Dragon adjusts to American culture

By Kayla Paine
On February 2, 2012

Life is constantly changing-some changes are gradual and others are sudden. Moving to a different country at the age of 18 to study in college fits into the sudden change category.

Ryutaro ‘Dragon' Kinjo came to ASU from Okinawa, Japan to study economics. Adjusting to American culture presented its own set of struggles, but now two years in, he says it's where he thinks he was always meant to be.

Learning English was his main purpose for coming to the U.S.

"I think I could learn the same subject in both countries, but I want to be different than many people in Japan and learn in English," he said.

Never visiting America before, Dragon first noticed that everything was big, and said the people and the tall ceilings made him excited.

The language barrier was his biggest source of frustration at first.

"I couldn't express myself, and I couldn't understand what people were saying," he said. "I was disappointed in myself."

He worked hard in the English Second Language program at ASU.

"We had a presentation in ESL and he prepared and practiced a lot," said close friend Yoshiyasu Abe, a sophomore political science major from Oita, Japan. "He was very skilled and very funny; we were all very surprised."

Not only does Dragon try to be diligent in his studies, but he strives to have a good attitude and work ethic in all areas of his life.

When someone threw trash at him from a moving vehicle while he was walking on the sidewalk, he only regarded it as a new experience, something he likely would not have experienced in Japan as he sees it.

In his senior year of high school, Dragon broke his left ankle. Not being able to run was difficult because he finds that he can express himself through running, but now he feels comfortable enough to get back into it.

Joining the track team his sophomore year has shown many people how passionate he can be about something.

"He works really hard," said Bailey Bunyan, a teammate and senior interdisciplinary studies major from Cobden, Ill.

"He's not getting a lot of recognition or praise for his running in competition quite yet, but he still goes out there every day and pushes through like everyone else."

His college experience changed dramatically after becoming part of the team. Abe is on the rugby team and said both Dragon and he are very unique in the Japanese community at ASU because they are both involved in sports.

Their English has improved dramatically because of the constant necessity for it with their teammates.

Dragon values his teammates immensely. There have been many experiences they've shared, but he said they have bonded most by suffering in practice together.

Bunyan invited Dragon and other teammates home one weekend to Illinois. While driving through Missouri, they stopped and bought fireworks. They combined many of them at Bunyan's home and set it off in the yard.

Dragon will tell people that they made a "little bomb" that weekend. Bunyan just says "oh gosh" and looks at the ground when he hears Dragon tell people that.

A common day for Dragon is filled with running, studying and eating. He says that every day is a "hungry day." Salads that barely fit on the plate are one of his favorites, but his true love is for dessert.

Trying dessert in America was completely new and exciting for him because American dessert is much sweeter than dessert in Japan.

He's known for his album on Facebook of the gradual progression of him eating an entire cheesecake in one sitting.

One life goal is to try every single dessert in the world. "I have so much stuff to eat that I haven't yet," he said.

Another discovery that Dragon encountered during his time in school is his faith.

He was challenged to think about what he has lived his life for and decided to believe in God and make that his purpose. His friends could tell that this was something he truly cared about.

Mizuki Ueno, another close friend and junior marketing major from Tokyo said, "Thinking about God became natural in daily things for him."

Becoming more independent and adapting through observation to this culture has been an interesting adventure for Dragon.

Now fluently speaking English and running with the team that he now considers family, he has accomplished a lot in the past two-and-a-half years.

"He is always strong and looking forward to the future with goals while being positive," Abe said.

Not only have people impacted Dragon's life, but he has impacted others.

"Dragon is loved by everyone," Ueno said. "He is thoughtful and loves everyone, and maybe that's why they all love him back."

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