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Making a Splash!: Yuko Yukimatsu bridges two cultures through her love of swimming
Matt Kovar
Guest Writer
Photos by Matt Kovar
Yuko Yukimatsu practices a free-style stroke during a recent swimming practice. The UNK Aqualopers practice each weekday from 2-4 p.m. at Cushing Pool.
Photos by Matt Kovar
Yukimatsu takes a break from swimming to retape her ankle. A recent ankle sprain has failed to keep her out of the pool, but rehabilitation has caused added stress to her schedule.
Photo from Internet
Yukimatsu dresses up in a traditional Japanese outfit for her 20th birthday. The traditional dress of Japan is strikingly different from the everyday clothing worn by both Japanese and American college students.

Halfway around the world, there is one place in Nebraska where Yuko Yukimatsu feels like she is at home: The swimming pool.

Yukimatsu, a sophomore TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) and speech education major from Nagoya, Japan, was shocked at the landscape when she arrived in Nebraska.

“At first, I was really surprised. There are only cornfields along the streets. Because I have lived in a big city since I was born, I was a little bit shocked with the Nebraska view.”

A change of pace

Yukimatsu is from Nagoya, Japan, which is quite a change from Kearney’s 30,000 residents. “Nagoya (2.2 million) is the fourth biggest city in Japan. I can’t find anywhere similar in the United States.”

The size and landscape aren’t the only things that make Nebraska like a different world. The weather has also been a significant change for her.

“The weather in my hometown is very different from Nebraska. We have the clear four seasons, and the climate changes very gradually.”

Yukimatsu said that the summers in Japan are very humid, and she prefers the summers in Nebraska. Winter is a different story. “We have snow only once or twice a year, and it is much warmer than Nebraska’s winter.”

The class structure at UNK is also quite different from Japan. “In Japanese classes, students don’t speak their opinions, and college students rarely study.”

The differences also carry over to food. Yukimatsu says that it took her a long time to get used to an American diet, but she now has a favorite food. “I love American homemade apple pie.”

Finding parallels between cultures

Yukimatsu has been able to find a bridge between American and Japanese cultures through her involvement in the UNK swim team. “Fortunately, Japan and America share some swimming terms, so I can understand the event list easily.”

The sport of swimming is popular all around the world, but there are some differences between countries. “I think Japan is one of the strongest countries for swimming. Many Japanese swimmers hold the world record. There were fewer differences than I expected. The event list is different from the ones I have had, however, the differences can also happen in Japan, because the event list depends on the coach.”

The events aren’t the only elements of swimming that differ in the US. “In Japan, we use 25 or 50 meter pools, but in America, the NCAA uses 25 or 50 yard pools, so my record will be different,” Yukimatsu said.

Aside from going to swimming practice for two hours daily, Yukimatsu also has a full class load and the added stress of rehabilitation after a recent ankle sprain. “It is really difficult to manage rehab and swim practice. After practice I am so tired and have no energy for studying. From after practice to before dinner I try to take a nap so I can study after dinner.”

Studying is an important part of Yukimatsu’s daily routine as she works toward her goal of becoming a teacher. “If I return to Japan, I want to be an English teacher. However, now I’m really interested in teaching Japanese abroad.”

Plans for the future

Yukimatsu said that she wouldn’t mind staying in the United States, but she has another country in mind. “I really want to go to New Zealand, because New Zealand’s schools are really eager to introduce Japanese education. When I visited New Zealand, I had a really good time with the students that were learning Japanese.”

On the weekends Yukimatsu finds some time to relax and have fun away from the weekday stress of swim practice and studying. “I enjoy watching movies, and I love to play catch. I usually watch the Disney channel for practicing English. I also like to watch Disney movies because they have easier English.”

Despite all of the adjustments that Yukimatsu had to make, she has been able adapt to Nebraska life quickly. Her love of swimming has provided her with an activity that creates a bridge between the cornfields of Nebraska, and the busy streets of Nagoya, Japan.


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