Dr. Fumiko Tamura Graduate Fellowship in Foreign Language Education

Feb 17, 2007 | Graduate Fellowships

From Japan with Love: English teacher says she owes it all to UT

 The Dr. Fumiko Tamura Graduate Fellowship in Foreign Language Education was established by the Board of Regents of The University of Texas System on February 17, 2007, to benefit The University of Texas College of Education. Gift funds were provided by Fumiko Tamura, Ph.D.

Once a year just isn’t enough for Fumiko Tamura’s favorite birthday gift. This annual gift isn’t one Tamura receives but one she gives — to The University of Texas at Austin. “I’m trying to give every year on my birthday, December 12, and if possible between it,” says Tamura, who turns 83 this year.

Dr. Fumiko Tamura

Tamura’s fondness for UT Austin dates back to 1984, when she enrolled here as a graduate student in linguistics. By then she had already taught English for 20 years at Tokyo’s Jyosai University. She earned her doctorate at UT Austin in 1989 and returned to her native Japan to again teach English. She is still teaching, now seniors at a Tokyo cultural center.

Tamura describes her time at Texas as the best of her life. Before starting her graduate studies she paid a visit to the University, talking to her future professors and strolling around campus. She saw friendly people who welcomed everyone — a pattern that continued throughout her years here.

“When you are away from home, sometimes you feel helpless, you need someone to talk to, you need someone to care for you, and UT is a place where you can get all that,” she says. “I owe what I am to UT, the faculty especially,” she says.

Those influential faculty members included education professor John Bordie. On Tamura’s Commencement Day in 1989, she told Bordie what he had meant to her.

He responded with one last lesson.

“I said, ‘I don’t know how to repay your kindness,’ ” Tamura recalls. “He said, ‘Don’t repay me, but give to those who need help.’

“I remembered his words.”

She not only remembered them — she decided to live them. In addition to her regular outright gifts to the University, Tamura has included UT Austin in her will, creating an endowment for a graduate fellowship in foreign-language education in the College of Education. She wants to help future English teachers who need financial assistance.

Tamura’s own career as a linguist began at age 5 as a neighbor of some not-so-nice English-speaking children.

“The first English I learned was ‘It’s mine’ when they tried to take my toys away,” she says. “Also ‘Drop dead’ and ‘Go jump in a lake.’

From a young age, Tamura wanted to visit other countries, but World War II delayed her plans. Being a young person in wartime Japan wasn’t easy. Tamura remembers going without food because of rationing. She enrolled in medical school to follow in her father’s footsteps but had to leave when her house was burned down during an air raid. Throughout it all, her desire for education was a constant. After her stint in medical school, she decided she wanted to see that justice was done. She enrolled in law school but became disillusioned and transferred her major to English, receiving scholarships throughout her nine years of undergraduate and postgraduate studies.

English was the right fit. She sees language as a uniting force. “English now is sort of the universal language,” Tamura says. “People should know the universal language. They should know the outside world more.”

But what makes The University of Texas at Austin a good place for learning about the world? When choosing an institution to support, Tamura investigated several universities, but Texas stood out both academically and culturally.

“I believe that Texas probably is the best place for learning the language and learning about America, too,” she says.

 Original story by Angela Curtis (University Development Office)


Fumiko Tamura died in September of 2018. Through this gift she will be remembered for generations.

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