Kokusaibu alumni from USA have 40th reunion at WasedaFri, Apr 22, 2016
On March 25, a group of former Waseda students from the United States returned to the campus to celebrate the 40-year anniversary of their life-changing experience. Organized by the former California Private Universities & Colleges (CALPUC) in 1975, the students spent one year at Waseda’s International Division (Kokusaibu). Experiencing Japan in the classroom, in the homes of host families, around the city and across the country, they formed lifelong friendships and memories. Many students came to learn about their roots, connecting with relatives and their forebears’ origins. Iris Orikasa Tomita’s grandparents immigrated to Hawaii in the early 20th century, but she was able to visit their ancestral homes and learn standard modern Japanese. Amy Kato Esaki told of finding peace and appreciation for her parents’ sacrifices, even understanding of their attitudes which sometimes conflicted with her mindset as a natural-born American. In addition to the personal discoveries, the students had innumerable shared experiences, from language challenges and encounters in Japan to helping each other cope with reverse culture shock upon returning to the U.S., continuing through decades with weddings, vacations and periodic mini-reunions.
Gael Brown Pullen wanted to make positive connections with Asia after the Vietnam War, and to challenge herself outside her comfort zone. She did that and more, calling the year a defining time of her life. She also found unexpected connections back in the U.S. thanks to her experiences at Waseda, including a Korean business client in California who became a special customer when they discovered a common Waseda bond. International Division alumni also include a famous Haruki Murakami translator, video director for Japanese entertainers, many international businesspeople and educators. Stephanie Nishi Quitugua testified to the continuing nature of the relationship with Japan, as her son has led groups of volunteers from the U.S. to the disaster-hit in the northeast. Arlene Fushiki Yee used her experience and language skill to serve the Japanese community as a counselor in Los Angeles and in Japan, and her daughter will follow in her footsteps too, coming to Japan later this year on a mission. Other alumni have children studying at Waseda today as well. The alumni were nostalgic about $1 rahmen, $3 hostel stays and 30 yen train rides they enjoyed 40 years ago, while also remarking on the increasing diversity and cosmopolitan atmosphere in Tokyo. They were pleased to hear that the International Division has evolved into the School of International Liberal Studies, well-known across Asia, and that Waseda now has over 5000 international students following in their footsteps, the most in Japan. Today’s students are surely attracted by many of the same qualities such as rich culture and people’s politeness, which had so impressed them back in 1975. Having enjoyed such a fulfilling reunion, the group is already looking forward to its 50th!