Flush with honors and job offers, Kristy Gammill credits UMSL’s holistic approach to Japanese education
Kristy Gammill was enjoying her final college spring break with family in Colorado two months ago when she suddenly arrived at a personal crossroads: Would she follow the path she’d been dreaming about for more than a decade or take the unforeseen fork in the road?
“It was a pretty agonizing couple of weeks deciding,” says Gammill, a California native who just graduated from the University of Missouri–St. Louis on May 13. “But the best choices I’ve made and the best paths that I’ve taken have been the ones that were really unexpected. St. Louis came out of left field, for example, and UMSL kind of came out of nowhere, too.”
What had hit her all at once, all on the same day, was a pair of job offers – neither of which she wanted to turn down.
One option meant a much-anticipated move to Japan to be a coordinator for international relations through a highly selective exchange program. The other would keep her in St. Louis, where she’s become deeply involved in the local Japanese community through her work as a student assistant for the Japan America Society.
“I was grateful for a number of people who gave me their insights and had at some point reached a similar point in their journey,” Gammill says of her decision process. “After a lot of thinking, I decided to go with Nidec and stay here. Even though I’ve always wanted to do the JET Programme, the idea of leaving St. Louis for two-to-five years – after having built these connections and relationships – was really difficult.”
Now feeling sure of her next steps, she’s eager to begin her new role as a business coordinator for the locally based Nidec Motor Corporation, one of the global manufacturer’s main U.S. hubs, later this month.
The position is one that representatives of the company, which is headquartered in Kyoto, Japan, thought would be a good fit for Gammill after meeting her at an event in February and encouraging her to send them her resume.
“I am confident that her strong language skills as well as her experience working at JAS were key factors in her being hired,” says UMSL Assistant Teaching Professor Amy Michael, whom Gammill is quick to credit with having provided expert guidance as she worked her way through the extensive JET application process last summer.
At Nidec, the just-graduated Japanese major will report directly to the vice president for business planning and development, and in addition she’ll serve as a liaison for Japanese employees of the company who are based in St. Louis.
She’ll also be tasked with continuing to foster Nidec’s relationship as a corporate sponsor of JAS, which is housed in UMSL’s Social Sciences and Business Building. The thought of those continued interactions makes the job particularly appealing to Gammill as she looks to the future and reminisces about her time as a student on campus.
“I get really emotional about UMSL, because I really never felt at home at my first university, but here I just really feel like I belong,” says Gammill, who started her college career at the University of Colorado at Boulder but dropped out after being dissatisfied with the Japanese program there. Moving to Missouri for work at that point, she enrolled at St. Louis Community College and, on the side, continued private lessons studying a language she’s loved since childhood.
When someone mentioned UMSL’s Department of Language and Cultural Studies and its strong Japanese offerings, she looked into it further and ended up landing a full scholarship to attend the university.
“The Japanese program definitely lived up to and surpassed its reputation,” Gammill says. “The teachers are extremely dedicated to giving students a very holistic look at Japanese, and that includes practical language skills as well as a cultural understanding which has been entirely different than any Japanese curriculum I’ve been a part of before.”
The campus atmosphere has suited her as well.
“I was always a working student, and at other colleges I didn’t really fit into the mold, and there was a huge commuter and on-campus-resident divide,” explains Gammill, who has lived both on and off campus at UMSL. “Here I feel like everybody understands each other better. So many of us are working, and we all have concrete ideas of what sort of job we want, and we’re all working toward that. I really love that sense of community that comes with that.”
Some of her success surely has to do with her work ethic – a trait she says she picked up from one of her best friends while growing up in San Francisco.
“Most of my friends were actually first- or second-generation American, and I was exposed to a lot of different cultures,” Gammill says. “My best friends were Chinese, Korean and Japanese, and I had a really particularly strong bond with my Japanese best friend.
“We were in the same fifth-grade class, and I would go over to her place or she would come over to mine almost every day after school. And I started noticing that she operated differently than me, in a way that I’d never seen before. When I was 10 years old I kind of rushed through everything – I was impatient and sloppy – but she was extremely methodical, even with the most mundane tasks.”
Gammill eventually traveled to Japan with that same friend as a teenager, and the country’s culture has continued to fascinate and challenge her in the years since.
So have her teachers – her senseis, as she calls them.
Along with Michael, local Japanese instructor Hitomi Salini and UMSL Assistant Teaching Professor Keiko Ueda have had particularly positive impacts.
“She is one of the most driven and compassionate individuals I have ever met,” Gammill says of Ueda. “She always challenged me and was also so kind. And to see her enthusiasm in the classroom – she makes learning Japanese, even when it gets really difficult, a wonderful experience.”
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