Culture shock: From Japan to Georgia State

This article is part of Generation Georgia State, a series that highlights the academic, personal and career accomplishments of Georgia State students, alumni, faculty and staff who are the first in their families to attend college.

When Kyla Robinson graduates this spring, there will be one important person missing from the crowd: her father. Four years ago, just months before she was to start her first semester at Georgia State University, Robinson’s father took his own life.

“It was unexpected,” said Robinson, an Honors College student in Anthropology. “It was Father’s Day, 2010. I had just graduated from high school, and I was so 12708_10151984828633722_1601388203_nexcited about starting college

That excitement was soon replaced with both grief and fear: her father had been the only member of her family to attend college, leaving Robinson without a mentor.

“My father attended Purdue University for two semesters, and then unexpectedly dropped out. My mother did not go to college. Because of this, I didn’t really know what to expect, or even how to begin preparing.”

Robinson faced her fears by throwing herself into her classes, and found that her professors were surprisingly encouraging. Her freshman year, she decided to test the academic waters by writing a paper on one of her passions: Lolita culture.

“I was originally into Japanese culture, and then I got into Lolita,” said Robinson. “It’s a really interesting subculture.”

The Lolita trend, which began in the 1970s in Japan and was popularized in the 1990s, is a fashion subculture based on the styles of the Victorian era. The trend has since spread around the world, and has split into four major groups: Sweet, Gothic, Punk and Classic. Despite the implications in its name, the movement is actually a reaction against the sexualization of women. As a budding anthropologist, Robinson found it irresistible, and has been studying it ever since.

“My freshman year, I wrote a paper on high tea, which is a major Lolita event,” said Robinson, “and now I’m doing my thesis on Lolita. I’m covering the fashion, the rituals, the taboos, the deviants… every aspect of what it means to be Lolita.”

Robinson will present at this year’s Georgia State Undergraduate Research Conference, and is currently applying to the national anthropology honor society.  She attributes much of her success to her professors.

“The Georgia State professors have just been amazing. The faculty is really encouraging, and there are so many resources on campus,” she said. “Everyone’s been cheering me on from day one.”

This fall, she’ll be attending the University of Ghent in Belgium, where she’ll be studying Dutch and the Belgian Lolita culture. She’s also planning on studying computer programming so she can design new software and research tools for anthropologists in the field.

“My mom’s really proud of me,” said Robinson. “She doesn’t really get what I do – she thinks it doesn’t sound very academic. But she’s happy I’m doing something that’s making me happy.”

And even though he’s not here to say it, Robinson knows her father would be proud, too.

“The last really great conversation we had was about college,” she said. “For anybody who’s on the fence, I would say, ‘Just go.’ You will find a way to afford it. People will cheer you on and give you that support. Just do it.”

To see more photos of Kyla in her Lolita costumes, check out  the College of Arts and Sciences Facebook page.