By Megumi Kawaraya
My name is Megumi, and I graduated from the University of Arkansas in 2011. I majored in International Relations. I am originally from Japan. During my time at the U of A, I volunteered as a Cross-Cultural Mentor for the international student orientation and got involved with the International Student Organization to support cultural events on campus. I loved being in the community of international students so much. I felt that the international community here was very supportive and cultural differences were very much appreciated. Through activities with the Office of International Students & Scholars and student organizations, I learned that I could offer something interesting to the community. I met many people across the world, which definitely broadened my horizons and deepened my understanding about the world. These experiences led me to an around-the-world voyage as a translator on the cruise after my graduation. I also decided to continue my education and attended a graduate program at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, UK. I am now back in Japan, still appreciating the experience I gained at U of A.
As a university student, I did enjoy events and programs offered by the ISS Office. Especially I was so lucky to have met Patti Brigman and her family through the Friendship Family Program. Over the college years, she helped me experience many events and activities that American families would do during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays and more. We became really good friends because of her open-mindedness and genuine interest in Japan, where she spent her childhood. The hardest moment for me was when I received the news: after the severe fight with cancer, she passed away in 2013. However, all of my memories with her are my treasure. The time we spent together is my motivation to be a kind and open-minded person like she was for foreign students.
Now, I work at Waseda University in Japan, as a program coordinator for the exchange program with schools in East Asia. In August 2014, there was a joint-summer school program at Korea University, Seoul. It was very nice to see students study together and build friendship despite their different backgrounds.
I wanted to work at Waseda because it embraces the largest number of international students in Japan. At the U of A, I met many people from different backgrounds and learned a lot from them. I was interested in social issues around the world, and I realized that making friends is the most important and effective way to overcome such issues and construct a peaceful world. That is why I wanted to work with international students and support them academically, socially and culturally, so that they can learn a lot more from living abroad experiences. At work, I take care of issues regarding visa and accommodation. I have seen international students encountering various challenges when settling in Japan, and I think the experience as a Cross-Cultural Mentor has been so useful. I enjoy working with new incoming students and I love assisting them with their transitions.
By helping to build a diverse community at Waseda, I can contribute to the ongoing internationalization in Japan. I hope this will help people in the society to appreciate more what we have in Japan and learn from cultural differences. For myself, I hope I can keep learning from the students, as I did at U of A.
I do appreciate having spent my college years at the U of A. There were many struggles as an international student, but the joy when overcoming the hardship was greater. I think there is a lot to learn from books but you can also learn a lot from the people and activities around you on campus. For me, the friendships I gained at the U of A became my most valuable assets.