10th Anniversary Campaign

Alum YouTuber Gives Back to Vietnam and the UWC Movement

After graduating high school, UWC ISAK Japan alum An leveraged her unexpected rise as a YouTuber to create an educational scholarship supporting young changemakers in Vietnam. This move, inspired by her transformative time at UWC ISAK Japan, marks the beginning of her journey to give back, blending newfound notoriety with her passion for education.

UWC ISAK Japan alum An at the first award ceremony of the Vung Scholarship grant she founded (August 2023, in Vietnam)

Take action in the face of discomfort

Graduating from high school and embarking on a university journey during a pandemic can be a daunting experience for any young individual. An, a Class of 2020 alumna from Vietnam, initially found her first year at Cornell University frustrating, a feeling that mirrored her early days at UWC ISAK. Yet, just as she found her place and began to cherish her time at ISAK, she also grew to love Cornell. At UWC ISAK Japan, An was equipped with the skills to embrace discomfort and challenges, preparing her to excel in any setting.

In her TEDx talk, An reflects on her adjustment to the academic environment at UWC ISAK, which was a departure from the highly rigorous program she was accustomed to in Vietnam. Despite feeling out of place at first and facing rejection from prestigious boarding schools in the US she had applied to during her initial year at ISAK, she turned to her advisor, Mr. Masui-sensei, for guidance. This moment marked the beginning of her journey towards embracing and overcoming the challenges she faced.

UWC ISAK Japan alumna An posing with the Vietnam flag

Embracing challenges

At UWC ISAK Japan, each student joins an advisory group that meets weekly with an adult advisor, creating a familial support system away from home. An’s advisor, Masui-sensei, encouraged her to share her feelings and experiences with her peers, stressing the importance of vulnerability and the learning that comes from understanding diverse perspectives on success, fear, and values, which might be entirely new to her. This advice proved transformative for An. Through conversations with fellow students, including those who worried about their families in conflict-ridden areas, An gained a broader perspective on her own challenges.

An with Kai (’21), MUN finalist at UWC ISAK Japan

Motivated to effect positive change within the UWC ISAK community, An initiated the Model United Nations (MUN) Club, organizing events that attracted debaters from across Japan. The club’s success has endured, becoming a lasting part of the school’s clubs and activities program. Beyond the MUN Club, she participated in an online math competition and engaged in another MUN event during a holiday in Vietnam. These experiences enriched her academic and personal journey, culminating in her high school graduation and the award of a generous scholarship to attend Cornell University, where she continues to apply the lessons and values learned at UWC ISAK.

Student participants to UWC ISAK Japan's first Model United Nations organized
UWC ISAK Japan’s first Model United Nations (MUN) organized by An (front left)

Leadership lessons from UWC ISAK

One of the most impactful lessons An carried from her time at UWC ISAK into her journey into young adulthood is the power of proactive change over simply complaining. An’s journey so far is a testament to this vision of leadership UWC ISAK teaches.

An reflects on the foundational experiences at UWC ISAK with newfound appreciation, particularly for the practices that seemed frivolous at the time. “I didn’t understand the value of very simple things we learned at UWC ISAK before graduating,” An explains. “Now I finally get why doing mindfulness practice is so important. I realized how important it is to control your mind and be peaceful in your own mind. I am still working on this, but I’m so grateful to have been exposed to mindfulness so young.”

UWC ISAK Japan alum ('20) An in Vietnam

The path to self-discovery and self-expression

An credits UWC ISAK for guiding her towards a creative career path. Before attending high school, her focus was predominantly on academics, reflecting the educational culture in Vietnam, where intensive studying and competitive achievement are emphasized. However, her experience at UWC ISAK Japan introduced her to new avenues of exploration. Opting for Film as part of her International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum, a subject not commonly offered in IB schools, became a pivotal moment in her education. Film class quickly became her favorite, and the skills she acquired have been instrumental in her journey as a YouTuber and marketer.

One significant project, a documentary about fish sauce in Vietnam, showcased her newfound skills and earned recognition by being shortlisted for the San Francisco International Ocean Film Festival in March 2019. 

Reflecting on her path, An emphasizes, “If it weren’t for UWC ISAK, I would have never explored my own creativity.” 

An hosted a talkshow for Vietcetera in Vietnam where she interviewed her guests through tarot reading

An early passion for education

An’s journey to UWC ISAK Japan was inspired by her favorite book, “Totto-Chan: The Little Girl at the Window” by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi. The book’s unique perspective on education and An’s growing interest in Japanese culture led her to seek an educational experience that mirrored Totto-Chan’s. Discovering UWC ISAK through a friend, An saw it as the perfect opportunity to immerse herself in a new educational philosophy and deepen her understanding of Japanese culture.

UWC ISAK Japan profoundly changed An’s perception of education from a conventional linear trajectory—marking success through academic achievement, university credentials, and a high-paying job—to a more holistic and passion-driven journey. This educational philosophy encouraged her to make life choices based on following her heart and passions.

Faced with uncertainty and dissatisfaction at Cornell University, particularly with choosing a major and career path, An boldly decided to take a gap year, a choice that led her to an internship at Vietcetera, a Vietnamese company she admired. This opportunity arose unexpectedly from a viral prank that launched her into YouTubing. Her gap year gave her clarity and reignited her enthusiasm for her studies and future career. Returning to Cornell, An was more determined than ever, equipped with a clearer vision of her goals and an eagerness to embrace her new environment.

UWC ISAK Japan alum An with her team during her internship at Vietcetera
An with her team during her university gap year internship at Vietcetera

The importance of giving back

“I didn’t want to become a YouTuber,” An says. ” The opportunity just came up, and when I saw how many young people I could share positive messages with, it filled me with a sense of purpose.” She mostly shares about international education opportunities in Vietnamese on her channel. 

With the funds she gathered from this revenue stream, she launched the Vung Education Scholarship Fund to support change-making projects led by young Vietnamese. The fund received no less than 1019 applications within three weeks in its first year! The 2023 grant was awarded to a project led by a H’Mong university graduate that aims to provide employment and financial independence for women coming from ethnic minority groups in Mu Cang Chai, Vietnam, and addresses the community’s challenge of early marriage for girls, often before they reach 15 years of age.

We are immensely proud to see our alums, like An, making significant strides in contributing to societal betterment and leading fulfilling lives in an uncertain and complex world. It is inspiring to see the principles of initiative, empathy, and global citizenship that are encouraged at UWC ISAK Japan come to life in their actions. We look forward to seeing how An and other alums continue to grow and impact the world around them in the years to come.

An with the Vung Scholarship 2023 winner

Related Posts
Close this search box.

Imagine… if there was an ISAK lower school!

Dear Friends of UWC ISAK,

UWC ISAK is celebrating its 10th anniversary! We are proud of where we’ve come from, and we are excited about the next decade.

At this important milestone, we are wondering – in pursuit of broadening our impact, could an ISAK Lower School be considered as one of the options and would it be feasible? A school that embraces ISAK values and vision for a better future?

As we embark on this journey, if you would like to participate in possible market research and receive updates, please subscribe to our mailing list.