Mitchell East Asian Studies
David Mitchell ’99
Director of International Operations, Kronos
Small department, vast resources
Majoring in East Asian studies (EAS) has undoubtedly been one of the best choices of my life. A highly rewarding career focused on international business, the opportunity to use my language skills on a near-daily basis, the challenging course work that taught me to assess complex concepts, even meeting my wife—all are outcomes of the outstanding education I received as an East Asian studies major.
I focused my studies in the department on both modern Chinese and Japanese politics and economics. Several factors stand out about the experience. First and foremost was the extremely close faculty interaction and focused resources that were available to me by majoring in a small department. I fondly remember the four-student class I took with Professor Sheldon Garon on modern Japanese history; the round-table discussions during afternoon seminars with Professor Susan Naquin on Chinese ethnicities; the intensive, five-student, fourth-year Japanese classes with Professor Seiichi Makino; and the small graduate seminar taught by Professor Kent Calder on Japanese politics. Likewise, I am incredibly thankful for the three years spent as Professor Calder’s research assistant, assisting him with a book and numerous journal articles, and later working as an intern for him at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo. Looking back, it’s clear that these unique experiences were made possible largely by my choice to pursue a specialized course of study in one of Princeton’s smaller departments, with small class sizes, close interaction between professors and students, and resources to support research and study abroad.
Professionally, majoring in East Asian studies at Princeton has been extremely beneficial. I have had ample opportunity to use both my language and EAS scholarship skills in stints with the U.S. Department of State in Chengdu, China (where I met my wife), and Tokyo, Japan; at work for a venture capital fund commercializing Japanese technologies with U.S. partners; through management of Asia-Pacific operations for a workforce management consulting firm; and now as director of international operations for a large enterprise software company. While flying 250,000 miles per year to far-flung offices around the world isn’t as glamorous as one might think (annual time on airplanes that’s measured in weeks, constant jet-lag, and little chance for exploring the cities I visit), I am blessed with a highly rewarding and challenging career that I credit largely to my East Asian studies at Princeton. My language skills and course of study have opened numerous doors for me in the years since I have graduated and I am extremely thankful for the opportunities provided by my Princeton education and EAS major.
In reflecting on the greatest benefits of an EAS (or any other small department) major, three things stand out. First, the small class sizes and extensive interaction with my professors and instructors forced me to master the topics under study. If one is in a four-person graduate seminar with weekly three-hour discussions, there is no choice but to complete, absorb, and reflect upon the reading. Likewise, there is no way to prepare for a five-person, fourth-year language class without spending hours each day in the language lab. Second, I found that EAS professors were extremely devoted to student mentorship and one-on-one teaching. The three years I spent as a research assistant to Professor Calder provided an invaluable learning opportunity, introducing me to his extensive contacts with U.S. and Japanese political and economic luminaries, allowing me to learn firsthand about topics I had previously only read about in textbooks and newspapers, and challenging me to develop deep expertise in this field of study. My experience was not unique, but was made possible largely by studying in a smaller department and focusing on a specialized area of study. Finally, the extremely intensive language courses offered by the EAS department, including the courses I took in Chinese and Japanese, drilled the information into my head so that I can still repeat some lessons verbatim, nearly 10 years after taking these classes. It is both gratifying and useful to land in Beijing and be able to discuss business plans with my Chinese colleagues or fly to Japan and act as a bilingual master of ceremonies for a friend’s wedding. I’ve even found that my East Asian language studies have provided me with an increased aptitude for learning other languages, so that I can now fly to Buenos Aires and negotiate a business contract in Spanish. While painfully difficult at the time, the countless hours spent in the language lab, late nights with flashcards, and daily classroom instruction provided me with language skills that I can now use on a daily basis for both personal and business interactions.
Majoring in EAS provided me with a highly rewarding four years of study at Princeton and positioned me well for success in the business world. I am deeply thankful to my professors for their instruction and mentorship. They have provided me with lessons that will truly last a lifetime.