Willamette University, Students at the Mill Stream

WU News

DeniseLittle Fish...Big Pond

When I came to Willamette in the fall of 1991, I was a fresh-faced, not-so-well-traveled small-town girl. Assigned to live in Kaneko Hall, I got settled and took myself down to the cafeteria, determined not to show how out of place I felt. Much of the food was new to me. I went boldly through the line, taking things I thought I recognized. The hard boiled egg looked good.

It turned out that the egg wasn't hard boiled after all, and I was mortified as it oozed all over my tray. Trying to save face, I subtly moved a napkin over it and moved on to the chicken and noodles. I bit into the chicken, shocked to find that it was very soft with a strange texture and very little taste. It was tofu. You don't get a lot of that in Eastern Oregon. I felt like I had landed on another planet. 

The experience of living in Kaneko Hall was probably one of the best things that could have ever happened to someone with a worldview as small as mine. I met incredible students from Japan, learned about a culture I knew very little about and, eventually, figured out what I was eating in the cafeteria. It was a safe environment in which to expand my horizons and learn that it's OK to not do exactly the right thing all the time as long as I'm trying. It gave me a sense of adventure and interest in other cultures that I still carry.

Fast forward to two weeks ago when I found myself sitting in a restaurant in Kawagoe, Japan, with WU photographer Frank Miller and Tokyo International University (TIU) employee Matt Lindley '03. In front of me were a number of food items I didn't recognize, and Frank and Matt were duly daring me to explore the unknown. Little did they know: I had been down that path before.

I dug right in and tried everything. Some things I tried only once, but I tried them nonetheless.  As a result, I have a new batch of memories and experiences I may not have a chance to have again.  

As I finished up my week as part of the WU administrative exchange to TIU, the images from my first days in college came flooding back. The nervous excitement, a foreign location, and a culture unlike any I had experienced before - it was incredible. For many of the administrators, students and alumni I interviewed, their experiences were different, but the base story was the same. I suddenly felt a little closer to home. 

All of these experiences have reminded me that Willamette provides us with a number of opportunities to get where we want to go - sometimes even to places we didn't know we wanted to go. So the next time somebody puts an opportunity for adventure on the plate in front of you, don't be afraid. Eat it up.


Denise Callahan '95, MBA'00
Senior Director of Alumni Relations

Look for more about the visit and the reunion celebrating the 20th anniversary of the WU/TIUA/TIU partnership in the fall issue of The Scene.