Social Innovation Programs FAQ

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General Questions

Application Process

Traveling and studying in the US

Questions about ESI

Questions about DSI


General Questions

What makes the VIA experience unique?

VIA has over 50 years of experience connecting people between Asia and the US, and over 35 years of experience running programs bringing Asian students to Stanford and San Francisco. Our participants are able to stay connected to a group of like-minded individuals throughout their careers. Having an Alumni network allows past and present participants to strengthen their personal and professional development. VIA also provides opportunities to contribute to meaningful impact in local organizations in areas that most other exchange organizations do not have access to.

What is the difference between ESI and DSI?

Exploring Social Innovation (ESI) is a 12 day program offered three times a year and is open to university students and young professionals from all over Asia. Participants will stay in a hotel in San Francisco and will make day trip visits to nearby Silicon Valley and Stanford University. ESI focuses on discovering what social innovation and social enterprises are, visiting innovative non-profit organizations in Silicon Valley and around San Francisco, and equipping participants with skills and a roadmap to continue their own journey to becoming a social innovator. Students will have a chance to explore ideas for their own social innovation projects and careers with a diverse group of peers and mentors.

Design Thinking for Social Innovation (DSI) is a 10 day program offered once a year at the end of March and only open to university students from Japan. Japanese participants will be joined by 6-8 students from Stanford’s Alternative Spring Break program. All participants will stay in Palo Alto and have workshops at Stanford University. DSI focuses on understanding the design thinking process and applying it to a specific social problem through an intensive cross-cultural team project.

Can I apply to both ESI and DSI?

Yes! DSI 2015 is only open to students from Japanese universities, so if you are currently a student in Japan [you do not have to be from Japan], you can apply to DSI as well as ESI.

What is a typical ESI program like?

Each day will be unique and filled with a variety of activities to help you broaden your horizons, sharpen your skills, build strong relationships and reflect on your own path. The program will typically involve activities during the day, including company visits, workshops, volunteer opportunities and discussions. Evenings are usually devoted to reflection sessions, personal and social change storytelling workshops , cultural and community  events as well as personal time.  Usually, in the first half of the program, we equip you with essential skills and a mindset for creative changemaking. You will learn to apply these skills with partner organizations and in your team projects in the second half of the program. VIA programs are very fast-paced and intensive.  Please come rested and full of energy!

What is a typical DSI program like?

The DSI program focuses on helping you learn design-thinking through an intensive project with a partner organization. The first two days of the program will familiarize you with the program participants, Stanford area, as well as the design-thinking process overall. After that, you will start working in teams of 5 or 6 students on your project. Each day will be a mix of workshops to introduce you to a deeper aspect of the design-thinking process and guide you along in your project. You will also enjoy some community and cultural activities to exchange ideas and create strong friendships across cultures. At the end of the program you will be presenting on the process and results of your project. And the last day will be spent in reflection, celebration and plans for the future. VIA programs are are very fast-paced and intensive. Please come rested and full of energy!

Why study social innovation in Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area?

Silicon Valley and San Francisco rank among the world’s strongest centers of innovation and is home to technology giants like Google, Apple, Facebook as well as numerous startup companies. In recent years the area has also attracted large numbers of people who are passionate about using the spirit and processes of innovation towards solving pressing social issues including poverty, lack of access to education and environmental sustainability. Today, this region has become a hub for social in addition to technological innovation.

Is English required? How good should my English be?

Yes, all our programs are conducted in English. You should have intermediate English listening, speaking, and writing skills. However, our priority is your passion and motivation rather than your English ability. By dedicating yourself to English during our programs, such as asking more questions or sharing your feelings with others, your communication skills will improve and be refined.

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Application Process

How long will it take to complete my application?

It depends. The personal information section should only take 2-3 minutes to fill out. The second part of the application asks you to write several short answers (in English) OR make a video about yourself. The short answer section should be no more than 250 words each; the video should be no longer than 5 minutes. It is up to you to decide which will help us get to know you better. Depending on your English ability, writing or making a video may take 1-3 hours. The application is designed to both help us get to know you better, but also as a way for you to reflect on what is really important to you and what you want to get most out of this experience. We encourage you to spend some extra time to think deeply about your answers. If you can’t finish your application all at once, you can save it and complete it at a later time.

<strongid=”si-faq-app-3″>What information will I need to complete my application?

  1. For the first step, you will need to provide personal information (name, nationality, university, major, year in school) and contact information (email, phone number, Skype and/or LINE ID).
  2. For the second step, you will be asked to provide information about yourself and why you are interested in joining the program.
  3. Finally, you will be asked to tell us when you are available to be interviewed by the Social Innovation Programs Director, Yi Zhang (interviews usually take 10-15 minutes).

How should I prepare for my interview?

Review the answers to your essay questions and be prepared to speak about them in more depth. Make sure to check your Skype or phone connection to ensure it is working. Of course, we realize there are technical difficulties sometimes, so we will work with you to make sure these are resolved. Finally, do not worry about making mistakes in English. It is more important to get your message across and we are not going to deny you acceptance because of minor grammatical errors.

When will I know if I’m accepted?

We will send out acceptance letters after all applicants have been interviewed – about two weeks after the application deadline.

What happens after I’m accepted?

You will receive information about the next steps – how to apply for a visa or register with ESTA, how to get travel insurance, how to arrange flights, etc. You will also be invited to join an online group with other participants, so that you can start to get to know each other better. In addition, you will receive some materials to help you prepare for the program.

What does the program fee cover?

The program fee covers housing, transportation, most planned activity costs, an arrival lunch and graduation dinner at the end of the program.

It does not cover: flight to and from the US, travel insurance, daily meals, personal/free time activities, emergency expenses, or personal purchases (souvenirs, etc).

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Traveling and studying in the US

What do I need to bring with me?

We recommend you pack one suitcase and one small bag only. You should be able to carry your own luggage around one city block and up or down stairs. California is often shown as a warm, sunny place with beaches and palm trees. San Francisco, however, is usually cool, often cloudy and windy – even in summertime. It’s important to bring cold-weather clothing, like sweatshirts, jackets, and umbrellas. We will also be walking around the city a lot, so comfortable shoes are important.

Other important things to bring are: a camera, laptop, prescription medication, copies of your travel and insurance documents, adapters to charge your electronic devices, and a set of formal clothes. Once you are accepted you will receive a detailed packing list to aid you as you prepare for your travels.

Should I be worried about safety in California?

Safety is always a concern for VIA. All participants are required to have traveler’s insurance, which can provide coverage for medical and other emergencies. Program staff make participants’ safety and well-being their highest priority at all times. They will arrange or plan transportation routes and accompany participants to all organization visits.

Violent crime is not common or prevalent in San Francisco. However, as is true for most major cities, one should take a common-sense approach to safety precautions as one would anywhere else. Carry a good street map and perhaps a cell phone so that you can call your hotel if you get lost. Do not carry large amounts of cash or display expensive jewelry.

What kind of visa will I need? Does VIA issue visa invitation letters?

People from regions listed on the US State Department’s Visa Waiver Program (VWP) (e.g., Japan, Korea, Singapore, Taiwan) do not need to apply for a visa. However, they must register and get authorization to travel with the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).

Nationals of other regions not listed on the VWP (e.g., China, Hong Kong, and Thailand) must apply for a B-1/B-2 visitor visa . VIA will issue an invitation letter to all accepted participants, so that they can apply for a visa at their nearest US embassy or consulate.

Do I need travel insurance?

For safety purposes, all participants are required to purchase travel insurance and send copies to VIA before coming to the US. For some students, this can be arranged through their university. Healthcare is extremely expensive in the US. Even though the program is short, it is not worth the risk to come without travel insurance. Some credit cards cover medical emergencies, so please check with your credit card provider to see if you are already covered.

What will happen if there is a problem or emergency during the program?

For minor emergencies (small injuries, illnesses, etc.), program staff will take care of the participants’ immediate needs and accompany them to the hospital, if a hospital visit is necessary. For major emergencies (serious injury, illness, or accidents) VIA staff will ensure you receive the care you need, and notify your family and/or home university.

For problems with alcohol/drug use, illegal activity, or breaking program policies, VIA staff will discuss the incident with the participant(s). Depending on the severity, the participant(s) will receive a warning or, if it is a very serious problem, VIA staff will notify the participant’s home university, and potentially send him/her home early.

What about free time? Will there be opportunities to explore on my own during the program?

Both ESI and DSI are intensive programs that guarantee you a fruitful return of experience and knowledge. However, we understand that taking proper rest or days off is beneficial to better learning and bonding. Each program will have the equivalent of one free day per week. During these days participants can join optional tours of San Francisco or the Silicon Valley and other fun events. We will work hard and play hard, and make the program as worthwhile as possible for you.

I would like to travel somewhere else before or after the program. Is it possible to arrange my flight so that I can arrive or leave on a different day, or from a different airport?

Yes! You are welcome to go somewhere before and after the program, as long as you can meet us at the San Francisco International Airport (SFO) on the starting day, or you don’t need a ride to the airport on the ending day. The Taisei Travel Agency will book group tickets for participants from Japan who will only stay for the program. However, they can also arrange flights for participants who want to travel before or after the program. Participants can choose to book their flights by themselves as well.

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Questions about ESI

Who can participate in ESI?

University students and young professionals from Asia who are interested in exploring social innovation in a dynamic, diverse environment.

Are there scholarships or other resources available to help me pay the program costs?

For the February 2016 ESI Program, students from any country can apply to VIA scholarships sponsored by the Enlight Foundation. The John Mung Program scholarship is available to both ESI and DSI applicants, but only to students at Kyoto University. For the July and August program, students from any country can apply for the Enlight Scholarship.

Where will I stay during the program?

Participants will stay at Good Hotel in San Francisco and will share a two-bed room with a roommate.

Who leads the program workshops and activities?

Guest speakers and workshops leaders from social enterprises in the Bay Area and Stanford will lead key sessions along with VIA staff, including the director, assistant director, social innovation education fellow, and program assistant, who will also facilitate other activities including reflection and community building.

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Questions about DSI

Who can participate in DSI?

University students from Japan who are interested in developing their design thinking and cross-cultural collaboration skills with Stanford students through an intensive team project.

Are there scholarships or other resources available to help me pay the program costs?

The Enlight scholarships are available to students from any region or university. Kyoto university students may apply to the John Mung Program (available to both ESI and DSI applicants).

Where will I stay during the program?

Participants will stay at a hotel in Palo Alto, and will share a two-bed room with a roommate.

Who leads the program workshops and activities?

Guest speakers from Stanford and social innovation organizations as well as program staff will lead key sessions on design-thinking and social innovation. The Stanford student leaders and VIA staff will also facilitate additional workshops and activities during this exchange. Please note, this program focuses heavily on the team project which will give participants the opportunity to gain hands-on experience using design-thinking and working with a cross-cultural team.

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