VIA began in 1963 when Dwight Clark, then Stanford’s Dean of Freshman Men, organized a summer project with Stanford University students. The students assisted programs serving Chinese refugees in Hong Kong through rooftop schools, medical clinics, recreation programs, and road building. The summer reshaped many of these students’ personal and professional goals. They so valued the benefits of their cross-cultural experience that they recruited other students for similar projects. In 1966, the program was incorporated under the name Volunteers in Asia, now VIA.
In the 1960’s and early 1970’s, student participation in VIA programs was shaped by the Vietnam War. VIA then created two-year positions for conscientious objectors seeking “alternative service” opportunities in Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines, Korea, Taiwan and Nepal.
VIA’s Asia Programs
By the end of the Vietnam War, VIA was offering two-year opportunities to graduates and professionals, and short-term posts to undergraduates. It had also extended its programs to students outside Stanford. In 1980, a China program was added to continuing programs in Indonesia and Taiwan. In 1990 VIA volunteers began serving in Vietnam, and in 1992, Thailand. Today, VIA offers a year-long Global Community Fellowship, which places recent university graduates and professionals with partner schools and NGOs in China, Vietnam, Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand, and most recently, Cambodia. VIA also facilitates summer programs for US and Asian high school and university students in these same countries.
VIA’s Silicon Valley Programs
In 1977, several Japanese universities requested a summer English language and American culture program. The immediate success encouraged VIA to start the Asia Exchange Programs, which now bring more than 350 Asian students to Silicon Valley annually. Current spring and summer programs address a variety of educationally-rich themes, including American language and culture, leadership, medicine and healthcare, social innovation, and design-thinking.