Just a few years ago, I wanted to go to law school and become a “somebody” in American politics. Although it’s cliche, the idea was that I could change the world.
I was born and raised in the American suburbs by my American father and my Japanese mother. I was privileged— I never had to worry about where my next meal would come from, I did all the extracurriculars I wanted, and I had a great support system to help me through my adolescence. So my passion for public policy did not come directly from personal experience, but rather through the extreme anger I felt over the crippling unfairness and injustices which plague our society.
I entered the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) without much thought, it was just a means to an end. Although I enjoyed my time at UIUC, I felt I had utilized everything the university could provide and decided to graduate a year early; which meant I needed to have my post-undergraduate plans figured out. And to be quite frank, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I felt like I was floating in a void where I couldn’t find my footing; I had done everything right on paper but it didn’t feel like enough. Internships with corporate and government offices, a thesis, a perfect GPA. It wasn’t like I couldn’t find a nice cozy job at this point. Yet something was missing. I decided to go to graduate school to hopefully find that missing piece.
I made the decision to apply to GraSPP for three main reasons; its reputation, its location, and its program. As someone with family in Japan and understanding the stature of the University of Tokyo, being able to say I was a student at “Todai” had a nice ring to it. I had also never lived in Japan, and I wanted to improve my Japanese and live in the country that my mother grew up in. And of course, the GraSPP program was extremely attractive. My own specialty falls into the Public Management and International Relations (PMIR) stream more than the Economic Policy, Finance and Development (EPFD) stream, and so to be able to focus on classes that were of interest to me–instead of worrying about a horde of required classes outside my field–piqued my interest. I was elated to be accepted into my first-choice program with a MEXT scholarship and I began my GraSPP career in the fall of 2019.
As someone coming straight from undergrad, it was nice to interact with those who had work experience. Hearing their life stories and the challenges they faced helped me find perspective in a time where information overload can be overwhelming. I also found myself in the office hours of several professors. I usually entered with the intent to ask a quick question about class, but I always left with a deeply meaningful conversation about my passions and my future. With the flexibility in choosing classes, I was also able to participate in internships, one of which I credit as the reason why I found something I am so passionate about. I had the chance to find what was missing; a passion for something that I could do for the rest of my life.
I entered GraSPP thinking I would return to America and perhaps go to law school or find work in Washington D.C. In the future, I imagined myself being a “somebody” in politics and helping to change this unjust world. Today, I’m sitting in a school in the Kyushu region of Japan, and responding to “Ms. Sara.” People asks me the same thing, “why did you become a teacher? Couldn’t you have done something better?” and each time I chuckle. People ask me why I didn’t choose a high-paying job back in the U.S, where my degree could have gotten me any number of jobs, and I did have an attractive offer already on the table. And to be honest, the answer is that I didn’t want that, plain and simple. And I think that’s perfectly fine. You don’t have to do what is the “normal” path for your degree. You don’t have to stick with your original game plan; it’s okay to re-write your 10-year career plan months before you graduate (I finalized my job offer just two months before I graduated!). I was very fortunate that I found something I can be excited about every morning, which turned out to be education. Today, I want to become a “somebody” in these students’ lives. Although it’s cliche, I want to change the world through these students. And I think that is the best way for me to utilize my GraSPP education.
I hope that you find your passion. Maybe it won’t happen within the two years you’re at GraSPP, but I know that the time you spend at GraSPP will give you the tools necessary to someday succeed in whatever you choose. Take advantage of every resource GraSPP provides to you; including your alumni network. Find where you want to become a “somebody,” find where you can get excited every day, find what motivates you to continue to grow. Although it’s cliche, find where you can make even a small change in somebody’s world. That is (what I think is) the best way to use your GraSPP experience.