Jayden Thomas loves Dance Dance Revolution. The well-known arcade game, which was originally introduced in Japan, inspired Thomas to learn more about the culture at a young age. This influence was so deep that when the opportunity presented itself to study abroad at WKU, Thomas will have spent nearly two years of his academic career in Japan..
A graduate in political science and international affairs, Thomas was recently awarded the David L. Boren Fellowship to fund his careful study of languages for the coming year. He plans to return to Japan this fall.
The Institute of International Education, on behalf of the National Security Education Program, awards Boren Undergraduate Scholarships to add important international and linguistic components to the education of students through study abroad in parts of the world critical to the interests of the United States. Since 1994, more than 7,000 students have received Boren Awards and have put their life skills at the service of careers in support of mission critical agencies across the federal government.
The flexible study abroad program was one of the reasons Thomas chose to earn his bachelor’s degree at WKU.
“A lot of Japanese games intrigued me,” Thomas said. “As I got older I learned more and more about Japan, I was really intrigued by the culture and things like that. I always tell myself this is the place I wanted to go.
When Thomas got to college, he started learning Japanese. In 2018, he was chosen for a Critical Language Fellowship and first visited Japan.
“I was only going to stay one semester and apply for one semester, but I loved it so much,” Thomas said. “I wasn’t ready to go home because I think when I went there initially I was afraid to be away for that long. The thought of having to be away from my family at Christmas was overwhelming but I was having a great time so I decided to extend my stay for an additional semester.
Thomas’ experience in Japan helped him realize that he wanted to change his career path.
“I wanted to be a foreign service officer within the State Department,” Thomas said. “The reason I decided not to do it is because they move around a lot. So although they have a mission of about two years, they prefer to put you somewhere else speaking a new language.
As he developed his knowledge of the culture and history of Japan, Thomas says he discovered a strange interest which has now become the career path he would like to pursue. Thomas plans to work for the Federal Government to some extent to explore the complexities surrounding the nuclear weapons industry.
“Japan offers a very unique perspective on nuclear weapons and nuclear energy because it is the only country that has ever experienced their effects,” Thomas said. “They hold positions within the Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration. Now they have a liaison that deals with nuclear weapons issues, so that’s my main interest.
Thomas had been sent home soon after his last trip to Japan due to COVID-19, so this will be his first visit to Japan since the pandemic.
“I’m absolutely thrilled because honestly, like when I came back from Japan,” Thomas said. “I was heartbroken. I knew it, but it was like my ticket back to Japan, and it’s something I really wanted to do.
Debra Murray, Digital News Editor, can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @debramurrayy