Seton Hill community embraces Japanese students

| Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013, 7:49 p.m.

As Kyoka Mizuno held the hand of the nun at the Cartas Christi retirement home, the young woman found guidance for her life.

Before that encounter in Greensburg, Mizuno, 19, a second-year student at Nanzan Junior College in Japan, had been reluctant to speak in public.

But the elder woman advised, “‘Don't be afraid. Speaking is good,'” Mizuno said.

Mizuno and 12 other women from the private Catholic college in Nagoya spent 11 days helping the 80 residents at the motherhouse of the Sisters of Charity.

During the visit, they improved their English skills and enjoyed some fun at local attractions during the program sponsored by Seton Hill University.

Their professors — Rumi Itoh, a Seton Hill graduate, and Aya Kawakami — helped the students on their journey and sometimes translated during interviews.

In the morning, the students did laundry, worked in the kitchen, gardened, helped to nurse some retired sisters who need assistance and talked about life.

In the afternoons, the students studied English.

At night, they reflected on their day and the importance of helping the poor and others in need.

“It's been a pretty intense schedule,” said university associate provost Terry DePasquale, who oversaw the visit.

Ruriko Aiba, 19, said the sisters taught her about the meaning of helping others and gratitude, .

“It should be something that is in us and given daily, naturally,” she said.

Sayuri Yamada, 20, worked in the retirement home's garden, where she discovered her efforts went beyond just tending flowers.

“Any job is important,” Yamada said.

The students learned about Americans, American cuisine and the passion for baseball shared by both the United States and Japan.

On Aug. 3, the students and their teachers took in an Altoona Curve baseball game.

“I like baseball!” exclaimed Mizuno, the previously quiet student. “A player gave me a ball.”

Aiba couldn't get over the size of American food portions, opting to politely describe them as “generous.”

Four students who were interviewed became animated with excitement as they discussed Cyclones — the waffle cones with ice cream, strawberries and whipped cream served at Idlewild and Soak Zone in Ligonier Township.

“I could not eat it all, so I shared it with two people,” Aiba said.

“And I liked the roller coaster,” she added. “I liked it very much.”

Chika Naiki, 19, said she especially enjoyed activities with the Sisters of Charity and others on campus. She said she learned that Americans are a more diverse people than she previously realized.

Yamada said she couldn't get over the size of a Walmart store. And everything is on one floor, she said.

Kawakami explained that because of limited space in Japan, all stores are built with multiple floors.

“I was able to find many things I needed,” Yamada said of her shopping.

University officials plan to continue the exchange program.

“We expect to do this every summer now that we got it going,” DePasquale said.

Officials hope to send Seton Hill students to Japan starting in 2015.

The students returned to Japan last Sunday with improved English skills and lessons in life.

Yamada said she will tell friends and family “of the kindness of the people and the university.”

Mizuno said she had been reluctant about participating in a program with the elderly, a requirement for her education major.

“I feel more (willing) to go then before,” she said. “My motivation has changed.”

Bob Stiles is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-6622 or

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