Crystal Farmer (EMBA Class of 2021) is a Program Manager at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL). At Johns Hopkins’ APL, Crystal oversees the D5LE2 Systems Program and Digital Transformation. After obtaining an undergraduate degree in business and a Master’s in Engineering from Drexel University, Crystal applied to Darden for an Executive Master’s in Business Administration to advance her leadership skills. She chose Darden for its classes and global network, which she considered were the best fit for developing her skills and advancing her knowledge of business around the world.

Crystal recently took part in a virtual global course and described the experience in her own words:

Crystal on her way to fly the kite she made during the Japan virtual global course

When considering whether to enroll in the virtual Japan course, I thought, “What would a class about Japan, that’s not actually taught in Japan, really add to my MBA education?” I joined the Global EMBA program because I wanted to experience going to countries, meeting the people and living the experience. I wasn’t so sure I wanted to spend hours in front of a computer discussing a country I knew nothing about.

I checked out the other classes offered during the same quarter to reassess all of my options. Was I sure that I didn’t want to sign up for a course about Entrepreneurial Finance, Customer Centricity, Leading with Influence, or Leadership Communication during Times of Disruption & Transformation? After assessing the other classes, I decided to stay enrolled in the Japan virtual global course. I am so glad that I did.

To be honest, the first night was a little rough for me; the course took place from 8:45-10:00 pm every night for two weeks, and 10:00 pm is usually my bedtime! It was a Monday night, I had another class directly beforehand and the last thing I wanted to do was sit through another Zoom meeting. After the first night I thought, “This might be a long two weeks,” but I was wrong. We had a class speaker almost every night and they were not just good; they were great. The minute the speaker started talking and the class engaged with questions, I would forget about the time because their stories fascinated me.

We had such a vast array of speakers during the course. We heard from the founder of Monomo who spoke about sustainable economic development in Keikoku and from Reverend Takafumi Kawakami about the innovations he deployed at the Shunkoin Temple. We also heard from Tokyo-based translator Matt Alt on soft power through pop culture and from the president of Microsoft Japan on diversity and innovation challenges for big companies.

Our class was focused on incremental and revolutionary change occurring in Japan. Each of the speakers spoke about changes over time and changes they expect to see in the future (or, lack thereof). Japan’s long history and their honor for tradition makes some areas difficult to change; however, there are many people and organizations focused on bringing different magnitudes of change to Japan. For example, the Shunkoin Temple was founded in 1590, but to adapt to today’s globalized world, Rev. Takafumi Kawakami now brings Zen to the world through hosting online talks, as well as retreats, tea ceremonies, calligraphy and other experiences. His changes are increasing the accessibility of the temple to people around the world.   

Crystal and EMBA peers flying the kite for her video assignment

Our main class assignment was to create a 5-minute video on something related to Japan and explore its dichotomy between tradition and innovation. I decided to build a kite and learn the history of kites in Japan. It took me a week to collect the material and build the kite, and a full day to edit the video and add the overlay of kite history. I don’t think I’ll be the next Steven Spielberg, but I was proud of my results and I enjoyed every minute of the experience. My classmates also presented fascinating 5-minute videos. I learned so much in such a little amount of time about not only business in Japan but about Japanese food, education, fitness and movies.

Was taking a global class about Japan from the comforts of my own home better than traveling to that country? Of course not; nothing can replace the actual experience of being in the country. But, for having to take a majority of my Master’s program at home because of a pandemic, this was a surprisingly amazing experience. This course will help me pause in the future to think through if the way I run a program or business is the best way, or is it just because ‘that’s how we have always done it.’ I wish I had taken advantage of the other virtual global courses Darden offered. I highly recommend current and future Darden students take advantage of global courses in all of their forms – in person and virtual!