Cazenovia College’s International Studies program is proud to have such a caring adjunct with firsthand experience in the subject she teaches. Nana Hirabayashi, associate lecturer of Japanese language and culture courses. She started teaching at the College two years ago when the International Studies program started a new study abroad partnership with Nagoya Gakuin University (NGU) in Japan.

“The new study abroad program with Japan allows Cazenovia College to exchange students for the academic year,” explains Hirabayashi. “Last year, we had four Japanese students stay here for the year and one student went and studied in Japan for the fall semester.” (To learn more about the first Japan study abroad experience: https://www.cazenovia.edu/news-and-events/news/cazenovia-college-establishes-exchange-program-japanese-university)

Along with the College community, Hirabayashi warmly welcomed the four exchange students last fall. She communicated with them in Japanese, letting them know that Cazenovia College was a place they could feel welcomed, supported, and safe. She adds, “That is how the Cazenovia College community works. They welcome you with open arms.”

Teaching at Cazenovia College
The Japanese courses at Cazenovia College are actually designed for students interested in studying abroad in Japan for the fall semester. Many of the students who register for Hirabayashi’s classes are interested in learning Japanese, as well as more about the culture and history.

“It is hard to understand Japanese, and students might be hesitant to learn a different language with weird letters. I try to make my class a fun environment and challenge students to learn something new,” shares Hirabayashi.

Hirabayashi also shares that students are teaching her about Japanese culture. They will watch YouTube videos and discuss them in class. In her classes, they will also discuss news and what is happening in Japan today. This goes beyond textbook learning and prepares students for understanding the environment they will be living in for a full semester.

Before Coming to Cazenovia College
“Before teaching Japanese, I was a Japanese recruiter at a recruiting firm,” shares Hirabayashi. “I was doing career counseling, interviewing, and matching clients and candidates.”

After some time working at the firm, Hirabayashi wanted to be a stay-at-home mom and spend time with her young children. When her children reached school age, she was looking for an opportunity to get back into the workplace. Hirabayashi started as a tutor and found a new passion.

Hirabayashi loves helping and connecting with people. Teaching seemed like the perfect fit!

“I never imagined that I could teach in a college environment,” comments Hirabayashi. “One day my Japanese friend called me and said that they were looking for a Japanese tutor. That was the beginning of my journey in teaching. I taught Japanese individually to students for a while and then got a call from Cazenovia College.”

What is Special about Cazenovia College
Hirabayashi fell in love with the village of Cazenovia and would visit often during her time studying at Syracuse University. Cazenovia was her escape from the busy atmosphere of the city and the large college environment.

“At the time, I would stroll around the lake, village, and campus Quad, longing to be one of the community members of this quiet little village. Fifteen years later, that dream came true! It felt like destiny when I received the call to teach here,” shares Hirabayashi.

The small class sizes are one thing that Hirabayashi really enjoys. She finds it easy to adjust the course material to each student’s needs and interests. Having the ability to be flexible in what students are learning and challenge them to reach out of their comfort level is one of her favorite things about Cazenovia College.

Going into her third year teaching at the College, Hirabayashi is learning that as long as the students feel supportive, they will enjoy challenging themselves. She adds, “My class last semester mastered the Japanese language and started to make jokes. Even though they made a mistake, they laughed with each other and learned from the experience. It is great to see them absorb the new language and culture, then apply that knowledge to make new conversation.”

Favorite Memories
Many faculty enjoy the beginning of the fall semester, when students arrive on campus and there is a yearning for learning. Hirabayashi is no exception. She comments, “At the beginning of the academic year, I feel full of energy from the students and other faculty. New students come and other students come back, so that kind of pulls in all the energy to begin new things.”

The proudest moment Hirabayashi has experienced is when her students have mastered the Japanese language. The students may think they know a little bit of the language from anime or YouTube videos, but to break it down to the letters and syllables help them to understand the language. Many of her students plan to study abroad in Japan for a semester, so they are motivated to learn everything they can throughout the semester.

Message to Families
As a parent herself, Hirabayashi believes some parents might be worried when sending their child to another country to study abroad for a semester. She shares, “These students are motivated. They want to be challenged and they want to learn a new culture. And it is a big challenge to study abroad, so I would like parents to be proud of their children for wanting to have this experience.”

Hirabayashi continues, “Cazenovia College and Nagoya Gakuin University are both supportive environments and have many similarities. Your student will grow so much and have a life changing experience. They will come home with a new perception on the world after studying abroad.”