For the past 11 months, much of my time has been dedicated to the Japanese Queen Scholarship Organization of Washington (JQSOW).
Let me guess, you’re stuck on the word “queen.” Yes, there is a pageant involved. Yes, the whole crown and sash deal. In some circles, I’m known as Princess Aspasea McKenna. Laugh all you want.
For those of my readers who know me, you know that the pageantry is not what reeled me in to begin with. More than just another coronation event, the JQSOW is a scholarship program dedicated to empowering young Japanese-American women through professional development, cultural appreciation and community involvement.
Returning to Seattle after spending a year in Japan, I was looking for a way to re-connect to my roots. JQSOW presented me with an opportunity to do just that. Until the end of my reign next May, I have the amazing opportunity to act as a goodwill ambassador to the Japanese community here in Seattle, by bridging the gap between Americans and Japanese-Americans.
So what does that entail exactly? Some of the more memorable experiences have included sitting on stage at the Capitol Building in Olympia alongside Jay Inslee and Toshizo Ido, the governor of Hyogo Prefecture; showing 300 visitors from the Hyogo cultural delegation around Seattle; and sitting on the back of a Mazda Miata—top down—in the Chinatown Parade, waving to hundreds of children as they called out my name. I think at one point I heard someone call “ASPARAGUS!”
For me, it’s been a strange dichotomy between being a post-grad adult and holding a title that I so closely relate to my childhood dreams. Putting on the crown and sash with full makeup and hair, posing for photos with little girls as they look up at me wide-eyed and awe-struck. At the same time, in this role I have the ability to turn that same moment into an opportunity to inspire youth. Just yesterday, I gave a talk to a group of Seattle Buddhist Church Campfire Girls about our program and encouraged them to find ways to embrace their heritage and get involved on campus.
That is what I think is so rewarding about this program. Sure, as a participant I get to network with business professionals and people in the public eye. But at the same time I am also in a unique position to actively engage with the Japanese community while using the crown as a tool to empower young girls.
I was the outsider, and yet I was the insider.
My recent trip to Japan was unlike anything I was used to. I’ve spent much of my lifetime in Japan—visiting family, studying, working—but I was always the American. The foreigner. The outsider.
Having just finished my final course of my undergraduate career one week prior, I headed to Japan where I was once again back in the classroom—but this time wearing a different hat. I was the one teaching students about Japanese language and culture to offer a foundation from which to begin understanding how the Japanese coped with the egregious events that occurred at Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Fukushima. I guided them around territory that I have grown to know so well and helped them through the cultural assimilation process. They looked to me for translation and sought advice from me on how to act in the host family setting. For the first time, I felt like I was on the inside.
But I have to say the most rewarding part was seeing the students grow from this experience in ways for them, unimaginable. I saw my two-years-ago-self in all of them. When traveling to or living in a country so different from your own, you’re vulnerable. Vulnerable to homesickness, vulnerable to miscommunication, vulnerable to frustration, anger and self-doubt. But in letting themselves go and being open-minded to all that Japan has to offer, I watched them fall in love with a country that has for forever been a part of my life.
Again I was the outsider, witnessing their love affair with Japan unfold. At the same time, I was the insider, because I knew this feeling so well.
September 15, 2013 6:00pm JPT
I’m consistently amazed by the opportunities that have come my way as a student at UW Bothell. Out of high school, I had originally planned to attend the UW Seattle campus but unfortunately I didn’t get in—by default I went to UWB.
I often entertain the idea of destiny. That everything happens for a reason—whether that reason is good or bad I can’t say. But what I can say is that I was meant to be here. Whether it be studying abroad for a year in Japan and still graduating on time, discovering a passion for writing when offered to travel blog for the Global Initiatives office and subsequently getting a job at the Husky Herald, getting offered an internship in International Admissions and now to representing the UWB alum through yet another blogging project. I’ve found that I owe much of my achievements to UW Bothell. Of course without self-motivation it couldn’t have been possible, but UW Bothell was my vehicle on a path towards success.
Because of my exposure to Japan, a few months ago another opportunity presented itself to me. I was offered to be a Program Director of an exploration seminar in which UWB students would travel to Japan. During their stay, they would explore the lessons learned from Japan’s experiences with nuclear power. Starting from its devastating effects on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during WWII and the more recent events in Fukushima, to the subsequent development of nuclear power as the primary energy source of Japan. We spent a week in the classroom at UWB where I taught the students about Japanese culture and language. Departing to Japan, I would act as the translator and support the students during their cultural assimilation.
Which is what brings us to real time today. The past 10 days I have spent in Matsuyama, Japan, where we’ve jam-packed our days studying and exploring town and the surrounding area. What exactly have we been up to? Well, that is for another post.
Reflecting on my achievements at UW Bothell, I am surprised at the richness of the education I received. As a student it’s so important for you to seek every avenue for enrichment. Whatever your interest there’s something for you on this campus—it’s a matter of finding it and then building those experiences towards your end goal. By constantly pushing the boundaries, you’ll be surprised at what you are capable of doing and what the culmination of those experiences will materialize to.
Page 1 of 2