Japanese Student Combines Passion for Music with ESL Experience 

International students who come to Austin through ESL Services have the opportunity to improve their English communication skills, attend cultural and educational programs, and explore Austin. For most, it’s a memorable experience. For Rikuhiro Ohta, from Tokyo, it changed his life path. 

The third-year student studying music, society, and culture at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University in Beppu, Japan, came to Austin for the first time in the fall of 2017 for an English Language and Culture and Internship Program, a customized program developed by ESL Services in collaboration with Asia Pacific University. 

An aspiring drummer, Rikuhiro was happily surprised to find out that Austin is the “live music capital of the world.” As part of his internship at the Central Presbyterian Church, he set up events, assisted with weekly free concerts, and emceed one of the concerts. He also interned with music, events, and marketing company Margin Walker, where he communicated with musicians and gathered information for the company. 

“I learned how important the small things are,” he explained. “I did most of the small jobs, like supporting events and gathering the information about the artists; at first I felt bored, a little bit, but in the end, [I realized] small jobs are also important for making the event successful.” 

The internship program gives students a chance to hone their English communication skills in a professional setting and get involved with the local Austin community. 

Rikuhiro was also able to experience the Austin City Limits musical festival, where he saw the Red Hot Chili Peppers for the first time, one of his favorite bands.

Rikuhiro plays the drums.


ESL students and instructors share a meal outside at picnic table.


After the conclusion of his semester-long program in Austin, Rikuhiro was convinced that he needed to get back to Austin as fast as he could. He enrolled full time in ESL Services courses and is taking ESL classes at a higher level with classmates from all over the world, including Korea, Turkey, Russia, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Mexico, and Chile. 

“At the beginning I felt a little scared, because last year was much easier, being with my Japanese friends all the time,” he described. “But it’s a really good opportunity for me to practice English or communicate with others in English.” 

Rikuhiro is also broadening his involvement in the community as a drummer. He is immersing himself in Austin’s music scene, from learning jazz, going to shows at venues such as the Elephant Room, and even jamming with area musicians. 

“There are a lot of chances to perform music,” he said. “Last week I performed drums at Stay Gold [East Austin bar and music venue].” He also did a drum solo at ESL Services’ end of year reception, which garnered rave reviews from his classmates and teachers. 

ESL Services gives students like Rikuhiro the opportunity to not only develop English communication skills, but also immerse themselves in Austin’s culture and grow personally, socially, and professionally. 

“I enjoy all of the things about the ESL program, but what I mainly enjoy is talking with other classmates,” Rikuhiro described. “I like to communicate with other people, especially in English.” 


Story by Charlotte Burnod; Photos by Adrienne Pond