Staff Interview: Reiko KOBAYASHI (Sudan Project)

[Original by Haruka SHIMIZU, 2015 Public Relations Intern (February 16, 2016); Translated by M. Kanai/R. Florea]

As her name implies, she surely has the appearance of a beautiful and graceful lady. But there is more to her than meets the eye! [Note: The Chinese characters used for her first name REIKO (麗子) means a child of beauty and grace.]

Hello everyone! My name is Haruka SHIMIZU, Public Relations Intern for JVC. This is already the 10th installment of staff interview marking the halfway of the series.

Today, I would like to introduce Ms. Reiko Kobayashi who is in charge of the Sudan Project since July, 2015. Her slim figure and polite manners are quite impressive. On the other hand, she was often observed by her colleagues making a joke with a straight face or tying her hair with a bulldog clip… I am curious to know what kind of person she is. I will try to discover her true personality!

What triggered your interest in international cooperation?

I do not remember clearly but when I was an elementary school student, the issue of refugees in Ethiopia attracted attention across the world. The topic was frequently covered on television. In one of the TV programs, I saw children with huge swollen belly caused by malnutrition. At that time, I just vaguely thought “These children are so different from us only because they live in different surroundings. But why?” Later on, I became interested in different races and countries. However, my interest in those days was not strong enough to influence my career path. I did not think that I would ever engage in international cooperation. At the university, I majored in British and American language. I simply thought that the skills of English would be useful in the future.

A photo taken in front of a house in the neighborhood, when she stayed in U.K. as a graduate student. Brick houses are very chic!

After graduating university, I started working as a clerical staff in the trading department of a small enterprise dealing with sugar hydrometers. Despite enjoying the job, I felt a bit disappointed that I didn’t have much opportunity to meet with people from overseas. Even though I started working, my interest in racial differences and ethnic conflicts did not disappear. I was saving money bit by bit, hoping to study abroad at a graduate school. After working for two years and half at the company, I saved enough money to study abroad. I decided to quit my job with no hesitations, because my determination to study abroad was so strong.

I went to a graduate school in U.K., where I studied for one year. At the school, I was finally able to learn about the subjects I was always interested in: racial problems and conflicts. However, it was quite challenging because I had to read many difficult books, which content was hard to understand even in Japanese language. Despite all the hard work, I was able to achieve my objectives thanks to my friends of various and diverse backgrounds. It was very exciting and stimulating to associate with people with different background and above all, it was so enjoyable. After returning to Japan, I worked for a foreign embassy and an NGO before I joined JVC in July 2015.

Why are you interested in the Sudan Project?

When I worked at another NGO, I was in charge of accounting. I had no opportunities to get involved in a project for a specific country. Therefore, in JVC, I wanted to experience project management in which I can deeply get involved. The reason why I chose Sudan is that I can make use of what I have studied in graduate school and my interest and concern. Another reason is that I have been to Sudan (present South Sudan) to do internal audit when I was an accounting staff in my previous job. I thought it would be a golden opportunity for me to work for a region which I know of and where I have been to.

I applied for this position through a job offer on the JVC website. After getting the job, I was worried that I wasn’t good enough. Then I thought, “It must be my destiny to be coming here. JVC kindly offered me a job. I will give it a try!” I am doing my best by learning every day.

You had experiences in accounting, too. How did you acquire the knowledge and skills of accounting?

Exeter Cathedral is the symbol of the city of Exeter where Ms. Kobayashi stayed as an undergraduate student. It serves as a place of recreation and relaxation for the citizens. You will never get tired of looking at the elaborate sculpture on the facade.

For instance, I studied accounting to take certification examination for bookkeeping. I cannot express how excited I feel when I get figures perfectly accurate in an account book. In my opinion, accounting job is a force behind the scenes but it is an extremely important job.

I assume it took a lot of courage to quit a job in order to enter graduate school. Did you have any doubts in making up your mind?

When I was an undergraduate student of a Japanese university, I had a chance to study at a university in U.K. for 8 months. On that occasion, I met people from various countries studying at different levels. Meeting with these people strongly stimulated and inspired me to study again in U. K. Then, upon returning to Japan, I started to save up money. That’s why I did not have any hesitation or doubt in leaving the job. When I was in U.K. as an undergraduate, I studied at an English language school attached to the university. Therefore, at graduate school, I wanted to study issues related to races and discrimination while improving my proficiency in English language. The area I lived in during my graduate study was located along the coast. I still remember it was extremely cold on windy days in wintertime.

Did you have a passion for anything when you were a university student?

I belonged to a competitive skiing club for four years. Since my father’s hobby was skiing, he often took me skiing with him. I did not have any experience of competitive skiing before entering university. I began competitive skiing because I was attracted by its speed and force. When I joined the club, there were many female students of the same grade. But they started to quit one by one and finally I was the only girl left. Although I felt lonely, I remained because I wanted to achieve the goal I had set for myself.

Do you still go skiing sometimes?

As my son is growing up, I like to take him in close contact with nature. Since it is so cold this year, starting with a sleighing first would be a good idea.

I understand you have a 3-year old son. How are you balancing work and home?

The photo shows Ms. Kobayashi being a mother. She looks totally different from a person you meet in the office.

The best way to balance work and home is for my husband and me to cooperate each other and share chores. It is difficult to do everything alone. Our son is now being looked after at nursery. Every morning my husband takes him to nursery and I pick him up after work. Sharing of household tasks is important for working parents. We are very thankful to the nursery, which takes a good care of our son during the day while we work. With a young child in a family, we are always rushing around with a lot of things to do. In return, we learn how to control and organize our time. Now I can make a quick shift in action such as “Today we will accomplish this” or “We will stop here” and that is quite enjoyable. On days off, I make it a rule to take my son out to play in a nearby park as much as possible. Exposure to the outside air will help enhance the immune system. To be honest, I take him outside in order to fulfill my duty as a mother rather than to let him have fun (she laughs).

Your resolution for fiscal year 2015 was “Live a life in an attentive and sincere manner”. Are you practicing anything specific or making efforts to achieve it?

I am afraid the answer is not “yes”. I have made it my resolution because I was not able to live that way. I have an ideal self-image of my own which I wish to attain. But when I am stressed with so much to do, I find myself scolding my son more than necessary. On such occasions, I recall the resolution and I try to look after him attentively. Additionally, I want to improve my way of using time. Since I have little time for myself, I wish to make good use of commuting time in the train for the study related to my job.

By the way, you always keep a box of sweets on your desk. Are you fond of sweets?

Ms. Kobayashi says that an important point is to keep a balance between eating sweet and salty food. But, today the box contains only chocolates…?

At the previous workplace, I used to share sweets in a box with a colleague sitting next to me. There is nothing particular about it. But at JVC, I am often teased about the sweet box (she laughs). On my desk, besides sweets, I have a litter box I made myself. I am quite good at Origami. One day, Ms. Omura who is in charge of Public Relations, drew a picture meaning “Thank you” on the bottom of the box. Since then, I enjoy tossing litter into the box.

Perhaps, eating sweets can be a means of relieving stress for you!?

It’s true that eating sweets may be a means for getting rid of stress (she laughs). I am a kind of person who can easily overcome stress with a small thing. Every morning I enjoy bothering about which sweet I should buy today at a convenience store on my way to work.

-[My impression after the interview]

Ms. Kobayashi is very straightforward and spontaneous as she is reputed to be. We cannot imagine it from her graceful and elegant appearance. On top of that, she is quick-witted and humble in attitude. What she has talked about herself today shows that she is a woman of great vigor and strong determination. It can be seen in the episodes that she was a competitive skiing athlete and that she proceeded to graduate school leaving her job. I was so much fascinated by her flexible thinking that I would like to talk to her more.

-[Notice for the next interview!]

The next interviewee is “A dependable person like a ship which will never sink” (who is reliable, sharp and stable) as described by Ms. Kobayashi. I am sure you will find the next interview worth waiting for!

A picture of cute girl! The eyeglasses will give you a hint!

She also studied painting. She drew this sketch on the spot.

* The order of uploading the English version of “Staff Interview” is random and hence different from the order of the original Japanese version. We are sorry, but the person coming next may be different from the “next person to be interviewed” mentioned in the text.

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