PROFILE: Ayako Ogawa
Date: Aug. 6, 2001
Pens "Suddenly, Like a Flame" About Her Life in U.S.
Story and photo by: Dawn Fuller
Phone: (513) 556-1823
Archive: Profiles Archive
A University of Cincinnati alumna is enjoying the best of both worlds, as she lives part time in her native country of Japan as well as part time here in Cincinnati. Ayako Ogawa is working to promote global education in Japan, but it was her experience at the University of Cincinnati that inspired her to write a book published in Japanese, "Suddenly, Like a Flame."
Ayako says her book is a look back on her first eight years in the United States and explores everything from getting her driver's license to achieving her doctorate degree in education.
Ayako started working on her doctorate with a focus on education curriculum and instruction in 1995. She graduated from the College of Education in 1998. Ayako decided to pursue her education in the United States after her husband was transferred to a Japanese company located in West Chester. "I decided I wanted to achieve something challenging during my stay in Cincinnati. On the flight from Tokyo to Cincinnati, I wrote down my goals and plans for my Cincinnati life on the lovely, small dining table board (aboard the plane), though I understood then I could only stay in Cincinnati three years. A person needs plans and goals for whatever he or she wants to achieve."
Her goals included earning a higher degree to teach at universities, a mission to "convey the correct Japanese culture" to her new acquaintances in the U.S., and a plan to write and publish a book about her experience. It was an ambitious plan, but she achieved all of her goals.
Ayako taught Japanese at Xavier University while she worked on her master's degree at Xavier and on her doctorate in education from UC. "I wanted to be challenged, because I had heard obtaining a higher education degree in the U.S. is much harder than in Japan. Also, I wanted to make my father happy. He was a late learner but was also a lifelong learning person. He would value, I thought, my achievements with my hard work."
Ayako's UC adviser, Professor Piyush Swami, also was impressed by her hard work. "Ayako Ogawa was such a refreshing student who blossomed in the American classroom. Her shyness, evident the first day of class, was gone before the quarter was over."
"In Japan, expressing a personal opinion is very difficult," says Ayako. "I've visited many prestigious universities (in Japan), and students do not express their opinion. So when I came here and saw a student could have a different opinion from the professor and still get a good grade, that was really important to me. Expressing an opinion is very easy for Americans, because when you're very young, you're encouraged to think differently from other people. I saw the American professor was very broadminded, so I really appreciated that I had a chance to come and study here."
As she worked to achieve her goal of accurately portraying her Japanese culture, she says she hosted more than 50 parties in her home, inviting new friends to explore Japanese art, music, food, and flower arrangements. At the same time, she was experiencing cultural differences, and says she was sometimes hurt and frustrated by the casual American attitude.
"People might say to you, 'Oh, let's get together...' and then they don't show up, and you won't hear any excuse until later. In Japan, if you say, 'I will call you tonight,' you must call. Integrity is very important, even more important than ability. Your integrity is considered when it comes to your job promotion."
Ayako researched both cultures as she came across differences, and says the U.S. embraces the frontier philosophy, while Japan's emphasis on integrity stems from family history. "I found every culture has an origin and reason for its philosophy. Now that I've lived in the U.S. for 10 years, I've made a lot of good friends. All of us have one heart, and I live by that philosophy."
As she achieved her goal of writing and publishing her book, she had a message for Japanese students who were considering the possibility of studying abroad in the U.S. "Do your best to try to express your opinions, even in faltering language. Don't give up in letting people understand you. If you are positive to allowing them to do so, many American people will try to help you. It's not a question of language.
Ayako recommends building relationships with American students, because you can learn much more than you do in class. You also get the opportunity to polish language skills and make lifelong friends.
"I could adjust in a fairly short period, enjoy my stay and achieve my goals, because I was extremely positive. I made an effort to mingle. I held a lot of home parties and searched for opportunities to join parties or local group meetings.
"I discovered American people are much kinder than I had expected. Many Japanese people have the impression that ordinary Americans are the same as those they read about in the paper in the 'unwelcome news.'"
"She is one of those individuals who can see the good in both cultures and education systems, and be willing to express her views without any reservations," says Professor Piyush Swami. "In her dissertation, she made a strong point for Japanese women to get out of their protective environment, study abroad and think for themselves."
Ayako admits she is not the traditional Japanese housewife. In the 1970s when her two children were still small, she became an activist for a women's group, but says the women's movement was not a large, progressive organization like it was at that time in the U.S. Ayako adds that because age 60 is retirement age in Japan, she gave up thinking of getting a full-time teaching position in her native country. She feels age is not as much of a factor in the American job market, adding that in Japan, workers must state their age on their resume.
Ayako's three-year stay grew into a decade as her love grew for Cincinnati. She has a home in Tokyo and in Cincinnati, and spends several months out of the year living in Japan and the U.S. In addition to working on selling her book in Japan, she gives lectures and presentations on the importance of developing a global educational community.
To meet other UC people, go to the profiles archive.