When Nobuko Sugiura - Noko to friends - was a girl growing up in Japan, she yearned to come to the United States to study English. But her father said no.
So she stayed in Japan. She married, raised two children, cared for her ailing mother. She listened to English-language radio, savoring the words.
Then, last year, her mother died. Her brother took her aside.
"You always did everything for everyone," she said he told her. "It's time to do what you want in life."
At age 71, Sugiura is living her dream. Since summer, she has been an English-as-a-second-language student at Delaware County Community College in Media.
She heard about the college through an agency that helps Japanese people study abroad. She sold her dress-pattern business, left her Osaka home, and made the nearly 7,000-mile journey not knowing a soul.
Was she nervous?
"Never," Sugiura said with a quick smile. "I got to love it."
Her housemother, Marilyn Kelly, one of her first DCCC professors, has found inspiration in her sense of adventure.
"She obviously doesn't worry, 'Oh, I'm too old.' She doesn't know those boundaries," Kelly said.
While Sugiura has some years on her classmates, she is part of a steady growth of international students at U.S. colleges and universities.
Less well-known is the part community colleges have played in that expansion. Since 1993, community colleges have seen a nearly 58 percent increase in international students, according to the Center for Global Advancement of Community Colleges.
Community colleges appeal to foreign students for the same reasons they are attractive to students here.
Price, for one. Although the colleges charge international students higher tuition than local residents, they still usually cost less than four-year colleges or private language schools. And community colleges tend to be English-as-a-second-language friendly.
Some community colleges actively seek out foreign students. DCCC is one of them.
"We've been recruiting students internationally since 1993," said Lydia Dell'Osa, the college's director of international students.
With international tuition - $312 per credit hour - about three times what many local residents pay, these students bring in $2 million a year to DCCC, according to college spokeswoman Michelle Tooker.
And the international students - 211 this year from 52 countries - make for a richer educational experience for the college's 28,000 Delaware County students.
"It really brings the world to them," said DCCC president Jerome Parker.
Sugiura keeps in touch with her family in Japan. They Skype, and she has a photograph of her baby grandson on her desk at Kelly's house.
But a packet of miso soup sent from home remains unopened. Sugiura is immersed in her long-awaited studies, working hard, marvelling at daily discoveries, determined to see and learn all that she can before her visa is up in 2014.
After all, 50-plus years is a long time to wait for a dream.
Back when Sugiura was nearing college age, she imagined studying journalism.
"I like writing and reading," she said. She thought journalism could be her ticket to the world.
But her father did not want her to go so far so young, and then his business faltered. Noko would be the only one of four siblings who didn't go to college.
She married a man who worked for a food company, and they had two children. He died at age 50 when she was 47. She had her own business making clothing patterns for fashion designers. She listened to English through headphones on the way to work.
America eluded her until about 25 years ago, when she took a trip to San Francisco.
She didn't give her family much warning.
"They said, when?" she recalled. "I said, next week."
She stayed with a host family and had a great time. But she came home to Japan.
In the years to come, she cared for her mother, who had Alzheimer's.
In 2011, her mother died. Sugiura sold her business and used some of the money to study English in Japan. Not everyone thought America was a good idea.
"You're going to gain weight," friends warned her. "Americans are fat."
A sister worried about the food - "too greasy."
So far, though, she has handled the food just fine. She did draw the line at Fluffer Nutters, Kelly said.
Peanut butter aside, Noko greets her many new experiences with quiet wonder and delight.
She is a devotee of Trader Joe's and QVC.
The sheer scale of the United States amazes her - the roads that seem to go on forever, the vastness of the sky, the wide parking spaces, even the size of the toothbrushes.
"Big!" she exclaimed.
She is hoping to soon take her first run at New York City.
Eventually, she will return to Japan. When she does, she would like to write for an English-language newspaper.
It would have been nice to come at a younger age, she allowed one recent day.
"Sometimes I think if I came here earlier - like at 60 - I could do more," she said.
But age is not something she spends time dwelling on.
"When I study English," she said, "I don't worry about my age."
（Friday, November 16, 2012 from "Phyraderphia Inquirer"）