During his sophomore year of college, while a student at Chubu University in Japan, Hiroshi Tsutsui traveled from Los Angeles to the Panama Canal with nothing but his thoughts and a backpack. It was an adventure inspired by the novel “Midnight Express” by Koutaro Sawaki.
He crossed the U.S.-Mexico border by land. He saw many Mexican indigenous people asking for help on the streets. As he describes it, he immediately had an unshakable, big feeling that “something is wrong.” In those moments, he knew he needed to understand that feeling and what it meant to him.
As solo journeys often do, that trip connected him to his purpose. Those pivotal moments would chart his course to Ohio University and, really, begin to shape his future.
When he got back to Japan, he began learning as much as he could about the Latin American region. Through his research, he discovered that he was eligible to apply for the Charles J. Ping scholarship for graduate-level studies at OHIO.
“Based on my life experiences and my undergraduate research, I knew I wanted to focus my studies on migrants in Mexico,” said Tsutsui, who earned a Master of International Affairs in 2005. “The Latin American Studies (LAS) graduate program through the Center for International Studies offers an interdisciplinary master’s program and allows students to pursue a field of specialization including geography – which I did. I appreciate that students can acquire critical knowledge of the region from a wide variety of disciplines.”
Tsutsui describes Athens and the OHIO campus as amazingly beautiful and even laments being so caught up in his studies that he couldn’t fully take it all in. He describes Alden Library as a place of refuge where he spent many late nights and early mornings with other international students navigating college and academic rigors so far from home. He’s also grateful to a few specific professors who helped him navigate being the only Asian student in a program and lacking some of the professional experience his peers had.
“I used to visit Dr. Brad Jokisch, Dr. Yeong-Hyun Kim and Dr. Thomas Walker to ask for their advice and they always guided me to the right direction,” Tsutsui said. “Without any doubt, I owe a great part of my career development to Ohio University. Since my graduation from OHIO, I developed my career in the international development field working for international NGOs, Japan International Cooperation Agency, Inter-American Development Bank and now at Chubu University as the manager of the Division of International Affairs.”
He said students in the LAS graduate program are required to acquire fluency in one Latin American language and he chose Spanish. He believes that requirement helped him pursue his career on different continents, using English, Spanish and Japanese language skills to work in Bolivia, Cambodia, Uruguay, Guatemala, Japan, Kenya and Mexico.
“Although OHIO is located in a relatively small city, I believe that the Center for International Studies has a diverse, equitable and inclusive environment,” Tsutsui said. “It helped me to shape my mindset to work in any kind of environment.”