West Virginia Wesleyan College sophomore Sai Sakamoto, an international student from Tokyo, Japan is dealing with the challenges associated with the coronavirus pandemic.
“Since mid-February, I have been very worried about my family as the coronavirus was already in Japan,” she noted. “At that time, I was planning to stay in the United States over the summer, as at that time we thought staying in the U.S. was much safer. But after the virus spread in America, I have returned home and am trying to overcome this crisis with my family.”
Sakamoto was concerned that returning home was next to impossible. Fortunately, that was not the case, but there was one week in which she was in limbo. She spent a week at Wesleyan with a small group of students before returning to Tokyo. “My week at Wesleyan felt so weird at times,” she noted. “It felt as though people had disappeared from the world. It was a strange, yet special experience and any news I could catch scared me. I had heard that many flights to Tokyo were cancelled so until the last minutes before boarding the airplane, I doubted I could actually return home. Japan has also issued an order to stay home, so I am relaxing with my family.”
Sakamoto has found it quite difficult academically, keeping up with her coursework from home. She has, however, high praise for the dedication of her professors. “The best part of Wesleyan is the small class sizes and its excellent communication,” she remarked. “I felt somewhat lost when moving to online classes and I am sad that I cannot join the Zoom meetings because it is 2:00 a.m. in Japan. During the first two weeks after returning home, it was difficult to stay focused and I was quite anxious. Yet, I have managed to persevere.”
Sakamoto is majoring in arts administration and graphic design with a minor in gender studies at Wesleyan. She hopes to also add a business minor next year. She is a member of the Wesleyan women’s team, which she found eased her transition to WVWC. “Belonging to the tennis team definitely helped me become involved in the campus community,” said Sakamoto. “Being an international student, especially from a country where English is not the first language, I found it difficult trying to find my own place at the beginning. My freshman year was definitely the roughest time that I had ever experienced in my life. Throughout the transition, the tennis team was always there for me and I could not have succeeded without my teammates.”
“Playing tennis individually was fun, but playing for the team is special,” Sakamoto continued. “That was the first time I felt like a member of the Wesleyan community. Most of my teammates are international students so this as provided special opportunities to learn other cultures, which taught me how to respect others.”
Another difficult transition for Sakamoto was overcoming the feeling of being a minority at WVWC. “Living in Japan, I had never experienced these feelings before,” she stated. “I could not speak English well and I was so shy that I felt isolated. Throughout my experience here, I learned how to push myself out of my comfort zone, while building confidence. It was been a wonderful experience and I have found happiness.”
Sakamoto pledged Alpha Delta Pi sorority this semester. “Joining a sorority was one of the biggest choices I have ever made,” she noted. “I decided to pledge because I wanted to keep pushing myself to become more involved at Wesleyan.
Sakamoto choose Wesleyan as her college because she wanted to play tennis at the NCAA Division II level and to immerse in a new culture. She also liked the small, home-like quality of Buckhannon and Wesleyan. “I thought the class sizes and small community might help me in my transition to America,” Sakamoto continued. “A high number of international students was also a selling point. It has been a great decision. I found my own community and everyone is taking care of me. Even though I have been so far from home, I love being here.”
“The small class sizes have helped me reach my potential as a student,” she said. “I can ask questions which helps me understand what I have to learn. Wesleyan professors are always friendly and willing to help students. The entire experience has been so enriching.”
Sakamoto is most concerned about her ability to return to the United States and to Wesleyan next fall. “As situations both in Japan and the United States remain serious, I wonder frequently if I can go back to “Our Home Among the Hills” next semester,” she said. “I really hope it will be better by then.”
If her plans stay on track, Sakamoto plans to receive a one-year working permission (OTP) in the United States after graduating from Wesleyan. “I am not sure what I will do, but my ultimate goals are to make a living doing what I love and being someone who does not hesitate to work because of gender roles,” she concluded. “I want to be an independent person who treats everyone with love and respect.”
This story was written by sophomore English major, Ali Householder.