The Wedding Gift

The hospitality Rod and Betty Van Der Weide showed Natsuki Nagakawa as her NWC host family made such an impression on her that she paid for them to attend her wedding and set the date to best fit their schedule.

Betty Van Der Weide sat on a bed in Tennessee’s Heartbreak Hotel and told her husband, Rod, “You’re not going to believe this.”

The two were on a rare road trip away from Maurice, Iowa, when their former host student Natsuki (Isobe ’99) Nagakawa called from Japan with news of her wedding. After inviting the couple to attend, she added, “All expenses are on us.”

“I appreciate Rod and Betty for everything they did for me,” Nagakawa wrote in an email. “To visit their home and spend time with them made me feel so safe and secure. I wanted their presence at our marriage and to give them a trip to Japan. It was my selfish wish.”

The Van Der Weides debated for three weeks before accepting such a generous gift, the scope of which would unfold with the beauty of a paper fan. Nagakawa scheduled her wedding on a date that worked best for Rod and Betty. She booked their seats on the plane’s right side for a view of Mount Fuji on the way there, and the left side on the way back.

Over the course of 15 years, the Van Der Weides had welcomed 55 students from Northwestern’s host family program. Around a crowded table at Sunday dinner, Nagakawa had practiced English with her new family, just as the Van Der Weides would try a few words in Japanese in Niigata.

“We managed to communicate,” says Betty. “A smile goes a long way. They could see how much we cared for Natsuki.”

At the wedding reception, Nagakawa and her husband, Dai, held a special tea ceremony in the Van Der Weides’ honor, presenting them with a custom blend of tea and a cup imprinted with their names.

The bride and groom called the next day with an invitation to Sado Island. When Betty protested they should be alone on their honeymoon, Dai replied, “We have the rest of our lives together; you only have one week here.”

It was the trip of a lifetime for the Van Der Weides, who traveled little yet welcomed the world into their home. For Nagakawa, the journey fulfilled a dream held since graduation: For 10 years, she’d been putting away money to fly the couple to Japan.

“My wish of seeing them once again came true,” she wrote. “My guests could know me better through their presence since they were a big part of my life. I cannot give them back as much as I got from them.”

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