Posted on: October 29, 2021 Posted by: Glacier Staff Comments: 0

By Anais Rangel, JRN 111 Student

Mari Tsuda’s life has taken unexpected turns — from excitement to grief, and from studying Hungarian in Japan to studying English at Moraine Valley Community College.

Born in Holland, she later moved back to her hometown of Kyoto, Japan, with her family. In 2015, at age 22, she received her bachelor’s degree in Hungarian Language and Culture from Osaka University. But the excitement of graduating from college was replaced by grief over her mother’s death from breast cancer.

“In my university, many students were supposed to go to a foreign country because they learned foreign language,” she said. “But because of my mother’s death, I couldn’t go to Hungary.”

She ended up working as a manager of a glasses shop in Japan instead. Encouraged by her father, she made the unexpected choice to come to the United States.

“My father suddenly suggested to me that if I wanted to, I could go abroad to learn English. He said, ‘I support you,’ and then I quickly quit my job,” she said.

Now a sophomore at Moraine Valley, Tsuda is taking courses to improve her English. She is one of many international students at Moraine. In normal times, hundreds of students come here from nearly 50 different countries, but this year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that number is much lower.

My father suddenly suggested to me that if I wanted to, I could go abroad to learn English. He said, ‘I support you’ and then I quickly quit my job.”

International Student Mari Tsuda

One of Tsuda’s favorite classes is Interpersonal Communication, which she takes with Professor Delwyn Jones. Jones says Tsuda does well in class.

“Mari seems to be fairly confident in herself and comfortable enough to verbally express her feelings,”  he said. “As a matter of fact, she is more vocal in class than most. Her writing skills are well above average.”

Tsuda describes herself as being a sensitive person. She says she was too cautious before she came to the United States, but now she has become more open-minded and friendly.

Photo courtesy of Mari Tsuda
Mari Tsuda came to Moraine Valley from Japan to study English, experiencing an American culture shock.

“She’s very cheerful, thoughtful, studious, and also a good listener,” said Chiharu Murakami, one of Tsuda’s close friends, “although she sometimes says ‘I apologize’ too often even when she doesn’t have to.”

Because of her student visa, Tsuda is required to go back to Japan by the end of this year, but she hopes to return and settle in the United States. Since she speaks Japanese, Hungarian and English, she plans to become a high school teacher in an English as a Second Language program, helping non-native speakers. In her spare time, Tsuda strives to learn new languages such as Korean or German.  

Moraine’s International Student Affairs program offers housing assistance to international students, helping them rent a room in the home of a host family, allowing them to “experience life with an American family and develop lasting relationships,” according to the program’s website.

Tsuda lived with one family when she first arrived in the United States, but due to the family’s COVID precautions, she wasn’t able to go out much. After a year, Tsuda contacted the International Student Affairs office on campus to change her host family.

“They are very friendly and supportive,” Tsuda says.

On weekdays, her day typically consists of waking up around 9 a.m. and waiting for the bus to take her to school. On campus, she spends her free time studying in the B building until her class begins. Long nights follow as she arrives home around 6:30 p.m. and stays up until 2 a.m. studying.

“I stay up late sometimes because I need time to translate and read the class textbook,” Tsuda said.

It’s hard to manage, to adjust our minds to the new customs, but you have to continue to stay busy, study often, stay focused, and never give up when life gets hard.”

Mari Tsuda

Tsuda says she notices differences between school in the U.S. and school in Japan. Japanese students don’t raise their hands in class. She paused for a second, staring into an empty space between us, and then described how students in Japan mainly listen to the lecture and take notes without interrupting the teacher.

“Remembering and listening are the tasks for students,” she said. 

Over the years, Tsuda has learned to adjust to the unexpected, and that has helped her acclimate to life as an international student. She has advice for new international students now going through the same experience she did.

“For the first few weeks, everything is kind of the culture shock, feelings of confusion and  uncertainty,” she said. “It’s hard to manage, to adjust our minds to the new customs, but you have to continue to stay busy, study often, stay focused, and never give up when life gets hard.

“Believe in yourself, and you will accomplish whatever you set your mind to!”