Alumni Spotlight: Saka Yoshikawa

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If you ever find yourself reading about the genetic significance of the Ryukyu wild boar, it might be thanks to Saka Yoshikawa and a small group of his fellow researchers. Now in the last year of his studies to complete a master’s degree in agriculture, Saka’s research centers on the genetic analysis of this endangered boar subspecies that only inhabits the Ryukyu Archipelago in Japan. This dwarf boar has generated so much interest as a potential genetic resource, that the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is attempting to encourage its conservation and promoting applied research on the subspecies. At this point, the available information on the Ryukyu wild boar is limited, and Saka would like to contribute to the creation of more data about the small mammal.

Two years ago, Meiji University, where Saka is a graduate student, sent him to the 95th Annual Meeting of the American Society of Mammalogists in Jacksonville, Florida, to present his research. He remembers that he could not communicate with others while he was at the conference. “In Japan we just learn grammar; we do not often use English in conversation. I was depressed because of my lack of English skills.” That’s when he decided he would come to the United States to improve his communication skills in English. He knew that, as a graduate student working on research, he needed to learn something beyond general conversation. He chose the Rice University Intensive English Program because he wanted to learn “professional English”. He learned about structure in writing and how to organize his sentences when constructing a paragraph. He also learned how to give oral presentations. Now, less than a year after completing the program, he has written several papers in English and has been able to present them in front of English-speaking audiences. One of his papers in English was even published in an international academic journal. Saka is looking forward to September, when he will be presenting his research at the 68th Annual Meeting of the European Federation of Animal Science (EAAP), in Tallinn, Estonia.

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Saka, third from the left, with classmates in the student lounge

Besides improving his English language proficiency, Saka enjoyed meeting people from diverse cultures and learning about many different customs from around the world. One thing that surprised him was how different cultures view time and punctuality. In Japan, people tend to be very punctual, while other cultures seem to be much more lax with time and schedules. He does keep in touch with several former classmates who became his friends. Last month, a classmate from Brazil was in Japan and they were able to meet. Next month, he plans to go to Taiwan to visit classmates from Taiwan and Korea. Being in a new country while he was studying in the Intensive English Program at Rice, Saka also decided to try something new: he went skydiving. He says it was very exciting and it should be experienced at least once. It must be said, though, that skydiving is not a mandatory social activity for our students! In the future, he would like to work in a foreign country where he can put his English skills to good use. He knows that, in order not to lose his English knowledge, he needs to practice the language. To others thinking about studying English in the U.S. he says, “It is very hard to make the decision to study abroad. However, I am convinced that you will definitely learn not only English skills but various decision-making skills too. Have the courage to take a step forward.”

Author: Milagros Lugo-Amador, Assistant Director

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