College Women's Association of Japan
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Voices from Scholars

2017 Study Abroad Scholar Shoko HIROSE

Study Program: MA, Social-Organizational Psychology, Teachers’ College, Columbia University

I am thrilled to share the news that I was able to graduate from my Masters program in Social-Organizational Psychology at Columbia University in May 2019. The past 2 years have been truly challenging and rewarding, stretching me beyond my limits and strengthening me in ways that I could never have imagined before I set forth on this journey. Thank you so much for the wonderful opportunity and education. I am so grateful for the support from the CWAJ Scholarship.

2016 Study Abroad Scholar Naoko SASAMOTO

Study Program: MA, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

I was able to gain the skills and experiences that I would have never been able to if I had not come to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. I was surprised so many women were studying at the graduate school as future leaders in the field and were also in high academic position at the school. I think we need more women leadership in Japan, and I think the CWAJ Scholarship program supports and encourages Japanese women pursuing higher degree education outside Japan, which is challenging but also a rewarding experience.
Thank you very much for all your support!

2015 Non-Japanese Graduate Scholar Samata TAMRAKAR (Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal)

Study Program: PhD, Neurosurgery, Osaka City University Graduate School of Medicine

There is no other organization that is solely dedicated to women empowerment and CWAJ have been providing scholarships to many women who have all become pioneers in their respective fields. The kindness generated from all the members has made this one-year journey with CWAJ a memorable phase in my life. I shall forever be grateful to CWAJ for bestowing on me with kindness par excellence. For students like me, to achieve our dreams has been possible only with an organization like yours.

2012 NJG Yvonne CHONDO (Republic of Kenya)

Study Program: Masters in Hygienic Chemistry, Graduate School of Medical Science, Kanazawa University

I would like to thank CWAJ for believing in me and giving me an opportunity to study for my Masters degree. Although I have a year to go, all the work that I put in in this past year is a big part of my journey to graduating and I couldn’t have done it without the help of CWAJ. Thank you so much and I look forward to attending some events organized by CWAJ, whenever I can. 
I also sincerely look forward to supporting and giving back to CWAJ and to women in general, when I am in a position to do so. Thank you and I sincerely wish you the very best in your future endeavors.

2012 SVI-SJ Shingo MORII

Study Program: PhD, Biological Information Systems, University of Toyama Graduate School of Innovative Life Science

Being selected as a CWAJ Scholar was a great encouragement for me as a visually impaired student. Sad to say but I feel that most people in the society look at people with impairments as someone who cannot to do anything or show their sympathies. For us who are living is such an atmosphere prevailing in the society, activity and awards of CWAJ were a true support and encouragement both emotionally and spiritually, and raised my motivation greatly.
Having financial base was essential for pursuit of my studies and activities.
In this respect, CWAJ Scholarship allowed me to devote myself to the research and to improve my skills without financial worries. I shall be most happy of you could continue this kind of activity and support for my junior visually impaired fellows so that they can continue to study and develop their possibilities. As a CWAJ scholar, I hope to contribute in some way to support my juniors.

2012 FRS Saiko AKIYAMA

Study Program: Fukushima Medical University, School of Nursing

After the accident at the Fukushima Nuclear Plant, I was always questioning myself whether I should stay or put my child’s health first. But I was thankful to CWAJ Scholarship and to the people who supported the students of Fukushima. It was easy for me to quit, but I would have had many regrets if I did. Thanks to your scholarship, regardless of the fear of radiation, I was able to pursue my studies to become a nurse.

1970 Travel Grant Scholar Takashi INOGUCHI

Professor Emeritus of University of Tokyo, Former President of University of Niigata Prefecture

Less than a year after I got a job as an assistant researcher at Sophia University, I was fortunate to receive the scholarship from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), but I had no money for the boat fare in 1970. At that time, CWAJ provided travel grant only for women. “Though I am a male, can I get your travel grant?” I was saved by CWAJ, which said it was all right. I was eternally grateful to CWAJ, since then I will keep donating to this organization. 

Member and 2013 Study Abroad Scholar Ryoko NARUI

An Interview

1. Tell us about yourself
As I wondered what the doctor-patient relationship should be when working as a medical doctor, I decided to learn ‘Medical Humanities’ at King’s College London with a scholarship from CWAJ.

2. What is your relationship with CWAJ?
Member and 2013 Scholarship winner

3. How did your goals change (if they did) once you received the scholarship?
Thanks to the scholarship, I could have a chance to discuss the topics I was interested in with classmates and tutors. Then, my hazy idea began to take shape.

4. What would you say to your younger self if you had the chance?
Go for what you believe in, even if it’s different from others.

5. What goal are you currently working towards?
Writing an article about ‘Narrative Medicine’ for psychology journal.

CWAJ 70th Anniversary Study Abroad Scholar Shio SAKON

An Interview

1. Tell us about yourself
I am a second-year physics graduate student at Pennsylvania State University, working with the LIGO group at Penn State under Professor Chad Hanna. LIGO is the gravitational wave detector that is capable of detecting ripples in spacetime, which are called gravitational waves. When massive compact objects such as neutron stars and black holes form binary systems and undergo inspirals and/or mergers, they emit energy as gravitational waves. The field of astrophysics using gravitational waves, along with electromagnetic waves and neutrinos, is called multi-messenger astrophysics, and my future goal is to contribute to this field and deepen our understanding of this universe.

Apart from academics, I enjoy photography. This is my second fall in Pennsylvania, and it is a great joy to be able to bike to mountains nearby to take photos of foliage. Recently, I got myself a new camera lens. Because of the features of this new lens, it has given me a different mindset when I am trying to get good shots that make the most of the features of the lens and the object I try to capture in the photos.

What is your relationship with CWAJ?
I am a CWAJ 70th Anniversary Graduate Scholarship for Japanese Women to Study Abroad.

How did your goals change (if they did) once you received the scholarship?
I am grateful for all the support that CWAJ has provided me with. Receiving the scholarship has enabled me to pursue my graduate studies in the US. Choosing to go to graduate school to get a Ph.D. degree in Physics and pursuing a career in academia while being a female encompasses many risks and challenges. CWAJ’s scholarship has been supporting me to pursue my dreams.

Now that I am given the privilege and support from others such that I am able to study physics while being a person of color and a female, I am eager than ever to contribute to enhancing diversity and inclusivity in this field, STEM, and academia.

What would you say to your younger self if you had the chance?
I would like to tell my younger self the following:
“What you think your future is going to be is confounded by what you know up to that point in your life. You will meet more people, you will go through more challenges, and you will reflect on your past only to realize things about yourself that you weren’t aware of back then. Cherish and nurture the connections you make with others, be ready to be changed, and live your life with all your might.”

What goal are you currently working towards?
In terms of academics, I am working on deepening my understanding of gravitational wave astrophysics, general relativity, mathematical physics, etc.

Outside of academics, I have been working on learning Korean for the past month so that I can communicate in Korean. Once COVID-19 travel bans are loosened, I would like to visit South Korea. Another goal I am working towards is becoming better at photography since it has been giving me the joy of biking around to find nice scenery and share the beauty with others through photos.

2018 Study Abroad Scholar Misaki TAKAHASHI

An Interview

1. Tell us about yourself.
My name is Misaki Takahashi, originally from Gunma, Japan. I am currently a master student at the Forest and Nature Conservation Policy Group, Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands. My ultimate goal is tackling climate change focusing on forest mitigation. I studied environmental issues multidisciplinary during my undergraduate program at Tottori University of Environmental Studies, and then came to the Netherlands to further improve my expertise in forest policy.

You may wonder why I chose forest as my expertise even though there are various ways to approach environmental issues such as waste management. I have two reasons for this: greenhouse gas reduction and biodiversity hotspot. Firstly, the land-use sector (incl. forestry and agriculture) is the second-largest greenhouse gas emitter following the energy sector. At the same time, people refer to forests as “lungs of the Earth” as they have a large potential to sequestrate carbon through photosynthesis. Secondly, they play an important role in biodiversity conservation. For instance, tropical forests contain more than 2/3 of the world’s biodiversity. Whenever I visit a forest, I feel that we are just a small part of the huge and complex ecosystem which human being cannot create.

These days, I am working on my second thesis about tree diversity value on carbon sequestration under the 2ndFOR project which is the international secondary forest research network. In addition to the research works, I have learned the basic knowledge and theory of nature conservation through courses in the past two years. Thus, I would like to practically engage in conservation projects in developing countries as my next step.

2. What is your relationship with CWAJ?
I am a scholar of the Graduate Scholarship for Japanese Women to Study Abroad (SA Program) in 2018. [In 2019] I met Mrs. Jantien Brinkhorst (the CWAJ Overseas Member) and her husband at Den Haag in the Netherlands, and they were so nice to me. Through the interaction with the other CWAJ members, I have deeply felt their mercy and passion to make the world a better place. In this way, I am grateful and proud of being one of the CWAJ scholars.

3. How did your goals change (if they did) once you received the scholarship?
Although the scholarship itself has not changed my ultimate goal: addressing environmental issues through forest mitigation, I felt more responsibility as a CWAJ scholar and as one of the Japanese female students who study abroad about environmental issues. After I received such an honored scholarship, I have come to willing to encourage the next generations to study abroad.

I decided to go to graduate school overseas at the end of my first year of the undergraduate program. While I am just a “normal” person who grew up in an ordinary family in a rural area in Japan, many Japanese students in graduate school overseas are returnees, graduates from international schools, or students who have experience in studying abroad during their undergraduates. In this sense, passing both scholarship and graduate school abroad was a lofty goal for me. At the award ceremony in 2018, the scholarship selection committee members told me that my sincere attitude and continuous efforts towards my goals were highly evaluated. If the scholarship committee examined applicants only based on their linguistic ability or fruitful international experiences, I could not have been here. These great thoughts and supports from CWAJ also made me realize the importance to encourage young people just like my old self who tend to regard the study abroad as a story of a different world. Therefore, I would like to pursue my career and at the same time, dedicate myself to enlighten the path to the next generation as CWAJ did me.

4. What would you say to your younger self if you had the chance?
“The world is much bigger than you think. Seize the day! Someday, you will meet people who teach you life is so colorful. “ I would like to tell myself in secondary school when I was feeling uncomfortable all the time for spending time with classmates who can simply work hard for grades and examinations. 

5. What goal are you currently working towards?
I started studying Spanish since I came to the Netherlands. Heavily deforested areas are often located in Latin America, where Spanish are mostly spoken. Spanish is, therefore, one of the most important languages when it comes to forest conservation. Moreover, I have met lots of students who speak more than three languages, which has been motivating me to learn a new language besides English.

2017 SVI Scholar Ririna KANEKO

An Interview

1. Tell us about yourself

            I graduated from Sophia University, Faculty of Liberal Arts in Spring, 2019, majored in politics and history. I was a SVI-SJ scholar in 2017. Due to the supporting system for students with disability of the university, it took 8 years to graduate. I’m also a member of  Toastmasters (a worldwide NPO which aims to train one’s communication skills and leadership), and have been taking classical ballet lessons for more than 20 years (I have passed the Vocational Graded Examinations of the Royal Academy of DANCE—dancer’s national license of the UK).

            I was born and raised in Japan (mainly in Yokohama and Nerima, Tokyo), and I have never lived abroad. Right after my birth, I was diagnosed that I’m vision impaired, and my left year doesn’t work. My parents tried to educate me so that I can choose my jobs by myself—they gave me a lot of opportunities to challenge something I’m interested in; piano, classical ballet, English, violin, etc. It also related to various kinds of experiences in my university years: joining Sophia Philharmonic Orchestra, taking part in Japan-America Student Conference (JASC) as Japanese delegation (2013) and Japanese Executive Committee member (2014), Toastmasters (2012-), internship at one of the GAFA, etc.

            I started taking ballet lessons at the age of 4, and started learning English at the age of 7. My first English teacher was a mother of my classmate. Since English seemed to be easier than trying to read Japanese kanjis, I decided to study to enter Sophia University Faculty of Comparative Culture (current Faculty of Liberal Arts) when I was 12. Right before the entrance exams of the university in 2010, my eye condition got worse and I was told to take a surgery, but I couldn’t give up taking the exam, and decided not to take the surgery. 

            Studying everything in English, under the American styled curriculum at the Faculty of Library Arts (FLA), was sometimes challenging. But it was great opportunity for me to learn politics and history of Japan, from the perspectives of other countries by reading materials written by foreign experts. Also, by studying with students from abroad without native level of “Japanese”, I realized being able to understand both English and Japanese sometimes works “useful” in my studies. Also, after learning about politics of Europe and the United States, I realized I was more and more interested in history and politics of Japan. 

            FLA doesn’t require to submit so-called “graduation thesis”, and students write final essays for each class instead. I wrote three final essays for three classes—for Japanese history class, wrote about racial discriminations in Japan during the Pacific War, and as politics major, I wrote about the Emperor Showa and the Emperor Emeritus as symbolic emperors for Japanese politics class, and about the Constitution of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea for the communism class. 

            After graduating from university, I worked for a foreign finance company for about 7 months. I decided to leave this company due to the treatment of employees with disabilities. Since February 2020—right before the pandemic of COVID-19—I have been working for another foreign company, which creates electronic devices such as smartphones, tablets, computers, etc.

2. What is your relationship with CWAJ?

            I first heard about CWAJ when I took part in the 5th English Oratorical Contest for the University of Tokyo Trophy (current University of Tokyo E.S.S. Trophy) in 2010, when I was the 3rd year student of the Yokohama Senior High School of International Studies. One of the judges introduced this organization to me, suggesting to study abroad. After 7 years, I learned that CWAJ offers a scholarship program for students with vision impairments and decided to apply.

            After being selected as a scholar, when I was a student, my relationship with CWAJ was simple—I was one of the scholars, and members of CWAJ were always supporting my studies. I was always feeling grateful, and proud of being their scholar. Their supports always motivated me to study hard, and it was always exciting to write and send repot to CWAJ, about what I have learned in each semester.

            After started working, I faced the difficult reality of the society for people with disabilities. When I faced “inequality” which still exists between the disabled and non-disabled, I sometimes tried to force myself not to take an action and stay where I was at the time. But when I looked back what I have been doing so far, what I said at the interview of CWAJ scholar selection in 2017 pushed me to take an action—at the interview, as a reason of applying for the scholarship, I said that I want to be a role model to prove that people with disabilities are able to work equally with non-disabled, if they are given opportunities equally, with appropriate tools, supports and understandings. 

            When I was facing difficulties, and having hard times thinking what I should do, I attended the CWAJ 70th Anniversary Dinner using my very first salary in my life, and I met the people of CWAJ once again at the perfect timing. While I was talking to the members, listening to the speeches by the new scholars, I made up my mind to take an action to be who I am. After several months of discussions with the company I was working for, I decided to leave the company.

            After this experience, I realized that CWAJ is not just an organization which offered me a scholarship. The people of CWAJ and the fact that I was their scholar, have changed my life. Without them, I wouldn’t be here today.

3. How did your goals change (if they did) once you received the scholarship?

            My basic goal hasn’t been changed even after becoming a scholar—my desire to achieve the goal got much stronger. My goal is the same with the one I mentioned in the response of the previous question. Currently, in order to be a role model, I’m trying to share my stories through public speaking, or posting articles on social media. In order to prove that the people with disabilities can work equally in the society, I first need to work in the society with non-disabled people, with appropriate support. Now I’m enjoying working for the current company, with my great teammates and managers.

            After I received the scholarship, when I see the members of CWAJ, I feel that they are always focusing on who I am, not about my disabilities. And their attitude gave me another goal to achieve—to make people in the society to realize that one’s disability(ies) doesn’t  (don’t) define who the person is. When I see new people, they tend to focus on my disabilities too much, and their impression about me tend to be “vision impaired” or “disabled”. I always try to share about other things about myself, such as my hobbies, studies, or past experiences, but sometimes people don’t give me the chance to talk. It can be said that people have strong stereotype against disabled people—weak, poor ones. After becoming a scholar, I’m trying to share who I am, not what I am through the opportunities of public speaking, and posting on social media. The impact  I can leave is very limited, but if my 1,300 friends on Facebook read my posts, I believe it can be meaningful in some ways.

4. What would you say to your younger self if you had the chance? 

            “Be confident.” When I was little, and even now, I am not very confident about myself. I’m always worried if I’m taking the right path. I’m still young and not experienced, but I believe, there’s nothing meaningless in our lives. Looking back my childhood, studying at normal schools as a vision impaired was sometimes very difficult; it was hard to make myself understood by my teachers and classmates, and I sometimes couldn’t go to school. But one of  my former classmates is currently the most precious friend in my life, who understands everything. At university, I couldn’t take core courses since there were no supporting systems for students with disabilities, but I was able to graduate after 8 years, by taking long time to negotiate with the university staffs and professors to create supporting systems. After started working, I faced the reality of the society, but after experiencing difficult times, I could find a place which accepts me, without drawing a line between disabled and non-disabled. So I want to say to myself to be confident; when facing difficulties, there will be a path to take if I believe in myself.

5. What are your non-educational goals within the next 5 years?

            I haven’t thought about “non-educational” goals. I realized I have been thinking about my educational goals all the time… But if I have to choose a goal in the next five years, I should say “live a normal life.” For those who have disabilities, living a “normal” life can be difficult. As I experienced in the previous company, people with disabilities are rare to be treated equally. But since I could find a place where treats me completely equally, I’d like to live a normal life, just like others in the same generation. For the future people with disabilities, living a normal life would be the best way to be the role model as well.

2009 IUC Scholar Kit BROOKS

An Interview

1. Tell us about yourself

My name is Kit Brooks and I’m currently working as the Japan Foundation Assistant Curator of Japanese Art at the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, which is part of the Smithsonian Institutions in Washington D.C. It’s a great museum with an amazing collection and a lot of history, so I am very happy to be here—even if I am working from home at the moment! (due to COVID-19). I do really miss being around the art, but all the staff are busy planning exhibitions and working on our own research projects. I’m actually preparing two sōsaku hanga shows that will take place at the museum in the next few years. I’m also getting used to giving lectures on Zoom and other virtual platforms. I think it’s great that we can still have conversations about art with the public, even when we are separated from each other.  

2. What is your relationship with CWAJ? 

I was a recipient of the IUC scholarship in 2009 and became involved in print show for several years afterwards, including a period of time when I attended Waseda University as part of my PhD research. But actually, I first “met” the CWAJ when I worked at the British Museum. One of my first jobs there was to re-house the prints from the 1985 CWAJ print show that were given to the museum after the exhibition. So, I feel like the CWAJ has been with me for a very long time.   

3. What are your goals for the future? 

I hope very much to continue working with Japanese art as the main focus of my career. I am constantly learning new information and being exposed to new areas of artmaking. It never gets boring. Personally, I want to own several dogs, and also take up woodworking, but I need more living space to achieve both those things!

4. What would you say to your younger self if you had the chance? 

Take more photos! It’s easy to remember the big events in your life, but it’s the everyday interactions and places that are harder to picture in your memory after several years have passed. Also, start learning Japanese earlier! Age 24 is much too late, haha.

5. What would you like to say to the current members or future scholars of the CWAJ? 

Your experiences with CWAJ will enrich your life in ways you won’t predict. When I received the scholarship to learn the Japanese language at the Inter-University Center over a decade ago, I wouldn’t have imagined the ways in which my time with the CWAJ and my friendships with its members would continue to affect my life. Not only in terms of sōsaku hanga and all the things I learned from Naoko Yagura, Patricia Hiramatsu, and other members of Print Show committee, but in my work on Edo period art I often recall moments from kabuki plays that I saw in person thanks to Akiko Tatsuke, and I am surrounded by many beautiful museum catalogues that were gifted to me over the years by Reiko Nagase and Peggy Kanada. For these and so many other memories that it would be impossible for me to list, I am very grateful. 

2001 Study Abroad Scholar Mariko KAGEYAMA

An Interview

1. Tell us about yourself.

My name is Mariko Kageyama (蔭山麻里子). I am originally from Nagoya, Japan. As an active independent woman, I have lived in various parts of the United States for the last 19 years. I currently live in Seattle and telework for a law firm.

I wonder if I deserve a title of a lifelong learner––I was brave enough to go back to school in my forties as a full-time law student at the University of Washington and obtained a Juris Doctor in 2018. Most recently I passed the bar examination on my second try earlier in 2020 (Note: I was probably the very last in my class who managed to pass the exam). I am proud of my educational accomplishments despite multiple unexpected turns and challenges I encountered in the past.

2. What is your relationship with CWAJ ?

I was one of 2001 CWAJ Study Abroad Scholars. It was this scholarship that made it possible for me to earn a Master of Arts in Museum Science at Texas Tech University and begin my museum career immediately afterward. I am still truly grateful to the CWAJ for its general support.

I used to be a zoologist-to-be at Kyoto University studying wild animals. I had never travelled abroad until one hot summer day my first cross-Pacific flight left me alone in the middle of Texas’ desert. My new life started rather dramatically––a week into the first semester when the 9-11 happened, the day I remember vividly still today. Fortunately, however, I had a wonderful experience and made best friends while there. The interdisciplinary training successfully equipped me with special knowledge needed to manage natural history collections, unique resources for scientific research and education. Upon graduation I was happy landing a dream entry-level job at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and then a permanent job at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History in Boulder, spending nearly a decade as a zoological collection specialist (Note: you can find out more about my profile from this link).

Around 2013, I bumped into formidable obstacles at work. Without going into much detail, I felt completely at loss and miserable in the dark tunnel and had to leave the museum position I was passionate about. After careful self-reflection I decided to pursue law as an ‘add-on’ to my intellectual strength in science and museums. I also wanted to become more useful to society in a meaningful way. The rest of my story is what I already described earlier.

3. What are your goals for the future?

With a new lawyering skill under my belt, my next goals are to become legal counsel and practice law in my favorite space of science, technology, art and culture. I am eager to give back to the communities that enabled me to grow professionally and personally over the years. My hope is that eventually I will be able to provide creative solutions to complex legal questions for clients.

4. What would you say to your younger self if you had the chance?

Your trajectory is never going to be a simple straight line but rather a winding curve with full of bumps and forks. Deviating from your originally planned course is not necessarily a failure. Be flexible with your future plans, but once you make a decision, take full responsibility for it.

Second, listen very carefully to people with different or even opposite views from yours, especially constructive criticism from your bosses, mentors and peers.

5. What would you like to say to the current members or future scholars of the CWAJ?

Probably it is preaching to the choir, but enjoy building new relationship with people you meet and more importantly, stay in touch with those you liked working with, not to mention this remarkable group, CWAJ! Fortunately, today’s social media makes networking so easy for you. Do not hesitate to “friend” me personally.

To recent and future CWAJ scholars––wherever you are in your life journey, you are in the driver’s seat. Your life is going to be filled with excitements, adventures and happiness, but also with occasional challenges. Once in a while please give yourself a treat and a good rest. Reflect on the path you have followed and express your gratitude to those who have offered help and sent cheers to you along the way. Remember to pay it forward. Always look out for interesting opportunities to seize.