Women's History Month Q&A With Dr. Naoko Oyabu-Mathis

March 15, 2016

Q: In what ways did leaving Japan and moving to the United States help you grow as a person?
A: It is always a growth experience when you find yourself in another culture – that’s what happened when I came to the U.S. The first time I came to this country was when I was 17, as an exchange student. I spent a year going to a high school and lived with a wonderful host family in Colorado. A year later, I was given the most wonderful opportunity to come and study at Mount Union for the next four years. Through those early years, I came to appreciate and enjoy the diversity of American people, greatly appreciate not only U.S. culture, but also my own culture, where I came from. Being half the world away from home, I appreciated my family and I remember feeling a great sense of responsibility toward my own life adventure that I had been entrusted with by my family. Today I live in the U.S., but I return to Japan regularly. I see myself as transnational, rather than having left Japan. My world expanded when I came to America.     

Q: What challenges did you initially face moving to an unfamiliar country?
A: The initial challenge was the adjustments to the language and everyday interactions with people. These were not necessarily difficult, but were quite exhausting; using all of my attention to keep up with spoken colloquial English and learning to expect different patterns of exchanges between people than I had been accustomed to. In my years as a student at Mount Union, I remember feeling especially challenged to question who I was. I believe this is a common experience for many students during the college years, but because I came from a much more collective culture, this experience seemed to be much more pronounced for me than for American students: I was overwhelmed at times with countless questions of what I thought about things, what I wanted to do, or what my preferences were. 

Q: Why did you choose to pursue a career as a college professor?
A: I think it was the passion for my discipline, sociology, which led me down this path.  Coming from another country, I was truly able to see the impact of society and culture on the everyday experiences we have in our lives and who we become. I wanted to share my passion with young learners and hoped to inspire them to cross cultural boundaries themselves, by going to different countries or simply by meeting people from different cultures. I hope through these experiences, they can learn to better appreciate the people they might have not known for who they are and at the same time they can come to a better understanding of who they are themselves.

Q: What is your favorite aspect about teaching?
A: I would say connecting with students is my favorite aspect of teaching. I enjoy working with students. It is also extremely exciting for me to see students light up with understanding of ideas and concepts that they may not have known before and making sense of their own world and experiences using these ideas and concepts.

Q: What is one of your greatest strengths?
A: I think I am a very patient person and I see it as a great strength. 

Q: Who is your favorite female role model and why?
A: I had two female teachers while I attended all girls junior high school in Hiroshima who really impacted me. Both of them were very engaging teachers. One of the teachers was my Japanese literature teacher who had gone through the experience of the atomic bomb explosion as a young girl. She told us stories of her experience. She was strong as a person, and also gentle, patient and trusting in spite of her horrific experience. She really cared about each of us girls, students, and guided us with a great inspiration.   

Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of?
A: Not so much of professional accomplishments that are publically recognized (e.g., research presentations and publications) but seeing students I had leave the university, engage in meaningful work where they flourish, and have loving families is a great joy to me. There are many students I once had now around the world who are engaged in fulfilling lives, contributing to the world around them. I feel proud to think that I was part of their process getting there. In my personal life, I have a wonderful family that I am proud of:  my husband and our son. Our son is a graduate student in the Physician Assistant program at Mount Union who is completely bicultural and values and loves both cultures where my husband and I come from. We live every day according to both cultural practices and we go between the two countries regularly. I am very proud of the family I have.

Q: Why is it important to celebrate Women’s History Month?
A: I believe it is important to recognize and celebrate efforts and accomplishments made by all segments of the population, including women. There have been so many great accomplishments made by women and yet many went completely unrecognized in past history. Women still have not achieved parity with men after 240 years of supposed equality in the U.S. It is imperative to dedicate a month to recognize and celebrate great contributions made by women in order to bring equal appreciation of women who make up fully half of the population of this world!  


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