“What I teach in the classroom is directly influenced by what I see in my practice.”
Orientation for international students is like freshman orientation on speed. Not only are the students dealing with a new campus and an unfamiliar curriculum; At the same time, they’re adjusting to life in a foreign country.
Kotaro Nakamura remembers his own excitement and trepidation from the time—nearly 40 years ago—when he arrived from Japan to enroll in San Diego State University’s American Language Institute. When he recounts those feelings at the ALI orientation each year, he tells the students that coming to SDSU changed his life.
Rather than return to Japan after his ALI coursework was completed, Nakamura remained in San Diego, earned a master’s degree in art and design from SDSU and co-founded an architectural design firm.
Today, he is director of the greatly expanded School of Art and Design.
He met a girl
Nakamura came to SDSU before the Internet was widely used. He discovered the campus through a Tokyo travel agency brochure, and was attracted by its environmental design program.
Language was a barrier from the start. Nakamura barely spoke English, though he had studied the language through middle school, high school and university.
“Japanese foreign language education is based on reading and writing, not speaking,” he said. “When I first came to the United States, I hung around Japanese students and spoke Japanese because I was scared. My English became much better after I met my girlfriend.”
Katherine, an English major at SDSU, eventually became his wife of 36 years. After their relationship turned serious, Nakamura abandoned plans to return to Japan and instead became an instructor at SDSU and partner in Roesling Nakamura Terada Architects, an architectural design firm in San Diego and Ventura.
The firm specializes in building public works and promoting resilient design. It led the renovation and expansion of San Diego’s Japanese Friendship Garden in Balboa Park and the construction of several classroom buildings at San Diego City Community.
“My teaching and practice feed off each other,” Nakamura said. “What I teach in the classroom is directly influenced by what I see in my practice. If I were just teaching, I wouldn’t learn what is going on in the design industry.”
ALI as a gateway
Nakamura remembers his student days at ALI, when classes were held in a two-story apartment building at the edge of campus. Current ALI students learn English in the Gateway Center, the hub of SDSU’s College of Extended Studies.
The ALI hosts up to 3,000 students annually. Since welcoming its first cohort of students in 1974, the ALI has been noted for its internationally-recognized English as a Second Language programs. It also provides international students the opportunity to study at an American university for one or two semesters through its Semester at SDSU program, where credits will be listed on an official SDSU transcript.
When Nakamura speaks to ALI students at orientation, he tells them he was once in their shoes.
“I look at these students and see myself from years ago,” he said.