Anthropology and Japanese major heads to Tokyo on full scholarship

by | Sep 6, 2016

Tori Dieckman will spend the next 11 months studying at Waseda University in Japan before returning for her senior year at UMSL.
Tori Dieckman, scholarship recipient

With her international flights, tuition and living expenses covered, junior Tori Dieckman will spend the next 11 months studying at Waseda University in Japan before returning for her senior year at UMSL. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Tori Dieckman has never been to Japan, but in just a few days that’s changing – in a big way.

Thanks to a partnership with Waseda University, the University of Missouri–St. Louis upperclassman is headed this month to Tokyo, where she’ll remain through next summer. Along with a lot of excitement, Dieckman admits to feeling some anxiety about the opportunity.

“At work I keep saying, ‘I’m going to live in Japan for a year! I’m gonna die – I don’t speak Japanese!’” Dieckman says. “And my coworkers say, ‘What do you mean? You’ve been studying it for two years, Tori.’ And I tell them, ‘Basic conversation.’ Two years in French is enough to get you over there and get you going. Two years in Japanese is a little rougher, because you have to start from square one, so it just takes longer. You’re just not as far along.”

But the UMSL student, who is majoring in both anthropology and Japanese with a minor in French, is no stranger to international travel and culture – and she radiates confidence about this next year, too. The Japanese language has been a focus of Dieckman’s for several years now, and UMSL’s program has prepared her well for the immersion ahead.

“My time at UMSL has really helped get me ready,” Dieckman says. “The program is in Japanese all the time. The only difference is that here, every week or two, we have a class in English to go over things we don’t understand, and I’m probably not going to have that in Japan. So I might be emailing Professor [Amy] Michael, saying, ‘Can you help me figure this out real quick?’”

Located in downtown Tokyo, Waseda is one of several Japanese universities where UMSL students are studying this fall. And although she’ll be somewhat alone in terms of living arrangements and classes, Dieckman anticipates connecting with UMSL classmates now and then.

It only makes sense, given how tightly knit they already are. Many of UMSL’s Japanese majors frequently grab dinner together and hang out – even though the majority of them, including Dieckman, commute to campus.

“I feel like our major’s kind of unique in that aspect – in Japanese class, the whole group knows each other, and it’s just really fun,” she says. “The class style probably helps with that, too. We don’t even sit in rows – we sit in a circle, and we all have to talk to each other the whole time. And they spring questions on us in Japanese, and we’re just like, ‘Hey, help me out.’”

A St. Louis native, Dieckman initially attended Northwest Missouri State University after high school, which she finished early. She enrolled in a STEM-focused program but soon had second thoughts.

“I loved being there, but I hated the classes,” she says. “I did a semester and a half and then dropped.”

Her mother, who had attended UMSL years ago, suggested a new route. The pieces started to fall into place.

“I heard UMSL had a good up-and-coming program, and my mom was an alumna here,” Dieckman recalls of her decision in 2013. “The Japanese program here is great, the people in it are great, and of course I love the senseis, the teachers.”

Since then, she’s also discovered that the research involved in fields like anthropology and modern languages deepens her perspective on life – and research papers have become “definitely my forte,” Dieckman says.

“When you’re studying a culture that’s so different from yours, every time you learn something new, you get to see the world in a different way,” she says. “And it just broadens everything.”

After Waseda and one more year at UMSL, Dieckman intends to pursue graduate studies in anthropology with a focus on East Asian studies – eventually becoming a university-level teacher and researcher herself.

She’s also pursuing K-pop dance pretty seriously in the meantime and currently heads up UMSL’s active but not-yet-official student group focused on the genre.

“K-pop is really known for having awesome dance videos with pretty much every song – probably the most famous in the U.S. is ‘Gangnam Style,’” Dieckman says. “We find dances that we want to do, and then we learn them over the course of the year – usually a couple a semester – and then at the end of the year we perform them at Japan Night on campus.”

The UMSL Experience

Evie Hemphill

Evie Hemphill