College Women's Association of Japan
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Overseas Member Spotlight: Helen Siedell

When my husband accepted a corporate position in Tokyo in 1988, little did I know how profoundly my life would be changed with this move, and CWAJ played a large part in that. Our family lived in Tokyo during two different postings, first from 1988 -1993, and then from 2000-2014, for a total of almost 19 years.  We spent the intervening seven years in Bangkok, Thailand. 

A friend residing in Tokyo when I first arrived said, “Come to a luncheon with me”, and that was my first encounter with CWAJ.  Later on, this same friend asked me to attend a Scholarship Committee meeting, and that was it, I was hooked.  My first two children were very young at the time, and I also had our third child while living in Tokyo (in 1991), so my ability to get involved at that point was a bit limited. When we returned to Tokyo in 2000, I of course rejoined CWAJ immediately and, as luck would have it, many more opportunities were to open up for me. I became involved with numerous groups and organizations during my 26 years overseas, but my affiliation with CWAJ has been the longest lasting, by far. 

CWAJ is an amazing organization: all volunteer, such a diverse membership, and that wonderful system of Japanese working alongside non-Japanese Co-Chairs  — what a learning opportunity!  I enjoyed working in all areas:  meeting new and prospective members in Membership; unwrapping prints and working in check-out at Print Shows; serving as a committee member numerous times and later as Committee Co-Chair for Scholarship; being involved in the wonderful Special Interest Groups; and serving in the positions of Parliamentarian and eventually President of CWAJ in 2013.  I feel truly blessed to have been a part of CWAJ while living in Tokyo, and to have been able to remain part of the organization since returning to the US, as this has led to wonderful friendships and great lifetime memories. I also developed a deep appreciation for other cultures, especially that of my host country, Japan.  And thanks to Print Show, I found a new and deeper appreciation for art and the processes involved in its creation.

We returned to the United States in 2014 when my husband retired, and we now live just outside Charleston, South Carolina, on a rural sea island. Since my return to the U.S., I’ve attended a Print Show in Tokyo and celebrated with others attending our “Kanreki” Show at Highfield Hall in Massachusetts in 2016.  I look forward to receiving my Print Show catalogue every year, and multiple CWAJ prints hang on the walls of our home here in South Carolina.

It has been my involvement with Scholarship, though, that has had the most profound long-term effect.  I love the work, and I currently serve on the Undergraduate Selection Committee for a US-based non-profit organization, providing scholarships to women attending universities throughout North America. 

Here in Charleston, I’m surrounded by history, art, architecture and music, and I act as a docent every year for house, garden and museum tours during various festivals and for special events.  I have especially enjoyed working with schoolchildren touring our house museums as part of their school history curriculum. My experiences with CWAJ have definitely led me to want to explore the opportunities for involvement that are around me, and so I stay quite busy!

I will forever support CWAJ, and my love for Japan has taken on a unique personal turn:  I now have a wonderful Japanese daughter-in-law, and she and our son have blessed us with our youngest grandson, Isamu, who is not quite two. Japanese will be his first language. Japan is never far from my heart!