If you had known Michiyo when she was studying in the Rice University Intensive English Program, you wouldn’t have been surprised to know that she had been a radio and TV personality in Japan for 12 years. Her bubbly and lively personality is indeed perfect for a career in media and entertainment. She used to appear on all kinds of programs related to news, travel, food, sports, music, and even documentaries. She moved to Houston when her husband was relocated for work, but didn’t feel confident in her English skills. Most of the Japanese friends she had already made in Houston suggested she take English courses in the ESL Program at Rice. Six years ago, she started in level 4 of our 6-level core program. “The first week of the session”, she recalls, “I realized that I could hardly understand what the teachers and classmates were saying. Seven weeks later, I was surprised that I could talk with them naturally, without hesitation.” By the end of each level she saw her English skills improve. Michiyo went on to complete level 6 and two additional sessions at the Advanced Level, where she focused on specific skills, such as listening, speaking, reading, writing, vocabulary and pronunciation. One session, her outstanding performance was recognized with a merit-based scholarship awarded by the program.
Not surprisingly, Michiyo easily made friends with teachers and classmates from all over the world. She enjoyed preparing Japanese dishes for her classmates and friends. She was surprised that all of them loved edamame, but not all of them liked seaweed or raw fish. In turn, they taught her about their different cultures. This opened up a whole new world for her. She was fascinated with the various customs, foods and points of view of her classmates, especially the Arabic and Turkish, since she seldom had a chance to meet people of these nationalities in Japan. She also remembers all the activities the teachers organized to motivate students, including in-class games, singing and collaborative group work. In one class they even made a music video! (As you might suspect, this project was right up Michiyo’s alley.) She also has fond memories of the birthday parties that classmates organized for each other, which often offered a well-deserved break from their intensive studies. Drawing from her own experience, she has some advice for international students learning English in the U.S.: “Do not hesitate to interact with people. No one will laugh at your English as long as you make an effort to communicate.” The truth is most people actually admire in others the determination to learn a foreign language.
Michiyo currently is a stay-at-home mom and lives in Tokyo with her husband and two children. She has had her own blog since 2005 where, while living in Houston, she often shared her impressions of the city, the differences between the U.S. and Japan (from the astonishing to the hilarious) and her experiences as an English student in the U.S. These days she writes about her everyday life and her adventures as the mother of two young children. So as not to lose the skills she acquired in our program, she has enrolled in a course at the NYU School of Professional Studies, Tokyo to brush up on her English skills. She starts next week! In the future, she wants to create infant massage classes for international new mothers in Japan. When she gave birth to her first child in New York, she joined an infant massage class where she connected with other foreign moms and exchanged information about baby care and going through new motherhood in the U.S. This was very helpful and comforting in a time when she felt anxious about having a baby in a foreign country with no family or support network. She would love to provide the same opportunity and welcoming space to others in the same situation. She shared with us that she would also like to volunteer as a tour guide for visitors to the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020. The classes she’s about to start to further polish her English will no doubt come in handy when she’s guiding English-speaking visitors through the city that is now her home.
Author: Milagros Lugo-Amador, Assistant Director