From Japan to Egypt

When one bubble bursts, another is just waiting to go sailing up into the sky. 

For those of you who read my last blog, you are aware of my recent life goal to get one of the free airplane tickets distributed by the Japanese tourism bureau. If you read my comments in addition to my blog, you are already aware that the offer to attract 10,000 lucky bloggers has BEEN CANCELED. That’s right folks. My bubble has been popped.

I learned of these unfortunate circumstances from a fellow blogger JD Japan who kindly wrote:

“Sorry to burst your bubble but I’ve read that they’ve cancelled this offer almost a month ago. Don’t give up your life ambition to go to Japan just because you can’t get a free ticket though. My friend and I were very disappointed as well when we read this article but that’s not going to stop us going there this year!” along with the link announcing the cancellation.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed. A month ago it seemed as if the seven Japanese gods themselves were beckoning me to the “homeland” to wake up and find their godlike favor revoked. The Katelyn-goes-to-Japan fund is currently accepting generous donations.

Another bubble was popped last night in the form of an e-mail from the director of the Davis Projects for Peace initiative on campus. Projects for Peace was started by international philanthropist Kathryn W. David and provides $10,000 to college students with project ideas for peaceful initiatives across the world. Unfortunately, I was under the false impression that the deadline for project and proposed budget submissions were due on the 31st instead of the 23rd so I had less than 12 hours to formulate my idea. While my project to build a small library with donated books in a Philippine fishing village was not chosen, the selected committee was very supportive and provided the project with great feedback should I apply next year. Trial and tribulations of a graduating senior.

Now I have set my sights on another program located in a distinctly different climate, known more for pyramids and deserts than sushi or white sand beaches. While Las Vegas is a close second, I’m talking about Presidential Scholars Program at The American University in Cairo, Egypt– a one-year fellowship opportunity for graduating seniors from US colleges and universities. The program was listed on the BRIDGE, our university’s online database for internships and jobs. I stumbled upon it quite accidentally, as do many students who are not consciously looking to spend a year in northern Africa. As an applicant, you are required to rank three of the seven available positions at the university including Office of the President, Office of Development and (my personal favorite) the Desert Development Center focused on creating sustainable livelihood projects for Egypt’s desert communities. It’s different from ANYTHING I saw myself upon graduation and the application is due January 31st. Time to get a move on.

Life is nothing more than sending a finite number of bubbles into the universe. Some perfectly formed spheres find their way onto sharp tree branches and shiny needle points but others grow, unencumbered by gravity, and float their way to new heights. I say create bubbles early and often because the world can’t possibly pop them all.

New Life Goal: Free Trip to Japan

In an attempt to boost tourism, Japan will be offering 10,000 free airplane tickets to lucky travelers from across the world. The program is rumored to begin in April 2012 in order to generate the tourism economy currently suffering from the recent earthquake and nuclear power disaster less than a year ago. The catch? Each ticket recipient must blog about his or her travel experience for the duration of the stay. Bloggers with a strong following and those capable of encouraging others to visit the wealthy island nation are encouraged to apply.

Am I one of those highly influential bloggers the Japanese tourism industry is looking for? Probably not. But my life’s new ambition is to receive one of the 10,000 magical boarding passes. Like Charlie, I will buy as many chocolate candy bars as possible to increase my chances of winning a “golden ticket” to the land of the Rising Sun. Since neither of my uncles had children of their own, I represent the final generation of individuals who bear the family name Tsukada. My name is more Japanese than any other part of my life and I want to learn everything I can about it’s origin and history.

In the two times I have traveled to Japan in the past, my combined visits totaled less than four hours. Both to and from the Philippines, I remained behind the thick glass windows of the Tokyo airport munching on green tea Kit-Kats and picturing the world outside. It was with reluctance that I boarded my connecting flight, whispering I’ll be back, before the island archipelago disappeared from view.

As a Japanese-American, I am constantly reminded of my identity and cultural heritage. Strangers I meet for the first time often ask me where I am from or what my ethnicity is. Many want to know if I can speak Japanese and make sushi on a regular basis. I want to tell them, “I’m as Asian as you!” but I simply say, “No, I am the fourth generation born in the United States. My father didn’t speak the language but I do hope to learn more about my culture in the future.” Nobody wants to know if I can speak Italian or have ever traveled to southern Italy, the home of my mom’s grandparents. So as long as I look Asian, I might as well learn as much about Japan as possible. 

I wonder if Japanese citizens will notice the slant of my eyes and color of my hair. Will they be able to tell I am half-Japanese? It’s hard to say and my distinctly American accent will not help me blend in. Even if I don’t win one of those free tickets to Japan, it is a future destination that comes ahead of most places in the world. So I’ll brush up on my chopstick skills, practice the correct pronunciation of Konichiwa, and hope for the best.

Twelve-toed Traveler

My parents tell me I was a special little girl when I appeared, crying and slimy in my first moments of birth. And whose parents don’t say that? Each child born to a loving home has parents or guardians who believe their child is incredible, beautiful and of course, slightly above average. But not every parent can brag that their child was born with twelve toes.

In actuality, it was eleven and a half. My pinkie toe on my right foot was a full formed functional toe, healthy and fit as toes are concerned. My toe on my left foot however branched out in a peace sign shape; a physical representation of the proverbial “fork in the road” which may explain my chronic indecisiveness. Polydactyly, the condition of being born with additional fingers or toes, was not dangerous to my health in any way unless one includes the inability to find shoes in the mall. As is custom, my additional digits were removed when I was about 6 months old and I sat about in my baby foot casts until my scars had healed.

I have no memory of having extra toes or of the surgery though I know it was painful for my mother to watch her small baby girl go through such an extensive procedure. My scars on either side run about halfway down my foot and have grown smooth with age. At pool parties when I wore flipflops or in taking off my pointe shoes after ballet, friends would ask me about my feet. I was shy, at first, in revealing the reason for my scars: 2 pinkie toes for the price of 1. But I started to enjoy the strangeness of my feet and at 21 years old, I don’t think about my phantom digits much, if at all. 

So why name a blog the Twelve-toed Traveler? As some of you may have noticed, the titles of my blog have changed over the last couple of days. I didn’t want Tsukada Travel Time indicating all I wrote about was traveling. The name had to represent me in my life–yesterday, today, and the hazy, bright future of tomorrow. With help from my good friend Mikaela, we decided on Twelve-toed Traveler as an expression of who I am and where I want to go.

Many people, upon hearing my toes explanation, ask me why I never kept them. This question is followed by what happened to them, to my little baby toes. I didn’t keep my toes because 1) I could not yet speak and had no say 2) I love shoes too much to wear Crocs or flip flops for the rest of my life and 3) I think my baby self already had dreams of dancing. Did I keep my toes in a jar to remind me of my slightly more eccentric self? Of course not. Unlike the tooth fairy, no one comes to give you money when you leave toes under your pillow at night. Although it does conjure an interesting mental image…

So there you have it, the reason for my blog and the little known fact about my feet. Wherever I go in life, I know I’ll bring my feet along. Sure, for practical reason, but also because my feet are a story about the time I was born with just a little something extra. 

Beginning of the End

Take down the 2011 calendar. Rip out notes from last semester’s notebooks. Spend $200 on new books from Amazon. That’s right folks– it’s time for another semester. The beginning of the end.

My “seniority” is reflected as I recount my academic stories to new freshmen tour guides. It stares at me during a discussion of the senior piece for the Dance Company’s spring concert. And each time I write the date and year, I am reminded that my peers and I represent the Class of 2012. When did I become a senior in college? It’s a question I imagine most of my classmates are asking themselves tonight, just a day before their last first day of class. The seniors seemed important four years ago. And somehow taller. They had infinite wisdom about the college environment, social norms and ways to reach the best job opportunities. Yet here I am on the verge of graduation just as confused as ever.

The Bucknell Magazine published a small article about me in the Winter 2012 edition that was stuffed into my campus mailbox this morning. I had almost forgotten about my brief interview and photo shoot last semester, posing awkwardly on various parts of campus which included the quiet section of the library. Students got a nice little study break while they watched me attempt a variety of smiles from my position on the large orange sofa. Go back to work, folks. Nothing to see here. 

Bucknell Magazine — Winter 2012

’Ray Bucknell, p.15


“Layovers don’t count,” says Katelyn Tsukada ’12, who notes that her father has been
to more than 50 countries, and she would like to match that number.
Tsukada, a tour guide and the outreach coordinator for the Bucknell Dance
Company, started a blog last spring to chart the beginning of her travels and to keep in
touch with family and friends when she entered the sustainability program at the Danish Institute for Study Abroad (DIS) in Denmark.

Along with travel, environmental studies have remained important to Tsukada,
who received funding from the Bucknell Public Interest Program (BPIP) for internships
to focus on environmental law and policy for two consecutive summers. In Washington,
D.C., she conducted research at an independent think-tank, the Environmental Law
Institute. Last summer, at the Law of Nature Foundation in the Philippines, she examined
environmental law and advocacy, while focusing on decreasing fossil fuel and on marine
protected areas for the coral reefs. Tsukada is planning the first environmental conference
in the spring at the Bucknell Environmental Center. Her goal is to invite six to eight
different schools to talk about their campus initiatives with the hope of taking away new

“Travel is all around us,” Tsukada says, as she notes how her travel blog has
evolved from new cities and food to parallels between culture and environmental
practices and to more recent adventures, for example, with the LSAT and with
vegetarianism. Recently, Tsukada read that Japan is offering 10,000 free airline tickets to
boost the tourism. The stipulation is that you have to have a blog. “My new goal with my
blog is to win a ticket. It’s a dream, but it would be perfect to travel and learn more about
Japanese culture and what it means to be Japanese-American,” says Tsukada.

— Kelly Anzulavich

The Last Real Winter Break

I bought a plane ticket about a week ago. Destination: San Francisco, the home of the Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars and the oldest Chinatown in the county. A city where the weather is a solid 60˚F, a welcome change from the upstate New York chill. 

 My loose itinerary includes visiting with family in Vallejo and spending the remaining time in and around Palo Alto, home to Facebook headquarters and Stanford University. I’ll have the chance to meet up with a couple of friends including Hallie, one of my freshmen year roommates and an incredible water polo player. I’ll also get to see my friend Doug, a current law student and friend from my DC internship two summers ago. The city is new, the ocean is near and I couldn’t be more excited.

People: “Why are you going to San Francisco?”

Me: “I’ve never been there before.”

 People: (polite giggle.) “Well that’s a reason.”

And it is.

 My trip will complete a time fondly referred to as “college winter break”. A year from now, I won’t have the luxury of five weeks off without any responsibilities except for an occasional load of laundry and marathons of How I Met Your Mother. The working world not does feel it necessary to provide you with a long restful December/January break. I’ll miss you dear winter hiatus.

Here’s the travel Catch-22. Now, when I am young and ready to see the world, my wallet is empty and there is a great need to prove (to my parents) that four years of expensive college tuition was well worth the time and money. Many of my friends and soon-to-be college graduates are finding jobs and figuring out their daily work schedules in the real world. But after years of hard work and growing salaries, will any of us have the vacation days or personal freedom to dedicate to days or weeks of adventurous travel?

In my mind, waiting until I have loads of money before planning any new trip is futile. For one, I will probably never have loads of money. But more importantly, I can afford to plan cheap and save up if it means I’m seeing the world and having fun. Is holding a job important? Absolutely. But it’s far too easy to fall into a routine where the next travel opportunity is like the horizon–always there but out of reach.

 So long New York. San Francisco, here I come!

2012 Student Environmental Retreat

We all have ideas. Ideas that spin and jump and dart in and out of the conscious confines of our minds. For me, most of these ideas have the lifespan of a fish bubble. They are tiny pockets of gas that ascend rapidly, gaining size and speed until they reach the surface with a triumphant pop…before disappearing back into the aquarium of lukewarm water. How many  new year’s resolutions would be kept, charities created, and dream careers acquired if we held on to our little bubble ideas? I wonder what would happen if we didn’t shake our heads quite as much, acknowledging our newest inspiration as “just plain crazy”? Well this is my bubble idea turned reality.

I got thinking about all the interesting and dedicated students who have a passion for the environment. Environmental Studies as a major has grown astronomically in popularity and I don’t see that going away any time soon. Our generation is already dealing with climate change, threatening weather patterns, increasing population, and decreasing food supply. We are the future leaders with the responsibility to look toward the future and turn international conversations into realistic action plans.

I came back to school in the fall with a thought. Why wait for leaders of the world to come to an agreement on the energy crisis, CO2 reductions and policies on sustainable development? Change can just as easily start with the youth in America as anywhere in the world. And so, with the tremendous help from Cathy Myers, the executive director of the Bucknell University’s Environmental Center, and Carol High, the program support coordinator, the 2012 Student Environmental Retreat was born.

What: The 2012 Student Environmental Retreat

Who: Participants from eight liberal arts colleges and universities from Pennsylvania: Gettysburg, Lycoming, Susquehanna, Franklin and Marshall, Villanova, Dickinson, West Chester, and Bucknell

What: The retreat is a two-day event where students have the opportunity to present and exchange a variety of environmental programs currently working on their college campuses. Students and faculty advisors share ideas and create individual campus-specific action plans  to implement at their home universities based on the projects discussed at the retreat.

Where/When: Bucknell University’s Conference Center on February 11th and 12th.

I uploaded the Invitation Letter and Proposed Agenda for easy reading. The application can be found here and the deadline is January 20th 2012. Contact me if you have any questions or concerns regarding the content or deadline.

I highly encourage any undergraduate student who attends one of the aforementioned schools to consider attending. If nothing else, the retreat is a great way to meet people who are similarly dedicated to your own goals and aspirations. Want to change the world? The time is now.

Well the time is actually February 11th and 12th but you know what I mean.