From chemistry to history: How I strayed THIS far?
By Fumiko Nago (Wesleyan University)
This column features reports by Japanese students currently studying overseas on their lives and off campus.
"How did you stray THAT far?"
This is a question that I often get from my family and friends back home when I explain what I currently study in college. During my high school years, I was brought up to become an engineer. I excelled in chemistry and math, and performed advanced research on water treatment technologies. I wrote on my college application that I am interested in water issues, and sought to attend a liberal arts college in the United States to become a well-rounded researcher, aware of both sides of science and society.
Growing up in a sheltered community in Shizuoka, I was craving to go out of the world that I knew and to have a liberating experience. With very little idea of what college is like, I pushed through the application process. I was fortunate to get accepted and become the recipient of the Freeman Asian Scholarship, a full ride scholarship to Wesleyan University.
Through my freshman year, I took advantage of the general education curriculum at Wesleyan and explored different fields of study. Alongside the sciences, I took classes in subjects such as art history, East Asian studies and philosophy.
Immersing myself in new academic fields and also meeting a diverse group of students, I soon realized that there are so many things that I did not know or was not aware of before.
Chemistry was always something I was good at, but I soon realized that I never actually enjoyed it. Academia also appeared to be a very ideal place, but it also involved a lot of politics that made me unsure of what to believe in. Many realizations also came with social experiences. Despite the general liberal atmosphere, Wesleyan was not the utopia that I had idealized as a high school student. I felt at close range how factors like race, gender, family or even social class play into shaping our daily experiences. I eventually got lost in determining where my passion lay and how I wanted to shape my experiences at Wesleyan.
Eager to find my passion, I was motivated to keep embracing things that I had not been aware of before. In my sophomore year, I decided to plunge into something I had always avoided: war history. Even though I grew up in Japan, I had always been hesitant about encountering war topics. I took a class that approached Hiroshima and Nagasaki through scholarly articles, literature, film, photography and dance. I struggled to empathize with experiences beyond my own imagination, but it gave me a significant opportunity to engage those topics for the first time and to learn about myself in the process.
I am currently a junior, double majoring in history and philosophy. I am most interested in thinking about how we engage with history, especially how we teach history in public education. Three years ago, I never imagined myself studying something that far from chemistry. My high school self would also ask, "How did I stray THAT far?" I am grateful for how Wesleyan allowed me to change, thanks to its education and people. In the way I was given this lifechanging experience to engage in my own learning, I hope to give back by pursuing the field of education and shaping the learning experience of others, after I graduate.
Wesleyan University：Founded in 1831, the liberal arts college is located in Middletown, Conn. It has and undergraduate enroll-ment of about 3,000.
Photo caption:Courtesy of Fumiko Nago/Fumiko Nago, far right in the middle row, and her housemates are seen on the porch of the Asian/Asian-American House at Wesleyan.