International spotlight: Minami Watanabe, drawn to America

After living in a suburb of Atlanta, Ga., as a high school exchange student, Minami Watanabe was patiently waiting for her next opportunity to visit the United States.  She was longing to experience "the real America," because her study-abroad program and visits to Los Angeles and Las Vegas with her family did not suffice.

Last August, Watanabe had her chance to come back to the United States and eagerly took it. She is an exchange student from Sophia University in Tokyo, Japan, and works with the Classical Languages Department as a Japanese teaching assistant.

“One of my professors recommended the teaching assistant opportunity to me, with knowledge that I had been a teaching assistant in a Japanese high school in Georgia. Although I knew nothing about Minnesota beyond what I had learned in a geography class, I was excited to come for a new experience," she said. "Since Japan has little diversity (95 percent of people are of Japanese decent), I was also excited to learn about the many cultures present in Minnesota.”

On numerous occasions, Watanabe has been referred to as "Americanized," which does not bother her. “I love to eat macaroni and cheese and my favorite restaurant is IHOP. I will be setting trends in Japan that are American, like always wearing flip flops, which is not common in Japan,” she said.

Watanabe enjoys the university's campus and the surrounding area. “St. Thomas has a beautiful campus that is not too big and not too small," she remarked. "I like the dynamic of modern Minneapolis and classical St. Paul, with so much happening in both places. Public transit is great, and with buses going everywhere, it is easy to get to many places; also, this area is not as crowded, has less people, and is much cleaner than Tokyo.”

Watanabe has developed great connections and relationships here. “I have enjoyed meeting and making a lot of new friends, especially because I do not like feeling alone. My Friendship Family has shown me many things about American and Minnesota culture," she said. "I also enjoy living on campus and getting to see and experience everything St. Thomas has to offer. I am driven to talk to everyone I meet, to learn more about diversity and everything in our world.”

There is one stereotype that Watanabe would like others to know is not true about Japan: “We do not eat sushi every day! In addition, we do not eat it with cream cheese. That is an American addition. I will be talking about more misconceptions and my thoughts during my CultureLink presentation.”

In June, Watanabe will return to Sophia University to complete her Portuguese major and will graduate next spring. After that, she would like to become a newscaster/journalist for a Japanese television station and do special reports from the United States.

To learn more about Japan, Watanabe, and her interpretation of Japan, the university community is invited to attend her CultureLink Tea presentation at 3:30 p.m. Tuesay, May 4, in Room 155, Murray-Herrick Campus Center. Japanese tea and treats will be provided.