EPISODE #15

The girl from Cwmbran pursuing her passion for Wales from Tokyo

Sarah Louisa Birchley
  • Born and grew up in Cwmbran
  • Tokyo, Japan
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In July 2001, as an excited and curious 21-year-old, I stepped off a plane in the humid, sweltering Tokyo heat, to begin what I thought would be a one-year stint as an English language teacher in rural Japan. Eighteen years later I’m still living in Japan but now working as a business professor researching transnational entrepreneurship. I never would have imagined that growing up in Cwmbran I would be going on to do this!  

Despite being overseas for so long, I certainly haven’t lost my ‘Welshness’ and over the years have become to greatly appreciate how much my Welsh roots have contributed to the person I am today. By living overseas for an extended period, you are privileged to be able to see your homeland through a different lens, and truly acknowledge what it has to offer.

"Despite being overseas for so long, I certainly haven’t lost my ‘Welshness’ and over the years have become to greatly appreciate how much my Welsh roots have contributed to the person I am today."

In the Autumn of 2018 I took a life-changing trip to Welsh Patagonia. Beginning in Port Madryn, Argentina, I followed the same route that the Welsh pioneers took back in 1865 to the small town of Gaiman, founded in 1874 by David D. Roberts. I was fortunate enough to join the festivities celebrating Welsh heritage and felt a profound sense of pride and passion for my home. This experience strengthened my resolve to promote Wales and build connections between Welsh overseas and I have recently started an international business consultancy to empower small businesses owners to think globally.

"I took a life-changing trip to Welsh Patagonia. I followed the same route that the Welsh pioneers took back in 1865 to the small town of Gaiman... I was fortunate enough to join the festivities celebrating Welsh heritage and felt a profound sense of pride and passion for my home."

I have been a proud representative of Wales in Japan through meeting up with my friends at the St. David’s Society of Japan events in Tokyo and helping to organize Tokyo St. David’s Day celebrations with them or Welsh movie nights. And of course, I am beyond excited that my adopted hometown will be hosting the Rugby World Cup in 2019. I’ve already got my tickets to every Wales game and cannot wait to introduce the Japanese to the culture of Welsh rugby. What a fantastic opportunity it will be for all us Welsh in Japan! But I am most passionate about forging business links between Wales and the rest of the world and to play a small part in the growth of the Welsh economy.

"I am most passionate about forging business links between Wales and the rest of the world and to play a small part in the growth of the Welsh economy."

In my undergrad university days, I studied Geography and in my undergraduate thesis I wrote about representations of Wales and Welsh national culture in art produced by Welsh and immigrant artists living in Wales. From an early stage in my academic career I was interested in what it means to be Welsh, what it is to have a sense of community, and what motivates people to get up in the morning and be passionate about what they do.

So it is little surprise that my research field is now focused on transnational entrepreneurship, specifically Welsh entrepreneurship. Geography plays an important role in the distribution of entrepreneurial activity so I am seeking to explore how geography, entrepreneurship, and expatriation intersect - the study of people and place. I’m particularly interested in the concept of community, such as the sense of community that we have as being Welsh and what traits of our character and Welsh identity are important for successful entrepreneurship.

"I’m particularly interested in the concept of community, such as the sense of community that we have as being Welsh and what traits of our character and Welsh identity are important for successful entrepreneurship."

Since April 2018 I have been on sabbatical to develop my research in this field. I am currently a Visiting Scholar at Cardiff University and held a Visiting Scholar Position at the University of Texas at Austin in their IC2 Institute in 2018. I will finally head back to Tokyo in time for the World Cup preparations in April this year.

As part of her research, Sarah is looking to connect with Welsh entrepreneurs around the world... click here to find out more.

 

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