travel and living expenses as he undertook a paid internship with a Japanese start-up company.

As a Canadian-born 2nd generation Chinese immigrant, the experience had multiple meanings for John. Not speaking any Japanese meant he would have the same difficulties that his own parents faced when they first journeyed to Newfoundland, where John was born.

Simple tasks – like going to the pharmacy to buy shampoo – were not so simple anymore. “I can finally feel some true empathy for what they had to go through when moving to Canada,” he said, speaking about his new understanding of what his parents had endured.

This was heavily underscored when on his first night in Japan he mistakenly ordered grilled salamander and pig testicles for dinner (“It actually didn’t taste too bad though!” he quipped in his blog post).

It’s all part of the Cansbridge philosophy: Maximum learning in maximum discomfort is a mantra of founder, William Yiu. Believing that entrepreneurship and a sense of adventure are inextricably intertwined, the Fellowship supports 15 students each year from across Canada on the Asian internship  of their choice, provided they do not speak the local language and have no familial ties to the target country.

In John Wu’s case, the goal was definitely achieved. “You really have to get out of your comfort zone if you want to do big things,” he said, summarizing his time in Japan.

His selected internship was with FlickFit, a company developing 3D scanning technology for the apparel industry to improve online shopping revenues. John’s remit was to develop their mobile app – a daunting task to perform in only three months. The language barrier was an issue, although he soon found ways to overcome that: “We could communicate by code,” he explained. “It’s kind of universal.”

The massive size of the Japanese economy also made an impression on John. The GDP of just the Tokyo area is equal to the entire economic output of Canada. “You have to see what is out there,” he said. “The Canadian market is tiny in comparison.”

Looking ahead, the odyssey convinced John more than ever that his future lies in entrepreneurship. It also gave him insight on a vital life lesson: “Living in a foreign country is something that everyone should experience once in their life.”