Purpose. It’s what most would say they want out of life. In the case of Ball State alumnus Jesse Taskovic, he believes his purpose lies in Japan.
After spending almost two years researching and studying the language of the land he loves, Taskovic was able to renew a scholarship provided by the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT).
The extension of the MEXT scholarship allows Taskovic to complete his masters degree at Tokyo Gakugei University with plans to pursue a doctorate.
“We’re all very proud of Jesse,” said Barb Stedman, director of national and international scholarships at Ball State. “He’s an extremely determined student whose passion for Japanese culture has opened many exciting doors for him.”
Taskovic’s interest in Japanese culture began when he discovered an anime called “Inuyasha,” which follows characters who travel through different time periods in Japan. In high school, Taskovic studied Japanese with a teacher who had previously taught in Japan.
Each year, Taskovic’s teacher would bring a former student, Takuma Ichikawa, to the States to interact with his current students. In 2011, when Ichikawa was visiting Taskovic’s class, Japan was hit by both an earthquake and tsunami, and the class discussed the impact of the natural disasters.
“As much as that floored me, the thing that moved me the most in that experience was looking at Takuma while watching [the live feed of the storms] and seeing his face react to what was going on in Japan,” Taskovic said. “His facial expression, that stuck with me for the rest of my life.”
During that moment, Taskovic decided he not only wanted to study Japanese in college but also wanted to study abroad in Japan and do volunteer work in Miyagi Prefecture, an area north of Tokyo that was heavily damaged during the storms.
Initially, he wanted to lend support to the people affected by the storms. Now Taskovic’s focus is on securing opportunities for students like him to be able to explore other cultures.
It’s that type of philosophy that helped Taskovic get to where he is today. He credits Ann St. John, who took him into her family and acted as a parental figure, with helping him reach his goals.
“When it came to applying for the MEXT scholarship, I didn’t have insurance, but they paid out-of pocket [expenses] for me to get the medical checkup that I needed,” Taskovic said. “I went through so many struggles financially to go through my undergrad time that [the St. John family], especially Ann, really stepped in and just made things like this possible.”
St. John said she took Taskovic into her family because of his response to his tough childhood.
“He’s just kind and dear and not with a nurturing background, but still he chooses to be kind and lovely and gracious and loyal, and who does that? Nobody does that,” St. John said. “He didn’t look at the scars of his life and say ‘I’m gonna become a bitter person,’ he said ‘No, I’m gonna have a dream, I’m gonna implement my dream, and I’m gonna do it in a lovely way.’”