Michael McHugh ’03 learned just how fast an earthquake can rouse you from your routine when Japan’s earthquake hit March 11. The engineer moved to Tokyo last January to work for Boyd and Moore Executive Search and is a recruiter in the medical device industry. He was at work where he matches Japanese executives with positions in international firms when his office began to shake. He and his coworkers were forced to evacuate onto the street. With no trains or cabs, the alum waited out the day and evening before venturing home at about 10 p.m.
“After experiencing the earthquake in Japan firsthand and then watching the tsunami unfold on the news, I have gained a strong desire to help in the relief effort up north,” McHugh says. He has attended fundraisers and donated goods, and plans to do more. “People in northeast Japan were left with absolutely nothing after the disasters,” he says. “Anything one can offer, no matter how small, is not only helpful but also appreciated.” He used to question whether trivial donations were worthwhile. “Now I know that the answer is, a million times over, yes,” he says. “Even something as simple as a set of plasticware goes a long way for these people.”
McHugh has a degree in medical engineering from Vanderbilt University and a master’s degree in engineering management from Case Western Reserve University. He has also worked as an IMS consultant at a hospital and has been a healthcare systems consultant.
McHugh visited Japan twice as a tourist and had some basic language skills and knowledge of the culture before he moved there. He explains that it is very hard for a foreigner to get the opportunity to work in Japan especially someone with limited Japanese language skills. “The most difficult part is not being able to do some of life’s basic tasks on my own,” he admits. “I cannot visit a post office by myself, since I am unable to read any of the signs and do not know what to ask of the staff.”
Though he finds the Japanese to be “friendly and approachable,” McHugh notes that he is a foreigner in a “homogenized city” that has its pros and cons, he believes. “To many Japanese, a foreigner is intriguing and some enjoy the opportunity to interact with foreigners,” he says. On the other hand, due to this homogenization “many people in Japan are still rather xenophobic,” he says adding, “Sometimes the only empty seat on the train will be the one next to me.”
Another thing he has noticed is that customer service is better in Tokyo than in America. “No matter what kind of establishment you go to, no matter how menial the job,” he says, “you are practically guaranteed the greatest of service from someone with a glowing, enthusiastic demeanor.”
From a business perspective, McHugh believes a global experience is “priceless,” noting that globalization allows for limitless growth potential, broadens one’s knowledge, strengthens understanding and expands one’s skill-set.