Sawa Matsueda Savage
Class of 2003
I went on to get a Bachelor of Arts at Amherst College in Massachusetts in the United States, where I took advantage of the school’s open curriculum to take a broad range of classes with a focus in biology and photography. After graduating, I returned to Japan and began translating academic papers for a professor at Kyoto University, and got married to a college classmate. We briefly moved to New Zealand where I continued to translate while doing some work as a wedding photographer, then relocated to Hamilton, Ontario, Canada where I apprenticed as a goldsmith for two years. Finally, we came back to Japan where I started working as a freelance translator and interpreter while selling jewelry on the side. Somewhere along the way, I also had two kids.
Which teachers played an important role in your time at YIS?
I remember liking most, if not all, of my classes at YIS and I’m thankful for the teachers for making them engaging, although they may not have realized it at the time since I was notorious for falling asleep in class. I hated that and tried all kinds of things to fix my problem, but I never managed to do it. I hope they know how grateful I am that they were understanding about it.
I think I’m most indebted to Mr. Edward Bernard, our college counselor at the time, for encouraging me to go to a liberal arts college when I was clueless and completely overwhelmed about how to choose a university. It was an excellent fit that let me explore what my interests were and become more comfortable with who I am as a person.
What is your most memorable moment from your time at YIS?
I was one of the editors for the Chowa Yearbook my senior year, and I have vivid memories of staying at school as late as the security guard would let us, trying to get it done on time. There was something that felt so worthwhile about compressing the best moments of the year into book form. I’m looking at it as I write this profile, and we really had a great team putting a lot of thought and effort into that yearbook, and it was particularly satisfying that major decisions were primarily left up to the students.
What type of sports or non-academic activities were you involved with at YIS?
Because my interests were so spread out, I loved participating in a different sport every season, although I didn’t realize at the time how rare that was. I did the volleyball-field hockey-basketball combination for three years until basketball moved to the winter, and I did track and field instead for my senior year. I also participated in the Chowa Yearbook, Brainbowl, and Choir.
Which grade-level or class at YIS would you want to relive, and why? Would you do anything differently?
If I were to relive any of my years at YIS, it would be my senior year. I would tell myself that this time, I wouldn’t take on roles just because I felt like people had well-meaning expectations about what I was meant to do. I was a “dedicated” student who was good at getting good grades, and all throughout my years at school (YIS and otherwise) people had hopes that I would be a good leader as well. And I bought into that. Despite some misgivings I thought I needed to step up and take on that role, but that really wasn’t for me. I’m good at organizing my own tasks and getting things done, but I’m a horrible leader. I just wish that I had recognized that and known when to say, “No, that’s really not something I think I’ll do a good job with. There’s someone else better for the job.”
Which aspects of your YIS education helped prepare you the most for your current professional and personal life?
I think YIS’s excellent Japanese program helped me build a strong, balanced background in both languages, and the opportunity to pursue a wide range of interests in both academics and extracurriculars really helped fuel my curiosity, which is crucial to enjoying the work I do now. I also became good friends with some fellow bookworms at YIS who I still turn to for recommendations years later.
Given your achievements and experiences, what advice would you give to YIS students?
If you think you might be interested in something, try it out. You can always decide later if it isn’t for you. It gets increasingly difficult beyond school to spend time in such a wide range of things. If you already know what you want to do with your life and what kind of person you want to be, that’s great. Go and pursue that passion! But if you’re like I was and not really sure yet, you never know what things might lead to. I was always worried that my interests were all over the place, but I ended up doing something that requires just that: to be interested in all kinds of fields. I never thought it was possible to have a job where I’m working on a kabuki play, coming up with military ranks for a fictional intergalactic war, and becoming intimately acquainted with the future of factory innovation all in the space of a week, but here we are.