Around the Quads
Katherine Marshall ’12 Nurtures Passion for Japanese Culture
By Nathalie Alonso ’08
For Katherine Marshall ’12, thrills often take the form of unconventional challenges, such as mastering Japanese as a fifth language or taking to the skies behind the controls of a Cessna 172 aircraft.
Marshall, an East Asian languages and cultures major and licensed pilot, has accomplished both feats. But while she knew from a young age that she wanted to fly a plane — a hobby her father inspired and cultivated — she did not foresee her undergraduate career revolving around a passion for all things Japanese.
Marshall already was fluent in Spanish and French and advanced in Italian when she opted to learn a non-Romance language as a College first-year, a decision that set her current trajectory.
“I wanted to try a more intensive language at Columbia and chose Japanese, which was way more intense than I ever had imagined,” says Marshall, for whom acquiring languages became “addictive” after she studied in Mexico and France as a high school student.
In her sophomore year, Marshall took two courses that cemented her choice of major: “Colloquium on Major Texts, East Asia,” with Paul Anderer, the Fred and Fannie Mack Professor of Humanities, and “Millennial Futures: Mass Culture and Japan,” taught by associate professor of anthropology Marilyn Ivy.
“It was language-driven for me, but then I found that I was fascinated by Japanese history and Japanese culture,” Marshall says.
Marshall first traveled to Japan in summer 2009 as an American delegate to the Japan-America Student Conference, a monthlong cultural exchange program run by the nonprofit International Student Conferences (iscdc.org). She returned for the first semester of her junior year through the Kyoto Consortium for Japanese Studies Study Abroad Program. In Kyoto, she took courses on language, sociology and religion and signed up for cooking classes at a community center. Having stayed with a local family for part of her first trip, Marshall lived in an apartment the second time.
“It is more challenging because you have to fend for yourself in terms of getting food, taking yourself to the doctor, everything,” she explains.
The summer before her semester abroad, Marshall conducted research on East Asian economic policy at the Business School’s Center for Japanese Economy and Business. Since April, she has been editor-in-chief of the Columbia East Asian Review, an undergraduate research journal that publishes annually. Her senior thesis examines the evolution of Japanese fashion from the ’90s to the present. Colin Jones, Marshall’s thesis tutor and a Ph.D. candidate in the history department, notes the discipline with which Marshall has approached her project.
“Katy is dedicated to her work and preternaturally organized,” says Jones. “Her ability to set deadlines for herself and to meet those deadlines astonished me when we met, and it has made working with her an absolute pleasure.”
Initially inclined to pursue a degree in business elsewhere, Marshall, who was born in New York and moved to Minneapolis with her family when she was 9, speaks with fervor of the student-led tour of Columbia’s campus that prompted her to apply early decision to the College.
“As the tour guide was describing the Core, I had this epiphany that even if business was what I wanted to do down the road, there was still so much I didn’t know,” recalls Marshall. “It came down to the Core and being in the city.”
To Marshall’s good fortune, in 2010, the College introduced a special concentration in business management. “It’s exciting to have the ability to fulfill my intellectual interest in East Asia and gain more practical knowledge as well,” she says.
At press time, Marshall had accepted a post-graduation offer to join the New York City office of The Boston Consulting Group, a global management consulting firm where she worked last summer.
In her spare time, Marshall enjoys running, skiing and, of course, flying. Having flown in small aircraft for years as a passenger with her father at the controls, Marshall became a private pilot at 17 after logging approximately 60 hours of flight training. The certification process required a solo cross-country flight without a GPS or other modern equipment. Marshall references the mixture of trepidation and pride she experienced when she found herself in the air alone for the first time.
“I often think about that before exams,” she says. “You can find it within yourself to do what you need to do, even if it is literally life or death.
“That’s why I chose to be a pilot and why I chose to study Japanese. These challenges are fun. They are fun to work through and they are even more fun when you can look back and say, ‘Wow, I did that.’”