About Toni Stillman

My foreign language journey began during my mid-stage career employment as a buyer with a major multinational chemical company in Memphis, TN. I met two Japanese Technical Specialists, visitors from Japan. A simple desire to exchange greetings in Japanese language led me on a life-long journey to cultural awareness and Japanese language learning.

A few years passed after my initial introduction to the Japanese associates, whose visits to our company always resulted in a customary gift. I was surprised to be gifted with a copy of the Hiragana syllabary, followed by the Katana chart on a similar visit.

I studied the charts during lunch, between breaks, and soon found myself immersed in learning Kanji, eager to return to school to complete my undergraduate degree, which seemed like an impossible dream, given challenging life circumstances. Overcoming many obstacles, allowed me to see the dream through to reality.

Rhodes College

I am an alumna of Rhodes College, 1998 graduate, where I earned the Bachelor of Arts Degree. I majored in International Studies, with a minor in Japanese Language. Following a tumultuous path to returning to school as an adult student, while raising three children, caring for adult parents in their golden years, and managing a rigorous program. My persistence paid off with good grades and unrelenting effort. I earned a full scholarship to complete my education, with additional scholarships to study in Japan. Against all odds, I accepted that I would have to design a way to leave my family obligations and accept a chance to set the precedence as the first college graduate in my family.

Study Abroad Scholarship Recipient

My company allowed me an educational sabbatical period (without pay). None the less, I completed an exchange program; where I lived with a family in Kouzu (a rural area) near Hirakata City, in Osaka, Japan. While living in Osaka, Scholarship funds allowed me to travel to Kyoto, Fukushima, Tokyo; and other areas, as well as sending support home for my children.

I returned stateside, with renewed interests in the language, culture, and a desire to share everything that I had learned. I returned to corporate, settled into a new position, but my passion remained with learning and teaching Japanese language. As a hobby, I began volunteer teaching in community centers and language and literacy programs.

Teaching Japanese Language

Deciding on a career change, after 40+ years in the private sector, corporate industries, was not a quick decision. Following my love interests, I moved to Mississippi. My husband is retired and a native of Gulfport, MS. We live in a rural area (Saucier, MS) in the Success community. It is here that I founded a nonprofit organization, focused on promoting foreign language learning and cultural awareness. With the goal of improving learner outcomes in rural communities and targeting African American students, I launched the program.

It did not take long for me to know that I lacked professional knowledge of the teaching discipline and methods. After seeking a path forward, I discovered the Master of Arts in Foreign Language Teaching Program (MAFLT), on-line delivery through the Michigan State University. Although concerned about my ability to complete a rigorous program in a new field of knowledge, I committed to working and achieving my goal of becoming a qualified teaching professional.

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