BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — Illinois Wesleyan University senior Payton Letko ’19 (Toulon,
Illinois) has been awarded the 2019 Technos International Prize, in recognition of her academic excellence and her contributions to broadening international
“I am unbelievably honored and especially proud to receive this award because of how
much Technos College has come to mean to me throughout my time at IWU,” said Letko.
“Illinois Wesleyan has given me so many opportunities, and the faculty and staff have
given me so much support in my endeavors, from Professor Tom Lutze informing me about
Technos International Week, Professors Scott Sheridan, Chuck Springwood, and Jeremy
Sather challenging and supporting me with my senior seminar project, to the mentorship
of Stacey Shimizu in my future career in International Education.”
An English-Literature and international studies double major with a concentration
in Asian Studies, Letko has strong connections with Technos College, IWU’s sister
school in Tokyo, through her thorough exploration of Japanese culture. As a first-year
student, she was selected as an Illinois Wesleyan ambassador for Technos International
Week, during which students and faculty from institutions across the globe come to
Technos for a two-week immersion in Japan’s culture and customs.
“My experience during those two weeks in Japan changed my life,” said Letko. “I had
never traveled outside of the country before and felt that the world was vast; I did
not feel like a global citizen until I was able to have that experience. Technos International
Week solidified the importance of making and continuing global connections because
in order to live in a continuously globalizing and diverse world, we must attempt
to understand, if not accept, each other’s differences."
Letko continued her global connections by quickly returning to Technos College the
following summer as a Freeman Asia intern. Through her work in classrooms with native
students and with planning International Week, Letko came away with a richer understanding
of day-to-day life in Japan, which she later shared with Illinois Wesleyan students
as co-founder of the Japanese Language and Culture Club.
After seeing student life in a foreign country firsthand, Letko utilized that experience
back on campus as an International Student Partner, helping international students
adjust to Illinois Wesleyan. She also worked in the University’s International Office, where among several other responsibilities, she helped develop IWU’s International
Education Week to celebrate the value of studying abroad.
In the spring of her junior year, Letko spent a full semester studying in Nagoya,
Japan, an experience which enhanced both her language skills and her cultural prowess.
“With my host family, I learned more about the everyday life of Japanese people, and
I was able to participate in customs and practices that a foreigner would normally
be excused from,” said Letko. “I was able to see the everyday joys and stresses a
Japanese person experiences in their society, giving me a better and unique understanding
of Japanese culture.”
In addition to her studies, Letko worked as a student blogger for IES Abroad, and
she was also awarded an honorable mention for her entry in IES Abroad’s annual film
Upon returning to the States for her senior year, Letko still maintained her close
tie with Technos College through her senior seminar project, titled “Giving the Japanese
Youth a Voice in the Discourse on Modern Naming Practices in Japan and the Influence
on Identity Formation.” Letko conducted a survey for Technos students about a rising
trend of giving Japanese children unique, attention-grabbing names, which runs counter
to Japan’s collectivist culture. She then presented her findings at the Central States
Anthropological Society Conference in Memphis, Tennessee this past April.
Letko’s experiences at work, abroad, and as a researcher have prepared her well for
a career in International Education. Letko has already been accepted for a year-long
teacher’s assistant position at Technos College; additionally, she has received a
grant from the International Educators of Illinois in order to learn and implement
new project management techniques at IWU’s International Office.
The number of available opportunities to study abroad as an Illinois Wesleyan student
were vital in shaping her career path and her views about the world.
“I grew up in a rural farm town and had studied other cultures in books, but I still
had this notion that because of where I grew up there were only two types of lifestyle
available to me – city life or country life. Reflecting on all my experiences now,
it's almost embarrassing how wrong I was. I realized how essential travel and cultural
interaction is in our globalizing world. This is the attitude I adopted after that
first experience traveling abroad throughout the rest of my time as an IWU student,
and I know it will stay with me for the rest of my career.”
In conjunction with the Technos International Prize, this year's Illinois Wesleyan
University Prize of Distinction at Technos College was awarded to Haruhi Ochia, an
Electrical and Electronic Engineering Course student of Tokyo Kogakuin College of