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From Cd'A to Princeton to Japan

by DEVIN WEEKS
Staff Writer | May 29, 2023 1:06 AM

A 2021 Coeur d'Alene Charter Academy valedictorian is taking his linguistic prowess overseas.

Matthew Barrett, a computer science major at Princeton University, is heading to Japan to participate in the Princeton in Ishikawa program. He will stay with a host family on the Japanese island of Honshu as he and about 35 top Ivy League students undergo the curricular equivalent of one academic year of Japanese language study at Princeton in just eight weeks.

Barrett, 20, said he was ecstatic when he was notified by his professors in February that he was selected for this prestigious opportunity.

"I knew it was a really competitive program," said Barrett, whose hometown is Coeur d'Alene.

"I knew a lot of my classmates were applying for it," he said. "They’re all very skilled and passionate language learners too. I was really happy when I knew I got into it."

Barrett, who was accepted to Princeton on a scholarship, just finished his sophomore year. He was asked to represent the Ivy League group in addressing Gov. Hiroshi Hase of Ishikawa Prefecture upon arrival in Japan, thanking him in Japanese for the hospitality.

"It’s pretty surreal. There’s definitely some nervousness there," Barrett said. "I think mainly I’m approaching it with an open mind and trying to accept everything that comes my way, whether it's linguistically, culturally. This is the first time I’ve traveled internationally, let alone to Japan."

Barrett studied Spanish in high school but began teaching himself Japanese before enrolling in the classes at Princeton, where he has now been a Japanese language student for two years. He is considering making it his minor. He is an intermediate Japanese speaker, capable of engaging in advanced levels of discussion and debate.

"I get amazed sometimes when I step back and look at the level of topics and conversations in class," he said, adding that his oral exam for the most recent class final required discussing American social welfare programs and where taxes would come from to establish a program to make higher education free for all.

"It was difficult, but the fact that I can get those ideas across is amazing," he said. "It's a great feeling."

Overcoming difficulties has become the norm for Barrett, who lost his dad to Parkinson's disease and then his mom to multiple sclerosis while he was a teenager. His grandparents, Paul and Martha Vilandre of Hayden, raised him through the rest of his high school years.

Paul Vilandre said after Barrett's parents died, he put all of his time and energy into his academics.

"My wife and I are very proud," Vilandre said, adding that attending Charter gave Barrett a positive challenge that ultimately paved the way for Princeton.

"We’re very proud at how well he’s doing grade-wise," Paul said. "It’s stiff competition."

Barrett said the challenges and losses he has faced have helped shape him as he grows into adulthood.

"When I look back, I think of all the great teachers I've had, the mentors I've had, certainly my family, and I think of all the individual lessons that I was taught by them," he said. "I’ve grown so much, especially recently."

He said what underlies all of it is persistence and determination, "in both overcoming the personal struggles I faced, my parents' death and trying to strive academically, and studying Japanese, a very difficult topic."

"If you don't have the drive, it’s very easy to give up," he said.

photo

Courtesy photo

Senior photo of Matthew Barrett, 2021 Coeur d'Alene Charter Academy valedictorian.

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