International student connects BGSU experience to native home

Photo of BGSU International student, Joji Kawamura

Falcon Media Staff

Photo of BGSU International student, Joji Kawamura

Taylor McFarland, Reporter

Joji Kawamura had never planned to come to the United States. He grew up in Tokyo, Japan before moving to Taiwan, where he went to high school. After graduation, he planned to return home to Japan, but there was one thing that changed everything for him: learning to speak English.  

Kawamura said his high school in Taiwan followed American culture and taught all subjects in English. 

“Since I already started learning English, I wanted to keep learning English as others did so I decided to come to the states,” he said. 

Kawamura can speak Japanese, Chinese and English. Since his parents are from Taiwan, he can somewhat interpret the Taiwanese language, but not as well as others.

Once Kawamura arrived at BGSU, there were a lot of things that surprised him. He said he was surprised that he couldn’t find other Japanese students and that other people did not speak Japanese.

“I don’t really find Japanese people here,” he said. “There were maybe around 10 Japanese kids in our high school and Japanese people tend to hang out with other Japanese people. Even though we go to English [high] school, we always speak Japanese.” 

Kawamura was amazed at the differences between Bowling Green and Tokyo. One of the things that grabbed his attention most was the landscape. He said Bowling Green is a very “countryside” city to him because you can’t really do anything here without a car. 

He recently got his driver’s license in Ohio. However, everything in Tokyo is walkable and people don’t really drive cars, so it was something he had to adjust to. 

Before he got a car, Kawamura used to take yearly trips to Japan to bring back Asian food.

“When I have a car, I don’t really need to bring food from Japan because I can either go to like, you know, Perrysburg or Toledo to get Asian food, too,” he said. 

Even though he is able to travel and get Asian food, Kawamura said he wishes BGSU’s dining facilities had authentic Asian cuisines. However, the American high school he attended in Taiwan mirrors that of the Oaks dining facility.

“The food we had was like Taiwanese food, but the system [they use to] service the food was the same as Oaks. We just get the food in the line,” he said. “Our food in our high school was not good, either.”

Aside from adapting to the landscape and food, there were other things about Kawamura’s transition to BGSU that were difficult. His first impression of BGSU was not a positive one.

“My first impression of BGSU itself, it was not really helpful for international students. I really felt like I had to do everything by myself,” he said. “It might be because I just didn’t know there are people who can help you.”

Things weren’t that different in the classroom setting, either.

“Teachers were not that helpful when I was a freshman. I don’t think there’s a reason, but that’s what I have felt like. You don’t really get help, but you need to work hard to be better by yourself,” he said. 

He said that he also struggled to find friends and with how he was being treated by other students in the classroom. When Kawamura was a freshman, he said he was struggling in class and students were trying to help him out, but they ended up patronizing him.

“When I struggle, yeah it’s nice to have help, but then when I’m not struggling, I don’t need help, but then they’re trying to help me,” he said.“That makes me feel like a minority. That made me realize I am a minority.” 

He said he wasn’t that good with English at the time, but other students treated him like someone who doesn’t know English at all. 

On top of that, Kawamura said he was the only Japanese person whenever he attended class, which made it especially hard to find friends in the classroom. He said most Japanese students are exchange students, so the number of Japanese international students is limited to himself and possibly one other person. 

One thing that did help him to navigate BGSU was Steven Wu, a former student and International Student Ambassador. 

According to International Student Services, or ISS, the International Student Ambassadors (ISA) Program is designed to connect incoming international students with current international students so they get the help and support they need as they learn and adapt to life at BGSU. The ISA volunteers help to facilitate events that are coordinated by ISS and build relationships with international students. 

Wu went to high school with Kawamura, but neither of them found out until Kawamura got accepted into BGSU. Kawamura’s advisor contacted Steven on his behalf when he was still in high school in Taiwan. When Wu went back to Taiwan for summer break, he visited the high school and talked to Kawamura.  Wu helped him a lot with his transition to BGSU.

“He’s the one who took me everywhere when I didn’t know anything about BGSU. He had a car to pick me up and bring me to the dorm,” Kawamura said.

Before he became an ISA, Kawamura said he knew a lot of international students already so he thought he could help those people out by being a bridge between new students and the students who already go to BGSU. He said being an ISA is like one big practice for his future.

“I just like knowing a lot of international students,” he said. “I’m thinking of becoming a marketing officer in architecture-related fields. That’s my dream job for now. I like creating bridges between my friends. It’s all about creating bridges and helping each other, collaborations.” 

Now a senior and graduating this semester, Kawamura said he will miss BGSU.

“I will definitely miss this place in the future, especially my roommates. I love my roommates,” he said. “I think I know a lot of people on campus. I like them all.”