“All in the ‘Ohana” is a new series of stories that celebrates families who share a special connection with the University of Hawai‘i–West O‘ahu as students, graduates, employees, or alumni. The series will run throughout the spring 2023 semester.
There was a special pair of classmates last semester in University of Hawai‘i–West O‘ahu’s Japanese 121: Beginning Practical Japanese I course — Michael Nii, 73, and his daughter Yvette.
“Being able to sit in the same class as my daughter was surreal,” Nii said. “With 34 years separating us, it was hard to believe. I can’t imagine how many fathers and daughters experience this.”
It was Nii — who had taken the same course years ago at Leeward Community College and who is already nearly fluent in Japanese — who suggested his daughter take the class.
The recently married Yvette Ross, 38, wanted to learn the language for her job as a chocolate sommelier at Mānoa Chocolate in Kailua to be able to communicate with the company’s Japanese customers.
“My goal when choosing to take this course was to learn to speak adequate Japanese to give our visitors a better understanding of Hawaiian history and our culture while they are tasting pure Hawaiian chocolate grown locally from farmers across O‘ahu and the neighbor islands,” Ross said.
So upon her dad’s recommendation and encouragement, in fall 2022, she enrolled in the one UH West O‘ahu course as a transfer student from UH Mānoa.
And to support her, so did he.
Inspired ‘to keep learning’
The class wasn’t Nii’s first at UH West O‘ahu.
“Being that my father was drafted into the Vietnam War right after high school, he didn’t have the opportunity to pursue a college degree until after his celebrated retirement serving 27 years of active duty from the United States Army in 2008,” Ross shared.
Nii enrolled at UH West O‘ahu in fall 2019, partly because of its proximity to his ‘Ewa Beach residence.
“The reason I wanted to attend college was because I never had the chance when I was younger,” he said.
Nii graduated in spring 2022 with his Bachelor of Arts in Public Administration with a concentration in Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management.
“He has always inspired me to keep learning,” Ross said.
A ‘precious’ bond
“I decided to return to UH West O‘ahu this past fall 2022 semester to be with my daughter,” Nii said.
The two thoroughly enjoyed their time together in Japanese 121 — developing their communicative skills and playing fun games with fellow classmates.
“The course was great,” said Ross, a UH Mānoa Communications major who plans to graduate in 2025. “I am now making lots of new connections with our Japanese tourists in my work space. Being that I am a direct descendent from Hiroshima, Japan, I can’t wait to visit my relatives and utilize what I have learned through this course.”
Nii and Ross were students of Minori Murata — “Minori sensei” — a lecturer for Japanese language courses at UH West O‘ahu.
“It was a huge blessing to have Michael and Yvette in my class and to share wonderful learning experiences together,” Murata said. “They were always willing to learn and to help me provide a good learning environment in the classroom. The bond between Michael and Yvette was so precious that I felt as if I saw the very heart of UH West O‘ahu’s ‘ohana in them.”
Click here to read more stories from the “All in the ‘Ohana” series.