Full Steam Ahead

Graduate Student Victoria Woolfolk, BS’17

(Photo by: Bill Cardoni)
By Rebecca Maxon

Florham Campus graduate student Victoria Woolfolk, BS’17 (Metro), offered Girl Scout cookies and FDU scarves to her Japanese hosts. The tradition of gift giving is very important in Japanese culture, she says, which she learned before embarking on the international trip, sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.

“The opportunity to meet Japanese officials and learn more about the country gave me perspective on the building of cultural, economic and human connections between Japan and the U.S.,” she says. “We had the opportunity to speak with the Japanese foreign minister as well as our congressional representatives and the ambassador of Japan.”

The annual trip aims to provide African-American students with the opportunity to travel to and learn in Japan and interact with Japanese government officials and businesses. Woolfolk learned about it from a family friend and attorney, Patricia Atkins, and her mother Phyllis Woolfolk, BSN’81 (Ruth), chartering member of the Nu Kappa Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. at FDU. With the support of New Jersey Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman; her husband, Rev. William Coleman; and her parents, Phillip and Phyllis Woolfolk, Victoria was selected to go.

“There were a lot of things to be aware of, such as the degree to which you bow to someone and how it indicates the level of respect you have for them, and of course, the proper way to present a business card,” says Woolfolk, who’s working on her MBA in international business and marketing.

The experience was exhilarating, she says. For several days of the trip, the 18 students — hailing from all over the U.S. — stayed with host families. “I brushed up on my Japanese language [skills] so I would be able to be polite and say good morning.”

Woolfolk stayed in Kamogawa, in the Chiba prefecture, with a multigenerational family of farmers. “The father taught me how to plant mushrooms and take care of the chickens. We took a tour of a rice patty field and learned how rice is cultivated and the effects of an aging population on farming. One morning, after rising to experience a peaceful sunrise, I spent time with my host mother and grandmother, watching them prepare breakfast.”

The group traveled to a Buddhist shrine, where they participated in a traditional tea ceremony while dressed in kimonos and learned about the history of religion in Japan. At Sofia University in Tokyo, they chatted with Japanese students. “People think that animé is big in Japan, but do the Japanese watch it or read it? No!” exclaims Woolfolk. “It’s a big export.”

At Toyota headquarters, “It was refreshing to see that it’s a really innovative company,” Woolfolk says, “trying to develop electric cars and minimize the footprint we have on the Earth.” The company is socially aware in other ways as well. After the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, she says, Toyota suspended production and devoted resources to rebuilding Japan and to making sure people had food, medicine, water and shelter.

The trip clarified her interest in politics over business, though she remains fascinated by their intersection. “I love business, but it’s politics that’s really calling me. I want to know what legislators are voting on, and the impact it will have on the people being served.”

Ed. note: A version of this article first appeared in the Winter/Spring 2019 edition of FDU Magazine.