MA Graduation, June 2021

In June 2021, I graduated with honours from International Christian University (ICU) with a Master’s degree in Social and Cultural Analysis. At ICU I was a Rotary Peace Fellow (check out this blog for details of the Fellowship). The past two years as a Rotary Peace Fellow have been a whirlwind, with some epic highs and some difficult lows too.

The heady highs included being back in an academic environment, where I could fully indulge my love of learning. The love of learning is one of my greatest strengths, so to be able to enjoy that as my full-time employment on a masters degree was an absolute pleasure.

As an academic advisee of Professor Jung, I was also an attendee of the bi-weekly Jung Seminar. In this seminar, I was able to hear from my colleagues and learn about their research into education, particularly education technology, and I could share my research for feedback with colleagues too. I found these bi-weekly seminars to be essential in my academic growth, and the development of my (somewhat extensive) research project! During the pandemic and my thesis writing, these seminars also provided a much-needed moment with others, where we could learn from each other’s research experiences.

Being a Rotary Peace Fellow also enabled me to work with, and learn from, colleagues from around the world. In our Peace Fellow cohort, colleagues were from America, Colombia, Ghana, India, Malaysia, Sierra Leone, the UK, and Vietnam. It was a pleasure to learn about peace in their communities, and what their lives were like in their home countries. It is rare to be offered such an opportunity, where individuals from such a diverse range of backgrounds can learn together and share about their cultures.

As a part of my Peace Fellowship, during the summer break (June-September) in 2020, I undertook some independent research exploring the impact of the pandemic on my Rotary Peace Fellow colleagues. The result of this research was a data set that I spent over 6 months analyzing and writing into an academic article. To my absolute delight, this article will be published in the Journal of Social Science (JSS).

At the same time, I was also researching for my master’s thesis. This research saw me working closely with a digital skills school based in Germany, where I not only collected data but also spent several months acting as a volunteer to support the development of their programmes. I was fortunate to be able to use my teaching experience to help the volunteer teachers develop classes to help students stay engaged, even when lesson delivery was taking place remotely (because of the pandemic). I was delighted to be able to support the school while collecting data as it meant that my thesis research would have a real-world impact on this school. Theory and academic discussion are of course important, especially for the advancement of knowledge. However, in the case of my thesis research, the knowledge I developed can support the school in Germany to continue to deliver high-quality digital skills lessons for refugee and migrant women. What a privilege to be able to contribute to this school and what they are achieving for their community. I am thrilled to say that I have an academic article adapted from this thesis research that will be published in March 2022, and a second article that is currently under review for publication in mid-2022.

A final heady high (although this is certainly not the full list…) was living on the beautiful International Christian University campus. Dan and I were lucky enough to call 64 acres of protected nature reserve our home for two years. We would regularly enjoy walking around the campus and watching the seasons change. The University is famous for its cherry blossom trees, but in my opinion, it is just as wonderful during the autumn season too. The colours of the trees are vibrant and there is a special kind of magic when the sun catches the leaves just right and their dapple shadows shimmer on the ground. We also saved a fortune living there and got to spend time talking to the kind housing staff that looked after us for two years. During the pandemic and State of Emergencies in Tokyo, we could not have asked for a more wonderful home.

As for the lows, well, the pandemic for one. But that’s been a low for most, hasn’t it? With the exception of Big Pharma of course…other lows include losing my Dad during my second year of studies and being unable to travel to the UK to be with family in December, this year. . The majority of my experience as a graduate student was sadly shrouded in a haze of grief. Still, I managed to graduate with a straight-A grade record and a Grade Point Average of 4/4. I am honestly not sure how I made it through…I channelled a lot of my pain into research, but there are still great periods of time that I cannot really recall!

As an Undergraduate many years ago, I would never have predicted that I would be capable of a grade-A academic record, especially not one achieved under such difficult circumstances. Newly diagnosed with dyslexia in 2006 as an Undergraduate, academic life was a rocky mountain to climb. I succeeded but put on hold my goals to undertake a masters degree or even a PhD until later in life when I felt more confident in my abilities and I had more focus on why I wanted to undertake further research and study. In that way, the Rotary Peace Fellowship arrived at the perfect moment – I was at a crossroads unsure of which way to turn, and the Peace Fellowship offered the best signpost.

As I step back out into this world as a graduate once more, I will cherish these past two years and the many things they opened my eyes to. I am grateful to each and every one of my colleagues who supported me on the journey. I could not have done it without Dan or the friends who helped me see the way at times when the trees were just a little too thick.

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