長野県軽井沢にある全寮制のインターナショナルスクール、ユナイテッド・ワールド・カレッジ ISAK の代表理事を務める小林りんさん。自身が海外で学び、培った国際感覚と英語力を日本にいる子どもたちにも身につけてもらいたいと小林さんは話す。
Lin Kobayashi spends her working hours among the stately old trees in Karuizawa, one of Japan’s most celebrated beauty spots in Nagano Prefecture. It’s fitting the founder of UWC ISAK Japan should be in the area, home to some of Japan’s most prominent academics and literati. “I started this school when I was 34,” says Kobayashi, now 43. “I felt that education in Japan was turning into a Galapagos situation. It was alarming and I had to do something about it because having had an international education myself, I knew firsthand how thinking outside the box was crucial to competing and communicating on a global level.” She launched UWC ISAK in 2009, and in 2017 the school became the first in Japan to formally become part of the United World Colleges movement, a global education movement that seeks to bridge gaps between nations and forge ties among students of every race and culture. Kobayashi had always been interested in education, perhaps due to her years at Tokyo Gakugei University Senior High School, an institution dedicated to training teachers. “I liked school, but I wasn’t exactly a model student,” she laughs. She was fascinated with the English language, longed to go abroad and felt restless in her school environment. “I did have a lot of motivation and passion,” she recalls. In 1991, she quit high school to enter the United World Colleges program, and went to Canada where she enrolled in Pearson College. From then on, there was no stopping Kobayashi. She returned to Japan, graduated from Tokyo University and went on to get her masters in education from Stanford University. She has worked at Morgan Stanley and UNICEF, and has appeared on the cover of Forbes Japan. Has Koyabashi ever tasted the bitterness of defeat?
“Believe me, I know what it’s like to cry through the night,” she says. “When I first went to Canada, I was miserable. I thought I could speak English but compared to everyone around me, my skills were nothing. I couldn’t have meaningful discussions with my classmates. It was a disaster! … But I had one thing going for me. I didn’t care if I was different. In fact, I enjoyed it.”
Kobayashi believes Japan’s education system needs to change. “In today’s world, English is more a prerequisite than a skill,” she says. “It’s no longer about tests and how fast you can solve a grammar problem. It’s about the willingness to put yourself out there, communicate with others and cultivate the power of empathy.” UWC ISAK is inundated with applicants and Kobayashi says most of them are straight-A, honor student types. “But very few of these kids know how to make something from nothing. They know how to add things, and get from 1 to 5. But I’m interested in kids who can go from 0 to 1. I’m interested in pioneers and adventurers.” She continues: “When I go through the applicants for UWC ISAK, I look for the kids who have the capacity to think differently and aren’t afraid to speak up. I always tell them, don’t be afraid of mistakes and failures. If you hold yourself back, you may regret it later. So jump in, speak up and express yourself. I mean, what’s the worst that could happen, right?” UWC ISAK doesn’t have conventional entrance exams. “All that’s required is a one-on-one interview and an application essay,” explains Kobayashi. “We value qualities like introspection, and an inquiring mind and we are also vitally interested in whether kids have a social conscience. What makes them tick? What gets them angry? And most important of all, can they express these things out loud or on paper?” Kobayashi summed up: “It’s not just kids, we adults need to change. We need to laud the challengers and pioneers and stop worrying so much about failing or falling behind.” (Kaori Shoji)
Words I tell myself
小林りん (こばやし りん)