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Treasure at the end of a winding path

“You never know what trying new things may bring. I went from leaving school, no real motivation for finishing my degree, to someone who is back in school, later in life, excited every day that I get to be a student again.”

Hunter Furnish’s academic career took many twists and turns.

After obtaining an associate degree from Bluegrass Community and Technical College, Hunter explored many life options—seeking a degree from the University of Kentucky, pursuing a career as a golf professional, and opening a small business with a childhood friend.

He mentioned, “these were all great learning experiences but I felt there would be something more if I kept searching.”

The Cynthiana, Kentucky, native found himself living in Cincinnati, Ohio, when he decided to continue his education. He enrolled at Northern Kentucky University seeking a degree in economics and immediately felt comfortable on campus.

Furnish, after completing many credit hours during his time at UK, explored electives during his final semesters at NKU. His advisor mentioned that many students enjoyed the Japanese courses NKU had to offer.

“I had finally found something that truly motivated me. Japanese woke me up.”

It was then that Furnish discovered his passion for the Japanese language.

“Choosing to take this class changed everything for me,” he says. “I found that I could not wait to get to class, and I studied every day. At 25 years old, and nearly eight years after my first college courses, I had finally found something that truly motivated me. Japanese woke me up.”

Furnish was able to participate in a five-week study abroad experience in Japan through NKU’s partnership with The Kentucky Institute for International Studies (KIIS) during his senior year.

This trip heightened Furnish’s love for Japanese language and culture and created bonds with his host family and friends which have lasted to this day.

Furnish graduated from NKU with his bachelor’s degree in economics in 2008. He loved his studies in Japanese and wished to continue, but at the time, there weren’t any full programs for Japanese in the state.

Furnish randomly decided to check into NKU’s offerings in the Japanese program nearly 12 years later at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I navigated to the Js on the academic page and ‘Major — Japanese’ came into view,’’ he says. “I couldn’t believe it!”

NKU’s Japanese major was established during the 2019-20 academic year. Furnish says that being able to study Japanese more fully and earn another degree from his alma mater meant the world to him.

“To be able to go back to NKU and work toward this degree feels like a dream,” he says. Furnish is so grateful to NKU for helping him find his passion.

“I have a degree only because I found a place where I felt comfortable,” he says. “While there, I found a passion in studying language and I learned the importance of trying new things with an adventurous and open-minded spirit.   For giving me that, NKU feels like home.”

After graduation, Furnish is excited to combine his career experience and degree in economics with his talents in Japanese. However, graduation isn’t something the returning student is looking forward to.

“This time, now that I’m actually working toward a degree in exactly the thing I want to study, in a way I don’t want to graduate,” he says. “I feel like I could study language for the rest of my life.”

His favorite professor is Mika Wolfford, who first introduced him to Japanese studies at NKU in 2007.

“She is no longer with NKU, but she will forever be my favorite teacher,” he says. “She introduced me to Japanese, and I just loved her enthusiasm for teaching and her kindness.”

Furnish also recently completed a class with Junko Agnew and says she was a wonderful teacher.

“I’ve also heard amazing things about Makoto Nakamura and cannot wait to take his class in the fall," he adds.

 Since his return to college, Furnish has found it much easier to stay focused. He says school seems easy now that he’s older because he’s found things he wants to focus on and it’s easier to block out distractions and time-wasters. His advice to all students is to always try new things, and most definitely to study abroad if given the chance.

“You never know what trying new things may bring,” he says. “I went from leaving school, no real motivation for finishing my degree, to someone who is back in school, later in life, excited every day that I get to be a student again."

About This Article

Danielle Heiert
Danielle Heiert
Editorial Intern, NKU Magazine
Published June 2021
Photography provided

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