I had been with Allen & Overy for just over 2 years, having worked my way up to a mid-level associate, I knew there was so much I needed to experience to grow in my role. With a hunger to learn and an itching for growth, I came across a secondment within the well-regarded project finance team in our Tokyo office and jumped at the chance to join them. Originally born in Zimbabwe and working in the Johannesburg office, this was a big move for me. As my sister spent some time in Singapore, I had been to Asia before so how different could Tokyo be? Within just 2 months of the initial conversation, I turned up to my first day in the new role to find my name on my office door and up-to-date business cards at the ready.
Welcomed by a highly-skilled and collaborative team, I was pleased to see that the systems and processes we have in place really are global. The familiarity was both comforting and valued.
Despite being one of A&O's smaller offices with less than 45 people, there are 17 nationalities represented – Japan, Korea, China, Sri Lanka, Philippines, US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Nigeria, Portugal, Belgium, Germany, Britain, and Italy – and with a multi-cultural mix of colleagues and friends, I immediately felt ‘at home’ with the office culture.
People often ask how I have settled in Tokyo with limited understanding of the Japanese language. To be honest, it’s somewhat far removed from the “it’s going to be like Singapore” expectation that I had, but the locals are extremely kind-natured and helpful and will try all sorts of hand gestures, translation apps or translation devices and we eventually get there! The office also provides for a one-on-one Japanese teacher so with time I have picked up a bit of the language. I also fully appreciate what a safe place it is to live and work. There’s nowhere else I’ve been where it’s felt perfectly safe to leave your wallet on a chair to save a seat.
Without all the commitments and get-togethers that being part of a large family bring, I’ve spent time studying to be a qualified lawyer in the UK (fully supported by A&O), visited museums, attended drawing classes, travelling around Japan and nearby Asian countries, attempted salsa and generally made the most of everything being on my doorstep in this wonderful city.
Three years into what was initially a six month posting under the firm’s International Secondment Programme (yes, you read that correctly!), I am now in Tokyo on a permanent contract.
I am not sure what the future holds for me, if I will move back to Africa, back to my family, or if I will move somewhere closer to them but what I do know is that when I am ready, I can reach out to my partners and the global mobility team to discuss what options are open to me.
My advice? If you have an interest in working in a country outside your own, do it! I have been fortunate to work with a firm like A&O who have supported me in fulfilling my dream every step of the way.