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Living & Learning / From chemistry to history: How I strayed THIS far

Courtesy of Fumiko Nago

Fumiko Nago, far right in the middle row, and her housemates are seen on the porch of the Asian/Asian-American House at Wesleyan.

By Fumiko Nago (Wesleyan University) / Special To The Japan News“How did you stray THAT far?”

This is a question that I often get from my family and friends back home when I explain what I currently study in college. During my high school years, I was brought up to become an engineer. I excelled in chemistry and math, and performed advanced research on water treatment technologies. I wrote on my college application that I am interested in water issues, and sought to attend a liberal arts college in the United States to become a well-rounded researcher, aware of both sides of science and society.

Growing up in a sheltered community in Shizuoka, I was craving to go out of the world that I knew and to have a liberating experience. With very little idea of what college is like, I pushed through the application process. I was fortunate to get accepted and become the recipient of the Freeman Asian Scholarship, a full ride scholarship to Wesleyan University.

Throughout my freshman year, I took advantage of the general education curriculum at Wesleyan and explored different fields of study. Alongside the sciences, I took classes in subjects such as art history, East Asian studies and philosophy. Immersing myself in new academic fields and also meeting a diverse group of students, I soon realized that there are so many things that I did not know or was not aware of before.

Chemistry was always something I was good at, but I soon realized that I never actually enjoyed it. Academia also appeared to be a very ideal place, but it also involved a lot of politics that made me unsure of what to believe in. Many realizations also came with social experiences. Despite the general liberal atmosphere, Wesleyan was not the utopia that I had idealized as a high school student. I felt at close range how factors like race, gender, family or even social class play into shaping our daily experiences. I eventually got lost in determining where my passion lay and how I wanted to shape my experiences at Wesleyan.

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Eager to find my passion, I was motivated to keep embracing things that I had not been aware of before. In my sophomore year, I decided to plunge into something I had always avoided: war history. Even though I grew up in Japan, I had always been hesitant about encountering war topics. I took a class that approached Hiroshima and Nagasaki through scholarly articles, literature, film, photography and dance. I struggled to empathize with experiences beyond my own imagination, but it gave me a significant opportunity to engage those topics for the first time and to learn about myself in the process.

I am currently a junior, double majoring in history and philosophy. I am most interested in thinking about how we engage with history, especially how we teach history in public education. Three years ago, I never imagined myself studying something that far from chemistry. My high school self would also ask, “How did I stray THAT far?” I am grateful for how Wesleyan has allowed me to change, thanks to its education and people. In the way I was given this life-changing experience to engage in my own learning, I hope to give back by pursuing the field of education and shaping the learning experience of others, after I graduate.

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Wesleyan University

Founded in 1831, the liberal arts college is located in Middletown, Conn. It has an undergraduate enrollment of about 3,000.

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