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Current VIA volunteer Kailah Weiss-Weinberg recently organized a field trip for her students at the Eastern Tibet Training Institute (ETTI).
Staff accompanied the students who could ride bikes on a sponsored trip to the Napa Wetlands 纳帕海 and ShiKa Snow Mountain 石卡雪山 area just outside of town. The ride itself is usually not too difficult, since after an initial hill the road descends onto the grassland and becomes fairly flat.
The participating students were extraordinarily excited about the trip for the days leading up to it. Not all the students can ride a bike. These students were disappointed not to be able to join; we’ll teach them to ride soon.
The wind blew hard against us as we struggled forward across the grassland. But the day was beautiful, intermittently sunny and cloudy, and with clear views of the mountains and of the grassland stretching to all sides. We saw flocks upon flocks of sheep, innumerable yaks, and birds. Near the end a posse of horses came splashing through the water to run alongside us as we flowed through the landscape, united in the joy of motion.
Learn more about ETTI at: http://www.etti.org.cn
John Kaniaupio sends his greetings from Fukuoka, Japan! He served as a VIA coordinator for the ALC (American Language and Culture) Program in 2009. Below, he shares how the ALC program helped shape his friendships, career, and journeys.
The ALC 2009 program was an incredible opportunity for the 60 or so students from Japan and Taiwan that came to Stanford. It was also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the Stanford coordinators. In a few short weeks, although we may not have spoken the same languages and culturally may have been quite distant, I made some of the best friends in my life. Through these ties I have traveled to Taiwan and Japan and now reside in the beautiful hills of Asakura, Fukuoka.
During ALC, coordinators made sure our participants enjoyed themselves and also assisted them with their English. The experience inspired me not only to live abroad and engage in a culture that is different from my own, but also to try teaching. I got a taste of teaching in ALC– the joy that comes from having one’s students grow and understand– and wanted more. After the program, during my senior year I worked in the VIA office to become more involved in the VIA mission of promoting cross-cultural understanding. Pulled by the urge to learn more about the cultures of my newfound friends I applied and was accepted to the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Program. In brief, the JET program places participants into schools throughout Japan to assist with English education. It’s very like ALC. As I look to the future, I fancy the idea of going to live in Taiwan as well, so that I can enrich myself further and hopefully continue enrich those around me too!
I believe in the importance of cross-cultural understanding, especially in our world that seems to be getting smaller every second, and in how great the VIA program is for helping to facilitate that.
Asumi Nonomiya Suzuki joined VIA’s American Language and Culture program in 2002 as a freshman at Keio Univeristy. This fall she is entering the International Education Policy Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Below she traces the impact of the program on her life and her decision to return to school.
The seeds for my work in the field of educational development were planted during my time at ALC, and I made lifelong friends who continue to inspire me. While at ALC, I was stimulated by the various ways in which problems in society were being tackled by students. I had the chance to get involved in community programs such as Bread of Life and the unrelenting passion of students and community members convinced me that grassroots efforts can significantly improve intricate hurdles we face.
I wrote my ALC research paper on “The Effect of Diversity on Education” which highlighted how diversity can impact students’ involvement with the community. Intrigued by education’s role in developing such opportunities, I started volunteering for educational NGOs in Japan, including one assisting Asian children in Japan struggling with school, an institute for community leaders in developing countries, and started an NGO C-FA (Chances for All) to raise awareness of such issues among youth in Japan.
While working with these Japanese NGOs, I discovered financial, managerial and structural constraints restricted their impact. Realizing that financial and business knowledge would be essential to overcome these limitations, upon graduation, I joined the investment banking division of Goldman Sachs. After two years, I joined the Tokyo Foundation and the Alliance Forum Foundation to pursue my true passion. Currently, I am working with educational partners in Bangladesh developing an international program that develops professionals who can use tools like microfinance to solve societal problems.
As my next step, I will be studying at the International Education Policy Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, focusing on how we can leverage grassroots educational initiatives to build better education policies for marginalized children. No matter what challenges will cross my path, my ALC days will continue stimulating my endeavors.
Today, this question drives much of the research I do as a graduate student majoring in International and Comparative Education at Stanford. Five years ago, I lived this question as a VIA volunteer on Serangan Island, just off the coast of Bali.
I started VIA’s summer program with the intent to “do good” while “getting back to my roots,” my family is from Indonesia, but I was born and raised in America. While I was there, I struggled with a sense of belonging, I questioned previous mindsets about social change and developing countries, and I learned more about myself than I could have anticipated.
From the shores of Bali, I moved to the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. I became a teacher at an intense charter school on the border of Texas and Mexico. For two years, teaching consumed my life as I encountered the reality of educational inequity every day. I taught World Cultures to an amazing group of 6th graders who were eager to wrap their minds around our big world.
During my last summer, I lived on a different border. I returned to Southeast Asia to the border between Thailand and Burma. While there, I learned how issues in education and border populations can be strikingly similar, and yet vastly contextually different at the same time. Although I understood Burma’s dire political, social, and economic situation in a distant, intellectual way, teaching at a Burmese school gave me a way to connect to the incredible people on the ground.
As my interest in international education grew, I would often find myself touching ground with that initial VIA experience. It was a pivotal moment of growth and perspective transformation, and it has fueled my passion in international education, social justice, and global citizenship. Today, I am less than two quarters away from graduation, and my to-do list includes conducting interviews and analyzing journals of young people who have just completed a year of service abroad. Did they experience pivotal moments of transformation? Will their experiences propel them in unanticipated directions? My research takes me full circle to a place I was five years ago, a place with VIA.
In summer 2002, as a student of KEIO University in Japan, I attended VIA’s American Language and Culture program at Stanford University. The one month on ALC challenged me academically and socially. However, the most important lesson I learned during the program is that entrepreneurial attitude should be practiced and developed.
For the required ALC research project, I investigated why there are so many great start-ups like Yahoo, Google and HP around Stanford. I interviewed an entrepreneur who went to Stanford Graduate School Business, and he told me that “finding big problems” and “making meaning” are the core concept of entrepreneurship and that Stanford welcomes people who made hard failures. After that conversation I vaguely started thinking becoming an entrepreneur.
I graduated KEIO University in 2004 and co-founded Sow Experience, Japan’s first experiential gift service. The company provides opportunity for consumers to purchase experience-based (versus material) gifts from outdoor adventure to music lessons. Sow has spurred the entry of more than 20 similar start-ups since our founding. If I had not been to the ALC, I would not have started my own business and perhaps many of those 20 similar business would not have started either.
These days, many foreign media have reported that poor output figures for the Japanese economy and stagnation. We, Japanese young people in our 20’s, have to go abroad and bring back something new to our country. ALC program is mere a one month program, but it definitely has the potential to inspire and ignite your hidden entrepreneurial spirit.
If you are interested in Ichizo Yamamoto or his company, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alumna Anna Sophie Loewenberg (China, 1996) has for the past 5 years been the producer, writer, editor, and host of a web video series that has drawn fans from across the globe.
Recently Anna Sophie wrote to us to say, “One thing I know for sure is that I probably never would have ended up in China if it wasn`t for VIA, and I can`t say enough about how much the program did to contribute to my understanding and appreciation of Chinese culture. I highly recommend VIA to any young person who wants to travel abroad.”
You can watch all Sexy Beijing episodes on the youtube page. Sexy Beijing Youtube page.
The event also included a video interview with Andy Kuo (1997 ALC2) who founded Atlaspost.com, which is one of most popular social network service providers in Taiwan and was recently acquired by Groupon. (See here for more about Atlaspost.) Alumni Michael Lin (2001 ALC1), Maggie Su (2006 ALC1), and Chris Lin (2008 ALC1) also shared about their career choices and work experience. The recent program participants listened to their stories with great interest. As part of a fund raising effort by the committee, Jeannie Tai and Johnny Chuang (both 2009 ALC2) led an auction event selling items from Stanford.
VIA greatly appreciates the staff members of TAC who organized this event!