Interview with KOBAYASHI Lin, Chair of the Board at ISAK

“Changing the world through education: Developing the future leaders of the nations of Asia through Japan’s first such institution”

For this SPA, we interviewed KOBAYASHI Lin, Chair of the Board at International School of Asia, Karuizawa (ISAK). Below, we used the turning points KOBAYASHI experienced to summarize the background that led her to found ISAK.

<KOBAYASHI Lin’s Personal Background>
Graduated in 1998 from the Faculty of Economics at the University of Tokyo, where she studied development economics. Completed master’s program at Stanford Graduate School of Education in 2005. Worked at Morgan Stanley and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) prior to relocating to the Philippines to serve as a program officer for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), where she was involved with non-formal education for street children. Returned to Japan in August 2008 and opened ISAK seven years later in August 2014.

Turning point #1:Experienced homestay at friend’s house in Mexico while studying abroad in Canada

When she was young, KOBAYASHI originally advanced to a Japanese high school. However, she dropped out after finding herself unable to agree with the education for college entrance examination. She subsequently advanced to an international boarding school in Canada. While there, she was invited to experience a homestay at her friend’s house in Mexico, which she did while on her school holiday. Upon doing so, she saw how her friend lived in a home that was far smaller than she imagined and rocked in its entirety whenever the train passed, and how her friend was the only one out of her siblings to receive a scholarship to go to school. She thought to herself, “Until now, I thought waking up every morning, eating and going to school was a completely normal thing. Here, though, it isn’t. From the perspective of others in the world, I must be truly blessed.” Based on this strong sentiment, KOBAYASHI committed herself to changing the world through educating impoverished individuals.

Turning point #2:Was stationed in the Philippines as a UNICEF personnel member.

After completing a master’s program at the Stanford Graduate School of Education in 2005, KOBAYASHI was stationed in the Philippines as a program officer of UNICEF. There, she saw a society whose poverty and economic disparity were growing. On one hand, many children in the Philippines were living on the streets. On the other hand, the wealthy class with the power to control the nation had no concern for the gap in economic equality. Having witnessed these circumstances, KOBAYASHI returned to Japan in 2008 with the resolve to develop leaders to enact change that such regions who are so desperately needed.

Turning point #3: Opened ISAK’s initial Summer School program in 2010.

“In order to eliminate discrimination and poverty around the world, human resources are needed. I want to build a school to address that need.” This sentiment drove KOBAYASHI to gather donations for that purpose. However, while she was in the process of doing so, Lehman Brothers collapsed. This event, which sent shockwaves across the entire world, served to reset the donations and funding that KOBAYASHI has worked to gather to zero. Many a day went by after that when the prospect of building a school became less and less likely. One day, however, a friend of Ms. KOBAYASHI’s offered her the words “Early Small Success.” Meaning, it is important to pile small successes on top of one another at an early stage. That inspired her to offer ISAK’s initial Summer School program, which yielded multiple successes in the form of giving rise to a tangible representation of the education ISAK sought to realize and attracting media attention. Gradually, the institution also began attracting donations as a result. After a conception period of seven years, KOBAYASHI’s endeavors culminated in the opening of ISAK in 2014.

Lastly, on the question of why it occurred to KOBAYASHI to build a school in Japan to begin with, she answered, “There are two reasons. The first is because upon becoming acutely aware of the Philippines’ need to develop human resources that possess true leadership, I felt that my home country of Japan faces a similar challenge as well. The second is because I felt that Japan, which has genuine nature and four beautiful seasons, is safe and sanitary, and carries the image of being ‘the Switzerland of Asia,’ would offer considerable value-added to foreign students whom we welcome into the country to study.”

Our interview with KOBAYASHI Lin raised questions about the state of education in Japan, many of which we do not have the answers to. However, we have the expectation that the establishment of ISAK and, by extension, the establishment of a new educational model will bring considerable change to Japanese education in the future.

Student Press Assistant (SPA)
NAKASHIMA Mika (Japan)