San José City College student, Maria Kawaura, started at SJCC in 2015 because it was the only community college in the area with a Humanities program. Because of an inspiring ethnic studies instructor, she changed her major. She will be transferring to San Francisco State this fall to major in Ethnic Studies and minor in Japanese to ultimately teach English in Japan.
To commemorate City College’s 100 years of serving students, we had the opportunity to talk with Maria and why she found City College to be the perfect place to start her college education.
When did you attend San José City College?
I started at City College in 2015 and then started going full-time in 2016. I went to City College because they had a humanities program where other colleges in the area didn’t. When I told my counselor my goal was to teach English in Japan, it wasn’t what they were expecting to hear. They were very supportive and immediately told me that if I wanted to do that, I could also minor in Japanese.
After taking an ethnic studies class, I enjoyed it so much, I shifted my major to ethnic studies. I will be transferring to San Francisco State to get my bachelor’s degree in Ethnic Studies with a minor in Japanese.
When you first started at City College, what surprised you the most and why?
I would say it was the community at City College. Everyone helped me so much. When I told them what I wanted to do, they helped me make that happen. Everyone was so supportive with me being Native American and an older student. For example, I had to take care of some personal issues outside of school that changed my schedule. I really felt everyone was there to help me make those changes and supported me.
I just want to stay at City College, because I have had so much fun here. I want to continue learning in this kind of environment as much as possible.
Where was your favorite place on campus and why?
Because I was the president of a club, I was able to be a part of the Associated Student Government (ASG). ASG asked all ASG council members if they wanted to be on a committee, and I wanted to do whatever I could to get involved.
I was nominated to the FaST (Facilities, Safety & Technology) Committee to give recommendations on county-passed bond measures. It was a great opportunity, because I got to advocate for my fellow student constituents in giving recommendations for what students needed, such as a break room where students could sleep for a little, if they needed to. I advocated for those and so many other changes to meet the needs of the students and get what the students wanted. Everyone on the committee was so welcoming and receptive to my ideas. It was a great experience.
Since everything is closed right now, if I could go anywhere on campus, it would be the International Student Center, because it was great meeting people from around the world there. There were so many interesting people I got to know and was able to call friend. I loved learning from them, and they were interested in learning from me. I cherish the bonds and the beautiful relationships I have with the international community.
I would also go back to the English department, because they have been so supportive of me and what I want to do. My favorite professors are in this department. If I had any issues with my assignments, their door was always open not just to me but other students that needed their help.
Did you grow up in San José?
Yes, I was born and raised here. After I graduated high school and before going to City College, I took care of my children. I was working for the San José school district helping kindergarten teacher, Ms. Viau, with her classes. Being in her classroom working with students inspired me to become a teacher until I met my friend Soichiro, an exchange student from Osaka, Japan. While helping him with his English, he mentioned how I could become an English teacher or personal tutor in Japan.
Who were your favorite City College instructors?
My number one favorite teacher was (Ikuko) Fukui sensei. It was my first time taking Japanese, so it was very difficult for me. It took me three times to pass her class, but she worked with me one-on-one to help me through it. After I explained to her my passion was to teach in Japan, she took the time to help me better understand the culture and the language. I enjoyed learning from her and grew very close to her, greatly appreciating her advice on how best to adapt to Japan.
My second favorite teacher was my Ethnic Studies teacher, Andres Rodriguez. He is the one who made me passionate about ethnic studies. He really brought his cool, upbeat, and fun personality to class all the time. When he learned of my cultural background, he would even ask me how my people dealt with certain situations, which I didn’t mind at all. Besides learning about the history of all cultures that helped build America, he also made learning in the classroom that much more exciting.
As I mentioned, I was going to major in humanities, but he made it so interesting, I decided to major in ethnic studies instead. I told him I was planning to go to San Francisco State to continue my education. That’s when he told me SFSU was where ethnic studies began and that I had to go there. He was happy to hear my plans and encouraged me to be successful.
My third favorite teacher was Mr. Anthony Pino, my English teacher. I enjoyed his class, as the topics we learned were very eye-opening, and I learned how to express myself. Yes, I wrote many essays for him, and I love that he read each and every essay turned into him. He guided me to improve my writing and bring more of the thought process into it. Two things I took away from his teaching is, it’s never too late to learn, and never stop learning. He himself was a student and getting his PhD. I admired him for continuing his education and also wanted to model after him.
What have you enjoyed doing at City College?
I loved being involved on campus, and wanted to be a part of as much as I could. I started a Japanese club called Nihon-Kai. My Japanese teacher, Fukui sensei, was the advisor for the club. It was very successful and one of the biggest clubs on campus. It was a place where we could go to speak Japanese, have in-depth discussions about Japan, and hold movie nights that showed anime or Japanese movies.
We held fundraisers for the club. The first two years, I hosted the Japanese Spring Festival on campus and each event was successful. Then we turned our attention to sending a group of Japanese learners to Japan so they could experience first-hand the lifestyle of those who lived there.
I also started the Language Arts Poetry Club. That was where I met Julinda LeDee who became the advisor for the club. She is an amazing person who motivated me to share my poetry with others. We decided it should be a club where students were able to express themselves and their passion for writing.
That’s where the idea of Open Mic started. Once a month on a Thursday, students came together to express their thoughts or feelings around a changing monthly theme. The club was fantastic. I would bring the snacks and students would come to read poetry or something they had written, sing a song, or rap. It became a way for students to get more involved on campus.
Since the club was a safe place for students to say what was on their mind, I started inviting the international students to read something they wrote in English. At first, people thought it was an odd thing for me to do, but I thought it was a great way to help students improve their English skills and give them confidence to present something in front of others. Even though some students declined, others took the opportunity to expand their speaking skills to the next level. I was happy I could help them with that.
The more I got involved on campus meeting new students, some told me they wanted to learn more about America and what it had to offer. Some students wanted to experience Native American powwows, so I took them to the annual Stanford powwow. When we were at Stanford, I told them, ‘this is also a college where you could transfer to continue your education.’ I ended up taking students to UC Berkeley, San Francisco State, and a lot of other campuses so they could see where else they could attend. It was a lot of fun. I loved being involved like that.
Have you been to Japan?
Yes, I’ve been to Japan three times. I recently spent two and a half months in Japan while I was furloughed from my job at a local doctor’s office because of COVID-19. I wanted to stay there permanently, but I had return. My husband currently lives in Tokyo, yet sadly because of his job, he wasn’t able to return with me. I do miss my husband, my home, family, and friends, and in due time, I will return. But for now, I have to finish my education and continue to contribute here.
What advice would you give a current City College student?
Don’t give up. Hang in there. If you feel you cannot do it, don’t be afraid to get help. There are many resources to help you, from the professors, staff, and the student center. There is always a way to get the assistance you need to meet your educational goals. Keep pushing yourself. Be patient with yourself. And please, don’t give up!