Our Stories

Ai Motoda: Helping Others

Ai Motoda came from Japan to study at Willamette University. She ended up becoming a community service superstar.

Motoda has just completed 10 months of study through Tokyo International University of America (TIUA), a partnership between Willamette University and Tokyo International University that brings Japanese students to Salem. Here, they study English and gain insights into American culture. This year, TIUA and Willamette celebrate 40 years of this unique partnership.

Motoda, a senior majoring in international relations from Saitama, Japan, came to TIUA and Willamette to improve her English skills and learn more about America. "I couldn't speak English very well before I came here," she says as she sips a cup of green tea. "In Japan, I studied English beginning in junior high school, but we never spoke it. I could write some English, but I couldn't speak it."

TIUA students like Motoda take intensive English language courses as well as other elective courses, all taught in English by TIUA and Willamette faculty. They may live in Kaneko, the TIUA site located just across the street from the main Willamette campus, or in other student housing. Being with fellow Japanese-speaking students makes the study abroad experience more comfortable for Japanese students. Being exposed to Willamette students gives them knowledge of American society and familiarity with local customs, valuable assets in an increasingly international marketplace.

Motoda says several things about American culture have surprised her. "The roads are huge here," she says with a laugh. "The food is very different too. I have gained weight. I sent my picture to my parents and they were surprised."

She has been pleasantly surprised by the open, friendly attitude of Willamette students. "In Japan, if I meet someone I don't know, I couldn't just say hello or how are you doing. In America, everyone says hi or hello. They are more friendly. I like that very much."

Motodata says she'd like to take that openness back with her when she returns to Japan. "I'm going to try it, but the culture is so different. People will be surprised."

Another thing she'll take back is a strong commitment to helping others. During her 10 months in Salem, Motoda became a veritable community service superstar, logging more than 125 volunteer hours. She's cared for abused horses at Cougar Creek Ranch, helped clean up Oregon beaches and streams, and taught school-aged children. Her involvement in community service has enabled her to share her Japanese heritage. She's tutored children in Japanese language and taught the art of origami, Japanese paper folding. Most recently, she sold onigiri, Japanese rice balls, to raise money for Hurricane Katrina relief.

"Ai always goes above and beyond when it comes to volunteering her time to help those in need," says Tori Gustaveson, International Program Assistant at TIUA.

Motoda says her study-abroad experience has been challenging, but it has dramatically increased her self-confidence. "In Japan, I didn't think positively. When I had homework, I didn't think I could do it. Now, I believe I can. If I had trouble, I'd ask my American friends or my professor for help. Being here has helped me think more positively."

She's so taken with American culture, she wants to eventually live and teach here permanently. "When I go back to Japan, I will keep studying the Japanese language. I want to be a Japanese teacher in America. I can see a different side of myself here. I like that. I see myself living in America."