By Lee Rasizer, CCA Director of Media/Public Relations
At first glance, there’s not much that would seemingly connect Nathan Guild and Morgan Rose Nolen.
Guild is a former Navy Seabee, covered in tattoos and now studying international business. Nolen has designs on becoming a priestess and owning her own metaphysical shop where open-minded individuals come to connect with spirits, listen to spiritual readings and purchase various religious curios.
Yet, here they are, these two, joined at the trip.
Both now attend Temple University-Tokyo. And each of them got there after accumulating transfer credits as Community College of Aurora students.
CCA tells individuals that they can “start here, finish there.” For Guild and Nolen, they left – and just kept on going, thousands of miles away.
If anything, they are living proof of what the possibilities can be after leaving the CentreTech and Lowry campuses and continuing to study.
And while Guild and Nolen both are focused on their divergent paths, it’s important to note that when each started at CCA, they were almost completely unsure of the direction they were headed; in life, not directionally toward the Far East.
“I would never have imagined sitting in the classes that I sat in and actually being an international business major,” Guild said by phone from the streets of Tokyo after his last day of classes, pre-finals.
“That would have been crazy thinking.”
Guild’s thoughts turned to a return to Japan in the summer of 2011. His then-fiancée had finished her studies at Santa Monica College, came to Colorado, and the pair married and started looking more closely at the future.
Ever since Guild stationed in Yokosuka, his passion for the Far East hadn’t waned.
“It’s kind of a hard feeling to describe, but a lot of it was the culture,” he said of the pull he felt to again head overseas to stay.
“Personally, I never watched anime and I was never into Japanese culture growing up – the whole samurai-sword type of stuff. But it actually was the way I was treated, the food, and just the different vibe that brought me back.”
Guild spent four semesters at CCA. He unofficially sat in a favorite Japanese class for part of Spring 2012 before the move took place.
Continuing college in Tokyo, though, wasn’t as much a plan as happenstance.
“It certainly wasn’t 100 percent when I started preparing to come over here,” he said as the clock hit 2 a.m. Tokyo time during his phone interview.
“It’s kind of a mixed story. I needed a change in my life to motivate myself to push forward. The first step was coming to Japan. Then, I actually found there was a Temple University in Tokyo, and it was probably a 10-15 minute bike ride from the apartment that I rented. So it was a lot by luck that I actually found the school. But once I did and realized what they offered, it pushed me in the right direction and where I’m going now.”
Temple University, Japan Campus (TUJ) is the oldest and largest foreign university in that country. It was founded in 1982 and has since developed into a nationally recognized institution that offers a wide range of programs, including core undergraduate degrees and individual subjects ranging from law to business and education.
Including its participants in Corporate Education and English-training programs, TUJ has an enrollment of about 3,300 students that hail from approximately 60 countries, including Japan, the United States, East and Southeast Asia, Russia, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, and Europe.
It is an English-language education where students can obtain American undergraduate and graduate degrees.
Given that geology studies necessitated fluent Japanese at a local university, Guild chose business as his career path. And, given that he had focused on guaranteed transfer classes while at CCA, mainly in science and math, all of his credits transferred when he enrolled at TUJ.
Guild currently has one more year to complete before he’s slated to graduate with his International Business degree. He’s also in talks to join a company as an intern this summer.
“Tokyo is a perfect place for networking,” he said. “I never really thought about corporations and really big business, but that’s basically what it is out here. And if you ever had the idea to travel and see a lot of places on a business trip, this is a place to make connections to get those types of jobs.”
Outside of the classroom, he’s been able to meet a wide array of people, from the anime crowd he only imagined before coming to Japan to veterans like himself. Guild serves as an advocate for veterans in a TUJ club when he’s not going to class.
“The people I meet every day just surprise me,” he said.
Morgan Rose Nolen was the restless sort herself, and given her longstanding fascination with Asian culture that started at an early age, finding her way to Tokyo seems nearly predetermined in comparison to Guild’s journey.
“I grew up a spiritual person but I never really fit in in America,” she suggested.
Nolen was raised in a Catholic family. Her mother is Asian; her father American. Morgan attended Catholic school until fourth grade, “but it never felt right,” she said, and told her parents she didn’t want to continue with that religion’s rites of passage, including her confirmation.
Her search for another spiritual path would be paved by her grandmother. The latter had grown up in the Philippines and, while a Catholic woman, was open to other spiritual practices that she began to share with Nolen over time.
“She was going to psychics. She’d get readings done. She did all these things,” Nolen recalled. “And she came from a country where there were shamans and mediums and all that. As I got older, she would tell me about those things and would tell me that I could do things like that. I was always confused by that, but as I got older, I realized what she was talking about.”
So did Nolen’s sister, Olivia, who was a year older. Soon, both girls were fascinated by the Japanese practice of Shinto and its various sects and would embed those tenets into their lives – and travels.
“My interest did start back in America,” Nolen said. “I did research on it and learned about it. And here in Japan, I’ve gotten a first-hand look at it.”
Nolen spent her freshman year at Aurora’s Smoky Hill High School before transferring to Colorado Connections Academy. She had the opportunity at both schools to take Japanese lessons and found the language fascinating and the culture dating back thousands of years something she was eager to explore.
Her standardized test scores prevented immediate enrollment at TUJ, and she filed that possibility away as she enrolled at CCA in 2010 at the Colorado Film School. Initially, she had designs on exploring writing and film. Soon, she realized it wasn’t what she wanted to do and began to pursue a Fine Arts curriculum while trying to discover a true calling.
Severe stomach issues prompted her to take online courses during her final three semesters at CCA, culminating in Spring 2014.
“I loved it at CCA. There were a few professors I absolutely loved there and I learned a lot,” Nolen said.
Yet, one day she was perusing the Internet when she stumbled upon a page about TUJ, and it recalibrated her thought process. “I remembered how much I wanted to be there.”
But the trip almost didn’t come to pass because of her illness. A Japanese physician at the University of Colorado Hospital provided encouragement, telling Nolen that he was confident that getting away from genetically-modified foods, gluten and chemicals that are replete in U.S. foods and adapting to a Japanese diet would make her healthier.
“I got on that plane to Japan and I was actually pretty sick on my way here,” Nolen said in a late-night phone interview from her dormitory in the Tokyo suburb of Itabashi , one of 23 wards in the city. “I wasn’t sure if I was going to be OK. But coming to Japan, my doctor was right.”
Nolen still has bouts with illness, including some days when she said she can’t get out of bed because she’s in too much pain. But she hopes to inspire others battling illness, just as much as she’s driven to help people through her chosen profession.
Nolen, 21, is on a dual track while in Tokyo. There’s learning Japanese and balancing higher education with her religious studies. In all of it, she’s found a home.
She eventually hopes to be ordained as a priestess under an eclectic pagan order that follows Konkokyo religion as the base of the training. She attends a church regularly in Shiba, Japan, and consults often with its priestess.
Here, training includes “working with different deities from different pantheons that a lot of people don’t know about” or only know in mythology.
“I do a lot of spiritual work for people. I do readings. I’m working on a small business for when I graduate college, a metaphysical store doing spiritual medium work for people,” she said. “Here in Japan, it’s very common. Unlike America, where people do medium and shaman work and aren’t very accepted; here, it’s pretty routine.
“At actual Shinto shrines, they still have priests and priestesses that still do things like that in ceremonial settings. When I came here and originally saw it, after reading about it on the Internet, it felt right compared to everything else I’d been exposed to.”
At the same time, her sister has been practicing her priestess training in Toronto and will be joining Nolen in Japan later this summer.
That prospect seemed fantastical just a few years ago while at CCA. “I don’t know if I would have believed it,” she admitted. “Sometimes I don’t even believe I’m in the middle of Tokyo right now.”
Some of her friends from back home still don’t understand her chosen path, but overall, she hasn’t met much resistance to her choices. Nolen accepts that there are people who won’t believe what it is she is doing, but because she’s so passionate and it’s her own choice, she’s unaffected by those skeptics.
It’s easy to discern her happiness at the situation, even through a cellphone connection.
“It’s been a complete change. It’s incredible,” she said. “Everything here is very convenient. In Aurora, I would have to drive everywhere. There are busses and the light rail, but I never took public transportation. Everywhere I had to go was by car.
“Here in Japan,” she added. “Everything’s so convenient. Train lines get you anywhere you want to go in Tokyo. And the trains here are on time literally to the second. If they’re late a minute or two there’s announcements in Japanese apologizing for that. You walk down the street; there are vending machines on every corner. People are very friendly and polite. They help you if you just reach out to them.”
Helping people is Nolen’s underlying goal, too, as she continues, then finishes her priestess training and hopefully opens that planned metaphysical shop.
“In Colorado, and because I was sick, I feel I was incredibly sheltered. Going across the Pacific Ocean, I had to grow up really fast, and with other things, too, like studying to become a priestess,” she said. “I still have a lot more growth, but coming to Tokyo has helped me.”
Nolen and Guild were unaware that two former CCA students were studying at TUJ. They both laughed when told that a third was expected to begin his studies in Tokyo beginning in Fall 2016.
At a recent CCA transfer fair, the university’s senior admissions counselor was on hand discussing with attendees the possibility of studying overseas.
‘Start here, finish there?’ It’s something adventurous CCA students at least can stop and consider tangibly.
Guild, for his part, highly recommends to fellow veterans exploring the notion, if interested. “It’s a good chance to use your G.I. Bill,” he explained. “You can find places that actually are affordable using your G.I. Bill, living out here, going to school. And I can’t lie, it’s a pretty fun experience.”
Nolen made the transfer to Tokyo a priority item in her life and encourages those interested in doing something similar to go for it.
“I realized a long time ago that this life is short,” she said. “We don’t have a lot of opportunities to do what we want to do. And I know people back home who are my friends who want to go to Japan and may never get a chance.
“I have an opportunity that a lot of people don’t get or may not ever get. But I think if you have the chance to do it, or you’re thinking about doing it and you want it bad enough, go for it. That’s all there is to it.
“I had doubts about coming here. I had worries about money, which I still do. I was worried about a bunch of different things. But at the end of the day, I knew if I didn’t do it, I’d regret it.”