Ryan Bland meets up with his friend Kohei Toba after moving to Japan. Bland and Toba went to school together at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Ryan Bland has been around the world – only to end up right back where he started.
"It's a little bit different from the last time I was here," said Bland, looking around the McDonald-Belton Building at North Platte Community College. "Back then, I didn't really know what I wanted to do with my life."
That's all changed for the North Platte native. Bland has returned to NPCC to continue his education, but now with a clear sense of direction.
He knows exactly where he wants to be and that NPCC can help get him there – just like it did the first time around.
"I definitely credit NPCC with setting me up for all the experiences I've had over the years," said Bland. "What allowed me to be successful was the teachers' willingness to go out of their way to help me. I was never afraid to approach them if I had a question, which made the difference in my ability to understand material long-term. I still remember it to this day."
Ryan Bland, of North
Platte, visits a lake house at Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo. Bland
is continuing his education at NPCC so he can return to Japan.
After Bland graduated from Maywood High School in 2004, choosing a career path became a daunting task. He decided to take general education classes through NPCC to buy some time. The school was affordable and close to home. It also seemed less intimidating than a larger, four-year college or university.
"When I was younger, I went to a country school," Bland said. "Because of that, I knew a low student-to-faculty ratio would be good for learning. In retrospect, I think it would have been really overwhelming to go straight from Maywood to UNL."
NPCC gave him the foundation and confidence to work his way up to that. He graduated from NPCC in 2007, then transferred to the University of Nebraska–Lincoln where he earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry in 2011.
Ryan Bland, his wife Ryo and her mother Kaori Yunohara stand outside the Asakusa Kannon Temple in Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan.
"Probably the coolest thing that happened to me in Lincoln, however, was that I became involved with the Japanese community," said Bland. "I lived with some Japanese students and became very interested in their culture. I wanted to experience it first-hand, so made the decision to go to Japan to work and teach."
Before he could do that, Bland had to become certified to teach English as a foreign language. He did so through San Diego State University's American Language Institute.
"I went to Japan in August of 2013," said Bland. "It was an amazing experience. I taught 5 to 18-year-olds at a private school in Nagakute, Aichi during the week, then taught students up to age 75 on the weekends."
He found the time to be eye-opening and reflective.
"It was very beneficial to see how Japanese culture compares to mine," said Bland. "I think it's important to get that global perspective – now more than ever with everything happening around the world. It influences the decisions we make within our own societies. It's also important to realize not everyone has the same beliefs as us. There are differences, and that's OK."
Ryan Bland poses with a robot in Japan. Bland, a North Platte native, taught English as a foreign language in Japan for two years.
Bland returned to the U.S. in September of 2015, but has plans to go back to Japan. That's part of why he's at NPCC.
"I think it would be fun to start a foreign exchange program at a high school," said Bland. "I want to get a master's degree in education through Colorado State University, so I can do that, but I need a statistics class to help me get there. The CSU program doesn't start until July of 2018, so I figured I might as well move back to North Platte for a while, save some money and take statistics through NPCC."
He currently serves as a math and chemistry tutor at the college and uses his personal experience to dole out advice to those he mentors.
"Like many students here, I came from small beginnings," said Bland. "I grew up in a rural area, went to a community college, then used those credits to transfer to a bigger college. Community college was like a springboard. Now, the sky is the limit."
He has narrowed the scope down a little, however.
"I would like to be a professor someday, so I'm working my toward that," said Bland. "It took some time, but I've finally discovered who I want to be when I grow up - the type of person who does the best he can."