Meet Our 2023 #AUSweethearts: Josh and Junko Pierry
To grow up on opposite sides of the globe but share nearly the same soul? That’s the stuff of storybooks. But for Junko Pierry, SIS/BA ’00, and Josh Pierry, SIS/BA ’00, it’s a true account of their love.
“We’re basically identical in how we look at the world,” Josh says.
All that needed to happen was for the two to intersect in the same city; then, they could see how many ways their hearts overlapped. In fact, that exact meeting would occur at American University, in none other than a prerequisite stats class.
As a kid in Oregon, Josh harbored dreams that reached across the country—and even the planet. “I wanted to explore and know my world,” he says. For college, he swapped the west coast for the east one, due to his interest in DC’s political scene. (He would go on to spend four years working with the Democratic Party.) “But international [service] was one of my biggest focuses,” he says. “I wanted to learn multiple languages. I wanted to go abroad.”
Meanwhile, roughly 5,000 miles from her future husband’s home state, Junko was born and raised in Japan. For college, she chose to enroll in Ritsumeikan University’s dual-degree program. Its cutting-edge setup allowed her to kickstart her degree on campus in Kyoto before taking off for DC, where she’d attend classes at AU. That’s where the unexpected would happen.
“The very first time we ever met was our very first class that we both had at AU,” says Josh. Although he remembers the course as difficult, he also describes it as “fun”—for good reason.
“She was one of the first people that I ever knew at AU,” Josh says of Junko. “When I first saw [her], it was just like, Wow, there's this really cool person that's there that I want to...talk with.” And Junko’s first impression of Josh? He was “talkative”!
According to Josh, Junko ignored him for months before agreeing to go out with him. “I didn't really speak the language very well to begin with,” Junko retorts. “Also, I was [a] really good student. I wanted to focus on study[ing].”
Josh would finally succeed in snagging a date with Junko after a fateful meeting during the summer session. Junko was enrolled in classes, while Josh remained in DC for work. One day, he spotted her with a friend in Mary Graydon Center and decided to suggest a hangout.
Josh was headed to Georgetown to grab a gift for his brother and asked, “Do you want to come with me?’” Junko declined, but after some more chatting, she “agreed to skip class” to go—after Josh offered to buy both her and her friend lunch. (“I really wasn’t interested in her friend,” he teases).
The trio headed to Georgetown for an all-you-can-eat pasta feast. “[Junko and I have] been together ever since,” he says. Once their bond was forged over full plates, there was no looking back.
Twenty-five years later, Josh and Junko share a life in California—not too terribly far from her family in Japan—with their two kids, Luka (11) and Lia (8). Junko works in international service as Stanford University’s senior international student advisor. Josh, though, has tended toward more entrepreneurial pursuits; his most recent company, Pierry, Inc., was acquired by the world’s biggest ad agency back in 2017. Yet, despite Josh’s pivot toward business, global exploration remains at the heart of the couple’s relationship.
“We both we love to travel,” says Josh. “We love international...everything.” So, it’s no surprise they each graduated from the School of International Service. (And, as it turns out, Josh even participated in a Japanese exchange program in Niigata back in high school!) “[American] really kind of meshed...[our] values,” he says.
Still today, their interest in international culture remains an active force in their lives. They are presently based in the Bay Area and share many international, multilingual, and biracial friends. SIS offered them a similar sort of worldly community, Josh says.
Although heaping pasta dishes may not specifically be on the menu for their Valentine’s Day this year, one thing that’s for certain is that they will connect over their deep love of cuisine on this special day. And the pair’s passion for food is intertwined with their love of travel.
“We’ve been almost everywhere,” Josh says. He considers the pair adventurous in more ways than one. “When it comes to food...the more unique, the more diverse, the better.”
The two have ventured everywhere from Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic to Lithuania and Russia. But which country’s food reigns supreme? “Italy and Japan, I think, [are] our two favorite food places,” Josh says. “Japan's got the best food in the world.”
Japan, of course, is a destination central to the couple’s travel life. Josh studied in Japan during his senior year of college alongside Junko, and the pair remained in Kyoto for a period post graduation. They visit Japan annually—now bringing their kids along for the ride.
Although the two have not been back to Tenleytown since the turn of the century, their memories of the place feel fresh. They recount silly and sincere stories as if they’d just occurred the day before. One tale in particular stands out, actually concerning Valentine’s Day.
“You see [people in] the movies put candles everywhere,” Josh says. “So, I thought it'd be really nice to do the same” for Valentine’s. He trekked to a shop to cop some tea candles, determined to make a sparkling display for Junko. But back in his college days, money was tighter.
“I walked in, [and] I'm like, Wow, this place is really expensive,” he remembers. He checked out some white candles on display before stumbling upon marked-down black ones. He went with the deal and ended up lugging home “a whole bunch of black [tea] candles” to light and display throughout his apartment. The finished product shimmered.
But here’s where things got sticky: Josh lit the candles right on top of his apartment’s white carpet. By the time their glowing evening was over, he had “completely encased 5, 10, 15 patches of white carpet in black wax that then became purple.” Not a single cleaning hack proved successful—not wielding an iron or slathering peanut butter over the stains. They even tried cutting out the blemishes. (“That looked awful afterwards,” Josh laughs.) When it came time for him to move out and jet to Russia, his mom got stuck with the bill for the carpet’s replacement.
“It was romantic, though,” Junko says. “I appreciated [it].” Josh agrees that “the effort was there,” but “the after effect [was] a little expensive.”
When it comes to love, Josh says, it’s important to “be flexible” because flukes will certainly happen. Remember that your partner may have “good intentions” but “terrible execution” on certain occasions. “Just roll with it and enjoy it,” he says.
In addition to Josh’s emphatic tip, “Don’t use black candles on white rugs,” the pair have advice for young Eagles looking for love. First, having fun doesn’t have to come with a steep cost.
“Even if money is an issue, get creative around it,” Josh says. Experiment. Scope out local deals. “Find a place that you both can enjoy...[without] putting pressure on either person...[to break] the bank,” he adds.
When it comes to building a sustainable relationship, “You have to find someone that you love and respect [mutually],” Josh says—“and enjoy being with,” Junko adds.
Just as Josh and Junko’s relationship is one of a kind, so too is the university at which they first connected. To Junko, AU stood out back when she began navigating college. A quarter of a century ago, “there were not that many schools that were...offering the dual-degree programs,” she says. “AU was definitely unique.”
And Josh recalls the number of students who attend AU from across the globe, even pointing to the appeal of international dormitories.
Junko discusses how AU’s international focus changed the trajectory of her career. “I didn’t even know that there was...such [an] occupation as international student advisor,” she says. But the time she spent working with Fanta Aw, Kogod/BSBA ’90, SPA/MA ’94, CAS/PhD ’11—then AU’s staff member in that role—transformed her. “She helped me,” she says, and the experience culminated in her decision to pursue international student advising, even directing her toward an applicable graduate program. “I’ve been working in international education since then,” she says. “My experience at AU really shaped what I want[ed] to do in my life, and so I really do credit my [time there].”
Josh, whose “career has taken a very entrepreneurial” turn, lauds AU as “a great place to just explore the world and learn about different ways to think about things and new people.” He looks back fondly on his two study-abroad experiences—“something that [he] really wanted to do in [his] life.”
AU “totally changed my perspective on the world,” Josh shares. “It's something that I'm eternally grateful for. And, obviously, we met each other, so that’s been the biggest life-changing event.”
“I think we both have super positive views of AU,” Josh says. “We loved our experience there.”
The next step is for the Pierrys to head back to campus for old times’ sake—to celebrate the place where sparks first flew.