[Humans of VIA] Kazutoh Ishida, PhD

“I love the work I do at VIA and think it’s one of the best jobs in the world!” – Kazutoh Ishida, PhD, Executive Director


Humans of VIA is a series of interviews of people who make the VIA community conducive to creating social change. By talking to people who are actively involved in VIA, we would like to share how diverse and interesting our community is!

The first person we talked to is Kazutoh Ishida, PhD, the executive director of VIA. He is actually an alumnus of VIA’s American Language & Culture (ALC) program. His program experience made him want to engage in the field of international education. By reading this article, you can explore his life journey since high school and get inspired by his passion that is fully devoted to VIA right now. Thank you again, Mr. Ishida, for sharing.

Enjoy! (Japanese version follows)

“One of the main reasons why I wanted to work for VIA was because of our founder Dwight Clark. I met him when I was a participant on VIA’s ALC (American Language and Culture) program when I was in college, which was a long time ago. I cannot find any appropriate words that can describe him very well…but his educational philosophy and entrepreneurial spirit are what I really respect. I was truly inspired by him and came to think that I want to work with him at VIA.

Speaking of ALC, there were three areas that hugely impacted me. First of all, I was able to see new aspects of America that I had not discovered before. For example, we went to a church in an African American community and also visited an LGBT community in San Francisco. At that time, these were topics that were not commonly discussed in Japan, so getting to know about racial and identity issues and how they relate to the society was new to me. I had studied abroad in Idaho in high school, so ALC was not my first time to be in America, but ALC exposed me to topics I did not encounter in Idaho which was a fresh experience for me.

Second, I had the chance to connect with people from other parts of Asia. Especially Taiwanese friends that I made through the ALC program were all inspirational to me. As you may know, there was a time in  history when Japan occupied Taiwan. The scars that Japan left in Taiwan and its people are not something we can compensate nor fix completely. However, I was quite surprised by their friendly attitude towards me and other Japanese on the program despite such history. Being motivated to learn more about Japan’s position in Asia, I switched my focus of research from US-Japan relations to East Asian studies after returning to my school from the ALC program. 

Last but not least, the ALC program gave me an opportunity to think about future options that I had not thought of while I was in Japan. Since the program, I came to think that I wanted to work in a field where I can be connected to the world and also introduce Japan to people abroad. After working in international sales at an electronics company in Japan for a few years, I made the decision to quit my job and pursue a master’s degree in Japanese pedagogy at the University of Hawaii following my interest in teaching and introducing Japan to others. I was finally doing what I had wanted to do and being where I wanted to be so I enjoyed my time in graduate school very much. While I also enjoyed the opportunity to teach Japanese, my desire to bring deeper impact to students outside the classroom setting grew stronger.

During such time, I was feeling the strong life-changing impact that ALC gave me and came across a job opening at VIA. Wanting to provide opportunities similar to what I experienced on the ALC program, I applied to the position and was fortunately selected to join VIA as a staff member. While I missed the opportunity to work with Dwight since he had already retired from VIA at that time, I was excited to take on many of the responsibilities that he had in terms of program design and development.  

It has now been 14 years since I joined the VIA team and 2 years since I took the executive director’s position. I love the work I do at VIA and think it’s one of the best jobs in the world! It’s been quite exciting to work with staff who are so dedicated to their work and driven by our mission. I also find it quite rewarding to meet our alumni who were impacted by VIA as well as new participants who start to explore new future options because of their VIA experience. While I feel that most people who apply to our programs tend to be those who already know how important it is to connect to the world to broaden their horizons, I also would like people who may be more domestic-minded but are seeking opportunities to break their shells to join our programs as well. I will continue to explore ways to reach such people and enable those who want to be leaders of social change grow through our programs.”

Interested in the ALC program that Kazutoh joined? The application for this summer’s ALC program is now open! To learn more and access the application, click here.

「VIAで働きたいと思ったのは、創設者のDwightの影響が大きいですね。彼には、僕が大学生だったころ、VIAのALC(American Language and Culture)プログラムに参加した時に出会いました。だいぶ昔ですね(笑)彼の、なんていうんだろうな、うまく言葉に表せないんですが、人柄からにじみ出るなにかだったり、態度だったり。当時からアントレプレナーシップを実行している人で、とても刺激を受けたし憧れだったので、一緒に働きたい、と思って。