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NIU degree takes alumnus to his land of love: Japan

August 15, 2018

One Japanese class at NIU and John Pindel discovered a passion and a new place to call home.

A 2016 alumnus, Pindel of Winfield, Illinois, used some free credits to take Japanese 101 and 102 his senior year with Instructor Misato Sekita. Double-majoring in computer science and philosophy, Pindel was a fan of manga, or Japanese comic books, and he thought the course would help him enjoy the books more.

“I had no intention to go to Japan, let alone move there,” he said.

But that’s exactly what he ended up doing.

Pindel now lives in Japan, where he works for the international job search engine site Indeed. He credits his experience in Sekita’s class as transformative, while Sekita points to it as an example of the power of learning, no matter the subject.

“John’s experience proves that what one learns in classroom is not just for that one moment, but it stays with you for the rest of your life,” Sekita said.

“He originally took Japanese classes for reading manga, but now what he studied in FLJA 101 and 102 has turned into the basis for his ability to communicate in Japan where he currently lives.”

Inspired by his love of the language and with Sekita’s help, Pindel planned a trip to Japan after his NIU graduation to celebrate the new job he’d earned as a web developer for a top American financial company.

“Sekita Sensei genuinely wanted us to succeed inside and outside of the classroom, and that stuck,” he said.

“She helped me plan the trip and even gave me some of her contacts in Japan. Even though I traveled there alone, from her class I was able to successfully communicate in Japanese and had a life-changing trip as a result.”

Pindel made friends at hostels, restaurants, bars and while hiking in Arashiyama in Kyoto. He also felt the country suited him.

“The main thing driving me here was health,” he said. “I have an autoimmune disorder, and the diet and lifestyle here agrees with me much better. More than that, though, I like the more collective society here. People usually seem more concerned about the group rather than the individual, and that permeates into so many things. It’s a lot different than American society, and I think I can learn a lot here. And it’s so fun speaking in a foreign language.”

Pindel visited Japan a couple more times, as well as Europe for comparison. He sought out jobs in Japan, where many employers want higher competence in the Japanese Language Proficiency test. He failed a few interviews, but networked and continued his Japanese language study.

His experience and passion for Japan, along with a casual conversation with a colleague, led to his current job.

Pindel still sees a Japanese tutor once a week and speaks the language as much as he can in everyday life.

“Anything you learn in your life will somehow improve your life,” Sekita said. “Students taking courses at the university should enjoy the process of learning and never forget to have fun with what you are learning. The world is big. Dream big. Aim high, NIU students!”