I studied abroad in Kyoto for my junior year in college. It was the culmination of learning Japanese since 7th grade, and I look back on that time as some of the best months of my life. I felt by far more at home in my skin and my life there than during any of the three years I spent at college in America.
Back in September 2017, I had a bit of an epiphany. I can’t remember exactly what prompted it–perhaps the leaves changing colors in St. Louis, which is a sight to behold in Kyoto. One day I just happened to be thinking about the students from my university who were starting their time abroad in Kyoto. I didn’t know who they were, but I knew they were out there, and I was excited for them to have that experience.
As I was thinking about this, it occurred to me that I could do more than just think: I could help those students have the most enriching experience. You see, as much as I loved my time in Japan, there were times when I felt constrained by my limited budget. I come from middle-class background, and going to a private school was a financial burden for me and my parents. I had everything I needed, but my budget was constantly on my mind while I was in Kyoto.
I’m far from wealthy now, but I have disposable income. In that moment, I decided to use some of it to help students who might be in a similar position.
So I reached out to the Japanese director at my university and explained that I was looking to make a donation to a student or students from my university studying abroad in Kyoto who had a constrained budget, just as I had back in 2001. After some back and forth, we worked out a way to make it happened–basically, they formed a grant specifically for this purpose.
It was not a small amount of money, but it made me feel really good. I had walked in those shoes (well, while in Kyoto, I mostly biked in those shoes) 17 years ago, and I was excited for the possibility to give some students the freedom to have no-strings attached money to enrich their experience. I left it wide open–they could use the money to go on a trip or stay out later with their Japanese friends or eat a series of extravagant meals.
I made the donation last year, and from time to time I’ve wondered what came of it. I didn’t know if any of the students had actually applied for the grant or if they had used the money.
Today I got an e-mail that brought me to tears (happy tears). It was from the Japanese director, and it included two attachments–letters from the students who had applied for and used the grant.
I have to say, it was one of the happiest moments of my life. It’s really hard to describe, but I really feel such a kinship with these students, and it means the world to me that I could make a small difference in enriching their experience in Japan. I look forward to adding to the grant later this summer.
I’m writing about this because, well, I like to share joyous moments on this blog. But I also thought it might be worth mentioning in case it triggers an idea for you. There are lots of charities and nonprofits to which I donate out of obligation or because I’ve gotten in the pattern of doing so, but this was different. This was of my own impetus, something truly close to my heart–like I said, those months in Japan were some of the best of my life.
I’m sure we’ve all made a gift at some point that just felt right. What was that gift for you?