Japanese student gains new perspective in Nebraska

_MG_8782Mika Sato
Age: 22
Home: Nigata, Japan
Major: Economics and psychology
Hobby: Watching cartoons
Favorite saying: “If you get up early, you have lots of good fortune. Brings you lots of profitable things.”

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Mika Sato has a healthy respect for candy. It may not be healthy food; it might even be junk, but she knows it can be a powerful incentive.

She has her interest in behavioral economics to thank for that.

“I read in a book about developing countries in Africa, how they pass out medicine to clean the water,” said Sato, a Japanese exchange student finishing up her second and final semester at UNL. “Usually people don’t try to get the medicine because they are lazy and it takes time to go to the hospital, so what kind of incentive should we give them? In the book they give an incentive, by giving free stuff.

“The same thing happens in the U.S. When I go through the Union they pass some candies or chocolate or something. Usually people don’t want to get something on paper, like an advertisement, but if they give candy or chocolate, they always get the paper. This is the same thing.”

Sato’s perspective on lots of things, including the world, has evolved since she came to the United States. Her American higher education, which she said is much better than the one she received in Japan, may be responsible.

The teachers here are different, she said. Compared to Senshu University, where she earned the first three years of her bachelor’s degree in economics, Sato said UNL professors are more actively engaged in their students’ education, more focused on making sure that the students understand the material. It seems to be working for her.

The quality of education isn’t the only difference she’s adapted to.

She doesn’t have to worry about the color of her hair, for instance, or the length of her skirt. In Japan, she said, teenagers find ways to rebel against customs regarding appearance. Sato was no different. She said that her teachers continually asked her to dye her hair darker and darker until it was finally black enough for their standards. Here, however, appearance isn’t a contentious factor in daily life. She can be herself, at least aesthetically.

“Every day, Japanese girls fight with the teacher over the length of the skirt,” she said. “In the United States people try to look at personality, not just appearance.”

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