TL;DR: I organized a discussion/”let’s talk about everything” event for a long-ish time, met great people, spoke about interesting things and now I’m glad I did it. I feel like presenting there is in my comfort zone now and would like to focus on my research, so it’s time to turn over a new page.
2019 has been a crazy year for me, and a part of what made it so satisfying and hard to deal with at the same time was IMO - a discussion event that I started at my university in a place called HUB-ICS (International Communication Space).
The reasoning behind it was simple: the event space had a free time slot on Fridays, people were constantly talking about how great one of the previous events, "Think Aloud" by Prof. Hope, was and my research deadlines were far away, so I thought "why not do something" and spoke to the space staff about starting something.
The idea was received well, but some problems had to be resolved first, with me being a student being one of the major ones. As a communication space, HUB-ICS staff is used to lending it to different student organizations for meetings, but having a student a speaker would be something new - and every new thing brings with itself a lot of uncertainty: what if I try to present something inappropriate? What if the event is so bad that it makes HUB-ICS worse, not better?
Thankfully, the receptionists there (June-san and Yuki-san, thank you a lot!) were open enough to the idea to let me do a pilot presentation. I was interested in books like Erin Meyer's "The Culture Map", so I made the first presentation on the differences between High and Low-context cultures. Thankfully, the event was a success, and the "bosses" of HUB-ICS allowed me to continue it.
I followed that presentation with Mark Manson's "5 Friendship levels", and since the turnout was still high I solidified myself as an event organizer in there. Over the 10 months I've been doing it, I was able to "nerd out" on many interesting for me topics, got featured on the Tokyo Tech website and improved my presentation skills by practicing a lot.
But it wasn't all smooth sailing - I encountered a lot of problems that I had to solve, included but not limited to the following:
- Making a new presentation every week is very time-consuming. I had to pull a lot of all-nighters working while I saw other students just go out and have fun. Universities in Japan give their students a lot of free time to do whatever they want (so much that they are called "the spring break of life"), and while Master students don't get to experience it too much, it was still a pretty large choice for me to do something productive instead of going out with friends all day.
- Some people don't like to be exposed to different viewpoints. I added a disclaimer slide about open-mindedness to my presentation, but it wasn't always helpful. One episode that comes to my mind featured a group of Chinese students that were offended by me presenting what they thought was a one-sided view of their Social Credit System - it was really interesting for me to see how their faces changed when they discovered that some other students actually supported the idea, and would like for such a system to be implemented in Japan.
- The topic politics: would you choose something that you like or that would bring the people in? I'm a huge book worm. I love talking about abstract concepts, art, philosophy, psychology, history, religion, and anything else that you would consider "deep". One of the main lessons I've learned when organizing this event was that these topics are boring for a lot of people - and as an event organizer, you constantly have to decide whether to present a cool new Lucid Dreaming book you've found or to appeal to a wide array of people with topics like TV drama, anime and fashion. (Interestingly enough, the most popular topic that gathered ~30 people was "Anime: Ghibli", as both international and Japanese students were able to bond over media that they used to watch when they were kids.) There is no correct answer to this question, and it's a choice that you as an event organizer have to go though every time you do something.
To sum up, the event was great, and I think that talking and exposing my ideas to a lot of people around me has helped me grow and develop as a person. A couple of months before the event finished, a competitor event promoted by a professor started being held on Thursdays, so despite me leaving the scene, free thinkers of Tokyo Tech will have a place to go to when they want to have a chat and discuss anything.
So long, and thanks for all the fish.