Gwenafaye McCormick, a junior international studies and biology major, is the first recipient of the Ira Wolf Scholarship, an award given by the US-Japan Bridging Foundation. The scholarship allows a student to study for a semester at Waseda University in Tokyo.
McCormick, a Tuscaloosa, Alabama native, is a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and the Croft Institute for International Studies.
She said she feels honored to be chosen for the scholarship and is excited for her semester abroad.
“It feels like a really personal statement by the Bridging Foundation and all of Ira Wolf’s colleagues that they believe in me and see my potential,” McCormick said. “I feel encouraged because I know a whole host of professionals and a foundation from my field of study can see that I have a passion for my studies and want to support me in pursuing them in Japan.”
The scholarship was named in memorial of Ira Wolf, a foreign service officer and U.S. trade representative who spent most of his adult life in Japan before dying in January 2016.
McCormick is no stranger to traveling overseas. She has been to Switzerland, Nigeria and Paris, but had never studied abroad before. She said she is looking forward to getting to know her way around Tokyo and making new friends.
McCormick’s interest in Japanese culture began when she was younger. Her curiosity peaked when she began to watch anime and manga.
“As a kid, I fell in love with anime and manga after watching Hayao Miyazaki’s ‘Spirited Away,’ which grew into curiosity about Japanese culture and what sort of differences led to these beautiful different settings and plots,” McCormick said.
McCormick said she had a Japanese friend in high school who encouraged her to take that first leap into studying Japanese.
McCormick’s Japanese teacher, Kaoru Ochiai, supported her through the process of preparing to study abroad.
“She has been absolutely incredible in her encouragement of me,” McCormick said. “She’s tough, but it’s only because she knows you can improve and do better every day.”
Ochiai, instructional assistant professor of Japanese in the Croft Institute and the Department of Modern Languages, has helped McCormick with her Japanese studies.
“She is very warm-hearted,” Ochiai said. “I can tell that supporting other people is one of her remarkable natures that not everyone has. She can anticipate the needs of others.”
Ochiai also said McCormick was very involved in helping exchange students feel at home in Oxford. That experience may prove beneficial when she studies in Japan.
“I appreciate her support to Japanese exchange students,” she said. “She volunteered to do many things, such helping them with English, taking them grocery shopping and teaching them about American college life.”
She also said McCormick is eager to improve her Japanese and immerse herself in Japanese culture.
McCormick said the education she’s received from the Croft Institute was a large factor in her decision to come to Ole Miss.
“I wanted to come to Ole Miss for the Croft program because I knew I wanted to be fluent in Japanese,” she said. “The level of fluency I want to achieve requires being abroad and having to use it all the time.”
Students who study at the Croft Institute are required to study abroad for a semester.
McCormick said in the future she’s interested in doing a number of things, including teaching English, doing cultural research and writing, as well as environmental conservation.
“I want to make a lasting impact on the world that really changes it for the better for future generations. I think I can see my work positively affecting the world. I’ll be happy doing whatever that job is.”