Carson Griffin’s Journey: Crafting Games, Cultivating Connections, and Self-Discovery in Japan

Next Step Connections (NEXSTEP) is an experiential learning company renowned for delivering immersive programs and transformative experiences throughout Asia. Our forte lies in crafting tailor-made educational journeys shaped to the needs of both students and working professionals, with a steadfast commitment to hands-on learning. Our programs are open to individuals globally, allowing them to participate in life-changing international experiences.

Through virtual and physical placements, focusing on the APAC region and partnering with start-ups and corporates alike, we push participants out of their comfort zones.

For today’s alumni’s interview, we spoke to Carson Griffin . Carson is a third-year Game Production Management student at Champlain College in Vermont. His passion for world-building is remarkable, and his eagerness and commitment to explore and dedicate himself to his craft, inspiring. 

Last summer, he was offered the Freeman Foundation Grant through Champlain College, which started his journey with Next Step Connections. 

He talked to us about his two-month internship experience in Kyoto and how deeply it impacted him academically, personally, and professionally. 

It is always the seemingly random chain of events that leads us to some of the most rewarding experiences of our lives. Carson never had an avid interest in going, living, or working abroad until his Japanese adventure irreversibly changed that. “I just so happened to be studying Japanese because I thought it would be fun because my friend signed up for it. I just thought, well, I may as well just join my friend. Why not? I ended up loving it.” This very decision was the key reason that helped him land a place for the program in Japan.

He interned in Kyoto, Japan, for Wonderwall Technology with the help of Next Step Connections. He worked as a project analyst for a video game called Golfin, an iOS game. “Through this program I got real gaming industry experience,” explains Carson. The start-up environment gave him the unique opportunity to lay the foundations for future projects, take ownership of his work, and onboard and train future hires.

“I’m getting periodic updates on the Discord they have. It’s funny seeing over 100 people in this Discord, just wanting to know about the game, not knowing that I’m actually one of the people who worked on this game”, says Carson proudly. This was the first game he worked on in a professional, commercial setting, “where people will be able to buy it.”

What left a profound mark on Carson were the surprising connections he made along the way. 

“What truly surprised me were the meaningful relationships I forged with people at (Next Step Connections). For instance, Yuri-San, who lives in Tokyo, became a significant part of my journey. We developed a strong friendship during my time there and remain in contact today. Having constantly shared my planning experience with Yuri-San, ranging from my workplace organization to meticulously planning a trip to Mt. Fuji, arranging transportation, accommodations, and our itinerary, she offered to help me make connections with other contacts who have careers in management, which could potentially open up more internship opportunities.This unexpected turn of events was eye-opening; it underscored the importance of forging unexpected connections. While I hold great affection for Wonderwall, its company culture, and my colleagues, my connections with Yuri and Yuho emerged as the most pivotal ones I made during my time with (Next Step Connections).”

Reflecting on his experience, Carson shared his insights on the unique challenges he faced while working for Wonderwall. He emphasized the rapid pace of his workflow, saying, “The biggest challenge I felt was actually because it was such a start-up game, and I had personally consider myself to have become very fluid and fast workflow. There’s only so much organization and project management you could do with the team of 3 at the time. So I usually finished all my work within three days out of the week.” Carson’s impressive efficiency even earned him an extra day off each week. This newfound free time allowed him to explore the northwest of Kyoto extensively, visiting numerous temples and other landmarks. He visited Hiroshima, Nara and Osaka. Carson also played a dual role as a sound designer, dedicating his extra time to editing sounds diversifying his tasks and skills.

He also shared how the experience made him grow, both professionally and personally, and why it was palpably life-changing. 

Professionally, he learned the JIRA management software and became so proficient that he even taught his supervisor how to use it. This newfound expertise not only benefited his role but also enabled him to become a production management tutor at his college, where he assisted others in navigating management software.

On a personal level, Carson discovered a profound sense of self in Japan. He described it as a journey of self-discovery: “It’s like I found myself in Japan. That was the most me I felt in years.” He found comfort in solitude and recalled a poignant moment in Nara, saying, “I was alone in this one shrine, and I’m just thinking to myself, I’ve been alone this entire time, but it’s felt like I’m walking around with five people. It felt so refreshing to know that I am okay with being on my own exploring” confesses Carson. 

“The biggest realization really, was it just made me more comfortable with what I’m doing with myself and coming back feels like I left a part of myself there”, adds Carson. However, he promises to take on and implement the same curious spirit at home, too. 

Carson thus underwent a two-sided immersion, one with Japan- its culture, its cities- and one with his chosen profession.

Carson’s cultural experiences are highlighted by what he calls “a very kind community, the kindest,” he elaborates, “That was the one thing that stood out to me as their culture-wise. It was just very, extremely kind.” In addition to impeccable cleanliness, everyone was exceptionally warm and welcoming. He also appreciated their unique brand of nationalism and humble pride; “they love their country in a civil manner,” adds Carson admiringly. 

When we asked him what someone should look out for when choosing their program, he said he would ask them, “what culture would you really want to get to know? What feeling do you want?” 

Extending his insight, he adds why doing an internship is crucial. “People in their mind when they think about a job … fantasize a lot about what their job is until they work for the first time. Having an internship experience, especially out of the US or your home country, gives you a taste of what work culture is outside of your fantasized mind of where you want to work.”

Carson is currently in Montreal, and his current academic pursuits are providing valuable insights into industry dynamics. As Carson gathers his thoughts, the next step on their journey becomes increasingly evident. 

“I want to focus on developing myself more. Especially professionally in areas I realize I need to work on more. Working at Wonderwall, allowed me to realize like, oh, I want to know more about this discipline. And after my first class in communications for GIM development, I realized I don’t know how to deal with a lot of stuff I thought I did. So right now, professionally, I’m working on a lot of soft skills because that’s mainly what a lot of my job is going to be,” shares Carson.

He concludes by giving a final takeaway of his experience:

“It changed my mentality entirely; my trajectory, guiding my passion to just explore and experience other cultures because I, I again, I never ever intended to leave the US to ever study abroad or ever live anywhere. I had a very narrow-minded view on the world and what I wanted to do and that was diminished, and I couldn’t be happier about it. I now want to explore so many other places, as it might open myself up even more”.

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