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Breaking barriers

Breaking barriers

Center Grove alum Mary Margaret Moffett earns scholarship to top Japan university

By Erica Faunce

Moffett proudly shows her acceptance letter to Hokkaido University.
*Photo by Erica Faunce

For most of her life, Mary Margaret Moffett has wanted to live in Japan. She and her husband, Chip, stayed in Tokyo for three months last year, which is the longest you’re allowed to live there without a special visa. They loved it so much that they wanted to find a way to stay longer.

Moffett then discovered a bilingual program at Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan. Hokkaido is one of Japan’s National Seven Universities, which are comparable to Ivy League schools in the U.S. Moffett has become one of only 20 students accepted into the program next year. She’ll be getting a bachelor’s degree in Modern Japanese Studies, which includes culture, history, society, and political economy.

“It’s everything I’m interested in,” Moffett said.

Her earliest experience with Japanese culture came in third grade at Center Grove Elementary School, where she and a girl named Tomoko Oshimoto were the only new students in class.

Tomoko Oshimoto and her son Akihiro, Mary, and Tomoko’s sister Moemi. *Submitted photo

“She was my first meaningful exposure to Japanese culture and language,” Moffett said. Though Oshimoto and her family moved back to Japan a few years later, she and Moffett have remained friends, and reunited in Shinjuku, Japan, in 2013.

Along with her friend Tomoko, Moffett credits her aspirations to learn about Japanese culture to Jane McMurrer, her Spanish teacher at Center Grove High School, where she graduated in 2003.

“Center Grove did have a Japanese program, but I was not able to take it,” Moffett said. “She tried to encourage me to still pursue that interest. She’s a really amazing woman.”

McMurrer wrote the recommendation letter that Moffett submitted when applying to the Hokkaido University program.

Thanks in part to the encouragement of friends and mentors, Moffett now looks forward to the four and a half years that she and Chip will spend in Japan. On this particular trip, which will be their fourth, Moffett hopes to widen her understanding of Japan’s vast and complex culture.

Mary and Chip relax at Ueno Park in March 2013. *Submitted photo.

“I know that there’s a lot that I’m missing,” she said. “So to be able to have a better understanding of not only the language, but the culture, and the history behind everything, is going to be great.”

However, Moffett knows that earning another bachelor’s degree will be a challenge, especially since she’s past typical undergraduate age. She worries that her perfectionism may become an obstacle once she begins her studies.

“Maybe these younger kids are going to be quicker at picking this up than I will be, but thankfully, I study really hard, and hopefully that’ll be enough,” she said.

No matter the academic hurdles, Moffett knows that her appreciation for Japan won’t fade. She loves the great food, the friendly people, and the sights that you can’t find in America.

Moffett encourages students of all ages to be themselves and to pursue whatever goal interests them the most. Though she spent most of her education shying away from bigger dreams and sticking with more “practical” ambitions, she now knows that Japan is what she’s most passionate about.

“It sounds like kind of a cliché, but it’s not too late to go for something that you’re interested in,” she said.

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