When Junichi Hatano first enrolled in the HEC Paris MBA, he has no idea that a TV crew would accompany him to campus. But when TF1 (Télévision Française 1) announced they were seeking an MBA student for a broadcast about adapting to life in France, he and his wife, Yoko, decided to take center stage.
“I thought that it was a very rare experience, one that we could share with our friends to show what our day-to-day life is like, so I was really positive about it,” Yoko says. “Junichi was more hesitant.”
The end result is the charming Mes Premier Pas en France (My First Steps in France) which aired on TFI on March 19. The hour-long show portrays the couple and their two daughters, Akari and Minori, at key moments during their first months in France. It also features two other families.
“We said goodbye to our families and a TV crew in Japan, and then another TV crew greeted us when we arrived in Paris,” Junichi explains. Viewers accompany the foursome as they arrive on campus for the first time. They hear Junichi mastering French pronunciations and see Yoko shopping at the Marché Notre Dame in Versailles, a fresh food market founded 300 years ago by King Louis XIV.
Despite the novelty of day-to-day life depicted in the TF1 episode, this is actually Junichi’s second time residing in France. In 2014, during his doctorate studies in chemistry and biotechnology at the University of Tokyo, he had the opportunity to do a three-month internship as a research trainee at L’Oréal.
“I fell in love with France at the time, and I wanted to bring my family to experience it,” he says. “We can share the MBA experience as a family, and we can share the joy of discovering new things.”
Since the family’s arrival in September 2021, Akari, now 4 years old, and Minori, 2 years old, have become avid fans of French baguettes. Akari has learned the story of le petit chaperon rouge and her dangerous visit to her grandmother’s house. They themselves have traveled to the Loire Valley, where they explored the region’s sublime castles in princess dresses. During a vacation in February, the family traveled to the Côte d’Azur, where they enjoyed the Nice Carnival and the Lemon Festival in Menton.
“I’m not sure the girls will remember much of these experiences,” Yoko says, “but I’m sure they’ll leave a trace. Akari is already pronouncing the French ‘r’ perfectly and corrects her father’s pronunciation. Minori also currently understands and speaks some French words, especially the names of animals. If their French becomes fluent enough, we’ll have to consider sending them to an international school when we return to Japan.”
As Junichi’s employer, the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO), one of the largest public research and development management organizations in Japan, is sponsoring his MBA, the couple will eventually return home. Their plan is to stay in France just long enough for Junichi to finish the 16-month MBA program at HEC Paris, and Yoko to complete a Master in Public Affairs at Sciences Po. Her degree program starts in August. She’s currently on a leave of absence from her job as a consultant at a firm in Japan, supporting Junichi and the girls as a stay-at-home mom.
Junichi is at the end of Term 2 in the MBA. He admits it’s hard to juggle classes, homework and family. “Time management is difficult even though I don’t have to job hunt,” Junichi explains. “I get up early most mornings, 4 or 5 a.m., to do assignments and prep for classes. That way, I am sure to have the time to eat dinner with my daughters and do the bedtime routine with them every night.”
Still, the family says the sacrifice is worth it. “I knew it would challenging, but I also knew it would be a good experience for everyone,” explains Junichi.
As a student still in the fundamental phase of the program, Junichi is gaining a strong base in business and management. After his time in France, he will return to NEDO to manage Japan’s national research project. Through his work, he will promote industry-academia-government collaborative research projects to address energy and global environmental problems such as climate change and sustainability.
For Yoko, she sees the experience opening up opportunities to work internationally in her company–and also as a way of broadening her horizons.
“This is my first time staying in a foreign country for so long,” she says. “I’m the treasurer of the HEC Paris Partners’ Club. I totally enjoy meeting new people through the club. My company is a global company, so it’s good for me to be improving both my English and my French and also be getting to know different cultures. Additionally, I might have not applied Sciences Po if I had not come here with my family. I feel I can maximize this opportunity for my own learning.”
And what about the language barrier, such as in the TF1 program, when Yoko couldn’t fully understand the butcher at Versailles’ Marché Notre Dame? It’s easy, she says with a smile. She actually does the bulk of her shopping at Auchan, just like all the Jouy locales.