How Miyuki’s American Homestay Experience Touched Her Heart and Made Her Life Better

“Always be a giver. Not a taker.” That’s what American Mom Sonnie taught Miyuki.

Q. Tell us about your path leading up to today.

A. I would say my path has been a long and winding one, but I’m now very grateful that it has made me what I am today.

After coming back from a 1-year-exchange program at UCR in 2010, I decided to take a year off from college to participate internships in both Japan and overseas. Since right before starting the days in Riverside, I had been seeking my future career in development assistance for emerging countries. As returning to my home in Japan I thought I needed take a little time to determine more specifically to what kind of field I would like to contribute and how I could build my career in that field.

Through the internships, I found my passion in creating and maintaining well-organized public spaces in cities, because I thought that public space works as one of the fundamental infrastructures which sustain urbanizing areas to be safer and more comfort; therefore, I entered graduate school and got a master’s degree of landscape planning and design. It led me to start my first career in a civil engineering company in Japan, and I’m now working for a global engineering consulting firm as a project manager.

Q. Looking back at where you were when you started this journey, where did you think or hope it would lead you?

A. To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure what my future would be like when I took a year off from college. Days in Riverside accordingly put me on the starting point of my journey, but where should I go next? Luckily, however, I always kept the word from my host family, Ms. Sonnie Kenny, in my mind: “Always be a giver, not a taker.” This was what she said to herself all the time, and she did so whenever she saw someone needed help.

For instance, while living with Ms. Sonnie in Riverside in 2009, a very unfortunate news that my grandmother had passed away reached me. Since there was no chance for me to head back to my home in Japan for attending her funeral, I just tried to keep myself stay calm by not crying in front of others. However, she knew I needed time and a place to heal myself through sharing my grief with others.

Miyuki with her homestay mom One Saturday morning she asked me to go to a church with her. I wasn’t pretty sure if it would be acceptable for the church and people participating the Saturday worship because I wasn’t Christian. But it turned out that I made a mountain out of a molehill. Everyone there just warmly welcomed me when she asked them to pray for me and my grandmother and let me be there in a quiet praying moment with them. I assume it was approximately only 5-10 minutes, although it softly opened my mind and I just started to cry in front of them. That was almost the first time for me to openly express my feelings toward my grandmother in front of others, and it meant a lot for me.

Last spring, in March 2023, I got some news from one of my friends in Riverside that Ms. Sonnie had just passed away and seemingly there was going to be a memorial ceremony for her held by her housing community members. Right after the news reached to me, I decided to fly to Riverside to attend the ceremony. I just couldn’t help me to do what she did to me 13 years ago. When the memorial event started, everyone there eventually shared their heartwarming stories about Ms. Sonnie of how much she was caring and thoughtful for others. Interestingly, they were all familiar to me because those were exactly what she did to me before as well. I also could share my story of Ms. Sonnie with them and am very delighted to be one of whom to commemorate her.

I believe what she taught me was always thinking thoughtfully of what others are really in need and reaching out for them at the right time in the right way. It might not seem to be the thing which directly led my career up to today, however I try to keep reminding me of it whenever I face to my clients and projects: “what is the fundamental needs for them, and what/how can I contribute to them by providing the best quality of services?”

Q. What are your hopes and aims for your future?

A. Becoming one of the professional engineers who support to build sustainable cities is one of my hopes at this moment. No matter where the project is, I would be grateful if I could contribute to an urban development which someone living there in a future would be able to feel like “This is my hometown, and I proud of it.”

Q. Was there a particular department, staff member, or instructor memorable to your experience?

Miyuki Rika and Edmund in the hills of Riverside A. My one-year-life in Riverside wouldn’t be such memorable and enjoyable days without Ms. Rika Toyoda and Mr. Edmund Buenrostro. They always think about and take good care of exchange students from other countries including me, and everyone enjoys being around them. Ms. Rika was the one to break the news about Ms. Sonnie last spring, and when I flew to Riverside to attend her memorial event, she let me stay at her place. Even though it was a bit sudden request, she just warmly welcomed me.

And Mr. Edmund was also there, with their thoughtful and cheerful atmosphere as same as before. I couldn’t thank them enough that they went to the ceremony with me and just stayed by my side until my feelings calmed down. I am delighted that they keep in touch with me, and it’s an honor that they are good friends of mine today.

Miyuki and Professor Kenichi Gatayam Additionally, I couldn’t have achieved my journey without generous support from Professor Kenichi Gatayam of Doshisha Women’s College of Liberal Arts. Not only when preparing and implementing for the one-year studying abroad program in Riverside, he also lent the helping hand to me whenever I needed, such as when taking a year off from college, getting an enrollment exam for graduate school, and so on. I suppose I was not a model student; however, it has been a pleasure graduating from his study group.

I hope this great partnership between UC Riverside and DWCAL will go forward, and more and more students will attain opportunities which can broaden their future careers.

I have so many study abroad experiences to be thankful for—indeed, they changed my life!

For almost 50 years, UCR University Extension has been a leader in international education and relationships. Miyuki’s story is one of many that has touched our hearts. We also want to applaud our staff who always goes above and beyond to make everyone welcome, included, and safe.

UCR University Extension alumna Miyuki Tokuno Miyuki Tokuno
Osaka, Japan
Project Management and Advisory, Arup, Tokyo Japan
Bachelor of International Studies, Doshisha Women’s College of Liberal Arts, Kyoto, Japan
Master of Science in Environmental Science and Technology, Graduate School of Osaka Prefecture University
Graduate, UCR University Extension
International Education Programs California Academic Program (CAP) 2010