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Study-Abroad Experience Connects Student With His Birthplace

Nick RobergeNick Roberge ’19 had some unfinished business to attend to when he made the decision to spend his junior year studying in Japan. Sure, the former U.S. Air Force intelligence analyst wanted to build his résumé on his way to completing an international relations major, but closing the loop on a childhood mystery also was a priority.

Roberge (left) was born in Tokyo to a Japanese mother and was adopted as an infant by Americans who were serving in the military. The family moved to the United States when Roberge was 2 years old, and he spent most of his formative years in northeast Wisconsin. Shortly after graduating from Oconto Falls (Wis.) High School, Roberge was able to contact his birth mother. But the language barrier was significant and the two struggled to communicate over the phone.

Roberge found himself on differing paths over the next decade. “I attended [Northeast Wisconsin Technical College] in Green Bay after high school, but I didn’t enjoy school and I dropped out,” Roberge explains. “I wandered aimlessly for a while and eventually went into the Air Force.”

After serving six years as an intelligence analyst, Roberge decided to return to college and pursue an undergraduate degree at St. Norbert. That gave the non-traditional student, now in his early 30s, the opportunity to study abroad in Japan during his junior year – and, with it, the opportunity to reconnect with his birth mother.

Before he left for Japan, Roberge contacted the adoption agency and hired an attorney to locate his mother. She granted permission for him to contact her, and he left for Tokyo excited for the possibilities ahead. While the two were able to connect via email at a very simple level – again due to language limitations – they were not able to meet in person despite being only about an hour apart by train. “I was hoping to meet her, but she is a caretaker for someone now and I didn’t want to impose on that,” Roberge explains.

Roberge isn’t giving up, though. He’s now waiting to hear back from the Japanese Exchange & Teaching (JET) program about the possibility of a job as an English teacher in Japan. Roberge also has applied to a federal training program that would allow him to take the skills he gained in the military and translate them into a job with the Air Force as a civilian intelligence officer. His previous military duties included planning missions for unmanned Predator drones and manned U-2 aircraft to gather photo and video intelligence.

“One of my motivations to go back to Japan is to see her in person,” Roberge says. “Someday it will happen.”

June 4, 2019