Editor’s Note: When we describe the coronavirus as a global pandemic, it is clear that the perils and challenges of the virus reach across the planet. Everyone within our small community at Springfield College has been affected. Students in COMM 224, Advanced Journalism, explored the impact on some of our international students, and on students from the U.S. who had been studying abroad. Today’s profile is of Yukiko Ono, a student from Japan.
By Taylor Sanzo
For most young people in college, the fear of being on our own as adults constantly hangs over our heads. Getting a job, moving out of our childhood home, and even grocery shopping for yourself.
For Yukiko Ono, this was not the case. Growing up in Tokyo, Japan has always prepared her for a life of her own. She was ready to conquer her dreams, start a new chapter of her life after graduation and stay content in her own little bubble.
That is until she got an opportunity to study abroad in America. That’s when the real fear sunk in as she asked herself, “How can I make it in a place so foreign?”
Throughout the course of her life, Yukiko, or Yuki for short, lived in serenity and safety.
“Japan is peace. Children can move freely and grow up on their own. The sale or use of handguns and drugs are forbidden. Besides, the Japanese don’t even like quarrels and fights. Children can go to school, parks, or shopping alone because of safety, and of course I did too. I think it is a good thing in Japan that even children can try many things on their own,” Yuki said. It was just another way to mature.
Yuki relishes in her childhood memories often, explaining she was never sheltered and was free to explore all her interests. “I was challenged to do many things, like snorkeling in the summer and skiing in the winter. I still love to be physically active,” Yuki said.
She even adds her parents didn’t want to raise her in a way that would make her dependent on them forever. “Basically, they let me do whatever I wanted to do. However, my parents scolded me if I didn’t do my homework or came home late, stuff like that.”
Unfortunately, her mother fell ill earlier on in Yuki’s life, but she always had a support system and ways to find positives. “My grandmother played Bamboo Dragonfly and Menko with me, so I was able to take my mind off my loneliness of my mother not being home.”
Yuki credits the way she was raised, saying it prepared her for the real world in Japan. “It’s discipline and freedom. We do our best to do what we can.”
Since she was so active during her youth, she quickly gained an interest in pursuing a career in physical education. She completed her undergrad at Nihon University in Tokyo and wanted to move on to graduate school, focusing on sports management.
“Initially, I didn’t think about studying abroad.” Yuki seemed to be quite content with how her life was going in Japan. “However, during my sophomore year of college, I had the opportunity to go to the United States, and my thoughts were changed,” she added. “One of my university teachers recommended I go to Australia, but I chose the United States because I wanted to study in the birthplace of basketball.”
For the first time in her life, Yuki seemed to feel uneasy, like her path was not as straight as she always thought it would be. Was this opportunity going to help her? Or would this make her realize how much she wished she were back at home?
As the day to depart to America came, Yuki was faced to say her farewells. “I said goodbye to my parents and friends with a smile. They didn’t know that when I was alone in a taxi, train, and airplane, I cried. Even after I got to Springfield College, I was homesick and crying at night for two weeks. I wasn’t nervous until the day before departure. I imagined everything fine before, but it was really hard.”
Life in Springfield was the opposite of Tokyo. Yuki had to adjust to the culture, a foreign language, and foreign people. “In the first month after entering the school, I couldn’t understand the class at all because my listening ability in English was low. In Japan, students study English from junior high to high school. However, since students only read and write, I was not used to speaking or listening, but I wanted to improve my English because it’s useful for working in the sports industry in Japan.”
One thing Yuki had the hardest time adjusting to was the people. Americans do not have the best reputation when it comes to being nice, at least up north they do not.
“Some were kind and friendly. The Americans were always there to help me when I got lost or needed help on campus. However, I still remember one lady from the subway staff in Boston was not so friendly,” Yuki said. “She dismissed me and I felt like I was being racially discriminated against. I was also often misunderstood by Americans that I am Chinese. Asians have similar faces, so I think it can’t be helped that they make mistakes.” Although, it still seemed unfair.
Adjusting to the fast pace American lifestyle was anything but easy. However, she didn’t want to feel like an outsider. She thanks herself and her own culture for being able to get through it.
“To be Japanese is to adapt to the high-context culture. Japanese are very good at understanding the feelings of others. Even if you don’t say a word, the Japanese can understand your feeling from the atmosphere and your expression.” To Yuki’s point, it’s who they are.
Since coming to America, Yuki started to believe that this experience was good for her. She found comfortability in being uncomfortable. “It was 70 percent hard and 30 percent fun to that new life but I liked the challenge.” This abroad experience was pushing Yuki to think and act in a way she normally wouldn’t.
Deb Alm, the Director of the International Center on campus at Springfield College, has had the opportunity to see Yuki blossom on campus after making the adjustment of being abroad. “Studying abroad has taught Yuki about how to deal with difficulty and change. She has been able to take from American culture what suits her and use it to her advantage. She has learned to speak up for what she needs to be successful, and she has learned how to deal and cooperate with a variety of people.”
Things were falling into place through her time at Springfield College. Yuki was able to make friends on campus and receive accommodations through the International Center. During her free time, she was even able to visit cities such as New York and Boston. “The towns were calm and had a sense of history. I even thought New York looked a lot like Shibuya in Japan. I definitely want to go again,” she said.
Unfortunately, her time was cut short at Springfield. Unlike most international students, it was not because of the Coronavirus. Yuki had to finish up internship credits back in Japan.
“I was already back in Japan before the virus hit the world. It’s very scary. I’m more worried about my parents getting infected than I am about getting it myself,” Yuki said. “Shimura Ken, who is a famous Japanese comedian, passed away because of the virus. I think his death has changed the mindset of the Japanese people a bit. It’s serious,” she added.
As of May 4, Japan has had 15,095 cases with 538 deaths, far below the U.S. totals, but the safety protocol matches up similarly. “The government is asking people not to go out and refrain from gathering with many people,” Yuki said.
Unfortunately, one of the downfalls of the Coronavirus has been the cancelation of the Olympics in Tokyo, but it doesn’t seem to bother Yuki.
“It has had a huge impact on the hotel and tourism industry. There are many companies that have lost revenue by hotels and flight cancellations, but it doesn’t affect me. To be honest, I was relieved that the Olympics were postponed. If people had come in under these circumstances, we would be in trouble because the infection would spread.”
While she fears this unprecedented time, Yuki claims to be taking it day-by-day. “I am so worried. I can’t get a face mask, and I spend a lot less time outside. The other day, I went grocery shopping for the first time in a week, but that’s just how life is for everyone right now.”
Yuki’s adult life, especially post grad life, has been nothing short of hectic. From being thrown into a new environment a world away, to now adjusting to life in quarantine. During this time, one thing is certain to Yuki.
“I’ve learned that there are many different ways of thinking, cultures and people. I have learned that it is important to respect and adapt to the culture of the country where I live. What’s commonplace in Japan doesn’t necessarily work in the United States.”
This time in her life has helped her change in ways that were once thought unimaginable. There is a whole world out there apart from your own. Immersing yourself in unfamiliarity and uncomfortability is the only way to grow…and Yuki did just that.