Studying abroad amidst a pandemic: Hikaru Kukita

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Annemarie Mullet, Digital Art Coordinator

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Though Hikaru Kukita admitted that she is still processing 2020, she decided to jump on her year-long study abroad plans when given the option at the beginning of this school year. 

Hikaru Kukita, from Saitama, Japan in Northern Tokyo, waited a year to get her study abroad time at Linfield. The pandemic postponed her original study abroad plans in 2020. 

Kukuta’s exchange program is a bit different from the usual semester abroad. “I don’t have to pay for tuition, but in exchange I have to teach Japanese,” Hikaru said the trip abroad is through the organization ALLEX, an Asian language teacher training program.

Through this program, Kukita works as a Teachers Assistant in Elemental Japanese I and Intermediate Japanese I. She also lives on campus and takes courses on Linfield’s McMinnville campus.

Kukita already earned a Bachelors of Arts from a Japanese university. She came to Linfield to get a second Bachelors of Arts that would put her in line for a job as a therapist or counselor.

Kukita wants to become a therapist or school counselor, so she is studying psychology at Linfield. She decided to come to the United States to study because the United States has a larger mental health movement than Japan. 

“I feel like there’s a big enough movement to make a change here in the United States,” Kukita said.

Photo provided by Hikaru Kukita.

Kukita knows a lot about mental health as she struggled through an eating disorder for many years of her youth and finds her passion in psychology from her experiences. “We want to feel at peace or to feel comfortable in our bodies, and part of that for me is accepting my body as what it is,” she said. 

Kukita is an advocate for equality for all body types, meaning bodies of all sizes, throughout the disordered eating community.

“So many people don’t get diagnosed because of how they look, and it’s so messed up. I want to advocate for all body types within the community,” Kukita said.

ALLEX placed Kukita at Linfield because they found it to be the best fit for her considering her major and the language she’s teaching. Kukita acknowledges the cultural differences she finds living at Linfield.

“It’s my first experience in a situation where I rarely see eastern Asian people,” Kukita said about living at Linfield. 

“It’s an interesting situation and a new experience,” Kukita said. “I get to experience other people’s perspectives and situations from a different culture.” 

Kukita studied abroad at Bellevue College in Bellevue, Wash. in 2019. She reflects between living at Bellevue versus living at Linfield.

“Every area has a different culture and it’s cool to learn about the culture here. Always nice to be non-judgemental and to stay open-minded,” Kukita said.

Kukita still feels odd about being abroad in a pandemic. “I was supposed to come here last year, so I appreciate that I can study here now even if we are still in a pandemic,” Kukita said. “I think that we have much more flexibility compared to last year so I feel weird to some extent but I feel comfortable studying here in the pandemic.” 

Kukita’s feelings of safety mid-pandemic could have to do with the fact that Japan didn’t have a stay-at-home law. “In Tokyo restrictions are less strict than in Oregon, and there was no lockdown in Japan because it’s not allowed in the constitution,” Kukita said.

“It’s not within Japanese culture to work from home so going to the office is still normal and preferred in Tokyo,” Kukita said.

Kukita is glad she waited the year and stuck to coming to Linfield. She likes Linfield and the small community. Kukita’s only complaint about McMinnville was it’s lack of eastern Asian food. “Food is the best in Japan. It’s better and way cheaper so I like it much more there for food,” Kukita said.

Kukita will be at Linfield for the 2022-2023 school year as well, so she has a lot of time to get to know the area and find some good food places and make some good friends. Ultimately Kukita feels positive about her study abroad experiences.

“Studying abroad is helping me be willing to learn from others perspectives and letting myself to be more accepting and I rarely get offended by people mispronouncing my name,” Kukita said.