Before I left for my recent work trip to Japan, Thailand and Singapore, my wife, Dara, created a PDF handbook for me on Japanese customs. She wanted to be sure I was prepared, as it was my first trip to Asia, and I would be teaching tech training sessions to employees of an international hotel chain.

Clockwise from top: Kyoto’s Kiyomizu-dera, the view from the office, and Tokyo’s Akihabara District.

Clockwise from top: Kyoto’s Kiyomizu-dera, a view from the office, and Tokyo’s Akihabara District. (Photos by Jonathan Napoli, except “AKB” by Flickr user hans-johnson, licensed under CC BY 2.0.)

The willingness to understand and respect cultural differences is important, especially in this line of work. For that, the handbook proved valuable. (For example, I learned that in Japan people prefer not to use the word “no,” and often say “yes” when they really mean “no.”)

Perhaps more important, however, is the ability to empathize with customers, which is a skill I have spent the last decade learning—in my current role as an on-demand advisor and training instructor for Vitalyst, and in my previous job as a funeral director in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

At Vitalyst, I spend most of my time helping customers solve software problems and showing them ways to find better, more efficient methods of working. Whether I am assisting people by phone from our Philadelphia headquarters or teaching an Office 365 course in Tokyo, I often have just a few minutes to assess people’s moods, determine what they are trying to accomplish by what they are not saying, get them up to speed and productive in as little time as possible, and do it all with a positive attitude.

Prior to joining Vitalyst, I earned a degree in mortuary science and worked as a funeral director. Although the two professions may seem anomalous, they’re surprisingly similar. Both require extreme tact, the ability to quickly gauge mood and a genuine consideration of customers—whether they are grieving relatives of the recently deceased or stressed employees. They are always the top priority.

Within a year of taking the job, my manager asked if I was interested in teaching on-site training courses. I said “yes,” which is how I ended up in Asia

When I accepted a position at Vitalyst, I didn’t expect to be traveling at all. Although I made my way around Europe while my parents lived in Slovakia for three years, I only occasionally traveled while working as a funeral director, and never beyond neighboring U.S. states.

Within a year of taking the job, my manager asked if I was interested in teaching on-site training courses. I said “yes,” which is how I ended up in Asia. For three weeks in December, I traveled to Singapore, Tokyo and Bangkok to teach employees of an international hotel chain how to use Outlook 2013, OneDrive and Skype for Business as part of a company transition from Google products to Microsoft Office 365.

For one of the classes I taught in Japan, I demonstrated how to upload images to OneDrive with a picture of Tsuzuki, my beloved rescue cat that recently passed away. A discussion about my cat’s name, which is a surname in Japan, led to a long conversation about my love of Japanese food, music, anime, video games, martial arts and more. We found a commonality, and it made our sessions fun. I even earned a new nickname, “Tsuzuki-san,” which roughly translates to “Mr. Tsuzuki.”

On most days, I would teach classes and take questions at the end of the day. In the evenings, I’d practice my favorite pastime—eating the spiciest food I could find. On days off, I found time to explore. I walked through Tokyo’s Akihabara District, a shopping area for video games, manga, anime, and computers/electronics, and stopped in a cat café. In Kyoto, I toured the geisha district and visited the Kiyomizu-dera (a Buddhist temple built in 1633).

One of the best aspects of my job is that Vitalyst factors in my interests when deciding on-site training assignments. For me, it has been a lifelong dream to go to Asia, especially Japan and Thailand. But it’s not just about me, or my fellow trainers. If we’re happy to be there, it’s evident. Enthusiasm can be contagious, even with language and cultural barriers.

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