Humans of the Hilltop: Kai Heckerman

Many people find it tough adjusting to a new lifestyle, especially transitioning to college. Freshman soccer player Kai Heckerman has packed up and moved to an unfamiliar destination not once in his life, but twice.

Heckerman, who is undecided in his major, was born in Okinawa, a small island about 400 miles south of the main island of Japan. His mother is an Okinawan native, while his father is from San Jose, California. The couple moved to Santa Cruz, California, for a short time but decided to return to Okinawa to start a family “due to the safety of the culture in Japan,” according to Heckerman.

So for the first sixteen years of his life, Heckerman lived in Japan, growing up around the “rich distinctive culture” of the Japanese. He said he enjoyed playing soccer with the local kids and attending Japanese schools in the summers. When he moved to California before his junior year of high school, he said he had to become accustomed to a very different lifestyle.

“This change was quite drastic … I had never been fully involved in the community of an American society,” Heckerman said.

Heckerman said one of the biggest challenges about being at Bradley is leaving behind close friends and family, especially when they’re across the country or the globe.

“At times it is very hard to be far away from all the childhood friends in Japan and newer friends in California,” he said.

Since his parents still live in Japan, communication can be difficult due to the 14-hour time difference. Heckerman said he sees his parents once or twice a year because “the military only pays for one flight to Japan [per] year.”

Heckerman said a huge adjustment he will have to get used to is Illinois weather, as he’s only seen snow three times in his life.

“It will be a shock, but I think I will manage,” Heckerman said.

One thing did not change when Heckerman came to the states: his love of soccer. He has been a soccer player for over 12 years and has been a member of various club, naval base and school teams.

“Once I moved to California, I played for the San Diego Surf Academy during my junior and senior year,” Heckerman said.

Heckerman said he chose to travel the many miles to Illinois and attend Bradley because he wants to gain a great engineering degree while playing soccer for a respectable Division I program.

“I love the soccer environment here at Bradley,” Heckerman said. “It was everything I was looking for in a successful program during the recruiting process.”