Hisae Kobayashi grew up in Setagaya-ku, a quiet residential suburb of Tokyo, and still owns, with her younger brother, the family home. When she was in high school, her homeroom teacher told her she should become a teacher, but she didn’t yet see herself in that role. At that point, she had decided only that she would live in the United States, where her mother’s family had spent time, and that she liked foreign languages.
She went to Tsuda College in Tokyo and, after graduating, landed a job teaching at an all-boys trade school in Tokyo. “The students did not want to be there, and they definitely did not want to learn,” she remembers. It was a difficult assignment, but she learned an important aspect of teaching — that controlling the class comes first.
But a new world awaited her. In 1992, while she was in her late 20s, she left Tokyo for the United States. She attended the Bryn Mawr College Summer Institute to train to teach Japanese as a foreign language. From there, she went to Evansville, Ind., where she earned her master’s degree at the University of Evansville. She taught Japanese for five years at Williams College before making what would be a long-term commitment to New London and Connecticut College’s Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures.
Although she periodically returns to her native country with students for 10-day visits as part of the College’s Traveling Research and Immersion Program, she sees herself as a woman without a country, a Japanese native who left her homeland long ago, and an immigrant to the United States who, after 22 years on American soil, still perceives herself as a visitor.
But her students would say that they know where home is for Kobayashi Sensei, as they call her: a classroom, wherever it may be.