KEARNEY – The University of Nebraska at Kearney is a second home for Yui Hayashi.
It’s where she’s studied the past five years, where she works as a graduate assistant in athletic training and where she’s planning her future.
“My world changed a lot after I came here,” said Hayashi, a native of Osaka, Japan.
The 25-year-old arrived at UNK in August 2014 in search of new opportunities.
A former student assistant for her high school’s baseball team, her dream is to work as an athletic trainer for a professional baseball organization.
“I really like baseball,” she said. “I’ve been a baseball fan since third grade.”
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However, there’s one major obstacle she has to overcome.
“In Japan, no female trainer has ever worked with a professional baseball team,” Hayashi noted.
That’s why she decided to move halfway around the world.
Hayashi hopes the knowledge and skills she gains in the U.S. set her apart from other candidates and help her land that dream job.
“Athletic training in the U.S. is completely different than in Japan,” she said. “The concept is completely different.”
She chose UNK over four other schools because of its affordability and reputation as a close-knit campus in a safe community.
“Everybody here is so kind,” Hayashi said. “They really helped me get used to a new culture.”
Hayashi, who struggled to speak English when she first arrived, received support from faculty in UNK’s Department of Kinesiology and Sport Sciences and staff from the Office of International Education as she adjusted to life in the U.S.
“Everyone at UNK is always taking care of me,” she said. “That’s why I really like it.”
As an undergraduate student, Hayashi worked at the Antelope Bookstore on campus and as an intramural sports official through UNK Campus Recreation. She gained hands-on experience in athletic training by working with the Loper track and field and cross country teams, and she landed internships with Lexington High School and New West Orthopaedic and Sports Rehabilitation in Kearney.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in athletic training in spring 2018, Hayashi enrolled in UNK’s master’s program in sports administration. Currently, she teaches a sports first aid class, leads one-on-one study sessions for athletic training students, assists in the injury clinic that provides free treatment for UNK students, staff and faculty and helps out at certain athletic events hosted by UNK.
Thanks to professor Scott Unruh, director of UNK’s athletic training program, she’s also pursuing opportunities in baseball.
Unruh helped Hayashi line up an internship last summer as an athletic trainer with American Legion Baseball in Kearney. That experience led to a one-month internship with the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, a professional baseball team in Japan.
“He’s like a father to me,” Hayashi said of Unruh. “He’s always thinking about me and giving me opportunities to work in baseball.”
In January, the UNK graduate student will head to the West Coast to intern with the California Winter League, an instructional league for free agents looking to earn professional baseball contracts before spring training.
Hayashi expects to earn her master’s degree in July 2020, then she has a decision to make.
“My goal was to return to Japan, but now I’m used to living in the United States and I like it here,” she said. “I can do whatever I want in the U.S.”
Hayashi is one of 352 international students, representing 52 countries, enrolled at UNK this semester, according to the Office of International Education.
“If you imagine this campus and community without our international students, it’s just not as interesting a place or as rich a place to live and work,” said Tim Burkink, assistant vice chancellor for international affairs and director of UNK’s Office of International Education.
UNK’s international student organizations host a number of public events each year, including the International Food and Cultural Festival, Korean Festival, Japanese Festival and Chinese Spring Festival, and the International Friendship Program connects students with local families and individuals so they can learn from each other.
“I’ve talked to many people who have benefited from that program, and, in many cases, developed lifelong friendships,” Burkink said.
International students also impact the Nebraska economy, according to NAFSA: Association of International Educators, which estimates international education at UNK contributes nearly $9.5 million to the state and supports 48 jobs.
Many area businesses seek out international students because they bring a global perspective to the workplace, said Burkink, who called UNK an “authentic place” for these students to study and learn about American culture.
Their presence on campus also benefits other UNK students.
“Encouraging all students to have a global perspective is part of the UNK mission,” Burkink said. “Our graduates work for companies and organizations with global markets and global customers. They’ll be better served by interacting with students from different countries.”