"My Greatest Challenge was My Greatest Accomplishment"

Shuhei in power wheelchair next to community college sign board
At Kapiolani Community College in Hawaii, Shuhei Onishi broadened his own community.
While attending community college in Hawaii, international student Shuhei Onishi committed himself to meeting and helping people from all over the world.

MIUSA: How did you become interested in learning English?

Shuhei: When I was a high school student in Japan, I was very interested in English because I love chatting. I felt that if I could speak English, I would be able to talk with more people.

What drew you to studying at a community college in Hawaii?

My family loves Hawaii, and we had been there several times. In fact, when I was in my first year of high school, I asked Make-A-Wish of Japan to visit Hawaii and make a study tour around Hawaii. So I decided to study abroad in Hawaii.

Did you receive any scholarships to fund your studies?

Fortunately, my parents funded everything while I was enrolled at Kapiolani Community College. In addition, I received a scholarship named the Financial Aid Pacific-Asian Scholarship through the University of Hawaii, which is given to students with high grades who demonstrate leadership, responsibility and service in the Pacific-Asian region.

As an international student, you volunteered over 100 hours of community service! What kinds of activities did you do?

I was a member of International Café, which is a service-learning center of Kapiolani Community College where you can meet and help people from all over the world. It is also a place for community service opportunities. I did lots of volunteer work for local people such as working at the Okinawan Festival, tutoring local students who wanted to learn Japanese, as well as participating in a charity fund drive, Izumo Shrine, cultural exchanges between the members and local elders in Leahi hospital, and beach clean-up.

All of those volunteer experiences were very valuable and great experiences for me. The reason why I volunteered is because I would like people in Hawaii and the Unites States to be happy. Actually, I do not know that all people I helped were comfortable, but if they smiled and were happy, and if something was changed by me, I felt fulfilled. Therefore, investing in those hours was not useless. In the future, I would like to make the most of my experience and make some social contribution. If there's something I can do for others, I would willingly like to do it!

What were some of the challenges of studying and living abroad?

My greatest challenge was also my greatest accomplishment, which was to enroll in Kapiolani Community College and graduate perfectly. I lacked enough sleep and was tired all the time from studying while I was a college student. In addition, I needed an assistant to provide care for me, and it took lots of time to find someone. I did not always feel at peace. However, every weekend, my housemates and my friends had a party and cheered me up.

What were the local attitudes towards disability?

In Hawaii, there were many people from other countries who had different diseases or abilities and had a similar background, so people in Hawaii were friendly to people with disabilities, and also those without disabilities. Also, most people understood my disease, Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, and were open-minded.

What did you learn from your experience?

First I'll share a story. When I was a college student and went to school for an exam without an umbrella on a heavy rainy day, my wet power wheelchair suddenly broke on the way and stopped. I was alone and did not know what to do, but I just said loudly, “Help me.” A person I never knew came to me to help, and he and a bus driver took me on a bus to my college. At my college, lots of my friends and student officers helped me; the problem was solved.

From this experience, I learned that it is important for me to claim what I need, what I should do, and what I would like to do. No one can understand what I feel without my claiming those desires.

What advice would you give to other people with disabilities considering study abroad?

It is very important to have your own firm will. Initially, I did not have any acquaintances and friends, but I had a strong will that “I will graduate from a college.” As a result, I was able to do it!