Contact: Zack Plair
STARKVILLE, Miss.—For Yuko Kagihara, the thought of returning to her Kyoto, Japan, home is bittersweet.
She chose to intern at Mississippi State to experience a smaller, rural atmosphere far removed from the bustling lifestyle of one of Japan’s largest cities. As she wraps up her seven months in Starkville, however, it’s not the slower pace or shorter buildings that she’ll remember most. It’s the people, she said, who have treated her so well.
“I’m very impressed with how welcome the people have made me feel here,” she said. “They are very proud of their work and very competent. Even when you go (off campus) and walk down the street, people look you in the eye and speak to you. It’s nice.”
Kagihara is one of 12 Japanese educational administrators participating in this year’s Long-Term Educational Administrators Program, and Tuesday [March 15] will be her last day working in MSU’s International Institute. Sponsored by Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, the LEAP program enables Japanese education administrators to learn how the U.S. higher education system works and possibly apply some of those practices back home.
All participants arrived in the U.S. in June, and spent two months at Montana State University, the facilitating university in the U.S., completing intensive English training before going to their chosen institution. They will present on their experiences in Washington, D.C., before going back to Japan.
Kagihara has worked three years as an administrator for International Affairs at the Kyoto Institute of Technology. At MSU, she shadowed administrators in all six branches of the International Institute – international engagement, relations, services and research development; study abroad, and the English Language Institute.
Compared to Japan, Kagihara said she found U.S. higher education work more specialized, and communication far more open.
“Everyone was very open to express themselves and their ideas, especially in staff meetings,” she said.
MSU competed with 20 universities to host one of the 12 LEAP interns. Interim Associate Vice President and Executive Director of the International Institute Jon Rezek said it was an honor to be selected to participate in the LEAP program, and he called Kagihara a “quick study” with a bright future in education administration. Having her on board also provided a vital cultural exchange opportunity for the entire staff, Rezek added.
“One of the main benefits of being exposed to people of another culture is the lens it focuses back on your own culture,” he said. “It encourages us to think about how we interact and contemplate whether there are things we can do to improve. Having Yuko in the office, and growing to think of her as one of us, has been particularly beneficial to several members of the Institute who have not had much experience with the Japanese culture or Japanese students.
“It has made them more open and understanding of the challenges facing international students in a foreign land,” he continued. “We have all refined our sense of empathy and understanding.”
Kagihara hasn’t ruled out returning one day to the U.S. In fact, she said she’s open to any avenue that leads to being a better administrator.
“This has been a very precious opportunity for my life,” she said. “I am happy to have been at Mississippi State.”
For more information on the International Institute, visit http://international.msstate.edu/.
MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at www.msstate.edu.