Extraordinary Expat: Alumna Shares Love of Science in New Home

When Peter ’75 and Andrea Guglielmo Bocko ’73, M ’75 decided to pull up roots in New York’s Southern Tier and resettle in Tokyo to be closer to Pete’s work, it meant big changes for the family. Pete was busy with his work at Corning Inc., but Andrea (above, at left) had taken an early retirement from a teaching job she loved in the Corning-Painted Post school district.

Making a new life as an expat in Japan could have left Andrea frustrated. She could have stayed isolated, socializing only with fellow foreigners.

Andrea teachingInstead, she chose to embrace the local culture, give back to her new community and use her Oswego education in creative ways.

Andrea, who holds an Oswego master’s degree in teaching chemistry and spent a 20-plus year career as a science teacher in the United States, now volunteers in an after-school program, sharing science enrichment activities with bilingual Japanese elementary school students.

It all began for Andrea with her involvement with the College Women’s Association of Japan. This group of Japanese and American college women first banded together in 1949 as a service club to provide scholarships to Japanese students attending American universities. Today its membership is equally divided between international expatriate and Japanese women who share culture and customs while raising money for their scholarship fund.

From there, she became involved in the Children’s English Circle.

Since her interest lies in teaching, she toured a Japanese public middle school, and a private, women-only school, which invited her to an open house.

“In the public school, I noticed the chemistry lab and classroom for seventh and eighth graders had no visuals — not even a periodic table,” remembers Andrea.

The instruction consisted entirely of a lecture, delivered by a stiff, formal teacher speaking from a podium at the front of the classroom.

Andrea resolved then and there to introduce the students to the fun of science. She volunteered to bring in hands-on science experiments for the children.

“They loved making ice cream,” she recalls, referencing an activity designed to teach the children about melting points and how adding salt lowers the freezing point so the ice cream freezes.

“The children were fun to work with,” she says. “They were so willing to learn and pay attention.”

Another time she made models of molecules in class. Materials are harder to come by in Japan. There are no big discount stores to get supplies all in one place, and you have to go to several different shops. So Andrea often shops back home in Painted Post and brings her craft supplies to Japan in her carry-on. That time, the modeling clay and wire for the molecule caused a bit of a stir at airport security.

Another project included students making a working lung model out of a plastic bottle and a balloon. She was thrilled when one of the children used the model lung for show-and-tell back in her home classroom.

Hands-on instruction is nothing new for Andrea. Mentored by Distinguished Teaching Professor of Chemistry Emeritus Augustine Silveira, she spent plenty of time in Snygg Hall labs.

“I wouldn’t have gone on for a master’s at Oswego, if not for Dr. Silveira,” she recalls. He called the promising undergrad chemistry major and said, “I have one scholarship left!”

Everyday life can be an adventure in a foreign land, Andrea acknowledges. Because they have no car there, she must do the grocery shopping four or five times a week, carrying the bags home through the Tokyo streets.

She has learned some Japanese language and is trying out some Japanese recipes she learned in local cooking classes.

“As an expat I could just spend my time at the American Club, have only American friends,” she says. “But I have taken the opportunity for a variety of activities, making friends with Japanese women.

“It’s enriching — better than trying to recreate the American experience here.”

Through her generous gift of time, she is also enriching the lives of budding young scientists.

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