Grad Cap Cupcake

Photo courtesy of clevercupcakes on Flickr.

I’m sure you’ve noticed that I haven’t updated in a while. Plans to post papers I was writing during the school year kinda fell flat. I still may post them here later. For now, I’d like to talk a bit about the school year and having graduated.

Last summer, when I decided I would be going back to Fairbanks to finish college as soon as possible, I called the academic advising center to talk about my options. I’d been a student long enough that my original course catalog had expired. However, the good news had two faces: I could use any catalog for the last seven years and a new (and more sane) set of Japanese Studies B.A. requirements had been pushed through in my absence. The result was that I’d be able to graduate by spring.¬†Making it happen meant taking both of my required writing-intensive courses in the fall semester but having only three classes to take (two of them 100-level) in the spring.


One of my writing-intensive classes was a 400-level seminar class entitled Governments of East Asia. The grade was 15% midterm, 30% final, and 55% research paper — a single paper, 10-15 pages. Fairly open topic… compare/contrast something government-related in two East Asian countries. And so I discovered that when given free rein with topic choice, I have trouble picking one small enough. I chose to look at nationalism in China and Japan, since nationalism is something that had been begging for my attention for a while. Turned out the topic I picked required a lot more reading than I anticipated… and I didn’t realize that¬†until late in the game. I managed a B+ on the paper and along the way I learned a lot about crafting a work of writing that is more than a rehash of what other people have written.

The other one was Women’s Voices in Japanese Literature. It included a large research paper at the end, too, but it made up a much smaller portion of our grade since we were writing smaller papers all throughout the semester. Along with the literature we were reading, the teacher taught us about the historical context in which each piece was written, going from classical to modern.

I found that these two classes played off each other in surprising ways. One week, something I learned in the governments class would be relevant to the literature class; the next week, it would be the other way around. That, I think, is when I started to internalize the value of the cross-discipline studies required as part of the baccalaureate core. Everything is interconnected. We try to isolate one bit of the world and focus on it to understand it better, but what good are bits of knowledge by themselves? Can we truly understand something without at least a basic knowledge of the context in which it exists?

Realizing that made my spring semester less tedious. In order to graduate, I needed a 100-level science class (anything besides the Earthquakes, Glaciers, and Volcanoes class I’d taken in fall), a core communications class, and any sociology elective I’d yet to take. That made for an easy schedule to fill. I passed with flying colors. My hardest class was the semantics class I took as one of my electives.


Dr. David Henry taught the Japanese literature class. It was the first and only class I took from him. I had seen him once before this school year, when he came up from the lower 48 to do a guest lecture as one of the last two candidates for an open position in the department. I remember nothing of the other applicant we got to see; I’d voted for Dr. Henry when they asked us students who we preferred. I was glad to see he’d gotten the job. He, of course, didn’t recognize my face. I’d been gone the whole time he was teaching at UAF. I got to know him quite well, this year, though, between that class and the fact that he was suddenly delegated to be my advisor when Izaki-sensei moved out of the Foreign Languages department in January.

He’s not the only teacher I got to know just in the last school year. I needed a professor in the Sociology department to sign off on the fact that I was in shape to graduate with a minor in Sociology and so got to know Dr. Anahita better. I took my last two Sociology classes from Dr. Arthur; the first was a 200-level class that was easy as pie and the second was a 400-level class run as a seminar graded on four assignments (three research papers and a presentation) and participation. As such, I got to see a single teacher employ different teaching methods for classes of differing size and advancement. Even if that hadn’t been interesting, her specialty was sociological causes of health, which I never would have thought to study on my own. I learned a lot from her.


Another thing I learned is that in all the years I spent in Fairbanks, I missed out on something. The UAF library has access to dozens of academic journal databases. They’re a worse time sink than Wikipedia and TV Tropes combined. So many fascinating things! Old, old articles about things Japanese society that were written before WWII, for instance, as well as cutting edge research in all kinds of areas. All of it is reviewed by academics, making them more reliable than most books and TV shows. Any topic I could think of! And I’ve lost access to it all by graduating. When I realized that was going to happen, I wanted to cry.

I finally got to take the costuming classes. Beth, the costuming teacher, was amazing to learn from. She has a zillion tricks up her sleeves and she’s willing to share all of them. I’ve learned a lot about fabric and sewing and cloth and the making of clothes.

All in all, this has been the single most beneficial school year of my life. I learned a lot more than was taught in class, and I believe I have come out of college with the education my soon-to-be-mailed diploma indicates.

Now, I am working at the embroidery shop again until mid-July. At the end of July, I’m headed back to Japan. I’ve got a job as an assistant Language Teacher through the JET Program, so I’ll be teaching English to middle or high school students in an as-yet-unknown part of Japan for at least a year. I’ve wanted this job for a long time, and I can’t wait to find out where I’m going. I’m grateful that I’ve only had a couple of people comment about how they’d never go to Japan right now. The disaster that struck Japan in March only strengthened my desire to go. The Tohoku region has a huge task ahead of it, and I look forward to playing a part in keeping the school system running. Several people have expressed hopes that I will be placed outside the disaster-affected region, but my hopes are just the opposite since that’s where the need for help is greatest.

I haven’t decided what I’ll do once that job ends. I have so many options and they all sound wonderful. The path ahead of me is an infinitely branching tree of possibilities.

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