Mieko Yamamoto: Finding Connections Despite Distance

By Nick Beattie

Distance is something that Mieko Yamamoto knows all too well. It is no longer a stranger to her. Yet it has continued to be an obstacle that she has re-encountered time and time throughout much of her life. As a result, connection has been equally elusive.

Growing Up Overseas

Mieko originally grew up in Japan with her older brother and sister, ten and seven years senior. However, when she was just six years old, her family moved to London to attend a public, English-speaking school. In contrast, her siblings attended a Japanese school.

Ever since then, she and her siblings have been on entirely different paths. Additionally, her brother, being ten years her senior, chose to move back to Japan in time for college. Mieko, on the other hand, stayed back in the UK. Because of the distance between them, she feels a rift had grown between her and her brother. Mieko believed that this disconnect was due to the differences in their cultural upbringings.

“Things have gotten better since then, though.” Mieko has since grown closer to her siblings, who describe her as “loud, unique, and funny, but also a hard-working and strong individual.” If it had not been for them, Mieko believes, that she would not be where she is today.

Memories As An International Student

When asked about a memorable story from her primary school days, one, in particular, came to Mieko’s mind. During her third year of primary school, second grade in the States, and at first, she had a hard time making friends because she could not speak a single word of English. But she met a girl in her class who was half-Japanese, quarter-Chinese, and quarter-English. She helped Mieko transition to the classroom, encouraging her to practice her English writing and speaking skills using a pink diary with a lock to write and practice English. “The first movie we watched together was High School Musical, and we’re still friends to this day.”

Their friendship not only closed the linguistic distance between Mieko and her classmates. Their company seemingly closed the gaps in her educational proficiencies as well, as she rocketed up from the bottom of her English class in year three to the top by year six.

Entering high school, Mieko attended an international school, with her first two years in Japan, while the latter two were in Naples, Italy. She particularly loved her sophomore year, with her schedule jam-packed with extracurricular activities like volleyball, basketball, and track.

Mieko holds the fun times she had with her close friends dear. Among these times, she considers the mundane activities, like practicing together, and having late-night chats as the most special. However, when she found out she was moving to Italy, Mieko did not tell anyone right away. She highly valued the connections she had made, not wanting their relationships to change. She did not want to make any more distance.

Coming to Wheaton

Mieko was not initially thinking of coming to Wheaton at all until her senior year in high school. At the time, she hoped to go to college in the UK to study sociology. But she changed her plans when a friend told her about Wheaton. She also gained a second opinion from her mom’s mentor who graduated from Wheaton College, which convinced her to apply.

Although, upon getting into Wheaton, Mieko was not entirely sure of what she wanted to do after graduating. As a result, she was not wholly attached to any particular area of study. She had bounced ideas around before, possibly opting for Humanities or Sociology. Still, She ultimately landed on Communications as it gave her a plethora of job opportunities outside of college.

Getting By Over Zoom

Then, enter the COVID-19 pandemic. With cases rising all over in March and the virus exhibiting a lethality, Wheaton College decided to finish the spring 2020 semester online out of an abundance of caution to mitigate the potential spread of the virus. Thus, Wheaton sent Mieko back home to Japan to finish out the spring semester, and classes in the foreseeable future.

Wheaton’s digital infrastructure for asynchronous learning comprises primarily Zoom, Schoology, and an over-abundance of e-mails. But coupled with constant back-and-forths with professors, it can add up to hours in front of a screen. Mieko personally is not a fan of digital learning. “There’s nothing tangible about it, and especially as an asynchronous student. It’s honestly like having Khan Academy online.”

She much more prefers an in-person experience to her classes over a digital one. Stuck in one place every day watching recordings of lectures and working on assignments, she misses the genuine college experience of moving about in classrooms. “Not only is it physically draining, but it’s sad not being able to have face-to-face conversations with other people.” However, the passive nature of doing classes both digitally and asynchronously has not discouraged her from doing well in her studies, despite the difficulties.

“Most of my friends went back to university, and it’s hard to find time to meet my friends who are here just because we’re on different schedules.” Despite her and her friends’ distance, Mieko continues to find joy through her family and home-cooked meals. While being at home away from friends may be challenging to handle, Mieko admits that she is still glad to spend time with her family. It has been a long time since she spent an extended time with her family, and she’s delighted to cherish these smaller moments.

Where Are They Now?

But where does Mieko stand today?

“I’m excited to be back on campus again eventually. I’ve been counting down the days until Christmas break so that I can take a break and be one step closer to spending time with my friends in-person.” These hopes have been whats encouraged her to remain determined to finish out the semester strong. Beyond the scope of the current semester, I was curious about what she plans to do after she graduates college. I asked her what she hopes to do for the rest of the semester. Interested in advertising, especially its media and photography and writing, has urged Mieko to look into working possibly at a nonprofit or in a marketing position. But regardless of where she ends up, she hopes to bridge the gaps between others and establish connections and relationships wherever she is, irrespective of the distance.