Alumni Voices

I wanted to do work that would make a difference in international society: How a person with zero overseas experience became involved in a port project in Africa


After joining the Energy Infrastructure Project Department of a general trading company, Tamao Okane became engaged in developing a port in Angola, a country in west-central Africa that had been wracked by civil war for 27 years. She is working to move the project forward while negotiating with government agencies, international organizations and international financial institutions. Ms. Okane had wanted to work overseas since she was a little girl, yet when she entered university she had no overseas experience and could scarcely speak English. This is her story of how she became capable of playing a vital role on the international stage.

Tamao Okane

2016: Enrolled in the Faculty of International Social Sciences (ISS).
2020: Graduated from ISS with a Bachelor’s Degree in International Social Sciences.

As a little girl, watching Disney cartoons and Star Wars movies, Tamao Okane longed to travel overseas. From September 2017 to March 2018, she studied business administration at the University of Oregon in Eugene, Oregon, USA. Later, at Gakushuin University she took part in a seminar on the theory of organizational behavior. In 2020 she joined Toyota Tsusho Corporation, a major general trading company. Assigned to the Energy Infrastructure Project Department of Toyota Tsusho, she became involved in development projects in Angola, Egypt and other countries.


Cartoons, films and music made me long to travel overseas.

My parents had basically never left Japan except for their honeymoon, but they liked Western music and film and our house was full of the sounds of the Beatles and ‘80s pop. They often let me watch foreign cartoons and Hollywood movies. Thanks to that experience, before I knew it I had a vague desire to go overseas and became smitten with the idea of learning to speak English. My favorite was a video of lots of Disney characters and children singing songs together at Florida’s Walt Disney World. “I want to be with them! I want to play with them!” I said to myself.

In junior high school my dream was to become a flight attendant on an international airline. By the time I reached high school, I just wanted to work overseas, in whatever capacity. Yet I still had almost no experience speaking English. My only experience traveling overseas at that time was a two-night, three-day trip to South Korea with my mother when I was in my third year of junior high school; in high school I became immersed in the school softball club. Even so, my ambition to work overseas never wavered, and when it came time to sit university entrance exams I looked for a university that had programs leading to international careers. Gakushuin University’s ISS requires students to study abroad. Attracted by a curriculum teaching a broad range of fields, including law, economics and management, I decided to enroll in Gakushuin.

While studying abroad I improved my English at an English school before entering a faculty.

I studied abroad in my second year at ISS, for six months from September to March, at the University of Oregon in Eugene, Oregon, USA. I chose Oregon because I wanted to experience the real America and wanted to put myself in an environment with relatively few of my fellow Japanese. I wanted to live away from the big cities, not in California or New York, and I was attracted by U of O’s four-quarter academic system because it meant I could accomplish two semesters’ worth of studies in my six months. In fact, when I submitted my written request to study abroad, my English qualifications and proficiency-test scores weren’t good enough for general faculties. I was only eligible to enter an English school affiliated with U of O. So I resolved to devote myself to improving my language skills in the first semester and join a faculty in the second semester.

In the English school affiliated with U of O, none of the other students were native English speakers. A lot of the students were from Asia and the Middle East, speaking a variety of mother tongues, and many of them were Japanese. It’s fun to make friends from other countries, but I knew I couldn’t let myself get complacent, so for three months I studied English diligently. Thanks to those efforts, I raised my score to the level I needed, changed my study-abroad program and was able to enter a faculty in the second semester. At the Lundquist College of Business I took three courses: Introduction to Business, Management, and Entrepreneurship. I was finally able to study alongside American students.

Now the real challenge began. Not surprisingly, the native English speakers who taught my classes talked really fast—it was all I could do to keep up. During group work, I couldn’t keep up with the pace of discussion. At first I barely spoke. It was really frustrating. But I was determined to contribute to the group and not waste this precious opportunity. I stayed up late into the night reading the literature, organizing the thoughts I couldn’t express into proposals. I practiced my presentations repeatedly and succeeded in presenting my work to my group. To my amazement, everyone adopted the views I had presented in our group work, and in the end our group was highly evaluated in the class. I was so happy to have gained the recognition of my fellow group members.

I wanted to do work that would have an impact on international society.

I started my job hunt in the summer of my third year. I took part in a job fair sponsored by Gakushuin and in short-term internships with various companies. With introductions from the University, I talked to alumni. Through this process I became interested in working for a general trading company. I was as determined as ever to work overseas, and as I persisted with my research I realized I was more excited than ever about doing work that could have an impact on others. I wanted to work overseas in ways that would make a difference in society in wide-ranging ways. It became clear to me that the way to fulfill that dream was to join a trading company.

What attracted me to Toyota Tsusho was its strong bottom-up approach to management. What are the conditions at the customer’s site? What are their feelings about it, what problems do they face and what needs to be done to draw closer to a solution? Toyota Tsusho had a consistent policy of going in person to the site to discuss matters with the client. Many times I have seen with my own eyes how my seniors considered an issue on-site, came up with an idea and built something new to resolve it.

Upon joining Toyota Tsusho I was assigned to the Energy Infrastructure Project Department. There I work in a division that supplies equipment related to energy and infrastructure to developing countries, where infrastructure is inadequate. So I’m involved in projects in countries such as Angola and Egypt. When I joined Toyota Tsusho, my main responsibility was a project to build a port in the west-central African nation of Angola.

The official start of the project was in 2019, but when I joined the company in 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic was in full swing. For the first six months of my employment with Toyota Tsusho, my duties were to support my seniors on a fully remote basis. I read documents, assisted in testing the viability of the project, prepared documentation for fundraising, wrote up the minutes of meetings and so on. Working on an international infrastructure development project may sound thrilling but the actual work proved to involve a lot of steady processing of duties.

Liaising with responsible ministries and agencies of the Angolan government as well as with international organizations, I devoted myself to detailed planning. I sought to determine the scale of the required port, what surrounding facilities would have to be built, what to do about the transportation network, which construction companies to partner with, what kinds of equipment to purchase and from whom, and so on. At the same time I had to raise funds. Negotiating with International financial institutions, the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), banks in Japan and insurance agencies, I drew up financing schemes to make the project a reality. Naturally, it was hard to work on this project for two and a half years without ever visiting the site. I knew nothing about the culture and people of Angola, couldn’t imagine conditions at the site and had never seen the faces of my clients except by video chat. Frankly it was hard to stay motivated at times. The desire to get to the site as soon as possible grew more and more intense.

Seeing the site made many things clear.

In November 2022 I made my first overseas business trip, to Angola. Angola was embroiled in a civil war from 1975 to 2002. It was now 20 years since the end of that strife, but uncertainties remained in many ways. The center of Luanda, the capital, is remarkably clean and pretty, and the food is good. But drive just five minutes out of the city and you soon reach slum areas. Unexploded ordnance still remains outside the city, so you have to be careful when moving around. While the risk of conflict with armed groups and terrorism is low, crime such as robberies and theft can occur, so it’s inadvisable to walk around at night. Infrastructure is not yet up to par. It was clear to me that much still needed to be done in this country. Since then I’ve made many overseas business trips as needed.

Trouble was a constant companion. In Angola, you have to travel by plane. One time our plane couldn’t take off, so I had to take a half to full day drive instead. Sometimes a car might break down on some isolated road and we’d have to wait for help. I got food poisoning sometimes. But I became used to these frustrations and grew stronger as a result. All conversation was in English. I surprised myself—until I entered university I had never spoken a word of English, yet here I was giving presentations and conducting negotiations with African governments, international organizations and financial institutions. I’m truly grateful to this University for that.

I’m really glad I enrolled in ISS. One reason is that I gained the ability to use English as a tool. Another is that, instead of sitting in a classroom learning passively about some specialized field, I had lots of opportunities to learn actively, giving presentations and engaging in discussions. I’m really grateful for that experience because I feel it enabled me to build up my capabilities.

Even if you’re someone who enters university without knowing exactly what you want to do, or if you haven’t found your career path yet, ISS offers a curriculum that will enable you to find that path during your four years of student life. So my advice is to join ISS without preconceptions and adopt a forward-looking attitude, studying a wide range of subjects. This is a Faculty whose students come from a wide range of backgrounds, so absorb the good things ISS has to offer, never lose sight of who you are and find something you are passionate about.

※Note: Posts, job descriptions and other posted details are as of the time of writing.

How I Spent My Four Years at ISS


Wanting to be active on the global stage, I enrolled in ISS. To improve my English, I took six units of English subjects per week.


I did my study abroad at the University of Oregon, in an area where I had to survive in English because there were few other Japanese. I sharpened not only my proficiency in English but also my ability to take action and planning ability.


I achieved significant improvement in my English proficiency, equivalent to a 290-point increase in TOEIC score from when I joined the University. I took part in group study in a seminar on the theme of leadership.


For four years I poured all my efforts into my studies in Japan, overseas study and club activities. Aiming to carry out my original intention of performing on the world stage, I joined a general trading company.