Alumni Stories

Japanese students found warmth and welcome at Unity College
Kazuhiko Hemmi '92, Joya Kobu '93, and Ryoko Kawakami '10

In the 1990s, a number of college-bound students from Japan chose to attend Unity. Some arrived here through the Sakae Institute for Study Abroad, and others found Unity on their own while looking for specialized environmental programs.

Kaz Hemmi Unity College

Over the years, Professor Emeritus Dot Quimby has kept in touch with many of the students from Japan, one of whom is Kazuhiko “Kaz” Hemmi. Kaz earned an associate’s degree in business from Unity in 1992 and went on to earn a bachelor of science degree from Alfred University.

After completing his education in America, Kaz settled in Tokyo, where he serves as vice president in the technology department at Citigroup, managing a business analysis and application development team.  

Kaz came to Unity because his parents wanted him to adapt to a local college life in America in a countryside location. His parents wanted him to experience being away from a Japanese population as much as possible. As he says, “It worked out.” He achieved fluency in English, accomplished his educational goals, and went on to become a successful business executive.

Moreover, he had a memorable personal experience at Unity. “Perhaps because of the size of the school, people like Dot Quimby still remember me.  It makes me feel a part of the Unity community.” He has connected with Dot and some of his old Unity friends via Facebook, and sees them whenever he gets a chance. “I made lifetime friends in Unity,” he says.

Like many alumni, Kaz says that what set Unity apart from other colleges is that people at Unity, including facilities, cafeteria, and security employees, felt like one big family. His favorite professors were Jim Reed, for his sense of humor, and Leonard Craig, for his ability to listen and give good advice.

Kaz enjoys surfing as an antidote to his busy career. On weekends, he often goes to Shonan Beach, about 30 miles south of Tokyo, to surf with friends. “It's a fun and really relaxing time for me to forget everything except catching a wave,” he says. “When the sky is clear, I can look at Mt. Fuji while waiting for the perfect wave.”

In recent years, Kaz and his wife, Asako, and daughter, Maya, have taken family trips to Oahu with other families, where he and his buddies hit the beach early in the morning to surf. 

Joya Kobu was the first of the Japanese students to earn a four-year degree at Unity. He graduated with a bachelor of science in environmental policy in 1993. Joya chose Unity because it offered a specialization in natural resource sciences, and because of the Learning Resource Center, which supported him as he became fluent in both spoken and written English.

Although Joya earned a bachelor of arts degree in business administration from Rikkyo University in Japan, and a master of science degree in zoology from the University of Otago in New Zealand, Unity is the institution that he feels most strongly about. “I always feel in my heart I am supported by hundreds of people who also sincerely love Unity,” he says. “The campus was small enough so everyone knew everyone else.”

Joya recalls several of his professors fondly, including his academic advisor, Dr. David Purdy, whom the college recently honored in a well-attended memorial service and celebration. Of Dr. Purdy’s Natural Resource Policy class, Joya says “The course was one of the toughest ones, but Dr. Purdy encouraged me to acquire more knowledge on worldwide issues in exploiting natural resources than I had ever done in Japan. He always met with me for extra sessions when I needed it.” Joya also recalls the strong leadership skills of Wilson Hess, who served as president of the College while Joya attended. Hess continued to be a reliable mentor for Joya even after graduation. 

Eventually settling back in his hometown in Japan to care for his mother, Joya is now involved in a small business centered on private real estate that includes forest management. He also maintains several rice paddies for his own scientific interests. While he would prefer to return full-time to his science profession, he says that his experience at Unity undoubtedly helped him to plan for land use issues in a way that respects nature. 

Fisheries courses with Dr. David W. Bridges and Dr. Dave Potter at Unity helped to make Joya the avid fisherman he is today. He uses traditional lures or hand-made hook sets, and often fishes for bigfin reef squid.  “Fishing is my primary hobby,” he says. “I remember fondly that I used to catch brook trout a lot around Unity.”

Unity hosted students from Japan throughout the 1990s, and into the 21st century. Although most of the students returned to Japan once they completed their studies, they are still vividly remembered by faculty, staff, and classmates. For librarian Lisa Nason, interacting with the students reinforced her interest in Japanese culture. A fan of sushi, samurai swords, and the Sano Ichiro book series set in medieval Japan, Lisa was especially close with Ryoko Kawakami, who graduated in 2010.  “It was neat that we had people coming from so far away,” Lisa says. “We look forward to attracting more students from far away in our near future.”

 

Tuesday, February 04, 2014