Abby Abroad

Anna Ehrensperger Aoyagi ’07 has deep family lineage in College Park as well as history at Woodward Academy. Her father, Tommy Ehrensperger ’78, is a beloved science teacher in the Upper School. Anna’s life has taken her across the world, to Tokyo, Japan, where she and her husband, Shige, are raising two young daughters. 

“I grew up in College Park, just as my parents did,” she said. “They ironically grew up in the same neighborhood as each other, but had no idea until after high school!”

Anna is a Vintage Eagle, having attended Woodward from prekindergarten to graduation. Her Upper School experience set her on the path to Japan. “I had interests in languages and arts, and, during my senior year, I began to study Japanese with Tad Sahara.” 

In her last year of college at Georgia State University, she wanted to practice her Japanese, so she began a pen-pal friendship with the man who is now her husband. “I moved to California in 2012, and we married in 2013. Our daughter, Abigail, was born in 2015 and her younger sister, Nora, in 2017. In February 2020, we moved to Tokyo, not knowing that the pandemic was on our heels. We now live in a ‘mansion,’ the Japanese word for an apartment with access to an elevator, with our two cats.”

On a post-pandemic trip to College Park to visit her family this fall, Anna enrolled her daughter Abby in the Primary School as an international student in November. They’ll be returning to Japan after the winter holidays.

We caught up with Anna to ask about her Woodward memories and what it’s like to send her daughter to her alma mater.

Tell us about your family’s history with Woodward.
My dad started attending Woodward as an eighth grader in 1973. He graduated in 1978, and, after earning his physics degrees, started his teaching career at Fayette County High. In 1985, he was hired by his former physics teacher, Gus Dearolph, to teach at Woodward. My mother worked at the Campus Store from 1985 to 1988, and my younger brother, Matt, is also a Vintage Eagle (Class of 2013).

What are your best memories of being a Woodward student?
I honestly have too many to count, but an event that stands out to me is Super Goober Day. I remember it resembling a county fair, but on the Parade Field. I also have fond memories with friends from prom and homecoming.

Who were your inspirations (teachers, coaches, classmates, etc.)?
I had so many wonderful teachers at Woodward. Mrs. Washburn and Mrs. Lee made English class so enjoyable. Mr. Alvord, my anatomy teacher, always kept us engaged and very entertained! Mr. Sahara not only introduced us to the Japanese language, but also made sure we were immersed in the culture. Coming up last but not least on the list is Mr. Ehrensperger, who made physics class fun, but also made sure I wasn’t given any special treatment (thanks for the detention, Dad!).

How does it feel to be sending your daughter to the Primary School?
Completely surreal. Especially when I saw her in the uniform for the first time. It evoked feelings of pride and nostalgia. We are grateful that she gets to have this experience.

How does Abby feel about going to Woodward?
Abby loves the Primary School! She was chanting “yay! I’m going to Woodward” the entire walk to school on her first day. She adores all her teachers, especially Anna Mathis, her homeroom teacher, and has already made a few friends.

How is school different in Japan?
The school system differs quite a bit from Woodward. Abby attends “youchien” with her little sister Monday through Friday. Youchien is like an extended version of kindergarten. Kids start attending at three years old and graduate at six years old. The school environment is a bit “free range,” where you might find the middle and older class students doing their own thing (of course they do have some class time, too). The kids are expected to carry many bags to school in the morning. At the school entrance, they take off their outdoor shoes and put on their school slippers. They also have to clean the floors of their classroom (on their hands and knees with washcloths) and help each other make tea for lunchtime. When Abby graduates in March 2022, she will begin her first year of elementary school and walk to school by herself. It’s common to see young children riding the train alone to school in the mornings, so my nervous American heart rejoiced when I saw the short walk to the school she will be attending! As a parent of a multicultural kid, it can sometimes be difficult to straddle two worlds. My goal is for Abby to experience and share the best of both sides of her heritage, with her classmates here and there. 

What are Abby’s favorite things/subjects/activities at school and at home?
Abby loves art, dancing and singing. She is also a great runner (like her Grandad), so perhaps a future in Cross Country?