So, I’m going to grad school

はじめまして、リサと申します。五ケ月前にニューヨークから東京に来ました。九月から慶應大学の大学院生になるつもりです。そして、日本語を勉強しています。上手になりたいです。どうぞよろしくお願いします。
How do you do? My name is Lessa. I moved to Tokyo from New York 5 months ago. Starting this September, I will become a graduate student of Keio University. I’m currently studying Japanese and hope to become skilled in the language. Nice to meet you!

Since I’ve been telling a lot of strangers my plans here in Japan, I figured I should make it blog official:

I’m going to grad school!

I’ve been in student mode for a little while now and…will be continuing in it for the next 3 years. I started with an illustration course at Pratt last summer and am currently enrolled in a Japanese language school here in Tokyo. Over-stuffed backpacks, textbooks, the smell of freshly sharpened pencils — I can’t get enough.

The Masters program I will be a part of is called the Global Innovation Design program. I discovered it via Google [soul] searching this past summer. (S/O to the SEO spirits who know me better than I know myself.) It’s a unique graduate school program that allows me to spend time studying different subjects across Tokyo, New York, and London to earn a degree in innovation design with a global footprint. Yup, pretty dope.


Year 1: Start in Tokyo

At Keio, I’ll study at the Media Design school (KMD) in subjects that span design thinking, strategic storytelling, tech and biz strategy here in Tokyo. The curriculum includes 3D prototyping and using tech to manipulate visual and haptic perception. Nerding out so hard.

Year 2: Off to London, then NYC

In London, I’ll study at both Royal College of Arts (RCA) and Imperial College in courses like experimental design and design engineering.

In New York, I’ll be back in my favorite Brooklyn neighborhood, Clinton Hill, to study at Pratt!! There, I will be taking classes in industrial design. I’ll apparently have the option to take a studio course in furniture design! Uhh, definitely signing up that.

Year 3: Back to Tokyo

I’ll return to Japan for a final year to recover from jet lag, work on my thesis, and wrap up the experience to earn my degree — just in time for the 2020 Olympics.


So, why am I going to grad school?

Ok, this isn’t something I had on my to-do list.

When I finished undergrad, I immediately started working full-time and genuinely loved it. I figured I didn’t need to go to grad school: I was getting plenty of experience with the different roles I took on and jumping up much faster than I expected. Many of the people I knew who went on to get their Masters in my field were either starting at the same level as me or — more recently, reporting to me.

Things were pretty good.

Back when I began to study advertising, my professors constantly challenged us to ‘stand out from the clutter.’ At the time, this meant creating ideas to convince consumers to stop while flipping through a magazine. It has since evolved into convincing them to stop while scrolling through a newsfeed. I joined the industry as social media began to transform from a place for National Rainboot Day posts into a medium that involves dedicated business strategy and multi-million dollar media spend. (Forreal though.)

It’s an empowering challenge, especially for a 20-something n00b fresh out of school. I’d gone into this career expecting to spend a much longer time as a bottom-feeder. But, my creative directors and clients respected my perspective as a native user of these social platforms and subsequent emerging tech. It was amazing. I was entrusted with the opportunity to learn about and create work for brands I never dreamed of being a part of. The data available to be collected and strategy implemented help ensure a certain level of success. Plus I was lucky to work with a lot of really clever people.

Things changed.

While I still think there’s room in the world for clever social strategy and design, it’s become a congested space. Social media has in many ways democratized the creative process, putting the tools in the palm of our hands. In some ways, they’ve sacrificed quality to achieve this. Lately it seems anyone with a set of VSCO filters and meme-building apps can call themselves a ‘social media influencer’. I swear, 3 more just #follow4follow-ed me today.

While working full-time, I felt like I never had time between briefs, shoot days, client meetings to change my approach to creative problem-solving. I was so focused on getting the work done efficiently that I stuck to methods that were successful in the past. Optimization! Not a bad thing, but it can become monotonous.

I changed.

The illustration course I took this past summer forced me to look beyond screens for inspiration. For the first few classes, we spent hours in the studio sketching from live nude models: models with soft bellies, leathery wrinkles, body piercings, large tattoos. Real, actual humans.

It was a jarring departure from the trendy-cool, conventionally-beautiful models I had grown used to casting for work. Sketching individuals helped me consider the elements makes a person unique: the story behind a long scar or why one nipple is pierced versus the other.

Outside of class, I spent many afternoons exploring museums — a feature of New York I’d been taking for granted. From the Guggenheim and MAD to New Museum and NY Transit Museum, I gazed at the kind of work that inspired me to get into this world to begin with.

As much as I was interested in the artwork exhibited, I also started to notice the power of space. Some rooms were huge but directed all the attention to a single item. Other rooms were smaller, but had every wall adorned with galleries of work. It was interesting to see how space affects the way people perceive the artwork and how they move around it.

With these observations in mind, I searched for an opportunity to learn new skills that would complement my existing ones.

The GID program fit the bill so perfectly that I was initially worried it was a rather elaborate internet scam.

I applied. Because…why not?

I stuck my university transcript in a thick package with a portfolio, personal statements, a thesis proposal and sent it off to Japan. I briefly considered including a note to please skim over my physics and calculus grades to focus more on my design experience…KTHXBYE.

I was then invited to a Skype interview with 3 professors from Keio. I took this interview inside our walk-in closet. At this point, Shuji and I had already packed up the apartment, so the closet was the only space that still had ample light installed. As our chairs were all gone, I was perched on a travel pillow with my laptop balanced on top of a suitcase.


Come 2020, I will not only be Lessa-with-a-confusing-name, I will also be Lessa-with-a-Masters in Innovation Design.

From there, I plan to continue making things. I still love what I do as an art director. I especially love the people I get to work with. I’d be a happy little duck diving back into the creative field. With the experience of the GID program, my goal is to evolve my approach to problem-solving with design.

My overall goal with my time here in Japan is to experience and learn all that I can. It’s my the first time living abroad — in a country where I’m still learning to speak the language. So far, as I learned in New York: visiting and living are very different.

Being a student has certainly helped me ease into life in Japan. I can observe the nuances of daily living, learn about intricate customs, and participate without feeling like a gawky tourist. From traditional culture to everyday living, there is so much meticulous thinking that goes into even the most basic elements. Even the quirky bits are incredibly well thought out. I can only imagine what I’ll learn from designers and thinkers trained in this environment. My hope is that university life here will be an academic challenge, but mostly a source of creative inspiration.

I already visited the very large, very beautiful campus IRL — so don’t worry Dad, it doesn’t look like a total internet scam.

More about the GID Program.
More about KMD.

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