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62-year-old foreign exchange student loving life in Rocklin

Will complete AA degree at Sierra College
By: Stephanie Dumm, Placer Herald correspondent
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One Sierra College student will receive her AA degree just in time to meet her newborn grandchild in Japan.

Takako Nakao, 62, is an international student who will finish her last semester stateside this May before returning home to her husband, three grown children and four (soon to be five) grandchildren.

Though she has been living in the United States during the school year for two and a half years, Nakao has been staying in Rocklin since the beginning of the fall semester at Sierra College.

Prior to that, Nakao attended Consumnes River College, residing with two host families.

“I came to America to commemorate my 60th birthday,” Nakao said. “Life in America is just amazing.”

That’s because Nakao follows the Chinese Zodiac calendar, which is on a 60-year cycle.

“I was born in the tiger year. When you turn 60, life begins,” Nakao said. “I wanted to start life helping myself.  I dedicated my (first 60 years) to my husband and raising my children. I wanted to live life from scratch.”

Nakao initially came to America to learn English.

“I started studying (English) by myself at 42, using a Japanese radio program,” Nakao said. “Japan has many educational programs that are convenient and free.”

Using the English skills she learned back home, Nakao said she combined her love of cooking and the English language to teach English-speaking tourists how to cook traditional Japanese food.

“I taught them how to identify the food in a bento box, (including) egg rolls, fried chicken, meatballs, rice balls and fish cakes,” Nakao said.

After her second semester at Consumnes River College, Nakao said her focus from coming to America only to learn English changed.

“My goal is I want to get my AA (in arts and culture) at college,” Nakao said.

Her American education hasn’t come cheap. Since Nakao is an international student, and not a foreign exchange student, tuition costs $3,000 a semester.

This semester she is studying English, health education, anthropology and astronomy.

Since she loves to cook, Nakao often cooks lunch for a group of friends she met in her classes.

She serves them lunch either in Sierra College’s cafeteria or at her host home, which is in walking distance from campus.

Koichi Matusyama, who Nakao met in Japanese class, said he enjoys the conversation with Nakao and their group of friends during lunch time.

“This is where I get to practice my Japanese skills,” Matusyama said.

Nozomi Kanda said Nakao “talks a lot,” which he likes.

Nakao visits home each summer and winter break, and when asked what she misses most about home, she said her family and her country.

She also misses some of the creature comforts of home, including eating fish and traditional Japanese tableware.

“Our plates and bowls are so colorful, that’s one thing I miss about Japan,” Nakao said, pulling out plates, bowls and cups from her cupboard in Rocklin as an example. “There are 200 plates and bowls in most homes, and we have many cabinets.”

She said that’s because during meals there are 10 or more courses, each served in a new plate or bowl.

Nakao has enjoyed the past two and a half years she has spent in America.

“America has a lot of opportunity for foreign people to study many subjects,” Nakao said. “People are friendly and helpful and I always feel that they want to be a good person.”