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‘ASU found me’: Online student completes English degree from Tokyo

Graduating ASU student Michi Ito, wearing a white shirt, helps children in Indonesia make origami animals. Courtesy photo.

Graduating ASU student Michi Ito (in front, wearing white) volunteers with a nonprofit organization that helps Indonesian children learn English and Japanese. Here, she assists with an origami activity in Bali. "It was incredibly humid and I was exhausted, but it was quite an experience," she said. "You know, I say we are helping them, but actually, I am learning more from them. It is amazing." Photo courtesy of Michi Ito

December 07, 2023

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2023 graduates.

Michi Ito was searching. She had a good life in Tokyo, complete with a job, volunteer opportunities, hobbies — she loves to travel — and three cats.

But something was missing. From her apartment, Ito observed the world going by and wanted to make a difference. She wanted to understand, and to give. And she loved the English language. So she went looking for opportunity.

As Ito herself might put it, opportunity found her. Or, rather, Arizona State University did.

“When I almost gave up, ASU replied to my desperate email,” she said. “Warmest and kindest words there. I still feel ASU found me. Yes, that is exactly how my journey began.”

She has not looked back.

“Michi reached out to academic advising as soon as she was admitted to ASU,” said Shauna Drantez, the assistant director of academic services in the Department of English. “Her excitement and determination were clear immediately. Even communicating through email and Zoom calls from the other side of the world, she persisted in overcoming any obstacles with positivity. She is a great example of a person who truly loves learning, of course within her discipline but also in all areas of study.”

This December is the culmination of six years of study for Ito, who graduates with a Bachelor of Arts in English through ASU Online. It’s no problem that English is Ito’s second language; she excelled in it to graduate with a 4.0 GPA.

“I still cannot believe this long journey will end soon,” she said.

Ito braved the 16-hour time difference between Tempe and Tokyo to answer a few more questions about her ASU journey.

Editor's note: Answers may have been edited for length or clarity

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study in your field?

Answer: Probably, I need to go back to my elementary school. I remember falling for this beautiful language. I have always wanted to learn English, “in English.” My favorite books and films are created from the viewpoint of the English language. I needed to learn the language, in a sense, to get closer to the countless masterpieces. That was my first “aha” moment, and it became an unshakable motivation.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: First, I understood myself: bias, ignorance, and strong and weak points. Talking with peers with different cultural backgrounds was enlightening. It allowed me to learn about my own culture from a different perspective. I realized again that language is culture. Learning a language signifies learning its history.

Another surprise that opened my eyes was taking elective courses. The most striking subject was physical geography. The course showed me the way to see nature and its beauty in a different way. I now see everything on a global scale. I know that seems far from my English studies, but ultimately, broadening my mind made me a great reader. I believe all are connected.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: Great question. Trust me: I researched not only in the United States but also in other countries. This is a long story, so I will try to be short. After graduating college in Tokyo, I started working, continuing volunteer activities and traveling. My strong sense of curiosity continued. Yet, every time I tried to make it happen, the situation kept me from putting this idea into action. Yet, I could not let it go and kept looking for a university I could dive in to challenge myself. I needed to juggle working and studying, so online was an absolute condition.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: That is a difficult question! Oh, I wish I could say all the names here. If I had to choose: (Instructor in English) Jonathan Danielson. His words were a breakthrough. Studying after work is sometimes stressful. My brain and body got used to the time difference, but simultaneously, I was overwhelmed with everything I had to do in so little time. He would say, “If you are not having fun, it is wrong.” Bang! It blew my mind. “No one forces me to do …” Precisely. Since then, I feel calm. To reboot my mind worked for me. I believe it is significant teaching for life as well as knowledge itself.

I’m not sure I can adequately convey my gratitude, but I want all of my professors to know how much I appreciate them. Some professors offered Zoom meetings, and explained and answered all my questions. I cannot thank them enough for their time and patience.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: I am not good at this, but let me say two things. First: Don’t give up. We hear this phrase all the time, but it is so true. Whatever is against you right now, keep going. There is value in investing your time and energy here. I am sure everyone knows already what this means.

Second: Talk to your advisors. ASU advisors are the best. They are always there for you. I am so grateful for the support from (Department of English advisors) Linda Sullivan and Shauna Drantez.

Q: What was your favorite spot for power studying?

A: Anywhere. That is the whole point. It was hard to put time aside for studying, so I did it wherever I had time. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I am still torn, but I am considering more study at ASU. I cannot get enough of English literature.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: Can I answer this question honestly? If so, I would like to quit my day job and challenge myself to doing something for children and animals. I have been working on a nonprofit organization that serves Japanese children here in Tokyo as well as Indonesian children in Bali, Indonesia, called Liaison Adachi. It is based in Tokyo. We help children whose family cannot afford to give them education. The economy in Indonesia depends on the tourist business, so often kids start working at 12 or 13 years old. We hold charity events here in Tokyo and send the money to them. We built a library finally after 10 years. Now children have a place to read. But sending money does not solve the problems. In Bali, if the kids can speak English and Japanese, their future changes. Education needs to come before everything.

Also, when I have time, I join rescue-dog adoption events. Three cats live in the office! There is a limit to what one person or even a small group can do. Yet, cooperating in a team setting could make a real change. Yes, that would be my dream job.

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