Director Interview: Yuki Ueda

As we prepare for upcoming programs, we’re sitting down with all our program directors to have them share a little more about themselves, their passions, and what they’re looking forward to this summer.

In this post we introduce Language & Cultural Programs Director Yuki Ueda, who will lead the American Language & Culture (ALC) Program in August. Yuki will also join our Alumni Summit in Chiang Mai this June!

Introducing Yuki Ueda

Could you tell us a little about yourself and how you got connected to VIA?

I was born in Osaka, Japan, but our family moved to the United States when I was very young. In school, my favorite subjects were foreign language – German, Latin, Chinese, French, Spanish – but ironically, I really struggled in Japanese Saturday school! I’ve always enjoyed learning about other cultures, and in particular, connecting with people over food. I found out about the Program Director position through a friend from graduate school (the fabulous Melissa Golden), and the more I learned about VIA’s mission, the more I was convinced that this was my dream job. I love working with students who are passionate about cross-cultural learning, because I believe that their ability to work effectively with people from other cultures will help them create a more peaceful and just future.

Where have you traveled before, and where is the most unexpected place you’ve found yourself?

In college, I had the opportunity to study abroad twice, once in France and once in China. Then, when I graduated, I lived and worked as a classroom teacher in Shanghai for two years, then Costa Rica for one year. In all, I’ve been to 17 countries. One of my most memorable travels was to Songpan, in Sichuan, China. For three days, we rode horseback up a mountainside on the pristine Tibetan plateau. I have been lucky to travel to many beautiful places, but Songpan was one of the most breathtaking.

What is something you could spend hours doing, and not notice the time pass at all?

I love to be in nature. When I go on long-distance hikes or bike rides, my brain can shut off and my body takes over. When I’m sitting on the beach, I can become hypnotized watching the movements of hermit crabs or surfers. When I’m outdoors, I become just another creature doing whatever seems necessary in that particular moment.

What is your favorite food away from home?

That’s tough! I love all kinds of food, but I crave whatever food is hard to find. When I lived in China, I craved Mexican food. When I lived in DC, I craved Chinese food! When I lived in Costa Rica, I craved cheddar cheese (though Turrialba is good too!). San Francisco has every kind of food and grocery store imaginable, so it’s a food-lover’s paradise!


Being a Program Director

What do you enjoy most about running programs?

I love random deep conversations. They usually happen in the evening, in some unhurried time before heading off to bed. I love asking seemingly simple questions that unlock stories, because it’s in those moments that I connect best with people.

What has been your biggest challenge and your biggest success in the last year?

The learning curve in my first year has been steep, but I have had an amazing group of colleagues to support and mentor me through it all. It’s been challenging to step into a more formal leadership role in managing Program Coordinators during the American Language and Culture (ALC) program, but I was surprised to find that serving as a mentor to these amazing young leaders has been one of the most fulfilling parts of the job.

What have you got planned for this summer? Is there anything you’re especially looking forward to?

This summer, I’ll be directing the American Language & Culture program again. I’m excited to work with a fabulous team of Program Coordinators and Gaby Ray, who is serving as Assistant Director. On a personal note, my husband and I are planning to go backpacking in Lassen Volcanic National Park and Point Reyes this summer!

What makes an awesome program?

The people, of course! When everyone has a positive, inquisitive, flexible attitude, we are able to build a wonderful sense of community in a short amount of time.

What are you most excited to learn from your participants?

One thing that I find particularly fun is seeing how creative students can be in a dorm kitchen! There are so many innovative ways to make noodles!!! Honestly, though, the idiom “You don’t know what you don’t know” holds so true when working with students. They are always teaching me such unexpected things, so I’ve learned to just keep an open mind and be available to listen and learn.

Any other wisdom or insights you’d like to impart?

I’m pretty introverted, which has often meant that I shy away from opportunities where I have to interact with a lot of people. However, I noticed that the decisions I regret most are not the mistakes I’ve made (there have been many!), but rather the opportunities that I have let pass me by because I was too scared to take them. As I’ve gotten older and learned more about myself, I’ve gotten better at pushing myself to experience new things that will allow me to learn and grow – while also being kind to myself and taking the personal time that I need to recharge. For students who are naturally shy or introverted, remember that everyone has their own rhythm and ways of relating with others, and that is perfectly OK!