From Tokyo to Norfolk, one student’s journey to public health

On a Tuesday morning, Hanae Miyawaki arrived at Norfolk International Airport with two suitcases — all she’d have from home for the next two years. She came from Tokyo with nothing but the paperwork for an apartment and an acceptance letter from EVMS.

“In Japan, we don’t have a lot of diversity like you have,” Hanae says. “I wanted to feel what it was like to be different.”

As a midwife for five years in Tokyo, Hanae realized that pregnant women lacked resources about childbirth.

“The hospital was the only place they can talk about themselves and get health education,” she says. But what about the women who didn’t come in to ask? Hanae wanted to educate women on a larger scale and decided that a public-health career would help her do that.

“In Japan, public health is a new field,” she says. That’s why she came to America. Because of her experience in maternal-fetal medicine, Hanae had heard about the Jones Institute for Reproductive Medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School. And that’s why she wanted to study public health at EVMS.

“We have the guidebook for America,” she says. “We have New York, we have San Francisco, we have East Coast. It has Virginia state, but only one page, and the city was Richmond.” She smiles. “We didn’t really know what this city was like, so my parents were very worried about it.”

But when Hanae arrived on campus still holding her suitcases, she learned she had no reason to worry. The EVMS admissions staff helped her finalize her lease. The Director of the Master of Public Health program, Brian Martin, PhD, helped her open a bank account and taught her how to write a check. He gave her a bike so she wouldn’t have to walk home from class at night. The MPH staff lent her furniture, and their families helped her move in.

“Everybody is so nice,” she says. “I didn’t feel any difficulty to live in the different country. Everybody is always around me and before I ask something, they would offer me help.”

To thank them, Hanae gave them origami figures, which her grandmother taught her to make.

“It might be a step to know about my country and to show my thankfulness to them,” she says, smiling and blushing.

She was amazed by the generosity she received from strangers.

“Very deep feeling,” she says. “I think it’s very American thing. If it was in Japan, doesn’t happen probably.”

Now in her second year and preparing to graduate, Hanae hopes to return to Japan one day and use what she has learned — including the importance of diversity — in her approach to public health.

“We need to know to respect other cultures.”