Roanoke College grad to go from Salem to Japan

Sarah Morris during Saturday’s commencement day. Submitted photo.
Sarah Morris during Saturday’s commencement day. Submitted photo.
Sarah Morris said she feels lucky to land a job right after college. Like many recent graduates, she will be embarking on a new adventure away from home. However, hers will take her further than most, nearly 7,000 miles away, to Japan.

Morris, who studied international relations, walked across the stage at the Roanoke College Commencement last Saturday, as part of the class of 2016. At 24 years old, Morris said she felt like one of the older graduates in her class. She began at Roanoke College in 2010, but took her time to get her diploma, a move that she said gave her perspective and that she is thankful for now.

During her time at Roanoke College, she studied for two semesters in Japan, and was recently named a recipient of the Japanese Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program for U.S. Citizens scholarship, which was founded in 1987. The JET program is a competitive initiative, sponsored by the Japanese government, “to promote internationalization at the grassroots level by brining young, college-educated individuals to work in communities throughout Japan.” While abroad, she studied with Kansai Gaidai University, which she said helped her standout as a candidate.

Morris, who first applied for the scholarship in October, said she had to list her experiences and write a statement of purpose before enduring a daunting interview process. She found out that she received the position in April, and will be teaching English to school-age children during the year-long trip. She said she is excited for the adventure, though, as of now, she still doesn’t know which city she will end up in.

“It could be elementary school all the way to high school,” she said. “I could have one school, or I could have multiple schools. I won’t know where I’m going until the end of the month.”

Her love of Japanese culture started young. She said she remembers walking through her middle school library, picking up a book about the country and being fascinated by what she found. She then attended Glenvar High School, where she began to study the language, which she continued into college.

“The book had all the different temples and the language, then at the end, there was an article that said they were looking for translators,” Morris said. “In my mind, that kind of sparked this whole ‘you can speak for a living’ idea.”

“I love the whole culture in general,” she added. “There’s the historical side of it and also the really modern side. They also have a type of traditional culture, and it all just fits together.”

Morris said that she isn’t sure where she wants to end up, ultimately, but can see herself falling in love with and possibly even staying in Japan. Locally, she tutors Japanese families who are trying to learn English, which she said she truly enjoys, and has also contracted as a translator.

“Now her Japanese is very fluent and we have been talking each other only in Japanese for many years,” said her Roanoke College Japanese professor, Yasuko Kumazawa. “I believe she will be a great, popular English teacher in Japan. I will miss her, and I’m looking forward to seeing her in Japan, too!”

Morris said her dream job would be to work with the U.S. Department of State as a foreign diplomat.

“I think the hardest thing to get used to is just standing out,” Morris said of her time abroad. “People were great and I was in a really friendly area, but just standing out, and oftentimes, people don’t realize you speak Japanese.”

Morris said though the landscape is different, the culture is more similar than many in the U.S. tend to think.

“Where I was living, the culture was pretty similar,” Morris said. “Everyone is just really nice and polite, and once you get to know them more, they’re more rambunctious and very personable. Like here, nature and hiking was not that far away. You just get to experience life.”

“I think it scares a lot of people, but nothing can replace actually being placed into a situation where you have to talk to people,” she added.

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