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Success in the Humanities Isn’t Always What You Think

September 19, 2016

Alumus Eric Ysasi reflects on how his language studies at UTSA led him on an unexpected career path and opened doors for future success.

 

You’ve been there – when your family and friends hear that you’ve started a degree in the humanities, they can’t help but ask, “So, what kind of jobs can you get with that?” And they’re not wrong to ask, because your friends who are grinding away at their business and marketing degrees or those mathematically minded young men and women who are striving toward engineering degrees have a well-laid, sunlit path they will tread with little resistance when they graduate.

You, however, have not a career ahead of you, but a deep and boundless adventure that will delight and surprise you, and you may find out some things about yourself you didn’t know along the way.

Indecision and Redecision

I, too, undertook a humanities degree at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Foolishly, though, I selected an English major out of laziness and apathy. I’ve never been so lucky.

My strength in grade school was English, both the structure and literature, and the only subject for which I felt a small fire in my heart. It was in no small part thanks to the zeal of my English literature and structure of English professors, who cultivated an ongoing environment of discovery, analyzation, and a healthy scrutiny of language and its principles, that I nurtured and kindled that fire into a small flame. And the sparks from that flame lit other fires in the subjects of science, mathematics, and a forest of disciplines. Soon, my earth burned with the desire to learn and grow infinitely.

Midway through my degree, upon my miniature quest to acquire my foreign language credits, I learned of a buried affection for all languages, not just English. The brilliance and tenacity of my Japanese professors Mimi Yu, Keri Toma, and Dr. Makiko Fukuda inspired a plunge into the mysteries of the Japanese language, a study that I continue six years later. With little hesitation, I added Modern Language Studies to my major and set off on a path I found I was blazing on my own, with a few fearless companions lighting my way.

An Unexpected Journey

The decision to double-major shifted my focus and future so profoundly that it no longer aligned with what I had imagined. Through the encouragement of Mimi Yu Sensei and my endlessly supportive wife, Alexis, I applied for the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme. JET is a Japanese government sponsored teaching program run by the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations (CLAIR). It has sent over 50,000 men and women from countries all over the globe to Japan to teach English since its inception in 1987. It’s a prestigious program, and it’s just as tough to get into as it is famous in the language community.

Conquering the JET Program

After a thorough application process, a series of sweaty, confidence-breaking interviews, and several long periods of silence, I received an acceptance letter to move to the town of Kikonai in the northernmost island of Hokkaido, Japan to teach young Japanese students the subtleties of English. What a shock it was to learn that a lowly humanities student could impress a panel of educators and government bigwigs enough to secure a paid position in an exotic land.

Some paperwork, an unforgettable wedding ceremony, and a few months later, Alexis and I were tossed across the Pacific Ocean into a land teeming with sights, tastes, and smells that excited my being in ways I had yet to experience. The Japanese classroom was only a trickle from the fountain of freshness that Japan brought to my life.

Surreal Life Among a New People

Even from my serene, rural town of Kikonai, I climbed my first mountain, made friends with a local celebrity, biked from shore to shore, grew my first garden, built my marriage, dove with friends into icy cold ocean water, played my first live musical show, and explored the wonders of beauty and cuisine across the country with Alexis. I also made one of the best friends I’ve ever had out of a local Starbucks barista, who was my guide to learning what my family, friends, and wife truly mean to me, and I will be in her debt forever.

The Japanese classroom, though just a few drops in my pool of experience, created ripples that still grow within me today. Together with the kids that I taught, I learned how similar humanity is across our world, the potential of good and honest children, and the value of belief in something bigger than oneself. The kids taught me patience and understanding, they taught me to fail fast and move forward, and they showed me that I can overcome my worries and inhibitions with a little bit of bravery.

Rethinking Adulthood

I took these values, experiences, and friendships back to the United States, where I found that despite what I thought was an impactful resume, I had to start at square one with a career. I searched for work as a translator, interpreter, technical writer, creative writer, and copywriter. Every day I sent out a handful of resumes with unique cover letters, and got silence and despair in return.

Then, a unique opportunity arose. In the burgeoning industry of search engine optimization (SEO), I found a place to put my writing skills to work. I shook off the rust at a growing Austin startup learning the basics of SEO and how to write copy for modern Internet audiences, and quickly grew my abilities. The knowledge came quickly, and after a falling out with the company, I decided to leave for the greener grass on the other side.

Unbridled Personal Growth

With the assistance of some fabulous friends from my previous company and armed with the knowledge to compete, I launched the solo Japanese translation enterprise, Kuma Language Services. Since building a business is such hard work (and the money doesn’t flow so quickly when you begin), I also took a full-time job as a copywriter for a local marketing company called Leverage Marketing. In just the few months that I’ve been with the company, I’ve started expanding my role to include new content marketing opportunities such as video marketing, social media, and email marketing.

What Lies Ahead for a Humble COLFA Alum

I’ve come to expect that from this point forward, I can’t try to steer the ship of my destiny. Instead, I let life do the steering for me. I consider my English degree to be a pivotal piece of the puzzle in the journey to happiness, as it has afforded me the chance to complete more firsts than I ever could have imagined, and it shows no signs of letting me rest. Each new step is more like a leap, and any student of the UTSA College of Liberal and Fine Arts who may doubt his or her decision to pursue a culture-rich discipline that leads down a path thick with the unknown would do well to remember that heroes are never the ones who take the traveled roads, and the most epic of journeys are those that keep you guessing – and hungry.

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By Eric Ysasi

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