In March 2007, I was a high school graduate and part time university staff. In April 2007, I was enrolled in SILS, at Waseda University. It feels like a lifetime ago when I took leave from work to take an entrance examination amongst teenagers. I entered SILS at the age of 25, after coming to the conclusion that the glass ceiling for a female unmarried Japanese high school and baking school graduate can only be broken with the power of education. I was one of a handful of adult learners who were pursuing higher education while also working. The four years I spent at SILS were literally a life changing experience. The struggle to obtain a double degree both from SILS and Peking University while trying to make ends meet and support myself has been one of the most challenging experiences I had ever faced. But it has been, so far, a lifetime of worthy struggles and endeavors – though few as challenging or as rewarding. The reason I chose Peking University as my mandatory study abroad destination was because I could obtain double degree. Just as importantly, I chose it because Chinese is one of the official languages of the United Nations. I had a dream to become a United Nations employee, a dream that seemed to be impossible, a dream I felt like I was allowed to have only after entering SILS.
Like many other fellow alumni who graduated in 2011 right after the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, there was no graduation ceremony. What was meant to be a day to celebrate and express gratitude to those that helped accomplish the academic goal was replaced by a venue to exchange feeling of sorrow and great sense of fear of uncertainty for the future. Still I remember well the generous and earnest support from our Dean, the faculty staff and professors, the administration, and fellow students, all along the journey. I had unfailing support while I was working different jobs and taking classes, or while being abroad volunteering for earthquake relief activities in China or Haiti. SILS taught me not only enhanced communication skills, with strong academic and humanitarian perspectives, but also a broad-mindedness and world view that respects the diversity – yet equally valid mores and folkways of people from all walks of life – all from its small yet mighty faculty.
Having studied job descriptions of the United Nations, after graduation from SILS I pursued my higher education at the Graduate Program on Human Security (HSP) at the University of Tokyo. While in the M.A. program, I was fortunate enough to participate in an internship program with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Nepal, and later started my career at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Tokyo, Japan, in 2013. My academic path and career path are crisscrossing as I am currently enrolled in PhD program of the same faculty, and have been working for the UNHCR Representation in Bosnia and Herzegovina as Associate Protection Officer through JPO program offered by the Japanese government. My five years of career with the UNHCR has been a yet another challenging experience; inherently multicultural, diverse and extraordinarily rewarding.
I wish to take this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude to our former Dean, the administration, and the faculty staff and professors, for we students were surely given countless opportunities to expand our horizons while we were being educated. This educational experience touched our hearts, minds, and souls in a way that no other experience could have. I would not trade it for the world.
My message to SILS students is that nothing says that we need to have our lives totally planned out by any age. It is a myth that we cannot write our own futures. Nothing definitively states that we need to make only one choice out of all the possibilities that lie ahead of us. Especially to the women: there is absolutely no need to make a choice between higher education, career, love and family. As we are all well aware, in many contexts in Japan, “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.” However, in reality, people often and easily give up on hammering down for those stick out too much. There is nothing wrong in sticking out too much. Sticking out makes
life diverse, interesting, more colorful. The proverbial glass ceiling is made of glass; it is breakable. As Nelson Mandela said, “It always seems impossible until it’s done”. No one should fear uncertainty, or other people’s opinions, get in the way of making choice for one’s own life. At the end of the day, the only person who can make a decision about one’s own life, is one’s self. We all need to decide and accept who we are, and bear responsibility to become who we would like to become.