Sugar Grove to Okinawa: PA Cyber grad journeys abroad to live, study and work
Sep 13, 2019
Terra LoPresti wanted to take a Japanese language class her senior year at PA Cyber. Throughout her time in high school, the Sugar Grove student grew interested in manga and anime—Japanese graphic comics and cartoons—and she enjoyed hearing the language.
"One day I was watching an anime and instead of watching in English, I was watching in Japanese with English subtitles. I loved the sound of the language, and I was like 'I want to speak this myself.'"
PA Cyber didn't offer Japanese language classes, but school officials told LoPresti that, if she could find a school that would work with them, they would set it up. An agreement was made with Seton Hill University for LoPresti to take two credit semesters of Japanese. She graduated a year early in 2010 but wasn't ready to stop learning Japanese.
"The way I learn, I do better if I touch it, feel it, smell it," she said. "So, I thought the best way for me to really learn would be to go over there and be forced to speak it every single day."
At the age of 17, LoPresti got the opportunity of a lifetime as a Rotary Youth Exchange Student to study in Okinawa, often referred to as the Hawaii of Japan. Terra worked part-time to earn money for her travel and living expenses, which were managed through Rotary District 7280 based in Warren. The exchange gave her the chance to complete an extra year of high school abroad, where she sharpened her conversational Japanese and advanced her skills in Hiragana and Katakana—the two basic Japanese alphabets — and Kanji, the most difficult of the alphabets.
"I just fell in love with the country, the people, the food," said LoPresti, now 26. "I knew I wanted to continue studying in Japan if possible, so I started looking for universities over there and I was able to find a great university."
Her experiences helped her to qualify for an 80%, four-year scholarship to Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University in Beppu a city in Ōita Prefecture on the island of Kyushu, Japan. The international school boasts about 6,000 students — about half of whom are international — and classes are taught in English and Japanese. The option allowed LoPresti to take her major classes in English and Japanese language courses simultaneously.
"It was a great opportunity because my level of Japanese after one year in Japan wasn't enough to take on college classes in Japanese," she said.
LoPresti continued working part-time jobs through college while majoring in international relations and peace studies. She earned her bachelor's degree, graduating only $6,000 in debt, and currently works for the university's Admissions Department, voyaging around the world to recruit other international students.
"PA Cyber was a big part of her traveling down this path," said her mother, Karla LoPresti.
Karla LoPresti homeschooled her daughter and son until her children advanced to a level where she needed help. Terra LoPresti skipped a year and entered PA Cyber as an eighth-grader. Her brother, Alexander, started in ninth grade. He is also a graduate.
"Part of the reason we did choose PA Cyber is, with homeschooling, you have to provide everything yourself and the advanced classes are kind of hard to teach because you have to buy the teachers' books and everything," she explained. "PA Cyber was a great option because we got the internet, we got the computers, and we got the teachers who knew the subjects. My kids were able to choose. They had a bigger variety of classes to choose from than they would have had and they were able to do things that fit their passions."
Terra LoPresti said, "PA Cyber was just perfect because you get to have an actual teacher and classmates, but you still have the convenience of being at home and having the mobility of it. Because PA Cyber is a public school and they provided the computer and the textbooks, that was so helpful for us. It was the perfect environment."
Applying for the Rotary Exchange program required going through several interviews. As she got further into the process, some felt hesitant to let LoPresti go to Japan because she was cyber-schooled and they had always sent traditional public-school students. But with her education, motivation, and personality, her mother said she proved to be a good representative for PA Cyber.
"Her whole exchange program turned out really awesome. In fact, the Rotary Club that she went to in Japan hadn't had an exchange student in many years because they had such bad experiences with students in the past. However, they just loved Terra. They loved her so much that they actually paid for her to come back and visit a year later."
LoPresti met people from different cultural backgrounds, visited new places, and made connections she otherwise may not have. During her first year of university, she was required to live on campus and met Emily, an exchange student from Australia who is now one of her best friends. In LoPresti's last year of university, she was invited to attend Emily's wedding in Australia. She has also traveled to Fiji, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, China, and Canada, to recruit international students for work and has been to neighboring South Korea to visit with friends.
"It's been really neat to have these experiences and to go see a lot of different things," she said.
Over the summer, LoPresti returned to her hometown in Northwestern Pennsylvania for the first time in more than a year and gave a presentation at the local library about her journey to Japan and her passion for the country. One difference from the U.S., she said, is students in Japan are still expected to physically attend school for 12 years, whether it's public or private, but that's starting to change.
"I'm so thankful for PA Cyber," she said. "I feel like I would not be the same person if I had gone to [traditional] public school or even stayed homeschool forever. It shaped me into who I am. The amazing thing about America is that there are so many options of how you do your education, whether it be homeschooled, charter, or public school, because each student learns differently and has different living environments.
The fact that those options are out there, and you can find what fits you and your learning was such a blessing for me. I think it's really great that choices are out there."
This article is part of our ongoing series on PA Cyber alumni.
Casie Colalella / firstname.lastname@example.org
About PA Cyber
Serving students in kindergarten through 12th grade, the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School (PA Cyber) is one of the largest, most experienced, and most successful online public schools in the nation. PA Cyber's online learning environments, personalized instructional methods, and choices of curricula connect Pennsylvania students and their families with state-certified and highly-qualified teachers, and rich academic content that is aligned to state standards. Founded in 2000, PA Cyber is headquartered in Midland (Beaver County) and maintains a network of support offices throughout the state. As a public school, PA Cyber is open for enrollment by any school-age child residing in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and does not charge tuition to students or families.