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.
MIUSA: What drew you to studying at a community college in Hawaii?
Shuhei: 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.
MIUSA: Did you receive any scholarships to fund your studies?
Shuhei: 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.
MIUSA: As an international student, you volunteered over 100 hours of community service! What kinds of activities did you do?
Shuhei: 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!
MIUSA: What were some of the challenges of studying and living abroad?
Shuhei: 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.
MIUSA: What were the local attitudes towards disability?
Shuhei: 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.
MIUSA: What did you learn from your experience?
Shuhei: 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.
MIUSA: What advice would you give to other people with disabilities considering study abroad?
Shuhei: 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!