When he first arrived in the U.S., it wasn't so much the English language that befuddled Tasuro Shindoh. It was the slang.
Shindoh is a senior environmental science major at SMSU and the president of the International Student Organization (ISO).
Shindoh speaks English very well. He took extra courses in English while attending high school in Japan, and teaches English in his home country during the summer months.
"The slang," he said. "That was hard to understand. When we say cool in Japan, we mean cold," he said, giving an example. "I can understand 90 percent of it today, but my freshmen year, oh man, it was very hard."
For the most part, said Shindoh, the Japanese culture is not overly outgoing. That's why "Minnesota Nice" was a hard concept for him to understand initially.
"People here are very friendly," he said. "In Japan, you never say 'hi' to a stranger. In the smaller towns in Japan, everyone knows each other, so they do greet each other. But here, it was kind of different. I like it."
And while people from other parts of the country may disagree that the Midwest is relatively accent free, Shindoh does not. "I have a friend in Kentucky and it has taken some time to understand what she is saying. There isn't a heavy accent here."
Shindoh has been active with the ISO for several years, and has especially fond memories of that group's involvement with the International Art Festival and the International Food Festival each year. "I think those two events are the ones I'll remember most when I leave here," he said.
There are 138 international students representing 24 countries at SMSU. There are two Japanese students. "Myself and one other, a freshman this year," he said.
Shindoh sees the ISO as an opportunity to help others know the cultures of the various countries represented on campus. "Especially here, we are very far from Minneapolis, which has more international (cultures). The ISO helps everyone know and experience international cultures."
He comes from Sapporo, the fifth-largest city in Japan with a population of approximately 1.9 million. Sure, there was a little bit of culture shock when he arrived. But it didn't take him long to adjust.
"This is very small in a good way. The professors know about me, even those who don't teach in my major. I can feel a connection to them, and I'm free to e-mail them and ask questions, which is helpful for me, especially at exam time.
"I'm family oriented, and to me, SMSU is a small community. It feels kind of like home to me. I live on campus, and I feel that connection."
Adjusting to a steady diet of U.S. food wasn't too hard, though it took a toll on his complexion. , "We had fast food in Japan, I was used to burgers and pizza, but we do not eat that every day. Here I eat burgers and fast food all the time. When I was a freshman, I got a lot of pimples on my face. It was disgusting," he said, laughing.
He teaches English in his home country each summer, and it was from a teacher at a special school to learn English that school he initially learned about SMSU. "Environmental issues are big in Japan, and I heard about SMSU and looked into its environmental science program. It was affordable, also."
He will graduate after the fall semester, and wants to eventually work for the United Nations. "I like languages and international affairs," he said. He's been studying French - "It's one of the six official languages of the U.N." - and hopes to attend a French graduate school in the future. "There is a U.N. environmental camp in Nairobi, but a master's degree is needed. I will earn some money after I leave here, and then go to grad school, hopefully at a French university."
Now that he's become familiar with the slang, he can describe his experiences at SMSU: "Awesome."