Campus News News

Shota Tanaka’s Long Journey to Springfield College

Andrew Gutman
Staff Writer

TanakaWith his legs crossed and a blanket draped over his shoulders, Shota Tanaka sits on his bed, quickly flipping through his Emergency Medical Services textbook. A full-sized Japanese flag hangs over the bed, and his brown and plaid Boreal winter boots sit in the middle of his room, scattered among his 300 color coded EMS notecards and a bottle of half-empty Japanese-brand shampoo.

As Tanaka quickly passes over page 389, the page covered in tape due to his deathly fear of snakes, he pushes his thick dark-rimmed glasses further up on to his nose so he can better read the words written in his book, most of which he cannot comprehend.

Tanaka struggles on a daily basis with finding ways to accommodate his lack of English skills. He spends hours per day tirelessly reading through his Japanese and English textbooks. Sometimes the stress is too much and he puts his head in his hands out of frustration.

“It is hard. Especially the names of the muscles, bones and diseases,” explained Tanaka. “I have to be in this environment here in the U.S. or other- wise I couldn’t do it.”

English is not an easy language to learn, but it has become a necessity for Tanaka. With the population of Japan only making up 1.76 percent of the world, Tanaka sees himself as a needle in a haystack. He is not the only one who sees himself that way though. Deborah Alm, director of the International Center, knows that Tanaka has what it takes.

“It’s a tough major,” said Alm. “I believe that he has the grit. I think he has the determination to see himself through as a successful athletic trainer at the end of this. I think he is also very focused on gaining skills and certifications for a job, so I think that he will do whatever it takes to make it.”

His love for sports has always been great. Along with the influence Tanaka’s father has had on him due to his profession as an E.R doctor, Tanaka is now studying at Spring- field College to somewhat follow in his father’s footsteps. With sports out of his life for now, Tanaka has honed in his razor sharp focus to the field of athletic training. Born in Tokyo, Japan, Tanaka was thrust into the world of sports right from the very beginning. Taking on gymnastics, baseball and skiing, he had no time for typical childhood norms such as television and play dates.

“My goal was to place fourth in Nationals [for skiing],” Tanaka stated as he reminisced about his skiing days. Tanaka wanted to do whatever it would take to win; he even went as far as transferring schools so he could compete in an easier prefecture. By the end of junior high, Tanaka’s tenacity paid off and the young skier placed fourth in his prefecture and made his way to Nationals for the first and last time in his life.

“I was crying,” said Tanaka. “My friend and his father were even crying too.”

Although he appears unassuming, Tanaka has had a number of experiences that many could only dream of before reaching the mere age of 20. He has attended high school in Switzerland, traveled to Zambia, Africa and even took two months out of his life to practice the art of sushi making, which is considered a true art form in Japan. Tanaka demonstrates a true love for discovering more about the world and what it has to offer him.

“We had an international cooking night back in the fall where students from many different countries were making many things and he was making his,” recalled Alm with a grin on her face.

“He was able to pick up the rice and know that it was 13.6 grams. He knows because he has practiced it over and over. He can focus on that level. He is very me- ticulous about his life, but he is also fun and funny.”

With Tanaka’s social life being second to his studies, his roommate Jonathon Pike does his best to keep Tanaka on his feet and keep him sane.

“He is very reserved,” said Pike. “He just works all the time. When he lived with me in Reed, my friends and I would force him to come out.” Having a support system around him rooting for him to succeed and the determination and drive that skiing has taught him, Tanaka knows that the hard work will pay off and that he will achieve what he needs to achieve.

“As long as I am here I will do it,” explained Tanaka. “I don’t want to say that English is my weak point, [but] it is my weak point. I will not make excuses for myself.”

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