If Yoko Pusavat, professor emerita of Asian and Asian American Studies, were to write a personal mission statement, there is no doubt that “making a positive impact on others” would be her top goal.
“Three years ago, I received the Cherry Blossom Festival Southern California Teachers Making a Difference Award, and that was the most rewarding award in my perspective,” said Pusavat, who taught at CSULB from 1972 to 2002. “I think anybody should receive this award—all the teachers, parents, grandparents—because we all make a difference in somebody else’s life.”
From her years of teaching Japanese at CSULB, during which time she was instrumental in creating the B.A. degree in Japanese and a credential program for Japanese teachers, to her present dizzying list of groups for whom she volunteers, Pusavat takes mentoring others seriously.
“For university professors, some people are into research and publications, and some people are more teachers. It’s nice to have both elements,” commented Pusavat, who was awarded the 1992 Distinguished Faculty Teaching Award from (as it was known then) the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. “I would call myself a teacher. I love to teach, and I think my CSULB students liked it. Even to this day, after retirement, I still do volunteer work for different foundations, and I train students and people going to Japan, or I present lectures and a series of cultural experiences programs in the communities.”
Born in Osaka, Japan, Pusavat earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Osaka University before acquiring a master’s degree in linguistics at CSU Fresno and pursuing a Ph.D. at USC.
“I was an exchange student when I came to this country, so I’m happy to share some of my experiences,” she said. “I love to prepare people about language and cultural issues before they go to Japan for what they need to be aware of.”
She uses her international education and experiences when working with two community-oriented training programs. One of the organizations is the Aurora Japanese Language Scholarship Foundation, which assists U.S. citizens who are Japanese language teachers or graduate students of Japanese language education with scholarships to experience living in Japan and further their understanding of the Japanese language, improve their teaching abilities and enrich their appreciation of Japanese culture. Pusavat is in charge of the cultural and language programs and also served on the board of directors. The second training program falls under the Long Beach-Yokkaichi Sister City Association, where she also served on the board of directors and oversees programs preparing and “debriefing” students and teachers coming from and traveling to Japan.
“High school students are just wonderful,” Pusavat said. “They are so willing to learn, to try. When they come back from Japan, they tell other people ‘I’ve had a life-changing experience.’ Their life is so very short. We can see from the moment we select them, before they leave for Japan, spend three weeks in Japan and then when they come back, you can see their personal development right before your eyes. Students from Japan have similar comments after a three-week stay in this country.
“I introduce some language, key words, key expressions, phrases, and then I also discuss the cultural aspects of Japan and the U.S.,” she continued. “It is fun to guide students and show them things they may or may not already know—to open up their eyes so they can see things from different perspectives. I want them to not only learn about the different culture, language, country and the people, but through that, I want them to learn about themselves, their culture, their language, their background. And then that will be an asset to them for the rest of their lives.”
Although she has retired from CSULB, Pusavat’s heart remains firmly planted in its educational soil. She volunteers as a docent and has served as a member of the educational outreach committee for the Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden. Recently, she presented a Japanese film and lecture at the garden. She is also heavily involved with the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), co-teaching an interactive class that offers a series of films and discussions based on a different theme each semester. True to her belief in lifelong learning, Pusavat has engaged in several OLLI classes, including learning how to play the recorder and the game of bridge.
“I think it’s wonderful to be able to do everything I wish,” she said happily. “I enjoy always working with people and seeing how they grow. They often say you have to approach something different in a positive way and you have to have an open mind. What does an open mind mean? Actually it means you don’t judge anything with your own values. You have to be flexible, though it doesn’t mean you have to destroy your own values. You have to have the willingness to try. You have to have three things—POW: be positive, be open-minded and have willingness. These are little things that help people get along better.”