Student Spotlight: Valerie Jacobson

History and Geography Double Major Discusses Overseas Travel, WSU Programs

Getting off the plane in Japan was frightening for Valerie Jacobson. She didn’t know any Japanese and didn’t even have the advantage of a recognizable alphabet as a starting point. But among her coworkers, she found friends who helped her learn the language. She, in turn, helped them learn English. Though difficult and even awkward at times, learning Japanese was just one part of a rich experience that kept Jacobson teaching English in Japan for seven years.

While there, Jacobson lived in Kakamigahara, a city in the Gifu Prefecture. She visited four or five elementary schools and two junior high schools every year. At the elementary schools, she taught students a new English phrase every month and used games to help the children remember what they had learned. For the junior high students, she read English texts, helped with vocabulary and pronunciation, and listened to students give speeches.

In her free time, Jacobson studied Japanese and got involved in the community. Field hockey is popular in Kakamigahara, and the qualifying matches for the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games were held there. Jacobson announced some of the matches, met the international players and assisted at the information booth for local and international spectators.

Another memorable experience for Jacobson was visiting a special-needs high school in Kakamigahara. In 2010, she visited the school once a month for English lessons and games.

“The students were so happy for these English lessons. They invited me to their other school activities, and I would make every effort to attend. Seeing the joy on their faces when I showed up always made me grateful that I gave up an afternoon to help make their day better,” she said.

Now a double major in history and geography, Jacobson continues to expand her world view through travel and staying involved at WSU. In addition to her classes, Jacobson is the Geography Club president. Arranging meetings that work for busy students is a challenge, but a learning experience, she said.

Jacobson expects to graduate in 2015, and hopes to eventually work for the U.S. Foreign Service. “Having a background in history and geography will help me understand the area where I might be sent, as well as the cultural and historical aspects of that region,” she said.

The College of Social & Behavioral Sciences offers classes that challenge her current ideas and broaden her views of society, Jacobson said, and she wishes that history and geography received more recognition.

"Geography is so much more than maps and memorization," she said. "It is the relationship that exists between people and places, between people and the environment, and between certain aspects of the environment and a region. Geography is taking data and explaining why and how it is related."
Though rewarding, double-majoring is challenging, she said, and not for everyone. But she said that if students are willing to put forth the effort, they can become more well-rounded individuals.

Because of the perspectives other countries and cultures can offer, Jacobson encourages other students to take any opportunity they have to travel, especially overseas. “I really enjoyed my time in Japan and would recommend an overseas experience for everyone, whether an internship, teaching or study abroad," she said. "It broadened my views and enriched my life." 
In addition to Japan, Jacobson has taken several other overseas trips. She said one of her best experiences at WSU was attending the “Evolution of the Renaissance” study abroad program to Italy, France and England.

“Studying abroad is a chance to get to know your professors and experience the area and culture of places you have only read about,” she said. “For many it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

She also commented that study abroad programs give students the chance to participate in primary research required for senior capstone projects.

Jacobson plans to travel more — this time with the geography, dance, and women and gender studies programs to Africa to participate in MOZWOC, WSU’s interdisciplinary project to build a women’s center in Mozambique.
MOZWOC trip will be held in May. Professors want to give students the chance to teach the women of Mozambique basic finance management and help with other medical and educational needs. Find out more about MOZWOC here.

(Photos courtesy of Kakamigahara City and Valerie Jacobson)